New Warner Pacific President Positioned to Further Mission of University, Movement
By Carl Stagner
On June 12, the board of trustees of Warner Pacific University announced the appointment of Dr. Brian L. Johnson as the eighth president of the Church of God academic institution located in Portland, Oregon. Sharing Warner Pacific’s commitment to Christ, urban ministry, and diversity, the first African-American president of the institution eagerly anticipates joining the campus family and building upon the incredible progress of the past decade. Receiving the baton of leadership from outgoing president Dr. Andrea Cook, who served as president since 2008, Johnson is expected to begin on August 1. Dr. Johnson’s background, credentials, and character position him well to further the mission of both the university and the broader Church of God movement.
Johnson’s extensive leadership journey in academia has taken him from Tennessee to Alabama to New York but, until this year, not to the Pacific Northwest. His relocation to Portland is not about a change of scenery, however, nor is it about his love for the great outdoors (Johnson does, in fact, look forward to enjoying the beauty of creation minus some of the oppressive heat and humidity he’s all too familiar with!). Accepting the board’s invitation to WPU was far more than an agreement to take on a new job; Dr. Brian Johnson recognizes the calling of the Divine and the hand of Providence guiding each step of the way. Recalling the collision of some of his most challenging childhood experiences with the reality of amazing grace, he recognizes God’s voice continuing to beckon and lead.
“…the saving hope of Jesus Christ has and continues to keep me,” Johnson wrote in a statement of faith provided to Warner Pacific University. “All the same, I seek an opportunity to finally realize my calling to a faithful, yet knowledge-based academy situated within an urban setting such as Warner Pacific University.”
Outlining his university leadership experience, including regular opportunities to demonstrate and speak his faith, Johnson concluded, “These engagements, even while serving in senior leadership posts within secular institutions, have been my opportunities to continue service to the body of Christ that not only fulfills my personal sense of vocational calling, but also contributes to the needs of both the Church of God community of faith situated at an urban university and an American society, at-large, that is in desperate need of Jesus Christ.”
To put it more succinctly, in the words of Jim Lyon, Dr. Johnson is a “Jesus guy.” And, while he may not come from a distinctly Church of God background, his life and ministry clearly communicate “Jesus is the subject.” But, beyond mere ideological acceptance, Dr. Brian Johnson has expressed tremendous appreciation for what he has come to know and love about the Movement. In fact, he describes the Church of God as one of the major draws to Warner Pacific University.
“I’ve found the Church of God to be inviting,” Johnson reflects. “I’m encouraged by the openness for growth and the grace to grow into the fullness of what it can be. I appreciate the diversity among its pastors. In fact, I’ve seen a great deal of diversity, of which I am proud. And the non-creedal nature of the Movement—there’s an opportunity today for Warner Pacific and the Church of God to really be as Christ was in this world. I really look forward to be a part of it all.”
Dr. Johnson, a prolific writer, historian, and speaker, makes it clear he’s “all in” when it comes to the Church of God movement. He doesn’t just want to be the president of the Church of God university on the West Coast; he wants to be a fully functioning member of the family. In his embrace of the Movement, he looks forward to opportunities down the road to fill pulpits for worship services, special gatherings, and events.
About becoming part of our family, Dr. Johnson is fully aware of the company he is joining in Church of God higher education. Noting the opportunity to get acquainted with the presidents of Anderson University, Mid-America Christian University, and Warner University, Johnson expresses enthusiasm. “I’m very excited about continuing, and even increasing, the opportunity for collaboration,” he explains. “I see an opportunity for all of us to be engaged together in various ways to prepare our students to represent Christ in any vocational occupation. We have a common mission and there is so much we can do in an interconnected fashion.”
Turning to the topic of Warner Pacific University’s trajectory, Johnson envisions practical steps toward even more growth. Considering the significant strides implemented under the Cook administration, Johnson anticipates stewarding recent growth and fueling additional growth—even in the midst of a pandemic. Through campus revitalization and expansion, among other strategic efforts, he sees enrollment increasing and continuing to diversify, all the while continuing to exemplify the beauty of the body of Christ.
“Warner makes its case for what a Christ-centered, liberal arts, diverse institution can offer,” Dr. Brian Johnson explains. “It is not incongruent with Christian values to be thinkers and writers and leaders. I think a Christ-centered institution infuses that in a really powerful way from the standpoint of knowing who we are, which frees us to go into those secular spaces—you can go into many different rooms inside of a college and be exposed to different things. We, however, have the benefit of walking into the house knowing the key is Jesus and be free to engage many theological, philosophical considerations with deep respect but, all the while, knowing what our hope is.”
This is why Dr. Brian Johnson is so excited to be at the helm of a Christian academic institution, and especially one that is a part of the Church of God. Shining the light on a value the Church of God has historically championed—the priesthood of all believers—Johnson stresses that we can all do a better job raising up the next generation as lay ministers wherever they ultimately serve.
“Ministry is usually associated with the pastors,” Johnson reflects, “but we need to encourage everyone to accept their call, even laying hands on everybody, whether they will go into the entertainment field, become a lawyer, practice medicine, or pursue communications. They all need God’s grace and anointing to assist them.”
Referring to a point made by Christian apologist and author Os Guinness, Johnson asserts, “We must make the clarion call that all callings are made sacred by the Caller.” Johnson concludes, “Warner Pacific, and all our Church of God universities, uniquely prepare students to embrace their callings.”
Learn more about the appointment of Dr. Brian L. Johnson at https://www.jesusisthesubject.org/warner-pacific-university-announces-eighth-president/. Learn more about Warner Pacific University at www.warnerpacific.edu.