In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth “very good” in accordance with his beneficent will (Genesis 1:31). However, God’s creatures fell away from their original goodness into sin, evil, and rebelliousness (Genesis 3).
In Jesus the Savior King, God himself has entered this fallen world to redeem the human race from sin, restore creation to its original goodness, and reestablish his gracious rule over all. Jesus proclaimed: The time has come. The Kingship of God is near. Repent and believe the good news (Mark 1:15).
Every time a man or woman turns from sin and accepts Jesus as Lord, God’s Kingship spreads a little farther. So the Kingship of God is already present to some extent, and it will come in its fullness when Christ returns. At that time, “Every knee will bow...and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
In his “Great Commission,” Jesus enlisted his followers in his own global mission:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all ethnic groups, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
Toward that end, Ashley Johnson established the School of the Evangelists in 1893 (renamed Johnson Bible College in 1909 and Johnson University in 2011). Its doors remain “open day and night to the poor young man who desires above every other desire to preach the gospel of Christ.” In 2011 the School attained university status and adopted the following mission statement:
Johnson University educates students for Christian ministries and other strategic vocations framed by the Great Commission in order to extend the kingdom of God among all nations.
Over the past year, the faculty and administration have purposefully and systematically addressed the following questions:
How does a “Great Commission University” do higher education?
How does Johnson University equip students to fulfill the Great Commission and promote the Kingship of God?
What are the practical implications of Johnson’s mission for how we design academic programs?
Johnson’s educational strategy includes two primary elements:
First, the faculty has developed academic programs that include three primary types of studies:
Arts and Sciences include history, philosophy, literature, fine arts, natural sciences, social-behavioral sciences, and other disciplines that explore the world and the human experience.
Bible and Theology focus on God’s self-revelation in history as recorded in the Christian Scriptures, which give meaning and purpose to life.
Professional Studies equip students for a broad range of professions, such as congregational ministry, cross-cultural missions, education, business, counseling, and creative arts.
Second, the faculty has adopted an “intercultural mission model” that directs these studies toward five interrelated aims:
1. Experiencing God.
Johnson University actively promotes “spiritual formation,” which it defines as being with Christ, becoming like Christ, and engaging in the work of Christ according to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit. The University motto—“Faith, Prayer, Work”—embodies these concerns.
Johnson helps students not only to know about God, but to experience God and to develop a personal relationship with him. It encourages growth in godliness, so that students forsake sin, bear the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-26), and develop a Christ-like character. Johnson challenges students to commit their energies and their abilities to the Missio Dei (“mission of God”)—God’s redemptive work in the world.
2. Developing a Christian Worldview.
Every human holds a “worldview”—a set of assumptions about the world that govern behavior in the world. Worldviews are revealed by how one answers fundamental questions of life, such as: Does God exist? What is the nature of God? How did the universe originate? Does it have a purpose? What are human beings? How should they relate to one another?
Johnson helps students develop a Christian worldview informed by the Scriptures—that is, an understanding of God, his creation, and his purposes. Such a worldview enables students to view life holistically; it gives meaning and purpose to all the knowledge and skills they gain at the University. A Christian worldview is the added dimension of a Johnson education that sets it apart from education gained at a secular college or university. Other schools may address the whats and the hows, but Johnson also addresses the whys. Other students may learn where the human race has been, but Johnson students also learn where it is headed. Others may explore how life could be lived, but Johnson students reflect on how it should be lived.
3. Understanding Competing Worldviews.
Johnson also familiarizes students with competing worldviews. The University helps them develop a biblically-informed critical understanding of theological, philosophical, political, social, and cultural issues that shape contemporary civilizations to which they take God’s “good news.”
Toward this end, Johnson professors stress worldview issues in almost every course throughout the curriculum. The Arts and Sciences Core makes a major contribution with courses such as Philosophical Inquiry and Critical Thinking,Encountering Culture, and World Civilizations I-II. Students explore the “big ideas” that have shaped various disciplines, professions, and cultures, along with major critiques of those ideas from both Christian and non-Christian perspectives.
4. Bridging the Gap.
Not only do Johnson students develop a Christian worldview and consider competing worldviews, they also learn to “bridge the gap” by pointing others to Christ in meaningful ways. They develop skills for analyzing cultures (including their own); communicating across religious, cultural, and philosophical lines; and building incarnational, influential relationships in an increasingly globalized world. This includes effective strategies for earning the attention, time, esteem, and trust of unbelievers toward the end of evangelism and discipleship. Students become practical theologians who bring the gospel to bear as a “word on target” for the specific context, as did the apostles and prophets.
5. Developing Professional Competencies for Effective Service.
Johnson equips students to serve as Christ’s ambassadors in traditional ministry roles and in a variety of strategic disciplines and professions that intentionally further the Great Commission and advance the Kingship of God. Johnson University does not accept a sharp division between the sacred and the secular, as if God were not Lord of all creation, all branches of knowledge, and all disciplines. Instead, as Justin Martyr said, “Whatever truth has been uttered by any man in any place belongs to us Christians.” Or, to paraphrase the Apostle Paul,
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought—every field, every profession, every academic discipline—to make it obedient to Christ. (see 2 Corinthians 10:4-5)
A Johnson University education takes a missional approach to every academic program. Professors promote faith integration, encouraging students to “think theologically” and live out the practical implications of Christian faith in their professions and in every area of life. In every Johnson professional major and graduate program, students explore contemporary models and case studies of how Christians have used that discipline or profession to promote the Kingship of God and carry out the Great Commission mandate. They also develop their personal philosophy for practicing that discipline or profession as a Christian ambassador for the Lord.
A “GREAT COMMISSION UNIVERSITY.”
In short, Johnson University’s “intercultural mission model” aims to produce graduates who resemble the Apostle Paul in the synagogue or on Mars Hill—graduates who (1) experience God; (2) understand biblical teachings; (3) meet people where they are with regard to their religion, philosophy, culture, and circumstances; (4) intentionally and prayerfully work alongside God’s Spirit to bring the gospel to bear in transformative ways; and (5) hold professional skills to support themselves as they fulfill Christ’s Great Commission.