19 June 2012

Alas, poor Johnson... a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy

by Dan Phillips

Have you ever heard a eulogy about someone you barely knew and thought "Dang! He sounds like he was a pretty great guy. Too bad it's too late!" I have; and I've often thought it might be more serviceable to deliver eulogies before our beloveds get their "promotion," so to speak.

So, since Phil's reached a significant turning-point, and though (if God says "yes" to my prayers) he'll still be "the troubler of Israel" for many fruitful decades to come, I thought I'd offer a bit of an encomium. And since Frank's already raised his glass in an incredibly witty, pitch-perfect toast, the more sonorous essay falls to me.

I've heard that it's a saying in government work that if you stick your finger into a glass of water and then pull it out, and leave a hole, then you're irreplaceable. Phil Johnson is leaving a hole in the watery world of Christianoid blogdom.

Phil started blogging in 2005, his first post bearing a Latin title, explaining the name "Pyromaniac" (trivia: the blog was almost named PurpleHaze), and laying the ground rules. From there, Phil made his mark with his unique and inimical style. What is that style? It's a rare combination of wit, eloquence, substance, clarity, maturity, sagacity, wisdom and passionate intensity. Maybe it's simpler to say that Phil Johnson writes like a man. A Christian man. Sadly, that alone is enough to make him stand out in Christian blogdom today.

I began reading in 2005, made Phil's Blogspotting feature and entered the comment meta as a distant blip of a fanboy. What captured me about Phil's writing was his way of slicing right through to the heart of things in such a deft yet common-sense way that it left you feeling both stupid and smarter at the same time. Stupid, as in "Oh, duh, why didn't I see that?"; smarter, as in "All right, I totally get that now."

I've often told the story about how I got The Email That — to use a florid but accurate phrase — Changed My Life. It popped up in my Inbox on January 19, 2006. Ironically, I had actually emailed Phil (not sure whether he knew me from Adam, or Jay Adams, for that matter) about the fact that I didn't feel like I was getting anywhere in my blogging. I had a couple of hundred visitors a day, I think, and just wasn't penetrating, wasn't getting anywhere, wasn't making a dent.

Phil responded graciously and, at the end, said this:
Meanwhile, because of the drain on my time and creative energies, I'm planning to convert "Pyromaniac" to a group blog, and you're one of the first I thought of as a possible team member. Are you interested?
I was stunned. My first thought was that he'd written the wrong "Daniel." Phil had confused me for another Daniel, probably the Canadian Daniel. I was actually afraid to answer. Can you understand that? The bubble would pop in due course, so let's enjoy the illusion while we can.

In fact, Phil had to write the next day:
Dear Dan,
Did you get the e-mail invite from blogger to join the new blog team? I sent it last night.
Pretty sad, eh? The "Dan" encouraged me that Phil knew who he was writing. I fell over myself accepting, and on the 23rd I received an email with rules for writing for the blog. I still hadn't met the man.

That would happen in June of 2007, when I flew out to meet Phil for the Founders Conference in Oklahoma, where Phil was saved and grew up. Frank also came, so we three were together for the first time. Phil was just as he is in print: gracious, funny, sharp, smart, pretty much a fountain of information. I had a terrific time. Phil's parents were a sheer joy to meet and begin to know. They were fun to visit with, and they fed Frank and me like sultans. It wasn't hard to see where Phil learned to be so generous and gracious.

Phil gave me a tour around town, showing me the window to the very room in which he trusted Christ as his savior and Lord. We also encountered my first Bass Pro shop, Elmer's, the Oral Roberts complex, the GUTS church, and the awe and mystery of my first (but not last!) Sonic.

My life had already been changed, thanks to Phil. Blogging at this level in itself was a new, heady and fun experience. Because of it, I had been invited to speak at a conference in Arizona later that year. But at the Founders Conference itself I heard David Wells speak, and an almost offhand remark he made sparked a cascade of fireworks in my mind which eventually issued in my first book.

In fact (since this post is in danger of turning into a novella) let me just trace that theme. The best parts of my life are knowing God in Christ, and my loving family. Apart from that, so much of what I have enjoyed most in the past six years has been related directly or indirectly to Phil Johnson:
  • The Johnson, Turk and Phillips families becoming friends
  • Opportunity to open the Word for an international audience through blogging
  • Cyber-friends all over the world
  • Opportunity to do conferences in Arizona, Tennessee, and England (so far)
  • The World-Tilting Gospel, endorsed by Phil and, thanks to him, by John MacArthur
  • God's Wisdom in Proverbs, also endorsed by Phil
  • My current pastorate in Houston, Texas
  • Sonic!
  • Cracker Barrel!
Okay, those last two are well down the list.

Regardless, while God can do whatever He wants with or without means, He used Phil to bring an amazing flood of good into my life, and my family's life. This is a debt I can never repay.

And I'm sure I'm one of hundreds, or more likely thousands all over the globe, who could say that to some degree. Other big names you know are very self-absorbed, ungracious, grimly dedicated to building their kingdoms and making names for themselves. They're happy to hear the Clubhouse door slam shut behind them on their way to their easy chair. Not Phil. He is an incredibly giving, caring man. First time he was in my neck of the woods was when he flew up to encourage a disheartened friend. That's Phil.

So let's get back to the singularity that is Phil as a blogger. There simply is no one blogging who does what he has done, let alone do it as well as he. I am not saying there aren't great and valuable bloggers. But there simply isn't anyone who combines Phil's sharp wit, his humor, his robust jocularity, his directness, his clarity, his steady ability to keep first things first, and his ability to cut directly to the heart of the matter memorably and forcefully.

Elitist blogs pretend not to see him, but they do, and we all know it. The errant and erring pretend not to know who he is, but they do, and we all know it. We all laughed at Frank's absolutely hysterical video — but, you know, I laughed and winced at the start. Things will happen, those who should know better will say idiotic and  harmful things, and those who should speak up will remain silent.

And you know what I'll be thinking?

"I really, really want to read what Phil thinks about that."

Now Frank Turk, in addition to being a menace whom to stop is imperative, writes like a force of nature. Watching Turk do what he does is like watching Niagara Falls fall. He is amazing, he's unique, he's Phil's big "find," and I hope he does what he does forever. God willing, I will continue to do what I can.

But I'm sure Frank would agree with me: there's just the one Phil. He was needed. He's still needed. He'll be missed in blogdom, and I pray someone with his stature will begin doing what he did as well as he did it, or that we who do will bring up our game accordingly. We'll see.

I take solace in looking to Phil to put out books in his own name and voice. Frankly, I hope MacArthur tells him "I've written enough for now. You take a year off and you write something."

When he does, I'll be there, I'll read it.  Even if it's mostly about schmerodactyls, meat chubs, or the TSA.

And you will, too.

Coda (to use a Phil-like word)

Readers may be wondering, "But, you're still friends, right?" Oh thank God, yes. I'll still plague the poor soul with emails and phone calls, and see him whenever I can, until the doctor tells him "Actually, I was mainly talking about Phillips." That's all good for me.

My genuine point is that I care about the Christian blogosphere, I'm concerned about it, I'm actually pretty torn-up about it in some regards — and if I had to pick 25000 names I'd like to see stop blogging altogether (if I even knew that many) [Note from Frank: I'll make the list ...] Phil Johnson wouldn't be on that list. I'd be on that list before Phil's name.

Other readers probably think, "You know, seven years later, you're still a fanboy." Guilty. The privilege of getting to be Phil's friend hasn't made me think less of him, but more.

Clear enough?

Dan Phillips's signature


Unknown said...

Phil's ability to get to the point while using his unique style should be an example to all of us bloggers, especially those who wish to stay off that list of 25,000 or so.

Bob Johnson said...


candy said...

You said: "there simply isn't anyone who combines Phil's sharp wit, his humor, his robust jocularity, his directness, his clarity, his steady ability to keep first things first, and his ability to cut directly to the heart of the matter memorably and forcefully."

So true.

James White briefly stated that he isn't joining the funeral possession for Phil because he thinks Phil will still speak loudly and intensely. I hope so!

DJP said...

Thanks for starting this off on-topic and, for the record, Phil's the topic.

As to White's remark: whatever. To me, the opportunity to express appreciation for Phil's character, achievements, and significance, is a good thing, and shouldn't be missed.

danny2 said...

I'm alarmed that our "reformed camp" seems to lack the ability to thank God and recognize His grace to us in those He has placed around us. In our desire to glorify God alone, it seems we go too far...and fail to give Him glory for His saints He's placed in our circles.

While I do believe Jesus will continue to build His church, even without Phil in the blogosphere, I don't think it's any more accurate to claim he won't be missed.

Galatians 6:6 tells me that I should share good things with those who teach me. I've learned from all you guys. I've been instructed by Phil. I'm thankful for God's grace in providing instruction across the internet!

(Next time there is an evangelical blowup, perhaps you guys could tape your phone calls and then publish the transcript as a guest post?)

Gilbert said...

Wow. I never thought I'd attend a blog funeral where the subject to mourn is not only alive, but very much alive in Christ!

Very well said, Dan. While there is only one Phil Johnson (but, no offense, Phil!)...there is one Christ, and He did not make Phil Johnson his sole ambassador. We see Phil imitating Christ, and while I am a long way from being where Phil is, we see from "behind the curtain" in this post how a man was transformed by Jesus, from a dirty rotten sinner to the still sinner, but fully saint and humble man he is as Christ has become the pinnacle of all who he is. Phil is racing to glory, and all he asks is that we run with Christ for His glory.

Some may miss the point: this isn't farewell to a blogger from Dan. This is Phil responding to God's word. He's not retiring. It's not in his Spirit-filled body not to speak up for Christ...you doggone better bet he will! How and where he does it changes. Nothing more. Phil will still be Phil, and Christ (I pray) will be exalted more and more in Phil. Nothing more. And, nothing less.

Having said that, I still get it: now we have to settle for (gasp) Dan and (shudder) Frank? Even Chantry can't stop that train wreck! ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-)

(Yes, I love all the Pyros, yes, I will miss Phil, but the three remaining Pyros will be just fine as they are full of the Spirit. But I have to admit that I can't wait to see Pecadillo's tribute. Only he can have a picture of a feline of very questionable life quality in the post and get away with it.)

Eric said...

Reading a blog for a period of time tends to make one feel as if they "know" a person without having ever met them. In a sense, I suppose there is some truth there, but I'm also sure that there is much more to know about Phil Johnson. In many ways, the world of Christian blogdom is a great way to tangibly experience some level of unity in Christ when we can feel a kindred spirit with people we have never met, and likely never will. Dan and Frank have been uniquely blessed to know Phil personally. Many others have been blessed to "know" Phil through this blog. May God richly bless Phil's continued ministry and life with his family.

DJP said...

Danny: x ack lee.

Gilbert said...

DJP wrote:

>Thanks for starting this off on->topic and, for the record, Phil's >the topic.

But Dan,

When I see Phil, I just cannot help but see Christ behind, on the side of, and in front of it all.

The Squirrel said...

"... until the doctor tells him 'Actually, I was mainly talking about Phillips.'..."

Actually, I blame the late May snow in Montana...

Nice tribute, Dan.


Scot said...

What captured me about Phil's writing was his way of slicing right through to the heart of things in such a deft yet common-sense way that it left you feeling both stupid and smarter at the same time. Stupid, as in "Oh, duh, why didn't I see that?"; smarter, as in "All right, I totally get that now."

Yup, That pretty much sums up Phil's blogging. He's set the bar high, and we're all the better for it.

I've never met you Phil, but I thank God for all your writing and hard work.

FX Turk said...

One thing which, I think, tempers a lot of famous people's reactions to Phil's announcement is that, frankly, internet retirements are sort of provisional. A lot of people have said, "I can'ts stands no'more!" and unplugged until they were ready to pop, and then came back with their guns blazing. It's tough to eulogize someone you don't believe is dead.

So while I think the ave atque vale for Phil has been lack-luster, it's because he's not dead yet.

Pierre Saikaley said...

I kept seeing the name "Phil Johnson" being thrown around and I decided to look into who is this guy, other than he works with John MacArthur.

The best find on the internet ever, in my opinion.

GraceLife Pulpit is a treasure trove of Phil's preaching. It's time well invested.

Kerry James Allen said...

Press on gentlemen. "In that great day when the Lord rewards His servants, the rewards will not be in proportion to the way in which their testimony was received, but in proportion to the fidelity with which they delivered it." Spurgeon

threegirldad said...

Phil came to my city about a year after my wife became seriously ill. He had been invited by a person who met him years ago at a Shepherd's Conference to speak at a local church. It's a small church--definitely not a "superstar" forum. Phil was just as passionate as he sounds on any audio or video I've ever listened to. After the service ended, I walked up to him somewhat tentatively and introduced myself, mentioning my nick. He immediately recognized it, and then said something like, "Now, your wife has had some medical problems, right?" To this day, it still stuns me that he made either connection (but especially the second one).

What a wonderful tribute! Thanks for posting it.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

A touching and beautiful tribute to Phil Johnson.

Much thanks for writing this historical journey.

Chris said...

Thank You, Dan, For This Most-Desrved Post for Phil Johnson!
I have both observed and personally encountered every attribute you have so accurately described about Phil.

Yet, in Phil's role as a blogger and as a pastor, words cannot really do justice in capturing his gifts of biblical knowlege/doctrine, critical thinking, teaching, and mastery of language. Countless numbers of people observe these gifts on the blogshpere, and, in addition to being among that group, I have also had the privilege of observing these same gifts in action as a member of Gracelife, where he is and has been my faithful pastor.

On a personal level, what you say about his graciousness and generous giving of his time and heart to others couldn't be more true! I have never known anyone who exemplifies these qualities more than Phil, which speaks to his character all the more when one considers how in-demand he is, and pulled in so many directions, on any given day!

CR said...

Good post, Phil.

tobekiwi said...

"Troubler of Isreal" hee, hee, hee! ""I really, really want to read what Phil thinks about that", oh how true that is.
But seriously, you brought forth a lot of other good things about Phil that a lot of us weren't aware of. Thank you for that. I can thank him for pointing me to S. Lewis Johnson, never would have known about that treasure trove. But I might have to start listening to Grace Life Pulpit more often to get my Phil-fix. Also, since I found the blog a couple years after it started, I've got a lot of history to mine, yay!
I miss him and it's only been what, a little over a week? So glad you guys are still keeping the lights on and the posts coming. Just so you know, don't you even think of unplugging! (unless you really have to ;o), we'll survive)

Nash Equilibrium said...
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Nash Equilibrium said...

Meat Chub News

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Phil has the gift of oration in his writing and that is what makes him so effective; most great speechwriters share this ability. Phil could use just the right words with pinpoint accuracy to get his message across clearly and succinctly. It is a real gift, actually. When you read anything Phil wrote it was as though every word he used was in bold-face-type; each word mattered, carried its own weight, and counted for something. It is not always the writer who is eloquent with words, or flowery, or just wordy that captures your attention, but the person who uses an economy of words, effectively and to the point. (Not saying that any other form of writing is ineffective, but for the serious subject matter—Phil was spot on!).

I love coming to this blog because of the diverse writing styles; each one of the Pyro’s here is a sheer delight to read. That includes the hilarious Tom Chantry. And I hope Phil will make an appearance ever so often. I truly miss his voice.

Awesome tribute, Dan!!!!

trogdor said...

From his first post:

"But don't expect this blog to be one of those where "common ground" and peaceful relations are sought with any and every theological perspective. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I'll be trying to do my little part to call down fire from heaven against evil ideological strongholds and mischievous doctrinal fads (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). I won't back away from getting militant when the topic calls for it. But my targets are ideas, not people. I might step on a few toes; nothing more violent than that against anyone's person, I promise."

Mission accomplished. For that we should all be grateful.

Tom Chantry said...

Thank you, Nash, for pointing us toward the real story behind Phil's retirement.

The Damer said...

I have, at times, disagreed with Phil on issues but there has never been a situation where I thought his view was clueless or uniformed.

There aren't a lot of bloggers out there that I feel the same way about.

I will greatly miss Phil's writing.

Doug Hibbard said...

I think Frank's got a point about the general experience of "internet retirement."

The difficulty is that the few people that you wish would back away from their retiring have too much integrity to do it. They would have said "indefinite break" if they wanted to come back later.

Phil Johnson seems to be that sort of man: he said he's gone. He's gone. Fortunately, he's left a stack of posts that are applicable to most of the situations still floating about and left a good team to keep carrying on.

Although, looking back to last week, getting Carl Trueman on Fridays wouldn't be a bad idea.

mike said...

I've enjoyed Phil's writing over the years. He makes his views clear and he makes his reasons clear. Now that he's retired from blogging, I do have one question.

Is it Amyraldan or Amyradian?

Susan said...

Well, Dan, if you and Frank saw this "troubler of Israel" disappear into the whirlwind when he did, chances are you both will inherit a double portion of his strength.

Nice tribute. :)

bassicallymike said...

I came upon Pyromaniac’s via a link from The Spurgeon Archive. This was 2007 or so and I was quickly becoming a lonely member of “Club Frustration” with few opportunities to fellowship with likeminded believers.

Phil (at that time) had recently blogged of his attendance/participation at an F.I.R.E. Conference in Atlanta (maybe).

This kicked off a search on my part of a conference I might be able to attend.

Lo and behold the aforementioned Founders Conference was within driving distance so I attended and soaked up the great preaching and fellowship. Getting to meet Phil, Frank (he really is nicer in person) and Dan was icing on the cake.

I still remember laughing out loud (and getting a look from Phil) when he spoke of being burned out on blogging in a bloggers breakout session at this conference. Sorry, irony tickles me easily, ok!

I was able to see and hear him again this past October at a Psalm 119 Conference in Dallas. His lovely wife, Darlene, was gracious enough to snap a photo of Phil and I together.

I’ve been blessed by the overflow of his research for Dr. Mac’s books. I’ve been blessed by his updates on kids and grandkids. I’ve been blessed by insights into his personal life. (The recent blog about the satchel going overboard and God’s providence brought tears to my eyes)

I understand his reasons totally. Thanks for sharing the great gifts God has so richly blessed you with. I am the richer for it. You will be missed!

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Considering all the things Phil Johnson does (like ministry)--traveling the world, preaching, not to mention his day job and spending time with his family-- it's amazing that he did it so well for so long. I haven't met him personally (yet)--though I'd much rather meet Darlene I think. Phil doesn't give the sense that he's trying to impress anyone, but he does impress anyway with his graciousness and humility and general lack of the need to apologize for his words, while still having the forcefulness of of an elephant (but none of it's smell).

DJP said...

Merrilee, amen to every word. The man is a marvel to me, has been as long as I've known him. I NEED to learn to do what he does. How he learns so much, stays on top of so much, accomplishes so much - yet is a dedicated husband, dad, granddad... no clue.

Solameanie said...

Frank nailed my sentiments exactly, in Pythonesque style. "They think he's dead. No, he's not."

I agree with the tributes and offer my "megadittoes." But I don't think we've heard the last of Phil's contributions to Christian dialogue. Not by a long shot. I know how this fallen world works all too well, and sooner or later, something will bubble to the surface that just needs saying, and when that happens, the prompt to say it overrides all else. ;)

Solameanie said...

BTW, Doug, I wouldn't say it's an issue of integrity to stay away. Obviously, if you feel stepping totally away never to return is the Lord's desire, you need to be obedient to it. But as I said in a different meta, even Phil's general departure doesn't mean he can't pop up from time to time with a contribution if the issue or occasion warrants it.

Aaron said...

I say Amen to this post and Merrilee's comments. I just want to add that I think Phil managed to pick two amazing guys to team blog with. His example in leaving is one more phenomenal example that more ministers and ministries need to follow: identify leaders, disciple them, and then graciously (and fully) turn over responsibility. Even by his leaving Phil manages to put on a clinic of Biblical wisdom.

Susan said...

Merrilee on Phil's ability to impress: "...while still having the forcefulness of of an elephant (but none of its smell)".


Robert said...

It is an encouragement to see the tributes paid to Phil by you and Frank. I've always wondered if John MacArthur helped form much of Phil's dedication and work ethic and vice versa. And then after reading the posts here, I've wondered the same about the three of you. I mean, that is the model that we have from Scripture with Paul training up Timothy and Titus and then telling them to pass this all along to other men who will do so to other men to lead the church.

While I know that God will work through men to keep the Church going, I wonder how much longer it will be before the lone voices willing to take on issues in the Church dwindle away. And while I know God is sovereign, that doesn't mean we shouldn't be grieved over what is wrong and actually point out why it is wrong. And then follow up by encouraging people to walk in the truth and do what is right. That is what Phil has done on here and in his ministry. And the grace of God has worked mightily in his life. We should take the time to recognize that and to show our appreciation.

Thanks, Phil.

Chris L said...
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Robert said...


I'm guessing you'd be saying good riddance to somebody like Jesus who said that if we love Him we'll obey Him. Because that would make him a legalistic boor, right? You can line up the apostles and prophets with Him, too. If that makes you feel good about yourself, that's just plain sad.

Chris L said...
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Tom Chantry said...

And Chris demonstrates that he thinks Caiaphas was a Pharisee. Thanks, bye-bye, don't let the door knock you on the tookus on your way out.

*shaking head in marvelment*

Chris L said...
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Chris L said...
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Solameanie said...

Chris, thus far I have seen no "engagement" on anything. Only sneers and a boorish attitude on steroids. Why are you even here? Go read some Schuller or McLaren, which might be more your speed.

Chris L said...
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DJP said...

You've had five chances to push beyond "Boy, I really hate Phil Johnson." Given that you've not managed to go a micron past, and given what we know Phil stands for and accomplished, I'll just take it that it's your twisted way of admitting that Phil tipped one your cows that badly needed tipping -- without admitting it.

If you can't manage better, Chris L, you're done. But in that the quality of a man sometimes is known by the opposite quality of those who hate him, you've managed to add a tribute of your own. Well done.

Tom Chantry said...

Right. You wrote the wrong thing on purpose to show us what jerks we are. You didn't write the wrong thing accidentally because you were frothing at the keyboard or anything.

Chris, learn at least one lesson from this: people who surf the net looking for blogs of people they don't like just so they can rail angrily against them typically come off looking foolish - perhaps even more foolish than they typically are.

DJP said...

Anyone surprised? I mean, seriously?

Chris L said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DJP said...

This is almost invariably the way with a troll.

1. He blurts some folly
2. He is confronted for the blurt
3. Any response he gives simultanously rejects and confirms that confrontation, almost as if on-purpose.

It's a Prov. 28:13 thing, and a human nature thing. Any time you really make a fool of yourself, your choices are to admit it and make it right, or double-down and make it worse. Persistently choosing the latter is what marks one as a fool.

You have now had and blown seven opportunities, Chris L. That's four more than we used to give. One more, you're simply banned, period.

Chris L said...
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DJP said...

Same pouty, hollow slander with more words and flingings of blame at everyone else.


Unknown said...

As a long-term follower of this blog from South Africa for many a year i would like to echo my appreciation of Phil Johnson. The giftedness displayed in bringing clarity where many want to muddy the waters is extremely rare. Thanks Phil and the guys for the blog. I'm praying for the occasional guest appearance. This is a voice that needs to be heard and this is a medium whether we like it or not that needs the PJ's of the world like never before.