DALLAS (BP) — Criswell College President Jerry Johnson has been named president and CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters, effective Nov. 1.
The Washington-based NRB is an international association of Christian communicators whose organizations represent millions of viewers, listeners and readers worldwide via radio, television and the Internet.
Johnson was unanimously elected to the post during an NRB board meeting Oct. 1 to succeed Frank Wright, a Presbyterian who will step down Oct. 4 after a decade at the organization’s helm.
Richard Land, Southern Evangelical Seminary president who serves on both the NRB and Criswell College boards, described Johnson as having “the leadership skills, strength of character, range of experience, and vision” for the job. “America has never needed the NRB as much as it does right now to defend freedom of religion and freedom of speech, which are under unprecedented assault,” said Land, who retired earlier this year as president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Johnson has served as president of Criswell College in Dallas since 2010 and from 2004-08. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies from the college in 1986.
Johnson earned a Ph.D. in Christian ethics from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in 2003 and a master of arts in historical and theological studies from Denver Seminary in 1997. He is a former faculty and staff member at Southern Seminary and at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former pastor in Texas and the Denver area.
Johnson told the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, he will be promoting NRB’s threefold mission to advance biblical truth, promote media excellence and defend free speech.
Having devoted his life to advancing the Gospel, Johnson said he affirms NRB’s desire “to make sure people who are broadcasting in the name of Christ do it in a way that is faithful to the authority and infallibility of Scripture.”
Johnson underscored the importance of Christians also using the media “in a winsome, excellent way,” having hosted a program on KCBI-FM in Dallas addressing current issues from a Christian perspective. KCBI was NRB’s Station of the Year in 2011.
“If Christians want to be heard by the current generation, they will have to communicate the Gospel in their ‘media language’ with excellence,” Johnson said. “I’m very concerned for Christians who are preaching and broadcasting today as we are entering a hostile environment,” he added, noting, “Recent developments on the cultural and legal landscape require that we defend the biblical and constitutional principle of free speech with zeal.
“I’ve given a good bit of study to religious liberty,” he told the TEXAN, “and as a Baptist I have a particular commitment to the principles of religious liberty and free speech.”
Under Johnson’s leadership, Criswell College has added a concentration in church planting and revitalization and a fully online master of arts in Christian studies. The college also has embraced an unengaged, unreached people group in conjunction with the SBC’s International Mission Board. A three-year affiliation agreement with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention was signed in 2011 that provides 3.25 percent funding from the SBTC’s Cooperative Program budget.
SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards told the TEXAN, “Dr. Johnson was the right man for the right time at Criswell College. He was the catalyst for positive change and will do the same at NRB.”
A year ago, trustees adopted a vision Johnson outlined to expand beyond the school’s core Bible curriculum to “train biblical leaders in strategic disciplines” of business, law, communication and education. The board also approved a long-range planning committee’s recommendation to work toward developing a residential campus at a new location to accommodate expected growth and to better meet the needs of the 323-member student body.
“I’ve struggled a little with why God would allow me to see that vision and yet not be there to realize it,” Johnson told the TEXAN. “In God’s timing he has someone else for the next level. I want to be a part of that as an alumnus, donor and friend of the college.”
Johnson was recommended to the NRB board after five-month search. In announcing the selection, board chairman Rich Bott of the Kansas-based, 91-station Bott Radio Network noted, “We are excited about the future of NRB. With today’s technologies, there are amazing opportunities to advance God’s Word worldwide. Dr. Jerry Johnson is extremely well-suited to lead NRB into the future. We have chosen an outstanding leader who is rooted in Scripture and motivated by the Great Commission, using the tools of today. NRB’s best days are yet ahead in the service for the Kingdom.”
Johnson “represents a coming generation of leaders among American evangelicals,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, where Johnson held various faculty and staff roles over a 14-year period, including dean of the seminary’s undergraduate Boyce College. Johnson earlier served on the seminary’s trustee board, twice as chairman.
Johnson’s selection, Mohler said, “makes a powerful statement about the future of National Religious Broadcasters.”
Johnson and his wife Rhonda have two children, Isaiah and Eva.
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Baptist Press editor Art Toalston contributed to this article.