The hidden pitfall of Bill Johnson’s ‘Red-Letter Revival

By Holly Pivec

Yesterday I read chapter 8 of Bill Johnson’s book Hosting the Presence: Unveiling Heaven’s Agenda. In this chapter, titled “Red-Letter Revival,” Johnson teaches that Jesus is the standard for people to follow — his words, his life, and his ministry. And Jesus’ primary mission, writes Johnson, was to reveal God the Father by doing only what he saw the Father doing.
Thus, our primary mission also should be to do only what we see the Father doing. Johnson goes so far as to suggest that perhaps bracelets should be changed from having the letters “WWJD” (“What would Jesus do?”) to “WIFD” (“What is the Father doing?).
To some, Johnson’s admonition — to seek what the Father is doing in the world and then do the same — may come across as biblical, inspiring, even revolutionary. Yet as pious as his mandate may sound, it contains a dangerous pitfall that can lead well-meaning Christians astray. I’ll summarize the three ways Johnson says he seeks to discover what the Father is doing. Then I’ll point out the danger of adhering to Johnson’s practice.
Johnson’s ways for discovering what the Father is doing
Here are ways Johnson teaches people to know what the Father is doing.
Direct word: Johnson says that sometimes “Jesus heard directly from the Father about what He wanted Jesus to do in a particular situation” (page 142, Kindle edition). He says that those direct words came during Jesus’ long nights in prayer, but also from the Holy Spirit who revealed direction to him in the moment. He suggests that we, too, can learn to hear directly from God in the many ways he speaks to us.
Seeing faith in another: Johnson says that “Jesus didn’t always seem to know what to do ahead of time, but got His direction by seeing faith in another person” (142). He gives the example of Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s servant in response to the centurion’s great faith (Matt. 8:13). He suggests that we can see how the Holy Spirit is at work in other people’s lives to receive cues for what we should be doing.
Using our own faith: Johnson says that “often we are unclear as to the specific will of God in a situation” (143). He says that, “in these situations, it is possible to find the will of God through our own faith as we respond to the revealed will of God in His Word” (143). How can we do this? He suggests that we respond to slight impressions we may have or ideas of what God might be doing. Responding in faith to these spiritual hunches can help us discover what the Father is doing.
The perils of a life in pursuit of Red-Letter Revival
Many issues could be raised with Johnson’s proposal, including the fact that Jesus, as the Son of God, has a unique relationship with the Father. What is entailed in that unique relationship can’t be emulated by us. But the pitfall I address here is Johnson’s teaching that believers ought to regularly pursue direction from outside of Scripture — from subjective impressions experienced by ourselves and others rather than the objective Word of God.
What we perceive as a “direct word” from God, and as directions given to us through impressions, are unreliable at best, and harmful to ourselves and others at worst. A life of chaos and confusion will inevitably follow those who follow their own imaginations. Scripture gives multiple warnings about the risks for self-deception when following our own hearts, including warnings that “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9) and “there is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).
Doing only what the Father does may sound like an admirable agenda for one’s life. Yet seeking moment-by-moment direction through direct words and impressions is not taught in Scripture, which contains all the instruction we need for a life of effective ministry (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Seeking direction in the subjective manner proposed by Johnson takes us away from the clear and trustworthy words of Scripture.
Contra Johnson, the prophet Isaiah urged his followers to resist those who urged them to look outside of Scripture for direction. In their case, they were being advised to seek direction through occult practices. But he said, “Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (Isaiah 8:20). In other words, Isaiah told them to look for direction in Scripture — the tried and true — rather than the new and undependable.
By suggesting that people should ask, “What is the Father doing?” Johnson has switched the focus from looking to Scripture to following subjective intuitions. That’s a dangerous path to tread.
Holly Pivec is the co-author of A New Apostolic Reformation?: A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement and God’s Super-Apostles: Encountering the Worldwide Prophets and Apostles Movement. She has a master’s degree in Christian apologetics from Biola University.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s