Monday, May 13, 2013

An Invasion of Error. A Review of Bill Johnson- Part 2

**Here is a continuation of the review of the very questionable teachings of Bill Johnson of Bethel Church...DB
Signs and Wonders Theory
More important than anything else, for Johnson and followers, is the presence of signs and wonders—the more the better. The reason for this is that they are a necessary prerequisite for the hoped for end-time revival that will be initiated by an “Elijah generation” of elite Christians. Says Johnson, “Our mandate is simple: raise up a generation that can openly display the raw power of God” (Johnson 27, 28). Having such power is what he calls an “authentic gospel” because “powerlessness is inexcusable” (Johnson: 27). We are the problem, he claims, because God wants to do miracles but He cannot because of our bad thinking. Miracles await the coming of a generation of enlightened ones who will know the secret. Thus we have a New Age definition of miracles.[8]
To show that in Johnson’s theology the supernatural is something that can be learned and mastered by man (thus robbing it of valid supernatural status), we see that he has a school of the supernatural. It is called the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.[9] Once the supernatural can be mastered by learnable and reproducible processes, it is no longer supernatural, but natural. Thus in the New Age we have “A Course in Miracles.” In such thinking, there is nothing truly supernatural because all of nature is infused with God (panentheism). Given his distaste for scholarship, Johnson likely does not see the implications of his “school of the supernatural.”
If there is a process to be learned or a religious state to be achieved whereby miracles can be produced by humans at will, such miracles become natural events. Johnson claims, “The purpose of the anointing is to make the supernatural natural” (Johnson 133). This sounds like the opening of a whole new world, but it involves bringing the concept of “supernatural” into a panentheistic world view rather than a Biblical one. The Biblical concept of supernatural requires a theistic view of the universe in which the transcendent God of the Bible created the world out of nothing, but stays involved in His creation providentially. God can and does intervene in human affairs. The work of Christ is truly supernatural. Christ was not some enlightened One who learned and shared secrets that would work for anyone else with the same level of enlightenment. That view of Christ is that of the New Age. Christ’s works were truly supernatural because the Creator of the universe was on the scene of history and proved His true identity.
If the supernatural becomes “natural,” as Johnson claims, through those who have a superior anointing, then the uniqueness of Christ is compromised. The supernatural was always there to be accessed by those with special experiences and insights, thus it is not truly supernatural, but part of nature. Miracles, in such a worldview, are not miracles from a Biblical perspective.
When Paul spoke of power in relationship to the gospel, he spoke of the power of God to save Jew and gentile through the cross: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek”(Romans 1:16). Paul uses the term “power” the same way in 1Corinthians: “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). God’s power through the cross saves us from God’s wrath against sin. False teachers can perform signs and wonders but they have no true power as Paul speaks of it. The arrogant teachers who came to Corinth had words of knowledge (gnosis) and wisdom (sophia) but lacked the power of God that saves lost sinners (1 Corinthians 4:1920).
What is truly lost on Johnson and his followers is that the Bible predicts false signs and wonders at the end of the age. There is no prediction in Scripture that an invasion of true miracles from God will happen at the very end. For example Jesus warns: “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). “Christs” are literal “anointed ones.” There will be those who claim to be anointed in some special way that will do great signs and wonders. They are false. Antichrist (whose name and role is based on the concept of “anointed”) will do great signs and wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9). Paul also predicts end time deception in 2Timothy chapter 3.
Johnson brushes the possibility of such deception aside by calling these signs “counterfeits” (Johnson 110). False signs and wonders as warned against in the Bible are not sleight-of-hand magic tricks, but real signs that point to a false message. Thus the discerning of spirits concerns objectively evaluating teaching (1 John 4:1-5) not subjectively evaluating apparent miracles. A psychic healing might be a real healing, but it is not from God. It is known to be false by the false teaching of the healer. If such a false teacher produced a real, verified healing, the teaching and teacher would still be false.
By combining signs and wonders with a false Christology that denies the deity of Christ, Johnson has placed his followers in the center of end time deception. Now rather than the one “Anointed One” (Jesus Christ who is unique), there are many “anointed ones” who supposedly can do greater miracles than Jesus. This situation is described in the Bible:“Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). “Antichrists” as understood from the Greek, are substitute “anointed ones.” In the Bible, all Christians are equally “anointed” by God, and only Jesus specially anointed, i.e., the Messiah.[10] An elite group of specially anointed ones who comprise the “Elijah generation” as taught in Bill Johnson’s Latter Rain theology would qualify as antichrists.
A related question is whether or not Johnson and company are actually doing greater miracles than Jesus. In Luke 8, Jesus is shown to have calmed the sea, delivered the most demonized man imaginable, healed the sick, and raised the dead. Luke’s point is that Jesus has power over nature, Satan, sickness and even death. Thus Jesus is Lord of the universe, and His claims are true. Do any of Johnson’s Elijah generation elite display greater power and authority than Jesus did in Luke 8? He lists a number of typical manifestations in a section he entitles, “When God Colors Outside the Lines.” They include laughter, gold dust appearing from nowhere, oil appearing from nowhere, wind in a closed room, a cloud appearing, fragrance smelled, gems appearing, and feathers falling in meetings (Johnson: 141). Most of these have no precedence in Scripture, and none of them is as profound as the Messianic signs of Luke 8.
There is a certain naiveté that accompanies those who follow signs and wonders theory. We once had a regular pastors meeting. At one of these a pastor attended who had just come from witnessing the so-called “Toronto Blessing” (the laughing revival as it was called). He recounted how he was standing in a food line and one of the attendees began gobbling like a turkey, strutting around, and using his elbows as turkey wings. The pastor concluded that God was at work. There is nothing bizarre enough to the point that true signs and wonders believers will question it. Signs and wonders that accompany a false Christology such as that of Bill Johnson do not thereby prove the existence of a great end-time revival. Rather, they prove the existence of end-time deception as predicted in the Bible.
Dominion Theology
Johnson’s theology contains a blend of many problematic movements of our day. One of them is the dominion teaching, popular in the Word of Faith movement. The idea is that Satan was able to wrest the earth, and authority over it, from Adam and Eve, leaving God on the outside having to figure out a way to get it back. His plan was for Jesus to come and take it back from Satan (which is what Word of Faith teachers say happened in hell during Jesus’ supposed stay there—to wrestle with Satan as a man, and not God). Jesus then, according to theory, delegated to the church the job of taking control of the earth back from Satan and putting it under the church.
Johnson teaches “All that Adam owned, including the title deed to the planet with its corresponding position of rule, became part of the devil’s spoil” (Johnson: 31). Like others of his ilk, Johnson uses Satan’s offer of the kingdoms during Jesus’ temptation as proof that Satan, not God, had the “keys of authority” to the earth (Johnson: 32). Jesus got them back and gave them to the church (Johnson 32). Proof that we have regained the dominion that Adam supposedly lost is to be found in achieving the attributes promoted by Word of Faith teachers: “In Adam and Eve’s commission to subdue the earth, they were without sickness, poverty, and sin. Now that we are restored to His original purpose, should we expect anything less?” (Johnson: 33).
Johnson interprets the Lord’s Prayer, which is primarily a prayer for the return on Christ, in terms of his “kingdom now” theology: “This is the primary purpose for all prayer—if it exists in heaven, it is to be loosed on earth” (Johnson: 59). This means that if we do not have problem free lives, we are lacking faith, praying wrongly, or failing to understand our role as having dominion. Johnson explains: “Such an invasion causes the circumstances here to line up with heaven” (Johnson: 59). This invasion is in the title of his book.
Johnson’s over-realized eschatology sees the sensibilities of many Christians, informed as they are from the Bible, to be a problem that will stop revival: “The second greatest reason for revival’s end [behind quenching the spirit interpreted as any questioning of bizarre manifestations] is when the Church begins to look for the return of the Lord instead of pursuing a greater breakthrough in the Great Commission (Johnson: 161). Earlier Johnson had interpreted the Great Commission in terms of his dominion theology (Johnson: 32). Those who correctly understand the Lord’s Prayer become the problem people who stop revival. Longing for the Lord’s return is discouraged. Eschatology of the soon return of Christ is replaced with eschatology of dominion, kingdom now, that sees the concept “maranatha” as a threat to revival.
A Deluge of Error
The rejection of scholarship and careful exegesis, in Johnson’s case, leads where it always does: to diverse theological errors. There are many that would take too long to cover in detail but need to be addressed. I shall do so briefly in this section.
Gnosticism was an ancient heresy that claimed that the material realm was evil and the spiritual realm good. Johnson states, “Faith is the key to discovering the superior nature of the invisible realm” (Johnson: 43). The truth is that both realms, visible and invisible contain both good and evil. Both are created by God, and neither is innately superior. When the Bible speaks of things not seen, it includes things like the fulfillment of future promises and is not limited to ontological “realms,” such as material and spiritual. Johnson claims that there is an unlocked potential for seeing into the supposedly superior spirit realm: “Many of us have thought that the ability to see into the spiritual realm is more the result of a special gift than an unused potential of everyone” (Johnson 43). He misuses Hebrews 11:1to teach his Gnostic understanding of realms: “The invisible is superior to the natural . . . Because the invisible is superior to the natural, faith is anchored in the unseen” (Johnson 45). But in Hebrews 11, what was unseen to the patriarchs was the future fulfillment of the promises of God, not just the heavenly realities (though those are included). There is much evil in the unseen world, so Johnson’s Gnostic categories are not what the Biblical authors had in mind.
The Bible promotes the necessity that every member of the body of Christ is seen as important and essential, whatever their gifts may be (1Corinthians 12:14 – 25). But Johnson repeatedly speaks of an elite group of Christians that shall be greater than all other groups in church history. Of course those will be the ones associated with his movement and others who embrace the Latter Rain heresy. (International House Of Prayer in Kansas City is another example). For example: “Much of the opposition to revival comes from soul-driven Christians. The apostle Paul calls them carnal” (Johnson: 47). He goes on to claim that the spirit (not capitalized in translation, signifying the human spirit) influencing the mind produces true learning. His categories are reminiscent of Watchman Nee, whose false teachings harmed me early in my Christian life. Paul does not teach that the soul is problematic and the human spirit good. The revivalists that have true enlightenment by following their spirits rather than souls, are of course those who listen to Johnson and other such teachers. They are the elite ones, and the rest of us are left trying to understand the Bible. It is the few who have the real glory: “He lives in all believers, but the glory of His presence comes to rest on only a few” (Johnson: 149). The enlightened ones are part of the “Elijah generation” (New Order of the Latter Rain terminology) “But there will be no contest when such counterfeits go up against this Elijah generation that becomes clothed with heaven’s power on the Mount Carmel of human reasoning” (Johnson: 150). His attack on reason is unabated.
Many of these errors are closely related. Fideism is the belief that faith operates independent of reason and needs no rational proof for its validity. Fideism is shown in this statement: “When we learn to learn that way [by faith], we open ourselves up to grow in true faith because faith does not require understanding to function” (Johnson: 47). Again, he is misusing concepts from Hebrews 11. For example, Abraham had to understand Gods promises to have faith in them. Faith is not disconnected from rational content in the Scripture as it is in Johnson’s fideistic theology.
Johnson shows the same pietistic tendencies as many in today’s evangelical world of mysticism. He warns about the lack of “power encounters” and fear of experiences that might lead us away from scripture. He then states: “But it is illegitimate to allow fear to keep us from pursuing a deeper experience with God!” (Johnson: 92). He warns: “God is bigger than His book” (Johnson: 92). The obvious implication is that we must have extra-biblical experiences unless we live as lesser Christians ruled by fear. Pietists always look to higher order experiences to validate their Christian experience.[11]
The invasion of heaven promoted by When Heaven Invades Earth is in reality an invasion of theological error. Johnson says there is no sickness or poverty in heaven, which is true. However, there is also no falsehood or error in heaven. Johnson’s potpourri of error is astounding in is breadth. His is a classic case of zeal for a cause divorced from theological truth. In his thinking, zeal for signs and wonders (and the resultant end-time revival) baptize any theological errors, including his heretical Christology.
My conclusion is not overly harsh: that this movement is not really from heaven, as it is claimed to be. Many young people are targeted and deceived by it. Powerful experiences in a Christian context form a potent elixir that dulls ones theological senses. I know because when I was young, I was drawn into a similar movement based on experiences that I allowed to trump sound Biblical exegesis. Thankfully God saved me out of that and led me, through Scripture, to the true gospel. May many who are in the clutches of this false revivalism be spared as I was.
Note: The original was published in The Plumbline Newsletter of Dr. Orrel Steinkamp.
End Notes:
[1] Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth – A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles, (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2003) 150. All subsequent citations from this book will be bracketed within my text.
[2] See Critical Issues Commentary issue 103 for a discussion of latter day apostles, the Latter Rain movement and their false understanding of an “Elijah Company” that will appear to defeat God’s enemies.
{3] See Critical Issues Commentary issue 16 for a full discussion of 2 Corinthians 3:6 and its common misuse in the church.
[4] See Critical Issues Commentary issue 65 for contextual and exegetical analysis that disproves this misinterpretation of John 14:12.
[7] Ibid.
[8] See Critical Issues Commentary issue 23, “New Age Miracles.”
[10] See Critical Issues Commentary issue 63, “Antichrists and The Antichrist.”
[11] See Critical Issues Commentary Issue 101, “How Pietism Deceives Christians.”

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