**UPDATED** Petition Against the Wrongful Firing of Dr. Eric Johnson
**UPDATED ON 10/7/17**
Thank you to all who signed in support of Dr. Eric Johnson! I am sure that he needed much of the love and support you provided in your signatures and comments over the last month. Johnson has recently announced that he would be staying on campus as Senior Research Professor until he obtains another teaching job.
However, there is still more that you can do and that must be done!
On October 8-10 the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Board of Trustees will have their regular fall meeting with the administration. They are the only people who can keep President Mohler and the administration accountable for their actions, but they need to know that Southern Baptists care about the seminary, Johnson, and the truth.
Below we have provided the contact information for as many of the trustees we could find. Please contact them via Twitter, email, and phone and let them know how important it is that President Mohler and Southern seminary be forthright and honest in their dealings with faculty members. [Their names were publicly provided through the 2017-18 SBTS Academic Catalog, pp.193-194 http://www.sbts.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2010/11/AR-322-2017-Southern-Seminary-Academic-Catalog-2017-18-web.pdf ]
Some petition-signers left notes about negative or harmful personal experiences with ACBC or nouthetic counseling. We encourage you to seek help or further counseling from someone within the Christian Psychology network. One such possibility is Brandon Smith, whom we can personally recommend. His contact information is listed on Psychology Today.
Unfortunately, we have also heard from a number of you that you were contacted and threatened by persons under the authority of Southern seminary. If this is the case, please contact and provide evidence of such interaction to Senior Vice President of Academic Strategy of Southern Seminary and Dean of Boyce College, Matthew J. Hall at email@example.com
What follows is an open letter that three Southern Seminary alumni have sent to the abovementioned trustees:
Formal Letter of Protest to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Trustees
To the Board of Trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,
On Thursday, September 7th, Professor Eric Johnson informed a group of his colleagues and church members that after 17 years of faithful service in the training of pastors and counselors for Christian ministry, he had been “forced into early retirement” by Southern Seminary’s President Dr. Albert Mohler. The next day a petition was formed to protest “the wrongful firing of Dr. Eric Johnson” with signatures from many alumni, students, and counselors connected to Southern Seminary. Almost 700 signatures and nearly 340 comments have accumulated in approximately one month. As the days passed, we heard more and more reports from several SBTS staff and faculty members that corroborated ACBC’s involvement in Johnson’s termination. The first report included a letter written by Sean Perron (now Director of ACBC) months ago to President Mohler explaining his decision not to pursue a doctoral degree at Southern Seminary due to the continued existence of Johnson on campus. The second report said that ACBC threatened to either discredit Southern Seminary as a counseling partner or to discourage prospective counseling students from attending Southern. Later, SBTS faculty sources confirmed that President Mohler obliquely affirmed the latter report during a SBTS faculty meeting on September 13th.
Public statements and context
Much of what follows can be found in the Christianity Today article, ‘Has Christian Psychology Lost Its Place at Southern Seminary?’, which we highly encourage you to read.In order to navigate what has been going on at the Seminary for the past two months, one should note the overall narrative and public statements given by the parties involved:
- In 2007 John Piper endorsed Johnson’s book and in 2010 Tim Keller endorsed his Christian psychology model of counseling for ministry. Johnson has not altered his method since then.
- On August 25th, Professor Johnson was fired by President Mohler effective at the end of the fall semester 2017.
- On September 4th, Southern Seminary professor Heath Lambert wrote in a blog post saying “Churches, seminaries, and Christian training centers, which would find it unacceptable to employ ministers who advocate preaching from resources other than Scripture, must also find it unacceptable to employ ministers who advocate counseling from resources other than Scripture.”
- At a public event on September 7th, Professor Johnson announced his forced departure from Southern Seminary.
- On September 8th, a petition against the wrongful firing of Professor Johnson was created.
- After the petition was created, at least one person on SBTS payroll took it upon himself to contact petition signers, telling them to remove their signatures from it. Several of these signers felt intimidated and officially reported the incidents to Randy Stinson and Michael Withers.
- On September 13th, there was a Seminary faculty meeting concerning President Mohler’s decision to terminate Professor Johnson. Some faculty interpreted President Mohler’s termination of Professor Johnson as imposing additional layers of doctrinal requirements on faculty scholarship beyond the Baptist Faith and Message, the Abstract of Principles, and the adopted clarifying documents. These faculty members are concerned that they are now required to perform their scholarship not only in accordance with these texts but now also in conformity with President Mohler’s own interpretation of them.
- At this same meeting, a faculty member asked something to the effect of, “Why fire Johnson now?” President Mohler responded by suggesting that there were SBC forces outside of his control that had pushed his hand, requiring that Johnson be gone within the next three weeks. Whether or not ACBC falls underneath the domain of the SBC is a matter of interpretation.
- In the Christianity Today article published on September 18th, President Mohler said, “I have tremendous respect for Dr. Eric Johnson. What I said to the faculty in private, I will say to you in public: I have no reason to doubt his character, his commitment to Christ, or his sincerity in signing our theological documents.”
- A Southern professor, speaking under conditions of anonymity to Christianity Today, said that President Mohler’s high praise and respect for Professor Johnson have not resolved the concerns of Southern’s faculty saying, “All it does is make the question [of Johnson’s termination] more frustrating.”
- The Christianity Today article also claims that “At least two prominent faculty members have met with Mohler to raise concerns, but others have kept quiet, telling Christianity Today that they feared speaking out would jeopardize their own employment.”
- We have heard reports that Southern's administration is seeking to locate and possibly discipline the anonymous faculty members who spoke to Christianity Today.
- Speaking to Christianity Today, President Mohler claimed that he cannot give an explanation for the termination saying, “One of the frustrations of being president is at any moment there are questions, for good policy and structural reasons, I cannot answer.”
- On September 20th, Professor Johnson made his only written public statement concerning his termination: “For a number of reasons, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has determined that Christian psychology is not compatible with the version of biblical counseling that they want to promote in their counseling department. As a result, I will be finishing up my teaching at the end of this semester, and then assuming the title of Senior Research Professor until I obtain another teaching job. I want to thank my friends, colleagues, and former students who have given me and my wife tremendous support over the past few weeks. I am extremely grateful for the years I have spent at Southern Seminary, and I wish it God’s best in the years to come.”
Throughout this whole process, President Mohler has repeatedly affirmed Johnson’s moral integrity and doctrinal fidelity to Southern Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention in private and public statements. However, Johnson’s supporters and Southern Seminary’s faculty and students want to know, if his termination was not for moral or doctrinal failure, why, after 17 years of faithful teaching, has he now been fired?
Lambert’s animosity towards Johnson
By his own testimony, Lambert has spent the last twelve years making the case that Christian psychologists do not really believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. It was a topic of his dissertation in 2009. In the Christianity Today article, Lambert stated that he has raised concerns to fellow faculty, administrators, students, and Johnson himself that Johnson’s counseling philosophy “undermines the authority of the Word of God… I’ve always expressed concern because I think he’s wrong.”
In Lambert’s courses he made his animus very clear and convinced many students who had not yet read Professor Johnson that Johnson did not really believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. Every student in the counseling department knew about this feud. It would not be an exaggeration to state that Lambert created and maintained an environment of hostility on Southern’s campus which attempted to stigmatize Professor Johnson before the whole student body. This behavior reached a crescendo in March 2016 with a conference address by Lambert.
In that address, Lambert said the following things:
- Johnson has “unfaithful, unbiblical, unchristian, worthless theology.”
- Johnson was “the most dangerous Christian psychologist.”
- Johnson made a “ total and utter mockery of God’s Word…. I think he is slandering God’s Word”
- “[Johnson] has not been faithful to the Word. He is a horrible theologian.”
- “If we refuse to allow the Word of God to take root in our heart and change us then… the overflow of that unchanged heart will be just as corrupt as this guy I quoted [Johnson].”
Several faculty, students, and alumni (present authors included) requested back in 2016 that President Mohler step in and reprove Lambert for slandering Johnson, misrepresenting Christian psychology, and for questioning Johnson’s salvation. No public apology was ever required for Lambert’s public slander despite assurances that this ordeal was being handled internally.
Lambert did eventually post a public apology once the conference video was re-released this September apparently in response to public pressure from the aforementioned petition. In his apology, Lambert sought to clarify his actions by explaining his slander as mere rhetorical flourish that unfortunately ended up on the internet. But Lambert did not have to question the salvation of Professor Johnson in order to bring listeners to a point of humility. One would also assume that an intentional misrepresentation of Professor Johnson’s actual counseling philosophy would also warrant an apology, but alas, that too went overlooked.
The spirit of repentance did not last long for Lambert. On October 2nd, Lambert gave a plenary address at the ACBC annual conference making a case against all non-ACBC counselors as insufficiently Protestant and concluded with a demand for their repentance. He cited Professor Johnson by name (again misrepresenting him) and concluded that Professor Johnson also needed to repent. In this message, Lambert cited a conference message that Johnson delivered in March 2017. Lambert’s purpose in citing Professor Johnson’s message was to prove that he had rejected the sufficiency of Scripture and promoted a counseling methodology that made speaking about Christ optional for Christian counselors.
If Professor Johnson’s position is so unbiblical, unProtestant, and unChristian, then why have Lambert’s last two major conference speeches taken up a feud with distorted caricatures of Professor Johnson’s view, rather than with an accurate exposition of it? If the Word of God is sufficient to slay any opposition then surely the defenders of Scriptural sufficiency have no need to create caricatures and straw men out of their opponents.
As noted above, ACBC directors, Heath Lambert and Sean Perron, appear to have used institutional influence to push Professor Johnson out of Southern Seminary. The charge of blackmail (originated from the online petition) was too strong, but there are a variety of indirect ways to leverage power in the Southern Baptist Convention. Furthermore, given Lambert’s explicit recommendation that seminaries not employ ministers who advocate counseling from sources other than Scripture, his repeated attacks on Professor Johnson, and reports that ACBC was in some way involved in his termination, it would appear that the trustees need to ask some hard questions in order to get to the bottom of this sad, sordid affair.
If ACBC or Lambert or Sean Perron or First Baptist Jacksonville or any other party did indeed flex its muscles in order to oust Professor Johnson from Southern Seminary, this could directly threaten Southern Seminary’s accreditation status. Accreditation agencies do not permit external forces to exercise undue influence upon seminary hiring and firing decisions. If there has been a violation of this kind, it is imperative that the trustees take steps to rectify this situation as soon as possible.
Questions and recommendations
In the Christianity Today article, Mohler stated that his vision for the counseling program has not changed in the past twelve years and that the field is “one of our most important programs.” He added, “The vision for our curriculum was established in the middle of the last decade… the centrality of the sufficiency of Scripture to their model comes out of their convictions” and that biblical counseling is a key way to demonstrate the “personal and practical application” of God’s Word. When asked whether or not Christian psychology has a place in evangelical academia, especially at Southern, Mohler said, “There really is no change here since we offer no programs centered on it.” This is not true.
Things have changed at Southern Seminary. The counseling program has narrowed, allowing only biblical counseling to thrive apart from any conversation with Christian psychology. There will be no more dialogue, only monologues about the nature, method, and extent of counseling. It is a narrowing that has happened without the direct input of Baptist laity or their messengers in a transparent manner; the course has been set and the Seminary has already begun to suppress any protest. Several influential alumni and Baptist professors have contacted us to let us know that they are going to reconsider recommending counseling students to Southern Seminary because Professor Johnson will no longer be there, and because they view his termination as unnecessary and tribalistic.
Given the obvious harm that these consequences would cause both to the standing and reputation of Southern Seminary, the following are recommended steps that should be taken and questions to be asked next week as the Board of Trustees visit Southern Seminary:
- Offer immunity and anonymity to any and all professors who would be willing to speak with the trustees regarding this situation. Many of them know far more than we do but are terrified of speaking out for fear of ending up like Professor Johnson. Allow them to simply affirm, deny, or elaborate upon anything said in this letter without the fear of disciplinary actions.
- Reconsider the silencing effects that the removal of tenure in 2014 has had up the seminary’s faculty, as they have been afraid to speak up for their terminated colleague, Professor Johnson. Please take steps to reinstate tenure. Tenure ensures the continuity of an institution’s identity, maintains the financial security for faculty families, and establishes boundaries that prevent the president from wrongfully firing professors. Before the removal of tenure in 2014, professors could be justifiably removed for moral or doctrinal transgression. There is no added benefit to the new faculty contract policy aside from the consolidation of power within the office of the president. The reason alumni are writing this letter is because all the faculty and staff members who contacted us were afraid that they would lose their job by speaking out.
- Southern Seminary's counseling program is very important in the life of Southern Baptist Churches, as it is on the front lines of pastoral and congregational soul care. Is it in the best interest of the churches that Southern Seminary serves to train up future pastors in a monologuing counseling department? Should pastors not study under both biblical counselors and Christian psychologists as they learn how to care for the complex needs of their churches?
- Ask President Mohler directly whether any ACBC-affiliate (church, person, organization) was involved in his termination of Johnson. If Mohler refuses to provide a direct “yes” or “no” answer, ask him whether or not his reluctance to speak about the termination is the result of a non-disclosure agreement. It is imperative that the truth come out so that the Seminary can move on and begin a healing and reunifying process.
- Based upon the findings of the abovementioned investigations, if it is found that there was any improper conduct that led to the termination of Professor Johnson, we recommend that the Board of Trustees extend a public apology to Johnson and offer to reinstate him in his original position at Southern Seminary.
At the end of the day, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary exists for Southern Baptist churches. Those who work within the administration should be answerable to the churches and lay people who send their sons and daughters to be trained for missions and ministry. The Board of Trustees is the primary mechanism for maintaining this accountability. The faculty, administration, students, and staff should all conduct themselves in a manner that imitates Christ and provides no stumbling block to the gospel. A short period of incisive and difficult question asking next week will be far better than years of indiscretion and compromise.
C. Layne Hancock
SBTS alumnus, M.Div. 2015
SBTS alumnus, M.A. 2014
Joshua R. Farris
SBTS alumnus, M.Div. 2009
 Piper wrote, "Eric Johnson’s magnum opus has just been published by IVP Academic. It is titled Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal. Knowing Eric and his love for God, and his allegiance to Scripture, and his deep appreciation for the worldview of Jonathan Edwards, and his own walk with Christ through dark valleys, I am encouraged by the conclusion of this book. Don’t stumble over the academic terms (modalities, analogical, theocentric). Penetrate to the amazing claims made here."
 Cf. this report with Mohler’s public statement in Christianity Today that does not rule out such influence: “Both Mohler and Lambert have denied this narrative, with Mohler stating that no outside institution—other than the Southern Baptist Convention itself—factors into Southern’s policy decisions.”
 Technically, ACBC is not an agency of the SBC. Yet, ACBC's mailing address and phone number are linked with Southern seminary. However, ACBC's headquarters is located in a prominent SBC church (First Baptist Jacksonville, FL.) and lead by Southern Baptist pastors. To further complicate matters, while "no outside institution" may factor into SBTS' policy decisions, individuals - like former faculty or influential pastors - are certainly free to influence President Mohler in any number of ways.
 No violation of anonymity was required to sign the petition and almost all 700 people attached their name to the petition and of them 340 left comments detailing substantive critiques of the ongoing situation with Johnson. Approximately 16 of them registered concerns about the trajectory of the seminary and 7 commenters were/are biblical counselors who do not agree with Lambert’s criticisms of Johnson.
 Lambert failed to alert his audience that Johnson was addressing an audience of men and women who work in public mental health primarily comprised of Christian guidance counselors who work in public schools, Christian psychiatrists who work in hospitals, and Christian psychologist who work in secular contexts. Johnson’s purpose in his message to these counselors was to help them utilize God’s common grace resources in counseling contexts that do not allow overtly Christian content.
In his address, Johnson recommends a Two-City worldview to Christian counselors and therapists which is modeled after Augustine, Luther, and Kuyper in order that "Christian therapists think, love, and live increasingly as Christians with everyone they work with."
All of this was dismissed my Lambert in his own conference message, as he instead misconstrued Johnson’s words in order to label Johnson as one who had “completely conformed to a secular standard.”
 To be frank, Johnson does not have many enemies. We do not believe that President Mohler counted Johnson as an enemy 17 years ago when he hired him, nor even when he fired him. On the other hand, Lambert has made his distaste for Johnson abundantly clear. We know of no other group that opposes Christian psychology with as much disdain as ACBC.
**BEGIN 9/7/17 PETITION**
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, under the leadership of Dr. Albert Mohler, has decided to fire Dr. Eric Johnson after 17 years of ministry in Christian scholarship and soul-care. His termination was not due to differing Christian beliefs or failed morality but rather due to pressure from an outside organization, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), and its leader, Heath Lambert.
What is Christian Psychology?
Christian psychology is a thoroughly Christian approach to counseling and soul care based on the resources available in the Bible, the Christian traditions, and good science. Dr. Johnson is known for his emphasis on union with Christ as the greatest healing for the human soul, as emphasized primarily in Scripture and also in the works of Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, Kuyper, Owen, and many others. Dr. Johnson also recognizes that common grace allows for quality science and research to further our understanding of the mind and body. Check out http://icpconnect.org/distinctives/ for more information.
What is ACBC?
ACBC is a non-Southern Baptist entity that believes Scripture to be "a sufficient and an authoritative resource to address everything essential for counseling conversations." They claim that the use of other resources besides the Bible in counseling is a "serious error" that requires repentance. ACBC is run by Heath Lambert, a 2009 counseling PhD graduate of SBTS. If you have a few days, check out Lambert's 95 Counseling Theses here: https://biblicalcounseling.com/ninety-five.
Who is Heath Lambert?
Heath Lambert is a pastor who has set himself against Dr. Johnson since he was an M.Div. student at SBTS. Now as the executive director of ACBC, he is able to influence large churches who have deep commitments to the Bible-only counseling philosophy. Lambert, along with pastors convinced of the ACBC philosophy, used their influence as leverage with Mohler by threatening to disparage the seminary and send students elsewhere if they do not fire Johnson.
What does Lambert have to say about Johnson?
Watch (or read transcriptions of) Lambert misrepresent, misquote, and condemn Dr. Johnson in a public sermon here: https://youtu.be/yPP4I3TNtKM
How can Mohler fire someone after 17 years of faithful teaching and scholarship?
2015, Mohler did away with tenure for good at SBTS. This was probably primarily for
financial reasons, but it also is very convenient when faculty disagree with
Because someone once said, "Don't just do something, stand there!"
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