Fred’s Story: A short biography
by Merrill Douglass
Fred is an elderly Bible scholar who has labored for over 50 years in near obscurity to understand the truths in God’s word. Not only does he know the Bible, but he is also one of the most godly people I have ever met (although he does not want me to say that). He displays more of the fruits of the spirit Paul described than I will ever master, and is one of the least judgmental people I have ever met. Fred truly believes and lives the message of grace, yet he will readily acknowledge that it is not always easy to understand the full implications of God’s grace.
He says he is just a simple country boy, blessed by the grace of God. But, I also consider Fred uniquely gifted by God to explain the deeper truths of his word to this age, almost like a modern-day prophet (a forth-teller). I am quite sure Fred would not go quite that far, although he readily credits God with whatever he has been able to see in the scriptures.
He also has a double ability to explain scripture. On the one hand, he can lay out the details verse-by-verse to reveal things that I never realized were there. On the other hand, he has a big-picture view of scripture from Genesis to Revelation that exceeds anything I have been exposed to thus far.
I also marvel at how Fred can unravel the major themes of the Bible, such as the covenant, the kingdom, and grace. He was the first one to explain to me how the Old Testament and the New Testament blend together. He pointed out that any doctrine derived from the New Testament has a foundation back in the Old Testament. In fact, he is highly skeptical of any doctrine not traced back to the Old Testament, especially those which rely on only a single verse or phrase in the New Testament.
Fred Leroy Kenison was born on March 10, 1918 on a farm near Benedict, Kansas. He grew up on the farm and graduated from high school (Buffalo, Kansas) in 1935. He received a two-year teaching certificate from Emporia State Teachers College in 1937, and taught 1st through 8th grades at several one-room rural schools. Of all the subjects he taught, his favorite was English grammar.
Although Fred attended church as a child, he was not interested in spiritual things. In fact, the God he heard about at church seemed rather frightening, and certainly not a God of love. It was while dating his wife, Nadine, that Fred first learned God loved him. This came as quite a shock because he thought that people had to earn God’s love by doing certain things. The realization that God loved him just as he was and did not require that he first do something inspired Fred to turn his life over to God.
Fred met Eunice Nadine Anderson in August, 1941, at the local variety store where she was a clerk. He was just back from working the harvest in Montana, and Nadine recalls that he was as red as a berry. Fred remembers that she was very cute, and he had talked her out of a chocolate malt. They were married a year later on August 26, 1942, at the parsonage of the Grant Avenue Baptist Church in Chanute, Kansas.
Nadine’s father, a Sunday School teacher, was the first man Fred had ever known who studied the Bible systematically. Furthermore, he actually ordered his life according to what the Bible said, regardless of the cost. His devotion had a great influence on the direction of Fred’s life.
When Fred and Nadine’s first child was born in 1943, Fred quit teaching school because he needed more money to support his family. He worked for several years as an auto mechanic, a shop foreman, and at other jobs related to the automotive business. He even owned an automotive body shop, and once tried a desk job as a claims adjuster, which he did not enjoy.
He was not drafted during World War II because he had a 4-F deferment, granted because for some unknown reason he would often faint two or three times a day. Doctors later found that he suffered from hyper-insulinism, brought on by too little rest over too long a period, and the fainting spells were caused by spontaneous insulin shock. Once the problem was discovered he was properly treated and recovered quickly.
After committing his life to God, Fred and Nadine first joined an American Baptist Church, where Nadine’s family attended. Fred greatly admired Nadine’s father, and he also began studying the Bible and trying to live the right kind of life. He later became a deacon at a different church, and eventually Chairman of the Board of Deacons. Although he was no longer teaching school, Fred still felt called to be a teacher and it was not long before he began teaching Sunday School classes, and later became Sunday School Superintendent.
Fred has been a student all his life. He continually pestered the pastor at his first church with questions about the Bible. In 1953, after several years of this, the pastor loaned Fred a textbook on systematic theology. Actually, the pastor was getting tired of all the questions, and said that he hoped Fred would choke on the book. Not only did Fred not choke on the book, he found that it challenged his thinking about many common church doctrines. As it turned out, this was also the beginning of his troubles.
Fred claims he has never been a shy person. In fact, he often spoke up when he probably should have been quiet. When he read things in the Bible that seemed contrary to the sermons he heard, he would challenge the pastor’s interpretations. When he taught Sunday School classes, he would not use the denominational materials, but relied only on the Bible.
Things came to a head in 1957, a traumatic year for the entire family. The pastor was called to a meeting of the church denominational headquarters, and when he returned home he told Fred he could no longer talk with him. Fred has never known why, but suspects that it was because he had regularly challenged the orthodox thinking of the church. Before long, he was also getting a cold shoulder from the other deacons. After several months of the silent treatment, he and his family quit going to church.
This rejection by the church was hard on the entire family: Fred, Nadine, and their four adolescent daughters. Soon, however, several members of their old Sunday School class came to see Fred, and asked him if he would teach a Bible study in his home on Sunday mornings. Fred agreed, and within a few months the Bible study outgrew their home leading them to rent an empty church building to meet in.
Since Fred was not an ordained minister, the members of the Bible study group wanted to bring in a “regular” preacher to conduct church services. In 1959, they hired a Southern Baptist pastor and formed a new church, which soon became the Madison Avenue (Southern) Baptist Church. The new church continued to grow, and within three years they had moved into larger quarters four times. Fred was also a full-time teacher at the church from 1961 to 1963, the only time he has ever received money related to studying or teaching Bible topics.
Fred studied diligently, and his reputation as a Bible teacher grew. He began receiving invitations to teach at different churches and preacher’s conferences. At the same time, however, Fred felt uncomfortable about what he was doing. The Bible had begun to feel stale, and he felt he wasn’t learning anything new. He prayed for God to open his word so he could learn more and God answered that prayer. The result of that answer brought on new spiritual growth and several other unforeseen circumstances.
Fred once described for me the event in 1962 that was to forever change his life: “When I was teaching full-time in churches, I came to the point where I was not seeing anything new in the word of God. I had been depending upon my natural mind, circumscribed by denominational doctrine, to discover the truths of the scriptures. I sincerely believed that no one could plumb the depths of God’s word in one lifetime, yet I wanted to. Therefore, I confessed to God that I was unable to understand any more of it than I already knew, and I began to pray that he would open his word to me.”
“That very same morning, God impressed upon me to read two verses in John: (1) John 1:4, which says, ‘In him was life; and the life was the light of men,’ and, (2) John 1:9, which says, ‘That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.’ I had previously read these scriptures many, many times. Nevertheless, I got my Bible, turned to those scriptures, and read them again. As God showed me some of the truth in those verses much of my embedded denominational doctrine was swept away and my mind was instantly freed from denominational bondage.”
“That was the morning I realized that without enlightenment from God, no real depth of his meaning was available to the natural mind no matter how intelligent that mind may be. Since that morning, my attitude and prayer as I study his word is based upon James 1:5-8: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. From that day forward I have relied strictly on God to show me the truth in his word.”
Something else happened about that same time, although Fred did not tell anyone about it for several years. He regularly prayed that God would reveal more of the truth in the scriptures to him. One day God responded to that prayer in a rather dramatic manner. The message was that if Fred would stand up in church and recite doubled numbers then he (God) would reveal as many truths to Fred as the highest number reached. However, he was not to tell anyone what he was doing, not even his wife.
So, in late 1962, Fred stood up in an evening church service and began doubling numbers. 1+1=2, 2+2=4, 4+4=16, 16+16=32, 32+32=64. At first people were a little stunned, then they began to laugh. All the laughter embarrassed Fred and he quit counting at 64. He felt crushed and defeated, but when he confessed his failure to God, he got the exact same message: double numbers.
A few days later, Fred stood up again at a church meeting and began doubling numbers. People began laughing again, but he kept going. Their laughter turned to ridicule and then to anger, but he kept going. This time he got to 524,288 before he quit. Since that day, Fred has been seeing things he never saw before. He now says that no matter what part of scriptures he studies, new insights, truth and understanding leap off the pages to him.
Fred states that, “When I first began to follow the Lord, I felt that God had called me to teach. I diligently studied the word, and for many years I was recognized as a better than average Bible teacher. However, after experiencing God’s revelation about John 1:4 and John 1:9, the Bible became a completely different book to me. I began to allow God to guide my mind as I studied, and let him show me what he wanted me to know about his word.”
“The problem, though, was that the more God enlightened me about the truth of the scriptures, the more I became an outcast in the church. Although many pastors knew I was sincerely dedicated to God and well versed in the scriptures, they did not want me to teach in their churches. Why? Because teaching grace, and grace only, dissolves all the controls so carefully established by the organized church. Furthermore, it upsets complacent people who are depending on their works for acceptance with God, even as they claim the contrary.”
If Fred had kept quiet about what God was showing him, things would probably have turned out differently. But, it is not in Fred’s character to remain quiet about the Bible, especially what God had shown him about grace, the kingdom, and salvation. And seeing truth, he could not teach error any longer. This soon resulted in his being kicked out of the very church that he had helped start several years before.
In January 1963, the pastor denounced him from the pulpit as a false teacher, said that Fred was full of demons and black light and that church members were to have nothing to do with him. The pastor’s attack was especially harsh and sarcastic; he even attacked Fred’s family. Among other things, the pastor said that their house was full of demons and that Fred’s four daughters would grow up to be street prostitutes.
This was the second traumatic event for the family concerning church, and an especially bitter one. Since then, neither Fred nor Nadine have been part of an organized church. Fred describes this time as the low point of his life. The family not only lost all their church friends, they also lost their income. However, they did not lose God.
During this time, the family began to realize that God was their only support, and they learned to rely solely on him. When they were low on money, people would show up with groceries. When they needed gas, someone would show up to buy it for them. Fred says it felt like being fed by the birds, much as Elijah experienced.
However, with four girls and a wife to support, he soon began to think about a steady income. Fred believed that his calling was to study and teach God’s word. So, he prayed for an arrangement that would give him the needed financial support, plus lots of time to study.
God answered Fred’s prayer and brought him a new way to earn a living. From 1963 to 1989, he sold all kinds of odds-and-ends to small rural stores and businesses. When he went out to sell, he often sold enough in one day so he could study for several weeks before he had to go out and sell again. He never got rich, but his family did live reasonably well.
More importantly, Fred continued to study the Bible. Given his excellent selling skills and business acumen, Fred could have enjoyed great material success had he chosen to pursue a business career. However, once he had committed his life to God, he never looked back. Making lots of money and accumulating wealth was never an issue; he chose instead to study and learn more about God’s truths as revealed in the Bible.
From 1960 to 1968, Fred taught a weekly Bible program on the radio, a program he called “The Teacher’s Hour.” During his study time, he began taping his thoughts for those programs. Among other things, this produced 70 hours of tapes on the topic of salvation. Although he did not realize it at the time, these programs formed the foundation for his later studies.
In late 1969, a group of college students learned about his salvation tapes from Fred’s youngest daughter. They felt it was incredulous that anyone could actually talk for 70 hours on the subject of salvation. They were so intrigued that they made a special trip to meet with him, and soon started meeting regularly with him to discuss various Bible topics. At their request, he also recorded his studies so they could listen to the tapes between visits. It was one of these former college students, Ron Tarlton, who introduced me to Fred in 1994.
Fred says he never intended to write any books. In fact, he only started putting his thoughts and studies in writing during the mid-1980s. Even then, his only intent was to share what he was learning with his family and a few friends. He began writing on a manual typewriter, then switched to an electric typewriter, and finally to an early-model Apple computer. When the first computer wore out, friends gave him a another computer, which he still uses.
Since 1989, Fred has been retired, at least from working for an income. He still continues to study God’s word, and writes what he learns. From 1989-1990, he wrote a weekly newspaper column which he furnished free to a local newspaper.
When I first read some of Fred’s studies, they had the immediate ring of truth. I wanted to share them with others, but several of the students who had studied with Fred told me that there was no way he would ever agree to having his studies published. They had tried, and he had steadfastly refused. However, the rough drafts I had read were so outstanding that I felt they should be published so others could read them.
Although I expected a refusal, I suggested editing his studies for publication. To everyone’s astonishment, Fred readily agreed. When I later told him that this was only the second time in my life that I felt God was calling me to a specific activity, Fred said he had felt the same thing. Even so, I had a tough time convincing him to let me put his name on the books.
Fred feels so strongly that the credit belongs to God that he is reluctant to accept any kind of credit for his writing. In a somewhat joking, yet very serious, manner he still maintains that I should have listed the author as A. Nonymous.
Fred’s approach is simple, yet very effective. Here is how he describes it. “I prayerfully study different subjects in the Bible, striving as carefully as I can so I will not teach something brought forward by the deceit of my carnal mind. The word of God, if sincerely studied while seeking God’s truth, will itself reveal much concerning whether or not it is of God.”
“This is not to say that everything I teach is without error. Unfortunately, I am still human, with all the temptations and shortcomings of the flesh, some of which are bound to appear in what I write. Therefore, study carefully anything I have written. Ask God to help you discern what is truth and what is error.”
Fred also has a keen sense of humor. When asked about how he gains his insights, he replied, “Every day, as I sit down to write, I feel like the words of an old song from the 1940s: ‘Off we go, into the wild blue yonder. Off we go into the sky.’ But, instead of simply going off into the sky, it is into the mind of God.”
“This is a challenging undertaking, and, as I attempt to write about the great revelation of God, I am keenly aware of the need for his constant guidance. I study, and then I simply write off the top of my head. I usually do not know what I am going to say when I start. I do not make a lot of notes, nor do I prepare an outline. I trust that God will enlighten my mind and show me his truth.”
When you read what Fred has written, you will see some similarities as well as many differences compared to what most churches teach. Fred is not against organized religion just to be contrary; he does not even harbor any ill-will toward the people who have cast him out of the various churches. In fact, what he once thought of as negative, he now sees as positive, a blessing from God. Fred believes that the real church was created by God. The organized church, however, is a political structure of rules and regulations created by man.
He now understands how organized religions are the scourge of believers. This has always been the case. Paul and the other apostles had to contend for the minds of people against two foes. One was the false religions of their day which mimicked the truth of the scripture. The second was the orthodox religion of the Jews.
Acts 17:13 says, “But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.” Still today, orthodoxy will not leave you alone. It is not enough that you search for truth; you must embrace their “truth.”
When asked about organized churches, Fred recently commented, “For several decades, right or wrong, I have continued to approach the word of God the same way, asking God to teach me the meaning of his scriptures. Much of what God has shown me in the word is not considered orthodox truth by organized religious denominations. I have been asked to leave every church where I spoke out about what I was learning.”
In the beginning, it was difficult to reconcile God’s call on his life and the traumatic reaction of the church leaders. “Being thrown out of the churches upset me greatly because I felt I should serve God in the organized church. Therefore, being ostracized by organized churches was a strange, frightening, and unpleasant experience for me and also for my family. It especially bothered me that my family was suffering for what I was doing.” Even today, the closest thing to an angry tone I have heard from him is when Fred describes those vicious attacks on his family.
Although at first he did not comprehend how God was working in his life, time brought understanding. “Today, being outside the organized church does not worry me in the least. I feel that God set me outside the organized church for the specific purpose of not being obligated to any denominational teaching that would detract from what he wanted me to learn in his word. When it was happening, I did not understand this, but today I see it clearly. And, my family sees it, too.”
Listening to Fred tell of his church experiences brings to mind the words of Hebrews 13:11-14: “For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”
It is sad to realize that perhaps Jesus really is best found outside our man-made structures. It is also sad to realize that Fred’s experiences are by no means unique. The world is full of people who have been maligned and mistreated for questioning or challenging the orthodox teachings of organized religions and churches.
“If worldly ‘christians’ in the church become too upset, the pastor may be asked to leave, or attendance might fall. If people begin to leave the church, the pastor will certainly not be considered successful. Instead, he will be considered a loser, a trouble maker, a dissident, a heretic, possessed by a demon, and unfaithful to the denominational hierarchy.”
People who first encounter Fred’s writings usually want to know about his credentials. At first glance, many question his qualification to write about biblical issues. He is not a Doctor of Theology; he does not even have a college degree. He never went to a seminary, and he has never been an ordained minister. He has none of the credentials most people believe in so strongly. His only qualification is a heart and mind dedicated completely to God. To me, he is an example of how God often chooses the strangest people to do his work, the ones that look least likely to the rest of us. Truly, God’s ways are not our ways.
Fred says that his main purpose in writing is to get people to think, and to search the scriptures for themselves. Too many of us, he says, do not sincerely search to discern God’s truth. Most of our beliefs come from what someone else said the scriptures say—our denomination, our local pastor, a seminary professor, perhaps our favorite television preacher or author. It is easier to simply accept what someone else says than to study the scriptures for ourselves.
His greatest sorrow today is seeing so many people blindly accept the doctrines and pronouncements of organized religion which are full of error. “I truly pray that people will search the Bible themselves to know the truth. The more people sincerely seek the truth in the scriptures, the more God will reveal it to them. For centuries, churches have limited and misinterpreted and twisted the word of God to make sure it matches their doctrines.”
An example of this is the highly acclaimed and revered King James Version of the Bible, probably the most widely read Bible of all time. This Bible was written especially to please King James of England. Although scholars have been pointing out all its errors and anomalies for centuries, it still misleads many readers today.
Fred says that misinterpretation and translation error is a problem for many people, not just the translators of the KJV. He maintains that much of the confusion regarding scripture results from four common errors: (1) careless handling of the presence or absence of the definite article; (2) manipulating scriptures to support denominational doctrines; (3) overlooking the various figures of speech, metaphors, analogies, and symbolism; (4) taking things out of context. When he decided to simply let the scripture speak plainly for themselves, he discovered that they had some rather amazing things to say.
It is an understatement to say that Fred’s spiritual insights have changed my life. The more I learn, the more I want to know. The more I read his writing, the more amazed I am at the clarity of understanding he brings to the scriptures. I truly believe that God has used Fred to reveal many of the truths in the Bible to a modern age, and I feel privileged to play a small part in bringing that message to others. That is why I devote so much of my time to editing his work and preparing it for publication.
The more I work with Fred’s manuscripts, the more I feel challenged to decide what I actually do believe, and why I believe it. Many of the denominational doctrines I was taught have been tipped upside down. Just because something is common knowledge does not mean it is correct. Just because something has been preached for centuries, does not mean that it is true.
No, I do not necessarily agree with Fred on everything, but I do believe, after many years of my own study, that he has a nearly unique grasp of the Bible and has unlocked many of its truths. Yet, surprisingly, Fred is not out to convert anyone. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Fred is not the least bit disturbed when I disagree with him.
Fred studies scripture for three reasons: (1) because he believes God called him to study; (2) because he sincerely enjoys it more than anything else; and (3) because he wants to encourage others to study the Bible. His main point, and one that he emphasizes regularly, has always been to get people to study the scriptures, and think things through for themselves.
For those who measure success by large numbers, Fred is not successful. He has not founded a church, nor does he want to. His admirers are few, but that does not bother him. He says that God called him to study and teach, to point out the truths of scripture revealed to him. Fred has certainly remained steadfast and true to that calling.
Unfortunately, announcing God’s truth is not always the way to build a large body of followers. Fred points out that none of the Old Testament prophets had many admirers or followers, and even Jesus had only a small group of followers. In fact, the scriptures show that the more truth Jesus revealed, the fewer followers he had.
The briefest visit is long enough for Fred to turn the conversation to something about the Bible. Studying scripture is both his vocation and avocation. As he puts it, “I can think of nothing more pleasant than studying God’s word, just for the fun of it. While others may enjoy various hobbies, to me, studying scripture is my relaxation and entertainment.”
I wish I had met Fred many years ago, although I am very thankful for the hours I have been able to spend with him. I wish everyone could sit with Fred and discuss what he has learned during his studies. Since that is not possible, the next best thing is to read what he wrote.
For complete details about Fred's life story, please see his memoirs, "A Life Worth Living: The heart-warming, heart-breaking memoirs of one man's journey through life"