The death of Florida Christian College was one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced. As difficult as it was for me—a relative newcomer to FCC and not an alumnus—it was all the more difficult for faculty who had taught here for longer periods of time. For novices and veterans alike, the news that our accreditation was being pulled threatened all that we came here to do, and be, and create. We had spent this part of our lives building something, and the work of training Kingdom workers for vocational ministries looked like a ministry that had run its course.
I had been likening our situation to that of the Exile. I had no doubt that God would eventually restore us to our rightful home, but wondered just how many would make the trip back home. Everything seemed dark, and I prayed in that season with an honesty fitting of Abraham, David, and Jeremiah. This Exile seemed endless, the dream shattered, hope abandoned.
But then Johnson University entered the conversation, and hope came alive again.
It would have been easy, understandable even, for Johnson University to administrate this merger (acquisition, to be honest) with a heavy hand. They could have handed down budgets from on high, cut programming, and replaced most of the faculty and staff here with their own people. In many ways it would have been seen as necessary, and no one would have faulted them for it.
Our experience, however, was anything but that.
Johnson University recognized that our accreditors had always given us highest marks in academic standards and educational quality. They saw the value of the top-notch educational programming we offered and knew the value of the personnel who made it happen. Not only did they leave our personnel in place, they welcomed us into the life and community of Johnson University. Case in point: the beginning of year faculty meeting. The University made provisions to host the Florida faculty on the Knoxville campus, put us up for the week, and begin this new partnership with some extensive planning. My introduction to the Johnson hospitality came on the first day of that week. I sat in the meeting of the School of Bible and Theology and watched the dean list the goals for the coming year. First on the list was this: “Fully integrate the Florida faculty into the life of Johnson University.” Any fear I had about my place in this joint venture was displaced in that moment. This is only one example of what has been typical, normative even, in every school within the University, with every faculty member—a welcome partnership. And it’s taking place day by day in every area of this new multi-campus venture.
The more I study the New Testament the more I come to grips with the Jewish roots that nourish the fruit of our Christian faith. And the more I reflect on this, the more I am profoundly grateful that Messiah Jesus has, by his death and resurrection, thrown wide the doors of the Kingdom to include Sabbath-breakin’, pepperoni-lovin’, pork-chop-eatin’ Gentiles like me. I’m humbled by the promises of the Old Testament that Christ would be “a light to the Gentiles” (Isaiah 49:6) and that we Gentiles have been grafted into those promises (Romans 11:17).
That’s what it feels like to be a part of Johnson University—like being grafted into a vine with deep and fertile rootstock—like being adopted into a spiritual family—like being redeemed—like coming home again.
I swallowed the vision of Florida Christian College hook, line, and sinker. Its mission was to train Kingdom workers for vocational ministries by making them “Strong in the Scriptures.” This vision, articulated by the patriarchs of our former alma mater, was the same as that of Ashley Johnson, which now extends to the campus of Johnson University Florida: “to train workers for Christian ministries and other strategic vocations framed by the Great Commission.” We, the faculty of Johnson University Florida—formerly an olive shoot, now grafted to another vine—are proud to be a part of the vision and legacy of these two great institutions. For the vision didn’t originate with Florida Christian College or Johnson University. It originated with Jesus: “Go and disciple the nations” (Matthew 28:19)