12 March 2006

Here's a real gold mine

by Phil Johnson

It's already been a little more than two years since S. Lewis Johnson went to heaven. He had long been one of my favorite biblical expositors. He was meticulous with details and low-key in his delivery, but he was always profoundly clear, succinct, and insightful—and never, ever dry. He closely followed whatever biblical text he was dealing with, never straying far from the main point. But he always surprised me with details I had never noticed in whatever passage he was dealing with.

It's popular in some circles these days to denigrate systematic theology as something that's virtually incompatible with biblical theology. Some will even try to argue that systematic theology has no valid or appropriate place at all in the discipline of biblical exposition.

If that's how you think, listen to almost any random sermon by S. Lewis Johnson. He will quickly disabuse you of those notions.

My first exposure to Johnson's preaching was about two decades ago—maybe even more. Someone gave me his tapes on the doctrines of grace. The clarity with which he dealt with the extent-of-the-atonement issue settled some questions I had been grappling with for a long time. What I appreciated most was Johnson's biblical approach. Those tapes changed my whole perspective on the relationship between systematic doctrine and biblical exposition. They also marked a major turning point in my thinking about Calvinism, Arminianism, and biblical soteriology.

Dr. Johnson did not publish a large body of written material, but his sermons have been disseminated freely for years by the tape ministry of Believers Chapel (Dallas), the fellowship Johnson where pastored for many years. Those sermons may be a more valuable legacy than a shelf full of popular-level books would have been. For someone like me, who never went to seminary, it's great to have so much solid teaching from a premier seminary professor. (By most accounts, Dr. Johnson was one of the finest teachers of the twentieth century.)

Dan Phillips linked to the online sermon collection at Believers Chapel last October, but at first glance, it seemed a very short list of material, and I didn't check it out closely enough to see what a rich resource is actually there. The sermons are organized by series, and in total, there are nearly 1500 sermons by S. Lewis Johnson downloadable freely there (not to mention lots of other sermons from other speakers).

Last week someone graciously gave me a complete set of the SLJ mp3s. I've been listening nonstop. Since I'm preaching through Galatians and I had never those sermons, that's the series I started with.

And—wow! This is good stuff. Here is as good a reason as I can think of to get high-speed Internet access and one of those huge-capacity iPods. The sound quality of the mp3s is excellent, and according to iTunes, there's enough preaching by Dr. Johnson in all of them combined that you could listen nonstop 24 hours a day for more than 54 days and you still would not get through all of them.

But if you ask me, that wouldn't be a bad way to spend a couple of months.

Phil's signature


Carla Rolfe said...


I agree, a gold mine indeed. I was introduced to S. Lewis Johnson about 2 years ago, and listened to his whole series on Romans available at the link you've provided. They were so good, I re-broadcasted them into my voice chat room every Monday night at 9pm. It took quite a while to go through them, but it was a great blessing for everyone there.

If anyone hasn't heard this man preach, they've missed a huge blessing.

(And I even took the time to download these on dialup!)


Steve said...

Sigh. My problem is, I can't use the earphones that come with iPods. Consequently, I've never bothered to learn how to download all this stuff in the way you mention.

S. Lewis Johnson sounds good enough for me to try to figure out a way around this barrier I'm up against.

donsands said...

What would be the best, short and sweet, definition for systematic theology, that would be a benefit to those who say, "I interpret the Bible biblically!"

I do deal with this, and feel inadequate to respond.

Good post. I will have to follow up on Dr. Johnson's sermons. Good preaching is what changes the heart, which changes the way I live for Christ.

Castusfumus said...

I have had the opportunity to listen to Dallas, privatly owned radio station, WRR, many years ago to be introduced to Dr Johnson and was amazed at his clarity of exposition. I came to love this man as I would listen to him on my way to church. It was about two years ago that they pulled the plug on Beliver's Chapel to air some christian science nonsence. I wrote the to Beliver's Chapel and they graciously sent me reams of his Beliver's Bible Bullitens typewritten and hand stapled.

While at the Shepherd's Conference I tried to visit Dr. Robert Thomas who mentions S.L. Johnson in the beginning of his Exegetical Commentary on The Revelation. I had intended to ask him about this great mentor only to discover that he was unavalable.

I came out of the Seminary bulding into the keynote Q&A to find that Steve Lawson had much to say about this gentleman. What a coincidence?

S.L Johnson was asked by one of his students as to the greatest thing that he could do to further his study to which Johnson replied, "Read more Calvin!"

David & Rose Ann said...

I live 20 minutes north of Believers Chapel. Praise God for the timing of this post. Just today, literally, a widow whom I serve in our SBC church shared that she was baptized by SLJ. She lamented not hearing him for so long. Having attended Shep. Conf, I knew that Pastor MacArthur has mentioned being given an iPod containing the SLJ volume. I asked if she had high speed Internet - turns out she does. Emailed her the URL for Believers chapel that Phil lists in this post.

And tonight, after many decades, she's enjoying those sermons once again.

Phil Johnson said...

Steve: You don't need an iPod. You can play them right through your computer with iTunes or any similar mp3 program. (I recommend iTunes because of the ease with which it catalogues stuff.) If you've got good speakers cranked up loud and a huge subwoofer, you should be able to hear them, I would think. Otherwise, get Becky to sign them for you. She'll like them, too.

One thing I forgot to mention in the post: Johnson used to make written handouts that went with his sermons. Even the handouts are downloadable at the site.

As the esteemed Centuri0n says:


vox reformata said...

well, maybe you shoulod make a torrent of this SLJ bundle for the rest of us. (?)

DJP said...

Glad to learn we share this appreciation as well, Phil.

My first encounter with Johnson was through some systematic theology lectures. It was apparent that his own scholarly background was quite deep, but his way of communication was so down-to-earth and warm, which that genial Southern accent. I remember cracking up as he alluded to the really "deep theological questions, such as 'Why didn't Noah swat them to m'skeetas when he had the chance?'"

I had the pleasure of meeting him at a Whitefield Fraternal. I spoke briefly with him, and told him how much I had appreciated his article on Romans 5:12 ("Romans 5:12-An Exercise in Exegesis and Theology") in Longenecker and Tenney's New Dimensions in New Testament Study).

Johnson chuckled and said, "Oh, so you're the one who read it!"

His preaching with warmth and depth is indeed a model. Glad you're enjoying him, glad you highlighted him. Pyro readers who meet him through you will thank you!

Steve said...

Thanks, Phil, for the info. I'll give it a try. I'll check into those handouts, too.

FX Turk said...

I love it when I get cited by notable bloggers.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

We were actually attending Believers Chapel when Dr. Johnson died. It was a privilege to get to know him and to hear him speak a few times. Believers Chapel is a wonderful church and continues to have a wide impact because of the tape ministry. To this day, I continue to meet men that say Dr. Johnson was the best expositor of his generation.

Matt Gumm said...

Simply awesome. Thanks, Phil.

jmark said...

Cant someone give a recommendation of a good series to start with?

DJP said...

He's got a short series on Habakkuk which is good, and quite representative of his style.

Tony Byrne said...

By the way, Believers Chapel will be continually updating the audio section. It's by no means complete. When I listened to all of Dr. Johnson's sermons on tape, the tape total was around 824 with 2 messages per tape. It may actually be around 830 since there are some that were not made available to the public. For example, he has about 3 tapes on the issue of Modified Calvinism that many have not heard.

Be sure to keep checking the Believers Chapel website. More is yet to come!

p.s. If you want a DEEP theological series to begin with, check out the Divine Purpose lectures. It may be Dr. Johnson at his best :-)

jmark said...

Sorry - the comment should have asked, "can someone" not "cant someone"

I didnt mean to sound peeved!! :)

SJ Camp said...

This has been one of my greatest influences as well Phil. What a godly man whose theology drips from the Scriptures with every line he speaks.

Thank you for this invaluable MP3 source of his sermons.

Col. 1:9-14

Frank Martens said...

You'll like this:

While I was flying down the mountain on my snowboard I had a few of these in my ipod that I listened to.

Nothing like snowboarding and listening to sermons at the same time.


Jim Bublitz said...

Good stuff Phil!!! I love it when you recommend books, audio files, and resources. Keep it up.

Jim Bublitz said...

A quick note to "Steve" who struggles with iPod earphones:

Go to Best Buy or Radio Shack and get one of those cassette tapes that has the headphone wire coming out of it. Then you just need to plug your iPod into that, and you can listen to it through your car speakers or boom box. I do that all of the time; the cassette adapter cost me nine bucks.

Don't get one of those radio transmitter thingies though, unless you want to listen to your iPod as though it were broadcasting from Mars.