Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, 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, NIV).
Dr. Elliott Johnson retires in June 2019 after forty-seven years of teaching and faithful ministry to the DTS family. His decades of service have been marked by a gracious spirit, encouraging heart and a commitment to Scriptures. He flourished from the Biblical discipleship and teaching of mentors. His love for God and passion for God’s Word compels him to mentor and disciple others including his family, students, and Christian leaders at DTS and all over the world.
A Need for Discipleship and Teaching
In the same year Jesse Owens and Louis Zamperini competed against Adolph Hitler’s athletes in the 1936 Olympics, Edward and Virginia Johnson welcomed their only child, Elliott, into the world. He spent his childhood on the northwest side of Chicago “in the shadow of Wrigley Field,” where the Cubs play baseball.
Elliott became a Christian as a child, but without biblical teaching and discipleship, his spiritual growth waned. In high school, he attended a new church, Mayfair Bible. “God used the preaching ministry as well as the discipleship ministry so that I was confronted with my need to walk with the Lord,” Elliott explains. His friend, Inge Henningsen, noticed a change in him. “He was more confident of what he believed, and he was much more excited for his faith,” she said. The two dated a few times, but when Elliott tried to talk to her about God, Inge told him, “You have your faith, and I have mine.”
Originally from Denmark, Inge grew up in a family that didn’t believe the gospel. Elliott persuaded her to come with him to some of Mayfair Bible’s youth events. After nine months of attending the church, Inge prayed to receive Christ. She later shared the good news of her salvation with Elliott at a youth retreat.
Elliott graduated in 1959 with a BS in Engineering from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, two years before Inge. After graduation, Elliott asked his pastor what he should do to further his biblical education. His pastor suggested Moody Bible Institute. After a year of “asking more in-depth questions than the average student,” his professors at Moody—some graduates of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS)—encouraged Elliott to check out DTS. “My questions could be better handled at Dallas,” Elliott said. “The faculty dean mentored me and helped prepare me for DTS. He wanted me to have a similar opportunity that he’d had at Dallas Seminary.”
Leaving his new fiancé, Inge, in Evanston to finish her degree, Elliott traveled to Dallas in 1960. The couple continued their relationship long-distance through letters and phone calls. “We didn’t have email or texting back then,” Inge said. “I only saw him twice that year.”
They married the next summer in the little Chicago church that had contributed so much to their spiritual growth. Then Elliott and Inge moved to Dallas and settled into DTS’s married student housing. Charles and Cynthia Swindoll lived a few floors below them. Inge worked as a nurse at Baylor Hospital down the street. “Expenses were so basic in those days,” Elliott recalled, “Inge earned enough in three days to support us for the entire month.”
Teaching in the Philippines
The Lord gave the Johnsons a heart for overseas ministry during their years in Chicago. At DTS, their desire to use their talents as a Bible teacher and nurse flourished. As Elliott finished up his ThD in 1968, four mission’s organizations approached the seminary’s administration. They wanted to establish a new seminary in the Philippines and needed help. Howard Hendricks (ThM, 1950) and George Peters recommended the Johnsons.
In 1968, the Johnsons left for Manilla. During the next four years, Elliott trained Christian workers at the Asian Theological Seminary (ATS). Inge bore two of the family’s six children there. When the family returned to Dallas in 1972 on furlough, they had planned to go back to Manilla a year later for Elliott to serve as the president of ATS.
During the Johnsons’ furlough, Dr. Pentecost asked Elliott to teach at DTS for a year. Elliott’s students liked him so much after the year that they asked the administration to keep him on as a professor. Dr. John Walvoord, president of DTS at the time, asked Elliott if he’d consider teaching instead of returning to the Philippines. The Johnsons had a decision to make—stay in Dallas and teach at DTS—or go back to the Philippines and serve in the administration.
The Johnsons decided to stay at DTS. “I’m much more passionate about mentoring and teaching than I am administration,” Elliott explains. This year marks 47 years of Elliott’s faithful service in the classroom.
A Mentor to the Next Generation of Professors
Many of Elliott’s former students tell of his love and passion for God’s Word as well as his love and compassion for students. He tried to follow Jesus’s command in Matthew 16:24–25 to take up his cross, deny himself, and follow after Jesus. Elliott explains, “I attempted to pursue what Jesus was interested in, rather than what I was interested in.”
Fellow professor Dr. Stephen Bramer wrote, “Elliott has mentored a number of us who are now his colleagues. To me personally, Elliott has been an encourager, a wise friend, and a man who has shown us how to balance family, church, and a ministry here at DTS.”
Dr. Gonzales wrote, “He has been a spiritual father to me that I never had. He imparted to me the interpretive skills that I have today and that I teach in my classes.” As a professor, Elliott’s teaching and research focused on Bible study methods and hermeneutics. Dr. Gonzales wrote, “His precision in hermeneutics is unparalleled in the academic field. Whenever I have a theological question or an interpretive issue, I consult with Dr. Johnson. If my interpretation matches his view of the passage, I feel like I have a hermeneutical giant on my side.”
During his long tenure, Elliott also taught in the Philippines, Poland, former Czechoslovakia, Romania, Russia, Austria, Brazil, England, Germany, Israel, and Scotland. Dr. Gonzales continued, “Dr. Johnson is known for mentoring many students who became ministers, missionaries, or professors at various colleges and seminaries.”
Perhaps all those years of investing in Christian leaders gave Elliott confidence in the abilities of the next generation: “The ministry needs to be passed on. There are a number of young men who are better capable of ministering to this generation than I am. I have full confidence in them,” Elliott explains.
Dr. Nathan Hoff wrote, “As a first-year faculty member, I had the opportunity to share courses with him. I’ve learned far more than a second PhD could ever give me. His love for the Word is self-evident. He constantly impressed upon me that the study of the Bible is a sacred stewardship. He is a lifelong student. It’s common for him to come to class and tell the students that he revised his notes the night before because he learned something new in his continued study of God’s Word.”
Discipleship in Retirement
In retirement, Elliott plans to write and revise books on hermeneutics to add clarity for issues that millennials face. He will also continue to teach several community groups at Pantego Bible, the church he and Inge have served since 1965.
Elliott’s discipleship of the next generation includes his three sons who he talks to weekly: “I try to spend time praying for them, praying for their families, helping them develop a daily walk with God, and stand alongside them as they raise their children.” With an open schedule, he’d also like to spend additional time with his three sons-in-law.
It’s a well-known joke in the Bible Exposition department that Elliott’s use of technology isn’t quite as sharp as his hermeneutic skills. But his desire to connect with his grandchildren prompted him to purchase a cell phone. “We realized that our grandchildren would respond to a text but wouldn’t return a phone call,” Inge said with a laugh. “I bought the phone just so I could communicate with them,” Elliott said.
It seems a trip to Israel may soon be on their retirement itinerary. The Johnsons’ desire to pass on their love for God’s Word to their twenty-one grandchildren motivated them to take two trips to Israel with the older ones—fourteen of them. “We wanted the Bible to come alive to them,” Inge said. The seven youngest, who were too young for the last trip, now ask Elliott: “Don’t you want to go to Israel again, Grandpa, so we can go too?” Elliott laughs, “I suppose we might have to take another trip for them.”
The Bible’s profound influence on Elliott explains his passion for the next generation to value the Word and allow it to shape them: “The biggest contribution DTS made in my life focuses on the heritage of the school—it’s a Biblicist emphasis—the Bible forms a central part, by God’s grace, of my life.”
Dr. Darrell Bock, who co-taught a hermeneutics class with Elliott for 20 years, summed up his ministry at DTS: “Elliott’s most outstanding feature is his humility and the openness that he has for conversations with students. The last time he spoke in chapel—it was classic Elliott Johnson—he ministered to the students and to the faculty. He focused on the goodness and grace of God—that’s what he likes to emphasize—which is also rooted in the history of Dallas Seminary and is something Elliott reflects. It’s a legacy that’s in the school and that he has embraced and passed along to others.”
Editor’s Note: Read more from staff writer Ethel Gould