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Jerry Johnson challenged to keep focus on Word of God

DALLAS (BP)–Affirming the Baptist doctrine of the priesthood of believers, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson declared at the inauguration of a new Criswell College president, “One thing has never changed: God’s people still need leaders.” In the Sept. 14 charge to Jerry Johnson, Patterson said God raises up leaders from among His people at strategic moments in time.

Johnson studied under Patterson while completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in biblical studies. Patterson preached from an “unusual passage” of Leviticus 8:22, recalling the dedication of the Aaronic priesthood. He noted the symbolism of placing a drop of blood on the priest’s earlobe, thumb and big toe, challenging his former student to place the God’s Word on his ear, hand and steps.

He warned Johnson not to hear too much of what is said by those who criticize or who compliment, lest he become ineffective due to discouragement or flattered by praise. Instead, Patterson said Johnson should listen to God’s Word regularly.

Second, Johnson should keep God’s Word in his hand for a lifetime of study, Patterson exhorted. Having paid the price of study to become a scholar, Patterson said, “For you to depart from that enterprise in order to do lesser things would be to squander the blessings of God upon your life.”

Third, Patterson said Johnson’s greatest impact on students would be the example of his life. “Don’t turn aside to the right or the left. Don’t become another casualty,” Patterson insisted, adding, “If you do, I’ll come looking for you. Walk as a man of God.”

Johnson responded in his inaugural address by pledging to “contend earnestly for the faith,” quoting Jude 3. He applied the exhortation by expecting the school to contend for the Christian Word, the Christian worldview and the Christian witness.

“In our confession we contend for the Word,” he said, referring to the Baptist Faith and Message. The college’s curriculum gives evidence of that priority, Johnson added, citing studies in biblical languages, Old and New Testament, systematic theology and hermeneutics. “We can’t contend for the Word without studying and knowing the Word of God.”

Johnson praised the introduction of a humanities program by former TCC President Richard Wells. Unlike some Christian colleges that require two or three religion classes, Johnson said non-biblical studies majors at TCC would be double majors studying 30 hours from the core curriculum alongside the content of their particular discipline.

Above all else, Johnson said TCC would contend for the Christian witness, stating, “If anything has represented The Criswell College through the years, it is a heart for the lost.” Students will continue to report how God is using them in evangelism through the Encounter Missions program first established by Patterson. “You’re going to need a passport if you come to The Criswell College because before you leave you’re going to go overseas and share the Gospel,” he added.

Wells brought greetings from Southern Baptists in South Dakota where he serves as senior pastor of South Canyon Baptist Church in Rapid City. He praised Johnson as one who would keep the school on the course God set for it many years ago.

“I give thanks for a school where a president can design a logo such as this and a school that produces students who can read it,” Wells said, referring to the crest depicting a Bible and the Greek word logos.

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Director Jim Richards noted the presence of several TCC faculty members at the founding meeting of the state convention in 1998.

“TCC defied a trend of Baptist colleges by establishing a relationship with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention,” he said. “A number of Baptist colleges had left their family of churches in the state conventions, but The Criswell College saw the wisdom of being a part of SBTC through affiliation.” Richards said school trustees approved a new five-year affiliation agreement with SBTC in the pre-inauguration trustee meeting held Sept. 13.

TCC Chancellor Donald McCall “Mac” Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, praised Johnson as a scholar and academician with the heart of a pastor. He expressed confidence that Johnson would carry on the vision of founder W.A. Criswell who in 1969 called for an institution that would provide biblical teaching that would be both intellectually and spiritually sound.

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter