07 December 2011

Open Letter to Phil Johnson

by Frank Turk

Dear Phil,

Last week I sort of gushed on Dan for the sake of his accomplishments this year and the sake of our friends/readers who may or may not really grasp Dan's contributions around here.  I thought it went well, so I'm sticking to my plan to write 3 more open letters to people I admire and like (and in one case, worship), and of those three, you are next.

For the record: no, I don't worship you.

About six-and-a-half years ago, you invited me to lunch when you were driving between Tulsa and Branson to invite me to be a partner with you in a little adventure which was to become this blog.  You didn't make fun of my lousy hair cut (well, you did, but it wasn't cruel fun -- it was enjoying the irony before irony was all loused up by hipsters), and you didn't abhor me for having a small business in a field which is populated by opportunists and charlatans (christian book selling), and you didn't run me off the road for using a word I should't have used on my own blog.  You simply thought I was fun to read, and that was enough to bring me in.

In the intervening years, I have gotten a better haircut (easy, since I have a lot less hair), I have closed the bookstore, and I have, I hope, overcome my inclination to use the merchant marine style book (at least in print).  I have made a great friend in Dan Phillips -- a friend that I would never had had without the invitation to blog here.  I have also had the opportunity to blog at places like FirstThings.com, and to join in at least one national conference (even if it was only TheNines, to at least establish the conservative end of the bell curve), and literally thousands of people have become an audience I can reach -- even if most of them are not my fans, but yours.

In short, because you have been kind to me, I have gained so much.  Some might counter that it didn't really cost you anything, but it you risked much to put your reputation on the line for someone as hardscrabble as me, and for that I am grateful in a rudimentary sort of way.

But that little hatch into my gratitude toward you is just a tiny opening into the large mansion of your good will, and I wanted to take a moment to expose other people to that since it is Christmas, and there should be some good tidings to spread around.

Most people decide that they want to know you only as the hatchet man for GTY, and they see you as the hammer and tongs begins GTY.  That may be true enough.  What they most of them never bother to see, however, is the way you are almost universally beloved in Grace Community Church.  That sort of comes with the territory when you teach a large sunday school class, and when one is an elder, but people there don't just respect you -- they are grateful for you.  They like you -- sometimes to the point of wearing you out (if I can say that without either denigrating them or saying something untoward about you).  But, because you have a genuine pastoral sense of what you are called to do there and in you various roles, you give back to all of them.  That's something you don't get credit for out here where anonymous lunatics say anything they want to say without a hint of accountability or, in most cases, a shred of first-hand, primary-source information.

You also have a great family who are, without any hyperbole, a treasure.  Somehow you and Darlene raised 3 boys in SoCal and none of them are wash-outs.  They are all sincerely good-hearted, and gentlemanly, hospitable.  They have married well, and have children which are second only to my own in sparkle and charm.  They have a sense that they belong to something unique, which I think is two parts Jesus and one part Darlene, but somehow it's all in the context that they have a father of whom they are exceedingly proud.

It is in that habitat that I find myself so much more grateful for you, because you didn't just make me a jobber for a blog which needed some functionary bandwidth filled.  In spite of having a completely-full life, and having a full schedule and a full task list, you allowed me to be your friend.  You invited me to your parents' home when you were there so that we could spend time together and laugh about, well, everything.  When I brought my family to California (not once, but twice), you opened your home to us like we belonged there.  You treated my kids like your own, and it didn't occur to you that it should be any different.

In the last seven-or-so years, of all the things which have happened because of the blog, that is the consequence which will matters the most to me, and will affect me the most for the rest of my life.

So in this Christmas season, I thank you for all your gifts to me.  I am grateful for the good tidings of great joy you have given me over the years, and I wish you and Darlene, and all the generations Johnson, joy and gladness, and rejoicing in the birth of Jesus who came to us not as a judge but as a child wrapped in rags, to save his people from their sins.

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.


The Bible Christian said...

Couldn't help thinking about Proverb 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.

You three sharpen me and that is why I read your blog.

Thanks to all

Robert said...

I am grateful for Phil bringing together such a group to blog about pertinent issues to the body of Christ. I am also grateful for the amount of time he puts in working with John MacArthur so that we have all of these books available. And I also am thankful for the time he spends preparing to speak at various conferences in all kinds of places. I've listened to a few and seen a couple on tv/video, but am exceited to be able to hear him speak live at the Shepherd's Conference, Lord willing. In other words, thank you, Phil.

DJP said...

It's fun to have a happy topic to write on, isn't it, Frank? Well done. I wonder if you feel as I would, that you stop short of capturing the man, but to do more would be to gush.

But I'm right there with you, brother, and it's a frequent topic at Casa Phillips. Few single events in my life beyond conversion and marriage have been the source of more good, blessing, fruitful opportunities, and just fun, than becoming Phil Johnson's friend and ally. So many of the things you listed off last week only happened because of that friendship. In any divine royalties bestowed by amazing grace on your and my labors, I'm sure you agree that "Johnson, P" will be listed among the primary beneficiaries.

And ditto on the unconscious, second-nature generosity, large-heartedness... and then there's that (too bad there's not a better word than) wicked sense of humor.

Uh-oh, I'm seeing Gush Falls coming up fast ahead. Better bail out.

So, IOW: ditto-plus.

Marla said...

Phil Johnson and his work on this blog and GTY are two blessings that have enriched my life (and those around me as well) in many ways, and only in the last three years -- many more to come, I pray. Nice post, Frank.

Pierre Saikaley said...

Phil Johnson's labors in the LORD touch many people far beyond Grace Community, in California.

Thank you Phil, especially for your sermon series at Grace Life Pulpit.

If you find that the internet is a better place, Phil Johnson is the evil mastermind behind that plot. :-)

James Scott Bell said...

Phil Jonson is one of my favorite Calvinists (one of the select, if you will). He is a superb writer, and in the blog world that's a rare find. He writes for clarity, which I greatly appreciate. Even when he brings down a hammer, I never feel like he's just trying make himself look clever, or engage in pure snark. Rather, he makes his points and attempts to back them up or make them more clear. Great work over the years, Mr. Johnson.

Pierre Saikaley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pierre Saikaley said...


I agree. Phil's lucidity of thought is poignant indeed. :-)

FX Turk said...

To Dan's question, I threw away 3 times as much text as I used in this post. One of Phil's virtues is that he is an extraordinarily-private man, and he neither bemoans his personal struggles or bellows about his personal triumphs. There is literally 10 pages of things I could list here as evidence of who Phil is vs. what Phil is painted as by the marginally-involved, but they are his private narrative, his private business.

I couldn't capture the man without going there, and I thought it was invasive to go there. So we have what we have.

donsands said...

Man. What a deep full and yet simple word to a brother and friend in Christ. Well done Cent.

I was thinking of how exceptionally solid Phil is in Scripture. No pastor could be more full, and also the compassion and love of Christ is full in his writings and preachings as well.

Keep on Frank, and Dan, and Phil, The Three Amigos, in the Gospel, and ministering to us out here in this devil filled world of lost souls.

jimgalli said...

As someone who has been around Grace Community Church off and on since before MacArthur got there, and who now lives in Nevada so only gets to visit 3 or 4 times a year, I want to concur, that just being in the room on a morning when John is gone and Phil is preaching, you can feel the warmth of that congregation for Phil. It is tangible......and should be.

Robert said...


When you consider the "marginally-involved", as well as the fact that most of us on here only know Phil through the blog, his writing, and seeing him on tv/video, I'd say that you did a spot on job of capturing everything that you should have. You can put everything else in standard sealed-letter form and send it off to him anytime. And I would say that we should all try to take the time to do something similar as we consider buying gifts for those who are near to us. Surely a letter of appreciation and respect for our loved ones is a much more treasured gift than anything money could buy.

Steve Talas said...

Ah yes all this and he loves Marmite too!

FX Turk said...

He'll eat anything. Blargh.

olan strickland said...

Now I feel bad about poking Phil for his misguided and inaccurate assessment that OSU deserved to play in the BCS National Championship. :)

Regardless, I really appreciate the much needed and hard work of contending for the faith from Phil, Dan, and Frank. The Lord has used this blog to both challenge and bless me.

Glad tidings.

Rich Barcellos said...

I like Phil. I have known him for over 20 years. As the years pass by though, I am more impressed with Darlene. She is proof that God works grace in souls in time of need. :-)

Rich Barcellos said...

PS: Does anyone know anything about the fake phil on twitter?

tobekiwi said...

I found the link to this blog several years ago at GTY. It's been a daily stop ever since. Thank you Frank for so eloquently writing this letter of thanks. We've been blessed by Phil, haven't we? Not only his writing here, his editing the many books, but also the many sermons from GraceLife Pulpit and the Shepherd's Conferences, and have learned so much- thank you Phil Johnson.

FX Turk said...

@fakephiljohnson has a great profile pic. I cannot confirm or deny that I know who he is.

Kerry James Allen said...

I am a little bit of a Spurgeon fan, and so I have been over at spurgeon.org for years. Phil has done a great service to the Body by keeping Spurgeon alive in sermons and articles. Thanks, Phil.

Tom Chantry said...

Prediction time:

December 14 Frank's "Open Letter to the Pyromaniacs Reader"

December 21 Frank's "Open Letter to Our Lord and Savior"

December 28 Frank's "Open Letter to Himself"

How'd I do?

DJP said...

You forgot

December 8 Frank's "Open Letter to Chantry the Smartapple"

Tom Chantry said...

That one's too short:

"Hey, Smartapple! Shut up already!"

FX Turk said...

Dec 14: Open letter to John MacArthur

Dec 21: Open letter to Jesus, Lord and Christ

Dec 28: TBD -- I'm thinking Scot McKnight needs an open letter to start the new year off with the right degree of righteous indignation. Help him with his New years' resolutions.

DJP said...

Dec 14: already done


Aaron said...


One thing I find so remarkeable is how well Phil chose his blog mates. Frank, with you and Dan, I can point to specific writings that changed the course of my life. I can't do that with Phil, yet, his influence is undeniable. But then again, I usually agree with everything he says, which isn't true with you. ;)

I thank God for him and thank God that he was given the wisdom to pull together you and Dan. Pyromaniacs has had a dramatic influence on my life.

donsands said...

"I'm thinking Scot McKnight needs an open letter"

That would be nice, but how about Rob Bell even sooner than Scott. I just posted a foolish quote of Bell's on facebook, and people seem to think it's okay, and Bell is fine.

Anyway, just a thought. (RB gets under my fingernails, if you know what I mean.)

Have a blessed evening!

Merrilee Stevenson said...

In other words, Phil Johnson has the enviable combination of meek, sleek, geek, unique and magnifique (in humble and Godly ways) that we all admire.

Pierre Saikaley said...


Frank's "Open Letter To Rob Bell" is a fait accompli.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

I have greatly benefited from Phil's sermon series. I was telling a friend recently that I think Phil is one of the best preachers I have ever listened to, besides my own preacher, of course (don't want to upset Dan on this one--read Paper Pastors). :)

My favorite articles by Phil are the ones where he teaches us from Scripture, right here on this blog.

God bless you, Phil.

Phil Johnson said...

I was flying home from the UK yesterday when this posted, and with all the urgent stuff on my desk this morning, I didn't even think to look at the blog till lunch hour. So I was completely unaware of this post till 15 minutes ago.

Thanks to all of you for your kind comments; especially to Frank for his friendship, and the invaluable encouragement he regularly gives me. I particularly appreciate his love and kindness toward my wife and children.

Same goes for Dan. You guys are excellent blog-partners. I would have quit blogging years ago but for the joy you guys bring me.

donsands said...

Thanks Pierre

Anonymous said...

Nice post Frank. Phil has got a good friend in you. You must come to Johannesburg sometime and see how we live on the wild side.
We have not Phil here but we have some of Doc John Macarthurs other graduates.
All good preachers.
Blessed Christmas to you and yours