DALLAS–Acting on the unanimous recommendation of the presidential search committee for Criswell College, the school’s trustees, in turn, unanimously elected former president Jerry Johnson to fill the post he resigned two years ago.
“There’s really only one reason I would want to come back that matters, and that is if God calls me,” said Johnson at the Nov. 5 board meeting prior to trustees’ secret ballot vote.
“I am a Baptist and believe in the process of the people, committee and the board. And if God is leading, I receive that, along with what I’ve sensed in prayer: God’s call to come back and finish the assignment I started years ago.”
Johnson resigned in August of 2008, when Criswell was under the ministry umbrella of First Baptist Church of Dallas. But now the school is self-governing and independent.
“This is a week of elections,” Johnson told the board. “I don’t know if I can top what happened on Tuesday for some of you.”
Johnson said many in the recent election cycle emphasized a return to the Unites States’ founding documents, and that reminded him of Criswell College’s founding documents. Displaying a written copy of W.A. Criswell’s vision for the school, and a Bible, Johnson said, “What I have to say about the college, and what I believe about Criswell College, really comes from these two documents.”
Commenting on one of the school’s unique distinctions?a commitment to the “inerrancy, infallibility and authority of Scripture”?Johnson said, “Whatever else happens here, we must hold this is our top value.
Board members applauded when Johnson said, “Every faculty member will always be asked initially and annually to recommit to the inspiration, infallibility and inerrancy of Holy Scripture.”
Johnson noted the school’s requirement that all students study Greek and Hebrew.
“If we believe this is God’s Word, then teaching students to understand the way it was written is important.”
Criswell College “is a school built for the glory of God to magnify the Lord Jesus and his mission and meaning to the world,” Johnson continued. “Yes, this is a preacher college. But Dr. Criswell, even in the school’s infancy, envisioned more: kingdom workers, lay people, not just to the church, but to the world.”
Saying he wanted to continue with the counseling and humanities curricula, Johnson revealed his desire to expand to education, communication and other disciplines.
Citing a third focus of the school–evangelism–Johnson added, “That has been a unique distinctive of Criswell College.”
“Criswell College is positioned to train the next generation of Christian leaders for our Lord and I am excited to serve him in this great mission,” Johnson said. “So, I say, ‘Back to the future.'”
Search committee chairman Steve Washburn said the committee reflected a “healthy diversity of convictions. We decided to take an objective approach to our search, using the presidential qualifications specified in our new bylaws as our standard.Each committee member used this standard to conduct personal evaluations of every candidate.”
“In the course of our work we were privileged to consider some of the most godly and qualified men in the Southern Baptist Convention, and we ultimately agreed that Dr. Jerry Johnson was the only man who met all the specified qualifications for president,” said Washburn, pastor of First Baptist Church of Pflugerville. “We asked the Lord to overwhelm us with clarity in our choice, and we’re grateful to God for doing so.”
No stranger to theological academia, Johnson has been serving as vice president for academic development, dean of the faculty and professor of ethics and theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., since January 2009.
“On October 5 of this year the Criswell College celebrated its fortieth year carrying forth the vision God gave our founder, Dr. W.A. Criswell. How appropriate that exactly one month later God would select a new president by returning Dr. Jerry Johnson to lead the college,” wrote Lamar Cooper, executive vice president and provost, who has served for the last two years as Criswell College’s interim president.
Cooper said Johnson is “eminently qualified by his proven leadership as dean of Boyce College at Southern Seminary, as vice president for faculty development and dean of the faculty at Midwestern Seminary, and four years as the president of Criswell College. I join the student body, staff, and faculty in welcoming the return of Dr. Jerry Johnson.”
His second stint as president begins Nov. 15, though he will continue serving Midwestern Seminary two days a week until Dec. 31. This allows Johnson to begin his presidential role at Criswell, to represent Criswell College at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and to complete the fall semester at Midwestern as the seminary prepares to fill the position Johnson vacates there.
A native of Malakoff, Johnson was licensed and ordained to the preaching and pastoral ministries at First Baptist Church of Malakoff.
Johnson earned a bachelor of arts in biblical studies at Criswell in 1986; a master of arts from Denver Seminary in 1997, where he majored in historical and theological studies; and a doctor of philosophy from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003, where he majored in Christian ethics and minored in systematic theology and philosophy.
Associated with Southern Seminary in various roles for 14 years, Johnson was dean of Boyce College, served on the seminary’s executive cabinet, was assistant director of development, and a trustee from 1989-98, serving as board chairman two of those years.
As Criswell president from 2004-08, student enrollment increased by more than 50 percent, from approximately 300 to almost 500. Johnson led the school to financial profitability and garnered a multi-million dollar land gift for a future campus or for liquidation.
His experience includes a pastorate at Ireland Baptist Church, an internship at FBC Dallas and service as a youth pastor at Central Baptist Church in Aurora, Colo., where he later became pastor. He also served as pastor at the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Littleton, Colo.
“Jerry Johnson has the head of an academician, the heart of a pastor and the hands of a servant. He is uniquely equipped to lead Criswell College into the future,” said Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. “He has my enthusiastic and unqualified support. The SBTC has a dear and devoted friend in Jerry Johnson.”
—-Tammi Reed Ledbetter, TEXAN news editor, contributed to this story.