Tributes are flowing for Australian-born Adventist pastor, missionary and magazine editor, William Johnsson who died in Loma Linda, California, United States on March 11, 2023. He was editor of Adventist Review magazine from 1982 to 2006 and founding editor of Adventist World magazine in 2005-2006. He was 88.
“A great Australian missionary for the cause of Jesus has gone to his rest,” said Pastor Glenn Townend, South Pacific Division president. “Bill Johnson served in Australia and India but his greatest influence was through his writing and preaching as an editor of Adventist Review, which always uplifted the grace available in Jesus Christ. His Christocentric work on Hebrews was foundational to this. May God uphold Noelene and their family at this time.”
Dr Johnsson was born in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1934. After earning undergraduate degrees in technology and chemical technology, he attended Avondale College, where in 1959 he received a Bachelor of Theology degree and met his wife.
He then attended Andrews University, where he earned a Master of Arts in systematic theology in 1966. In 1973, he got a PhD in biblical studies from Vanderbilt University. His dissertation was entitled “Defilement and Purgation in the Book of Hebrews.”
During his long career, Johnsson was a missionary to India from 1960 to 1975. At Andrews University, he served as professor of New Testament exegesis and theology from 1975 to 1980 and was associate seminary dean (1978-1980). In 1979, he was elected as the first president of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies.
Johnsson was also a trustee of the Ellen G White Estate for most of the time he was editor of Adventist Review. After retiring in 2006, he served for seven years as part-time assistant to the General Conference president for Interfaith Relations.
Johnsson wrote more than 40 books and 1000 articles. Since 2017, he published five books, including, Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio (2017); Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, His Message, His Passion (2018); Authentic Adventism (2018); Defilement and Purgation in the Book of Hebrews (2020); and Experiencing Romans (2021).
“In my experience, I found Bill a gracious gentleman who openly wore his Adventist Christianity,” shares Dr Bruce Manners, former Adventist Record editor. “He was not only an editor and a fine communicator, he was also a scholar who understood the various issues the church was facing and had the ability to write and speak to them in meaningful ways.
“My best memory is of sitting across from him in his office when he was the Adventist Review editor and I was a fairly new Record editor. He treated me as if I was an equal. To me, that said a lot about him. The Adventist church has lost a gem of a man.”
“Dr Johnsson was an Australian by birth but he belonged to the global church,” said Dr Barry Oliver, former SPD president. “A consummate theologian he had the heart of a pastor. He cared about people but he was no pushover. He was strong and he was kind at the same time. He reached out to people of many different walks of life and many different faith traditions, all with respect and dignity. Few have made such a lasting impact on the Seventh-day Adventist Church and it’s place in history.”
“He gave me some of my biggest writing opportunities and best encouragement,” said Nathan Brown, Signs Publishing book editor and former Adventist Record editor. “[He] was always wise, gracious and Jesus-focused in his advice and example.
“Some have commented that Bill became more outspoken after his retirement, but I think he largely continued to say what he had been saying and the church has drifted away from the centre and the Jesus he called us to.
“Bill had a great ability to relate to people. One of my favourite memories of Bill was when a group of us Australians travelled as part of a group with Bill and others in Israel and how my younger Australian friends quickly came to know and love Bill and appreciate his faithful wisdom.”