Heresy Alert!! The Teaching of Bill Johnson and Bethel Church Examined

Originally Posted At:  http://puritanbob.blogspot.com/2011/01/bill-johnson-and-bethel-church-errors.html

The Teaching of Bill Johnson and Bethel Church Examined: Part I, Christological Errors

In light of a recent comment in the “complaints” section of anold blog post reviewing charismatic big dog Bill Johnson’s book,“When Heaven Invades Earth”, I found that with regards to this issue, the horse indeed was not dead and clearly not sufficiently beaten for the retort, “Aw Gee, Don’t beat a dead horse!” to apply. This is certainly so as I received this following reply in regards to my having a problem with Bill Johnson denying Christ’s Divinity during His earthly ministry:

I love the book! If Jesus didn’t operate fully as a man(Eph 2:7,8)under the power of the Holy Spirit, then there is no atonement. That is the whole point. He lived a perfect life for us, in our place. Then died on the cross for us, in our place. How would it be a “substitutionary” atonement if Jesus didn’t do it strictly as a man? (Heb 4:15)” – Anonymous

Preliminary Remarks

I firstly must begin by stating that I have nothing against Bill Johnson personally, I have never met the man, and I assume he is a nice guy to have a beer with. I want to make that clear upfront I have no personal axe to grind here. So, for clarity, I am not criticizing the man, I am however going to criticize his teaching. Also, anything that I may state strongly please know that I do so not out of an “I’m gonna zing em good!” kind of gamesmanship, I hate that stuff. This isn’t a game, doctrinal error is serious and that warrants strong language (Matt 5:30, Gal 5:12), but let us also not add to the sins of heretics and those teaching error the sin of uncharitable behaviour.

We know certain foods may harm a man’s body even to the point of death, but doctrinal error harms the soul and in some cases to the point of death. In the case of a conspiracy to poison the meal of a King the culprits are sought out and put to public trial that others who might consider such a conspiracy may fear. Likewise, in the area of teaching in Christ’s Church the disseminators of error need to be arrested through Biblical rebuke equally public and fear creating (1 Tim 5:20). With that said I proceed.

The Book “When Heaven Invades Earth” and Its Christology Described

Let me start by saying what I liked about Johnson’s book, yeah that’s right I can be a nice guy sometimes. I appreciated particularly Johnsons’ watered down postmillenial optimism, sure it wasn’t full blown postmil but I’ll take it given the American church is by and large looking to get raptured out of here like refugees waiting for a helicopter airlift out of a war torn country. So, I liked that. Johnson also has a heart to see the kingdom of God advanced on earth, and on that at least we agree. When it comes to describing what the Kingdom looks like and how it is to be advanced is where we would undoubtedly go our separate ways.

So what’s my beef? To be blunt, I find Johnson’s book “When Heaven Invades Earth” to be very dangerous, because the book is filled to the brim, nay, to overflowing with dangerous error, twisting of scriptures, and most dangerous of all the book is very winsome. Did I mention I think it is dangerous? Also, on a more personal note, this book, and Johnson’s teaching, has influenced many brothers and sisters who are dear to me I fear for the worse. Now, with that said, what exactly is Johnson getting at in his book? Well essentially it is this: that the life of signs and wonders is to be normal for the Christian. The book is supposed to serve as a sort of field guide for “living in the supernatural”. In short, the supernatural isn’t supposed to be so super any more, signs and wonders ought to be a part of everyday Christianity.

One major method for getting this argument across is Johnson’s teaching regarding the nature of Christ during His earthly ministry. Essentially, according to the Johnsonite Christology, Christ although He was God, during His earthly ministry was limited to acting exclusively as a human and just like all of us he (lower case h I suppose) was fully dependent upon God the Holy Spirit for everything. This reaches the height to which Johnson essentially denies that Christ had any Divine attributes during His earthly ministry, when He put on flesh He took off the Divine. To quote Johnson on this:

Jesus could not heal the sick. Neither could He deliver the tormented from demons or raise the dead. To believe otherwise is to ignore what Jesus said about Himself, and more importantly, to miss the purpose of His self-imposed restriction to live as a man.[sic]

Jesus Christ said of Himself, ‘The Son can do nothing.’ In the Greek language the word nothing has a unique meaning–it means NOTHING, just like it does in English! He had no supernatural capabilities whatsoever! While He is 100 percent God, He chose to live with the same limitations that man would face once he was redeemed. [sic]” (WHE p.29)

I of course have a problem with the Johnsonite teaching here, and our friend “Anonymous” I suppose has a problem with me having a problem, fair enough. I have 3 areas that I see needing to be addressed in regard to the assertion made by “Anonymous” that without a Johnsonite Christological rehashing of old heresies, the substitutionary atonement doesn’t make any sense. But more on that in a bit, firstly lets deal with the whole root of these questions, namely Johnson’s Christological error.

I. The Johnsonite Christological Error’ Proof Text Examined:
Lets interact a bit with Johnson’s citation of John 5:19 in the above quotation. Firstly, I note how little of the text is actually cited by Johnson. It is in truth akin to an Atheist quoting part of Psalm 53:1 to show that the Bible, surprise, surprise, actually teaches Atheism! What Johnson does above is a text book example of what it means to take scripture out of context. In fact it is so bad I don’t think it would be a believable textbook example. Lets look at John 5:19 as it should be, as that will best shed light onto what Christ meant when He said, “The Son can do nothing“:

“But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. 

For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” (John 5:17-21)

So here we see 1.) The Jews wanting to kill Jesus for claiming to be always working, which is a claim to possess Divine attributes. 2.) Jesus says that He does whatever He sees the Father doing, which is another claim to have Divine attributes. Lastly, 3.) Christ claims that He can raise the dead and give life, and you guessed it that is yet another claim to have divine ability. The “do nothing” in the context refers to Christ doing the specific works God the Father has given Him to do and no other types of works. So, rather than referencing Christ’s ability, it is referring to the type of works being done by Jesus, namely those given to Christ by the Father to do, which we also see earlier in John 4:34.

After all, when Christ says He does everything He sees the Father doing, can a mere man make such a claim? If Christ is trying to declare that His ability is limited, as Johnson would have us think, He sure does a poor job here as the exact opposite is clearly the case, hence the desire on the part of the Jews to stone Him. This also seems like the practical outworking or feet to Christ’s later claim to Phillip, that in seeing Him, Phillip has seen the Father. (John 14:8-9)

Call me naive, but when we look at John 5 in context I just don’t see where Johnson gets the idea of a “self-imposed limitation“, nor do I see that anywhere else in scripture. Johnson does not provide the reader with any other texts to support this doctrine, just the part of verse 19 in John 5  violently handled by Mr. Johnson which I hope is now clear to the reader.

In short, what we have in the Johnsonite Christology is an idolatrous view of miracles on the part of Johnson, that has reached such a height that it now is eating away like an acid at the Divine nature of Christ during His earthly ministry. Johnson is so desirous that Christ’s miraculous ministry be our example to imitate that he is willing to scrap His Divine attributes during His earthly ministry to do so.

This is idolatry plain and simple, no less so than what the open theists do to the knowledge of God in order to preserve their doctrine of free will.

Moving now from the root to the fruit of the Johnsonite Christology, I will now address the issues raised by “Anonymous” in respect to the atonement and Christ’s Divine nature.

II. Substitutionary Atonement Only Works if Christ is Both Fully Man and God
Logical
If Christ had cast off His Divine nature and was functioning merely as a man how could He have atoned for all of my sins? Granted we might think of a case where lets say a thief is sentenced to death and the thief’s’ best friend dies in the thief’s’ place out of love thus redeeming the thief from the executioner. But lets say that thief then goes and steals more, will the judge then look back on the dead friend of the thief and say, “Your thievery is atoned for.”? Of course not. This is exactly our case.

We need an infinite atonement because our sins are infinitely offensive to God, and they are innumerable. We don’t just sin 2-3 times a day, sin isn’t just a bad habit, or something we do once in a while, it is so ingrained in our very nature that we need to be regenerated. Also, we must not forget that in the case of the substitutionary death of a mere man he can only be the substitute for one man for one capital crime, Christ is said to have died for many (Heb 9:28). This is problematic if all we have is a human, Christ needs to be Divine.

Biblical

“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor 5:21)
The 2 Corinthian text is probably the most clear passage we have in regards to the double imputation aspect of Christ’s atonement, our sin upon Christ, His righteousness is given to us. It is quite true as Anonymous stated that Christ lived the perfect life in our stead. But what is the nature of that righteous life? The text tells us it is the “righteousness of God”, those who are in Christ have His Divine righteousness which alone is acceptable to our thrice holy God.

So, quite the contrary, the efficacious nature of Christ’s atonement is not threatened by Christ’s divinity, it is established by it. God poured out His immeasurable wrath against the sins of His elect on the Person of Jesus, a Divine wrath can only be assuaged by a Divine sacrifice. The efficacious nature of the atonement of Christ is rather threatened if we take the Johnsonite position that Christ emptied Himself of His divine attributes in the incarnation.

III. The Need for a Human Nature in Our Saviour, Both And, Not Either Or.
Jesus is the God man, He was made altogether like us in human flesh, He felt pain, He got tired, He grew up from infancy etc this is all true. However, to leave it there as the Johnsonite position seems to is not the WHOLE truth. And, as my dad taught me as a young lad through a few trips to the proverbial woodshed, a half truth is really a lie. Orthodox Christianity through all ages has affirmed that while the above is true in regard to Christ’s human nature (Christ is fully man), it is equally true that Christ is also fully Divine in nature. All of the creeds have affirmed this doctrine and it is summed up in the phrase, Christ is both fully man and fully God, one person with two separate and distinct natures.

With that said, what Anonymous said about the atonement is indeed true, it just isn’t the whole truth. Jesus needed to take on human flesh so He could die (God can’t die remember). Yet, and this is the error, Bill Johnson wants to assert that in taking on flesh Jesus also took off Divinity. Johnson does this because he wants us to see Jesus as our model for supernatural life rather than the most exceptional Person ever. So, while it is true that Christ is our example, we must bear in mind that is not the whole truth. This is because He also had Divine attributes and a calling (Messiah) that none of us share in.
Thus, in Johnson’s zeal for making supernatural signs and wonders an everyday Christian thing he tosses the Divine nature of Christ making Him our entirely imitatable example. As previously stated, this actually reveals the idolatrous centrality of signs and wonders in much of the Charismatic movement. My personal observation of this reality was what caused me to break with the movement years ago. My own parting with the movement came as I realized that the Charismatic church I attended literally never preached the simple gospel, the gospel was always a peripheral thing, I recall it even being described as a stepping stone to greater things. Again, don’t take my word for it, Johnson himself says in his book:

“Salvation was not the ultimate goal of Christ’s coming… [The ultimate goal] was to fill each born again person with the Holy Spirit.” (WHE p.71)

“The present day understanding of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom means to preach a message that will bring as many people to conversion as possible. But what did preaching the kingdom mean to Jesus? Every instance in which He either did it or commanded it, miracles followed.” (WHE p.185)

You see, for these guys wild raucous meetings where people are wigging out, getting BAM BAM BAM new hips, claimingvisions of prophetic elephants, all of these oddities are central and thus it has become an idol. And, like all idolatry it is freakish and disturbing to those who are onlookers, kind of like the guy with the Frisbee sized lip disc. That’s what Jessa Bentley’s behaviour with the exorcist style head shaking accompanied by gibber about a pink elephant vision is like, it really is a “what is wrong with you?” kind of display.

Yet, to those who are at home in the Charismatic movement that sort of display is quite normal, as I am sure the lip mutilation is normal to those engaged in whatever idol is being worshiped there.

IV. The Nature of the Miracles of Christ and The Apostles
I must add a bit on the nature of the miracles Christ performed during His earthly ministry. The signs Christ which performed in His earthly ministry were confirmatory in nature in regard to His messiah-ship and message (gospel). That is why He could tell John the Baptist when asked by John “are you the one?”Jesus replied:

“Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.” (Luke 7:22)
In short Jesus said “You see the signs don’t you?” This again mitigates our ability to imitate Christ as the signs performed by the Messiah and His apostles were intended to be unique tangible confirmations of their ministry, the new covenant gospel message, and most importantly who Jesus in fact was, namely the Son of God (Romans 1:4). Thus, signs and wonders would hardly be unique and confirmatory if the Johnsonite philosophy is correct and these things are to be going on all the time.

I am not saying that these things can not and do not happen today, but I am saying that the particular manifestation of signs and wonders under the ministry of Christ and the apostles was unique, and that was precisely the point, they accompanied the New Covenant Gospel in its infancy confirming it to be of God.

V. Conclusion
Much more needs to be said on these matters and will, the difficult thing is that there is a great deal of difference between Charismatics and guys like myself. We don’t use the same language, we don’t read the same books, our worship obviously is very different, and our theologies are very different. Charismatics, historically speaking, are in the stream of mystics which has always been a part of the Church for better and worse and doctrinal clarity was never a strength of the mystics.

In coming posts I will interact more directly with other doctrinal errors of Bill Johnson, they all again stem from an idolatrous esteem for miracles over and above all other aspects of Scripture. Some of these uniquely Johnsonite doctrines that will be addressed include: 1.) Healing in the atonement, 2.) prophetic words on demand, 3.) Rehashed pop self esteem, and 4.) The outright rejection of Biblical Church discipline. In all of these examples we see what should be the clear teaching of scripture being forced to bow before this idol of Charismatic miracles.

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