The Life and Last Days of a Saint: Dr. Ben Campbell Johnson

Since our last update, Ben returned to ICU.

On Wednesday morning, the heart surgeon, Ben’s primary doctor throughout these last three months, shared with Nan that there was nothing else medically that could be done to improve his health. He felt that Ben’s body is just wearing out and it was time to consider comfort care and a move to hospice. 

Dr. Jim Keller, close family friend, a retired Emory doctor and the best advocate Ben and Nan could ever have, came to talk with the other doctors and asked Ben if he knew what was going on. Ben said yes, he did and that he was ok with the next steps of comfort care and hospice.

Ginger and Chris, Ben’s children, arrived yesterday. After they had some time with Ben, Jim Keller arrived and Ben motioned to see him. With the trac, it is very difficult for Ben to speak but when Jim put his finger over the trac, Ben said very clearly that he is ready to die. 

Nan and Ben had some time alone to talk where, several times, he told her he loved her. Nan shared with him that she would support his wishes and told him “I will help you with this”  What unimaginable unconditional love!

Today, Nan and all the children (even Mark on Speaker phone) and Jim Keller met with the hospice coordinator to arrange the move to the hospice unit at Emory later today.

I had the gift of being with Ben and Nan on Wednesday and read Psalms to Ben as he guided which ones he wanted to hear. For the last one, I was really having a hard time understanding him and thought he said ’21’. When I asked him, he shook his head no, then I guessed ‘1’, again he shook his head no, then he mouthed ‘121’ I knew by his expression that this was the right one!

So, I leave this with you now as a gift of encouragement shared by Ben for ‘such a time as this’

Psalm 121 A Song of Ascents. NKJV

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help?

My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to be moved;  He who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,Nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul.


The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in; From this time forth, and even forevermore.

Amen and Amen

My deacon friend wrote me earlier this week: “Ben will be greatly missed by this (Catholic) deacon.” Though I barely knew Ben he touched my life. I am reminded again that one meeting with one person can touch and impact a life very powerfully. I am sure Ben touched thousands of lives. He was filled with deep joy and empowered by abiding love. I am grateful that I was allowed to see this reality and be touched by Ben’s life. Now I pray for a safe and glorious final chapter in Ben’s earthly story. Go in peace dear brother. God loves you and you clearly loved him. What else can one desire in this life?

Posted in Evangelism, Love, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Spirituality | 12 Comments/Likes

A Swedish House Church Movement of Revival

Pietism produced many expressions and forms. In the end, Pietism was a rival/renewal movement in the centuries following the Reformed and Lutheran Reformations of the sixteenth century. I personally believe the post-Reformation produced a new type of scholasticism that help to reduce the flame of reformation to a flicker. Pietism is quite often seen by modern Reformed and Lutheran confessional adherents as a bad development. If you believe in church renewal and the work of the Spirit you should rethink this idea.


Posted in Charismatic Christianity, Church History, Pietism, Protestantism, Reformed Christianity, Renewal, Spirituality, The Church | 9 Comments/Likes

Was Pietism an Expression of an Early Pentecostal Movement?

The Assemblies of God maintains an official heritage center called the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC) in Springfield, Missouri. Dr. Darrin Rodgers is the director of the Flower Center. In this video he addresses the important question of the relationship of the Pentecostal renewal in the last century with the movement of Pietism in the post-Reformation era. It strikes me that honest historical research, which is not built on anti-Pentecostalism, cannot help but draw the conclusions that Dr. Rodgers makes in this helpful video.

Posted in ACT 3, Charismatic Christianity, Pietism, Renewal, Spirituality, The Church | 11 Comments/Likes

The ACT3 Cohort Group Begins Monday, May 23

On Monday, May 23, the next ACT3 Cohort begins in Carol Stream, IL. We meet in the beautiful garden room at Windsor Park on Rt. 64.

If you are interested in being a participant in this dynamic group you need to decide in the next ten days or so. This will be the best multi-denominational and multi-ethnic group I’ve had in the four-plus years we’ve trained leaders in this context. Remember, this is NOT for clergy only at all. In fact, most of those who come to the Cohorts are not clergy. Contact me directly with any questions.

If the price tag is too steep please let me know your need as I am seeking scholarship monies for all who have genuine need.

Posted in ACT 3, Discipleship, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 5 Comments/Likes

ACT3 Monday Evening Forum

The first ACT3 Monday Evening Forum of 2016 takes place this evening at 7:00 p.m. My guest is Dr. Jon Nilson, professor of theology emeritus at Loyola University in Chicago. The topic is:

“Good Theology Must Be Ecumenical: Why & How?”
Dr. Jon Nilson in dialogue with Dr. John H. Armstrong

We begin at 7:00 p.m. and end at 8:30 p.m. We meet at Lutheran Church of the Master, 580 Kuhn Road, Carol Stream, IL 60188. There is no charge and no registration. Please come and share your questions with us all. There will be no audio or video taping. I do not have the resources to do this well and no one to help me do it.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, Roman Catholicism, Theology, Unity of the Church | 4 Comments/Likes

Does What We Sing Matter to the Faith of the Church?

Since the 1970s we have had a raging debate about singing and music in the church. This debate has often come down to “traditional” music, or (old) hymns, versus “modern,” or popular music. The real truth is that the great influence on church music has been a combination of the charismatic influence, much of which is good in directing our hearts to God in personal praise, and the popular songs of television and pop-culture. This “performance” music is not good, at least in my view. Why?

People do not participate in “praying twice” (St. Augustine) as much as they watch and observe and see a professional production of varying quality. On contrast, pietism went right to the heart of people when they sang their faith. What happens if we cease to express our communion in the common faith in deep and thoughtful ways?

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Liturgy, Music, Personal, Prayer, Protestantism, Renewal, Spirituality | 19 Comments/Likes

Martin Marty on the Roots of Pietism

The famous church historian Martin Marty is part of a new series on pietism. This short clip is well worth watching. Marty “nails it” when it comes to what was lacking in the early Lutheran Reformation and the doctrinal emphasis that followed.


Posted in ACT 3, Church History, Protestantism, Renewal, Spirituality, The Church | 7 Comments/Likes

Are You Ready to Become an Empowered Missional-Ecumenist?

Since 2013, I have trained almost fifty people in how to become bold risk-takers for unity in Christ’s mission. In addition, I have taught about 10-15 graduate students. The number is not large but the impact can be immense if the Holy Spirit uses this experience to ignite a fire in his people. I am persuaded that great things do not generally come in huge events but in small groups.

I hope many who watch this video will consider becoming such a risk-taker for unity. The need is obvious and the time is now.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Theology, Unity of the Church | 13 Comments/Likes

A Week of Major Surprises and a Profound Challenge

Last week became the kind of week that we all think about if, sometimes for only a fleeting moment, if we are honest. Yet we all hope that we will never face a big medical challenge. But one way or the other, unless we die a sudden death, we will all face major medical issues that will challenge us to the core of our being. I faced my first such crisis at age six. I spent two weeks away from home at the Vanderbilt University Children’s Hospital. It seems like a blur sixty years later. It was during this time that the presence of God became so real in my life that I shall never forget it after six decades. Now I face a new challenge.

Hospital-Central-DuPage-HospitalThis Thursday, February 11, I will undergo open heart surgery at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield (IL). (CDH is a Northwestern University Hospital.) This news came as a complete surprise to me last Monday, February 1. Once again I am praying that God meets me in a new and deeply personal way. I will prepare for this surgery by beginning Lent on Wednesday, February 10. Then I will undergo the repair of all five heart arteries the next day.

Only one week earlier (January 25) I saw my personal physician for my annual physical. My blood tests and all vital signs were so good that it was a real joy to peacefully drive home that evening. I wrote a Facebook post about how encouraged I was. I also reminded myself in that same post that this could change in a moment, a flash. The same morning that I saw my doctor (January 25) I had my first angina pain. I told my him about this anomaly but my tests all suggested that my heart was fine. We thought I could be dealing with pneumonia again, a trial I have endured three or four times.

In September 2010 I had a nuclear stress test, a procedure lasting about 2 1/2 hours. The results were that I had some minor calcification in one artery but it was considered normal for my age. About two years later I dieted, losing nearly fifty pounds. I radically changed what I ate and paid closer attention to my personal health, believing that God wanted me to do this work for his kingdom. For three years I have averaged between three and four miles of active walking at least six days a week. But it was walking in a nearby mall last week where I first experienced my angina pain. I sat and rested, walked again and then the pain started all over. After three days of trying to walk pain free I quit and told my doctor and my brother Tom, who is also a physician. On Friday I brought the garbage cans up the driveway from the curb and the pain started again. I felt weak, light headed and had some pressure in my upper chest. My brother said, “Go to the ER right now and get checked out.” So on Friday (January 29) I went to the Central DuPage Hospital ER for testing. I was admitted when the enzyme evidence came back along with the EKG. I learned that I had not had a heart attack but I was at risk of one. They admitted me, to my surprise. Further tests followed.

After a long (quite slow) weekend my cardiologist came by for your first visit and we agreed to do an angiogram on Monday (February 1). This test was really painless to be truthful. Going into the test the best guess was that I would need a stent or two in one or two arteries. When they took me back to my room after only thirty-five minutes I knew the worst news was about to come. The doctor came to my room to tell Anita and me that I had all five arteries to my heart blocked from 80-90%. We were utterly stunned, being emotionally and mentally unprepared. How could you be otherwise with my medical history? There is one wildcard, however. Both my mother and father had heart disease and my late mom had open heart surgery for arterial damage at age 86. She died just short of 93. My dad did not die from his heart disease but rather from contracting Hepatitis B while working as a volunteer dentist in a federal prison in Memphis. So when my family medical story is put together I can see that I was genetically at risk. Obviously, I did not think about all this last week so I was shocked.

The severe mercy in all this is that God spared me from a major heart attack. My heart is healthy and my physical condition is very good. My sitting pulse and blood pressure are both great. But the arterial blockage must be opened and the stents cannot do it. This is why on Thursday, February 11, at 8:30 a.m. (CST), I will be under anesthesia for about five hours. Following this I will be in the ICU for three days and then, if I am able, I will go into the excellent cardio section of the hospital for four more days. Finally, if I am well enough, I will come home sometime around Thursday, February 18. Then I will need three to four weeks to rest and recover at home. I can then slowly return to my work and life but the residual pain from opening up my chest will present discomfort for some time. (Thanks to all of you who knew this news already who have some shared great stories of healing and new energy for life post-op.)

I face this trial with profound peace. I am ready to depart but I do not want to leave my family. I also believe I have a God-called ministry that has more open doors than I’ve ever known. I believe that I have been given a gift of overall health to press on in my work for unity. But God is in control. I am in his hands. Have I felt darkness in this ordeal? No, not even once. But I have had a few good cries. I cried not because I asked, “Why me?” I’ve never asked this question, not even once. But rather, I have been overwhelmed by this all coming so quickly and without any warning. I am a weak, mortal and emotional human being, not a Stoic. The thunder of this in my (emotional) heart has awakened me to God and myself in a whole new way. I see this creating great good in my body and soul in the days ahead.

Over the next few weeks I will not be writing articles or blogs. I will only read my correspondence when I am able. (I will not be able to respond to calls and/or texts for more than a month.) For the most part my wonderful son will respond to correspondence for me and write updates. My daughter will help Anita with some daily needs. Anita also has a loving family around us besides our children and grandchildren. For this reason I ask only for your prayers during these coming weeks. We do not need other physical or emotional help right now. ACT3 Network still needs your financial gifts. I cannot do anything about our financial needs for the next two months. Your investments right now will help us continue with the mission and not see it sidetracked while I am resting.

As I mentioned above, future posts about my medical situation will be written by my son until I am able to be back to work. I thank God for everyone who loves me and prays for me. I am especially grateful to our donors. We need you more than ever. ACT3 will still have a wonderful future if God is pleased to provide and bless us.

Posted in ACT 3, Personal | 13 Comments/Likes

The 110th Birthday of One of the Greatest Christians of the Last Century

bdb188d9-723d-438b-99f1-cc9e9d6f603eToday, February 4, is the 110th birthday of the German pastor, theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When I arrived at Wheaton College, as a transfer student in January of 1969, one of the first great joys I experienced was finding the story of Bonhoeffer for the first time. The classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, was my introduction. Later I read his prison papers, a few of his works on ethics and a lot of biography. I did not understand this theology then, and still do not fully understand it now, but I knew greatness and humility when I saw it. Bonhoeffer was truly a great Christian! But here is the point often missed – he was not a “safe” Christian. Anyone who reads him soon realizes that Bonhoeffer was not a typical pastor.

Too few of us have read Bonhoeffer and fewer still have grasped his importance, especially to the modern West. (The popular biography of him a few years ago was helpful in some respects but it also gave some distorted images and caused many to see Bonhoeffer in a politically conservative light, something which is not relevant to his real story.) For starters, Bonhoeffer saw the intensifying persecution of the Jews under the Nazi regime as a deliberate attack on Christ himself. I wonder if we would feel the same way in 2016. Substitute immigrants from the Middle East and ask the question that way. Or ask if we would stand up for Muslims in our present context?

cover225x225Dietrich Bonhoeffer died a martyr because he conspired with a group of Christians to kill Hitler. His co-conspirators were mostly Catholics. The German Lutherans tended to capitulate to Luther’s two kingdom idea and (many) passively accepted Hitler. The Catholics followed Thomas Aquinas and felt that a despot should be removed. Bonhoeffer came to believe a sick man was in charge of a sick nation in a sick world. He felt he had no right to appeal for the renewal of Christian life in Germany if he did not share in the trials of the time with God’s people, both Christians and Jews.

Bonhoeffer was executed only one day before the prison in which he had been kept was liberated by the allies. Only one day. Twenty-four hours was the difference between martyrdom and liberation. But then his martyrdom was his liberation and now from heaven he speaks more powerfully to us at age 100 than he did in his late thirties in 1944.

May we learn to live the costly discipleship of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. May we learn to live well in a dangerous time when our nation is sick and politics offers us no viable answers. Living as exiles is the place to begin. Bonhoeffer understood this and can help us find our way in a dark time.


Posted in America and Americanism, American Evangelicalism, Church Tradition, Current Affairs, Israel, Lordship of Christ, The Church, The Future | 29 Comments/Likes