Walter Johnson Believes NGU’s Reputation ‘Precedes Us’
North Greenville University recently earned recognition as one of the best conservative colleges in the U.S. And Walter Johnson says he isn’t the least bit shocked by the news.
“With the focus that we have here, we’re not at all surprised because we do strive for that. Not nearly every institution — even that is affiliated with the Baptist denomination — [strives] for that,” says Johnson.
As a matter of fact, Johnson himself has helped to set and maintain the conservative focus at NGU.
He completed his own coursework in philosophy and theological studies at Furman University, the University of South Carolina, and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, originally pursuing a career as a pastor.
“I absolutely loved being a pastor. I could have stayed in that forever,” he says.
And in some ways, he has. Even though Johnson ultimately felt God’s call to leave his pastorate to teach at North Greenville, he continues to minister to students with a pastor’s heart. One of his favorite aspects of the job is interacting with students and training them to minister in the church.
“The reason I stayed is that [NGU] is a place where we can really teach the truth and make a difference,” says Johnson, now dean of the College of Christian Studies.
He’s served at the university for going on 25 years. During that time, Johnson’s been fundamentally involved in helping NGU to establish a conservative-minded and close-knit team of Christian Studies professors who “unabashedly” hold to doctrines that other universities have long abandoned, especially the foundational doctrine of the authority of the Bible.
This doctrine, says Johnson, has “the most impact” on every other one.
“I personally have hired all 10 of the full-time professors in the College of Christian Studies. In the interview process, I weed out anyone who is not committed to the inerrancy of Scripture,” says Johnson. “Once the Bible has been replaced in authority, then what else changes? The sky is the limit.”
In higher education, for example, the guiding search has changed from the Modern question, “What is truth?” to the Postmodern question, “Does truth really exist?” he says.
“With Postmodernism, there is a denial that there is absolute truth; everything is just a person’s perspective. You’ve got your perspective, I’ve got mine,” says Johnson. “So therefore nobody’s really right or wrong.”
While Johnson and his colleagues, on the other hand, continue to affirm biblical truth, that doesn’t mean they don’t teach and discuss other perspectives in their courses.
“We can interact very effectively with modern thought; in other words, we talk with our students about alternative positions and views. We actually can critique those positions, not only biblically, but rationally and philosophically,” says Johnson. “Our position, we feel, is true, and if something is true, it’s defensible.”
Johnson says he's grateful for a school where he can share conservative values, and that he and other professors at NGU have always felt “encouraged” — not only by NGU, but also by the South Carolina Baptist Convention — to stand by them. But even if backlash or pressure should come from the outside, they remember that their ultimate accountability is to God.
“We’re going to face God with what we did with the truth that He gave to us,” says Johnson. “Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Consensus asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ Courage asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ Courage is the virtue by which a person speaks what is true and does what is right, even in the face of opposition.”
Students graduate from NGU’s College of Christian Studies prepared not only for seminary work and ministry opportunities, but also for living with this same courageous mindset.
“My classes prepared me to think deeply about Scripture and the God who reveals Himself through its pages [and] to have roots in the midst of a culture that promotes a constantly fluctuating set of values,” says Russell Freeman (’03), who graduated from NGU with a degree in Christian studies.
Freeman continued his education after NGU at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and now serves as pastor of Warrior Creek Baptist Church in Gray Court, S.C.
“Although I could not do the type of work I am doing without a seminary degree, I still view my degree at North Greenville as indispensable,” says Freeman.
Because of the experiences and testimonies of alumni like Freeman, Johnson says he rarely gets asked about the university’s commitment to solid Christian values anymore.
“The reputation of the school is such now that, by the time [prospective students] get in my office, almost none of them say, ‘Is this going to be biblically grounded?’ I used to hear that on a regular basis,” Johnson says. “Our reputation precedes us.”
So it really is no surprise that NGU was recently included in a 2016 Newsmax.com ranking that lists “outstanding institutions of higher learning that still cater to conservative values,” coming in at spot #33 of 40 institutions featured from across the U.S. For more information about NGU's College of Christian Studies, visit ngu.edu/college-of-christian-studies.php.
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