Bill Johnson says he affirms the essential doctrine that Jesus is eternally the Son of God. But is that true? This doctrine has traditionally meant that Jesus was not created, meaning he has no beginning, nor did he ever stop being God, meaning he has no end. However, if you listen to Johnson’s messages, or read his books, it becomes clear that he teaches a different understanding of Jesus as God. In fact, Johnson teaches that Jesus, in the incarnation, had a muted or absent divine nature, and was only a man, anointed and in right relationship with God. So, is this really a big deal? What’s the problem with understanding doctrines differently? Can’t we just show each other grace and allow for differing opinions in the church?
Before going any further I would like to clarify a few points from the outset. First, this post is NOT saying that all people who attend Bethel or listen to its products (BethelMusic/books/movies) are some sort of lesser believer, or that they don’t know and love Jesus. It is also NOT saying that everything coming out of Bethel is wrong. It IS saying, however, that there are problems (on a large scale) with many of the teachings from Bethel Church in Redding, CA. It IS noticing that Bethel’s leaders persist in these unorthodox views and resist any sort of correction. Finally, it IS attempting to raise the awareness of the growing influence that Bethel (and especially Bethel Music which is putting out a kid’s cd next month) has on the Evangelical church.
In order to grapple with these questions and concerns, I have pulled a few weighty quotes from popular books by Bill Johnson. I have also attempted to preserve the context in which these words were written by Johnson himself. Finally, while there can be differences in secondary topics within the body of Christ, on the essentials, especially relating to the nature God, we must have unity.
When Heaven Invades Earth – Bill Johnson
“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 He said about Himself, and more importantly, to miss the purpose of His self-imposed restriction to live as a man. Jesus Christ said of Himself, ‘The Son can do nothing.’ [John 5:19] In the Greek language that 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. He made that point over and over again. Jesus became the model for all who would embrace the invitation to invade the impossible in His name. He performed miracles, wonders and signs, as a man in right relationship to God…not as God. If He performed miracles because He was God, then they would be unattainable for us. But if He did them as a man, I am responsible to pursue His lifestyle. Recapturing this simple truth changes everything…and makes possible a full restoration of the ministry of Jesus in His Church” (pg. 29).
“Christ is not Jesus’ last name. The word Christ means Anointed One or Messiah. It is a title that points to an experience. It was not sufficient that Jesus be sent from heaven to earth with a title. He had to receive the anointing in an experience to accomplish what the Father desired…Jesus lived His earthly life with human limitation. He laid his divinity aside [Philippians 2:5-7] as He sought to fulfill the assignment given to Him by the Father…The anointing Jesus received was the equipment necessary, given by the Father to make it possible for Him to live beyond human limitations. For He was not only to redeem man, He was to reveal the Father. In doing so, He was to unveil the Father’s realm called heaven. That would include doing supernatural things. The anointing is what linked Jesus, the man, to the divine, enabling Him to destroy the works of the devil. These miraculous ways helped to set something in motion that mankind could inherit once we were redeemed. Heaven – that supernatural realm – was to become mankind’s daily bread…That means heaven is not just our eternal destination, but also is a present reality, and it’s within arms reach” (79-78).
There’s a lot in those two quotes that could be addressed, but for the sake of time and space I’m going to try and stick to the main flaw.
Bill Johnson often uses theological words that most Christians are familiar with, but to which he attributes a different meaning. For instance, he says he believes that Christ is eternally the Son of God, and this is of course, what Scripture teaches (Genesis 21:33, Psalm 90:2, 1 Timothy 1:17). In the incarnation, Jesus did not stop being God, but rather added human nature to His divine nature. So, in one sense we become more like Christ as we continue on our Christian journey of sanctification, but we will never be like him in the sense of actually being or becoming divine. Likewise, Jesus is like us, in that he fully experienced human nature, but he is not like us in that he is the unique, God-man, and was never only man. The problem with Johnson teaching that Jesus was God, but also that he emptied himself of his divine nature, is that you can’t have it both ways. The attributes of God are not something you can turn on and off. A limited God, is not God. A better to way to understand this idea of emptying himself, is to think of it as giving up of divine position or glory. It’s emphasizing the servant nature of Christ who willingly put his divine status aside to attach himself to human nature. Theologian John Frame (and I think I deserve points here for not pausing to discuss Johnson’s abhorrence for theology, Christian education as well as his approach to reading the Bible) puts it this way in his work, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Christian Belief:
“…One of these was Philippians 2:5-7, in which Paul says that Jesus, though being ‘in the form [morphe] of God,’ became a man…understanding morphe to refer to the “essential qualities” of God. So this passage strongly indicates the deity of Christ. But some have argued that the ‘emptying (kenosis) of verse 7 (NASB) means that when Jesus became a man he divested himself of some, or all, divine attributes. This view has become known as the kenosis theory. But if Jesus, in his incarnation, divested himself of any essential divine attributes (morphe), as on this view, then during his incarnation he was and is not God at all. For God is not God without his essential attributes. But the idea that Jesus was not God when he was in the flesh contradicts a vast amount of biblical data…The nature of the kenosis of Philippians 2:7 can be understood perfectly well as the self-humbling of God’s servant expressed for example in the servant songs of Isaiah, which lie behind the language of verse 8. That is of course Paul’s point in the larger context. Jesus’ self-humbling is an example for the believers in Philippi, to serve one another rather than themselves. This is an ethical point, not a metaphysical one. Paul is telling them to behave differently, not to divest their metaphysical status (finite humanity) to become something else (881-882).
So, Bill Johnson teaches that Jesus was God, but he also teaches that God could somehow limit or change his nature. These two ideas are mutually exclusive. To say that Jesus possessed no supernatural ability is, in essence, to say that he is not God. To say that Jesus was only a man in right relationship with God, is really to say that he is not God. They just aren’t true. Jesus did have supernatural capabilities through his divine nature, which as a man, he did not always choose to access, but which at times he did. For more understanding of this topic you can read see my previous posts here: http://saraboyd.org/?p=138.
Furthermore, it was not the anointing that linked Jesus to God, he was (and is) God. So, for Johnson to teach that we can be just like Jesus, and that we should be performing the same signs and wonders accordingly, shows that the rest of this hyper-signs & wonder theology is misplaced and built on a wrong foundation. The danger, is that more and more Jesus-desiring Christians are drawn to the ministry of his church because of his church’s music. Despite the fact that Johnson’s belief varies from mainstream thought on the nature of God, Bethel Music is gaining mainstream influence.
Really, what could be more important to a believer than rightly understanding the nature of God? Who He is and how He is affects our relationship with him, and it seems right to be concerned when He is misrepresented.
The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind – Bill Johnson
“In what is known as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said clearly and concisely: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-10). The will of God is simply this: ‘On earth as it is in heaven.’ Isn’t that basic? Isn’t it refreshing? When we pray, ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” we’re praying for the King’s dominion and will to be realized right here, right now. That is a life-transforming, paradigm-shattering way to ‘do’ normal Christianity. God has not kept His desires secret; He wants the reality of heaven to invade this rebel-torn world, to transform it, to bring it under His headship. What is free to operate in heaven – joy, peace, wisdom, health, wholeness, and all the other good promises we read about in the Bible – should be free to operate here on this planet, in your home, your church, your business, and your school. What is not free to operate there – sickness, disease, spiritual bondage, and sin – should not be free to operate here, period” (Pg. 26, location 244).
“Remember that God’s first commission to mankind was, Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…(Genesis 1:28). He said those words to Adam and Eve so they would extend the boundaries of His garden – representing His government, His will-to the ends of the earth. His idea was to have a planet engulfed in His glorious rule, with mankind flawlessly ‘proving the will of God’ on earth as it is in heaven…Of course we know that the original plan got derailed, and that Adam forfeited the rulership God gave him over the earth putting humanity in slavery to the enemy…But God had a plan of redemption in place: Jesus would come to reclaim all that was lost…When that prophecy was fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God took back the authority man had given away and reclaimed our purpose on this earth…We, the church, are called to extend His rule in this earthly sphere, just as Adam was called to do. We see this in each commission shown in the gospel…In essence, ‘Go heal the sick, preach the good news, demonstrate who I am and what I am like. Extend My Kingdom!’” (pg. 30, location 314).
“When we do the will of God, we bring Kingdom reality crashing into the works of the devil. We initiate conflict between earthly reality and heavenly reality, becoming the bridge and connection point that makes it possible through prayer and radical obedience to assert rulership of God” (pg. 33, location 353).
“The other important thing about the House of God was that it functioned under an open heaven, meaning the demonic realm was broken off and there was clarity between the realm of God’s dominion and what was happening on earth. It was pictured in Jacob’s dream as a ladder with angels ascending and descending. Angels ascend when they’ve completed an assignment and descend when they’re on their way to carry out a supernatural assignment…The fulfillment of the House of God began with Jesus. He was the House of God on earth. But this concept did not stop with Him – far from it. He was the initial fulfillment of the House of God, but the ultimate fulfillment. There is a big difference. For example, your conversion was not God’s ultimate intent for you. It was his intent that set you up for the ultimate fulfillment, which is that you be filled with His fullness, living the normal Christian lifestyle as defined by what takes place in heaven” (Pg. 48, location 590).
So again, there is much to be discussed with the dominion theology of Bethel which teaches that God lost control of the earth to Satan’s rule, had to gain it back, and that He needs humanity’s help to reestablish that rule/authority on earth. There’s also much to be said about the way Johnson uses bits and pieces of Scripture, out of context, to make his theological thesis. However, what I want to focus on from these quotes is the idea that God’s ultimate intent for humanity is to make His kingdom an earthly reality on earth now.
“On earth as it is in Heaven!” This is the mantra and battle cry of Bethel. When you first hear it, it sounds like a good thing, even a biblical thing! However, when you begin to look into all that Bill Johnson writes you begin to connect the dots to a very different picture than what most Evangelicals understand to be true. I will just mention that God losing control or depending on our help in any way is an affront to his sovereignty and omnipotence. Additionally, what Johnson is presenting is the idea that we have the ability to speak and take control of realities, ultimately bringing the way things are in heaven to the earth as we currently inhabit it. Without getting into a long discourse on the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, the simple, clear and traditional way to understand these verses, is not that God’s Kingdom is already fully established on earth or that he needs us to reclaim or tangibly build his kingdom in any way, but rather that God will establish His kingdom, and we should look forward, in hope, to that time. In the meantime though, the world we live in is still broken and affected by the curse. Frame explains the Kingdom of God in that there is both an already and not yet. He writes:
“For believers, then, the ‘coming age’ has begun in Christ. He has dealt with sin once for all…Yet some biblical expectations for the last days and the kingdom are still unfulfilled. The bodily resurrection of the just and unjust has not taken place. The return of Christ and the final judgement remain future. The saints pray, ‘Thy kingdom come’ (Matt. 6:10 KJV). That prayer assumes that the coming of the kingdom is future to some extent, though the prayer contains petitions for the near future, not only for the ultimate consummation. Sin and the curse continue on the earth: (89-90).
The danger of Johnson’s view is that it teaches believers to expect perfect, peaceful, pain-free lives. It teaches believers that it’s always God’s intention to do the miracle, save the day, and spare us discomfort. While God brings hope and joy and strength to us in difficult situations, the world we live in is still broken and cursed. Yes, we look forward to the restoration of God’s redemptive work in creation, but that redemption, while started and in process, has not yet fully been completed. This theology leaves people open to a dangerously false view of God and potential anger, discouragement and disappointment when they experience the brokenness of this world in their own lives.
It is my hope, my deep and heartfelt prayer really, that my fellow believers will closely and carefully weigh the teachings of Bethel against the teachings of the Bible. Break out the commentaries. Read all the quoted Scripture in its full context because the truth and right interpretation of Scripture have to trump personal preference and spiritual experience. I am confident that those who take the time to sincerely and diligently do this will come to see that Johnson’s theology is dangerously misleading.
More Quotes from Other Bethel Leaders
I will leave you with these other passages from books written by individuals in leadership at Bethel. These people travel around the globe spreading this theology. They instruct and influence new believers, youth and children. Does what they believe and teach line up with Scripture? … You decide.
The Supernatural Ways of Royalty – Bill Johnson and Kris Vallotton
“Bill Johnson has a creative definition of desire. He breaks it down into two parts: ‘de’ meaning ‘of,’ and ‘sire’ meaning ‘to father.’ When we delight ourselves in God, instead of hanging out in our past, He becomes the father, the sire, of our dreams. Mary illustrates this principle in her life. The Bible says, ‘But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19). She pondered the word of God in her heart and gave birth to the Savior of the world. What she imagined became flesh and dwelt among us through immaculate conception. When we dream with God, we become masterpieces of His imagination” (pg. 42, location 437).
“A prophetic declaration is more than mere words, because it releases grace to accomplish what it says. Names in the Bible were given to people as a prophetic declaration of their identity and actually released the very characteristics of their calling to them. Grace as well as disgrace is released by name-calling. Grace is the ‘operational power of God.’ Grace is the God-given ability to become what you couldn’t become before you received the declaration. Disgrace also has the power to release curses from the dark side. In the Book of Genesis, God invited Adam to create with Him by naming the animals. When Adam named the animals he was prophesying their DNA and what they were to become in the world, not just calling them a normal animal name like ‘Fifi’ or ‘Spot!’ The power of a declared name is also illustrated in the third chapter of Genesis. Here Adam named his wife ‘Eve.’ Eve means ‘mother of the living.’ She was barren until her name was changed from ‘Woman’ to ‘Eve.’ After Adam’s prophetic declaration, Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel” (pg. 64, location 747).
“Our Elder Brother, Jesus, came to earth to deal with sin, the root of injustice, once and for all on the cross. He modeled for us what bringing justice looks like. Interestingly, He didn’t go around punishing people for their sins. Many people think justice looks like people getting the punishment they deserve. That’s only one side of justice, and it is important to realize that it has already been dealt with…We are partnering with God to bring justice to the earth. It reverses every effect of sin and death in people’s lives because it is the justice of restoration. Like Paul, we are restoring the knowledge of the one true God. Like Gideon, we are restoring the supernatural signs of God. We’re restoring health to people’s bodies, souls and spirits. We’re restoring financial prosperity. We’re restoring morality in the government. We’re restoring holiness in the arts. We’re restoring land and much more” (pg. 144, location 1968-1978).
“The truth is that Christ defeated and disarmed the enemy once and for all on the cross (see Col. 2:15). God has condemned him as guilty and handed over the authority he had usurped from Adam to Jesus Christ, the second Adam. Our job as ‘little Christs’ is as deputies who enforce that judgment in every situation we come across. God created a world where our vote counts and where our agreement with what He’s doing is necessary to release His power into the world. He did this so He wouldn’t violate our free will and ruin our potential to love Him from our hearts. Jesus demonstrated what can happen when one person totally agrees with the will of the Father” (Pg. 144, location 1978).
How Heaven Invades Earth – Kris Vallotton
“…Jesus turned to His tattered brigade of spiritual warriors and said, ‘Pray that my Father’s kingdom would come and His will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.’ Was this prayer a sort of a wish upon a star, intended to be prayed by billions, but only to be experienced by a few in some distant eternity? No, I don’t think so! I think Jesus actually expected us to believe that when we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can pull heaven down to earth” (Pg. 18, location 149).
“A Church that does not demonstrate the miraculous works of Christ has failed to give the world this opportunity, and thus has no right to judge people for their lack of response. Without miracles, the kingdom of God is reduced to words, concepts and good works” (Pg. 19, location 160).
“In 1998, my wife, Kathy, and I moved to Redding, California, to launch the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. That same year, I was lying on the floor praying one morning when the Lord spoke to me so clearly that it stunned me. He said, ‘There is a new epoch season emerging in this hour. Much like the Protestant Reformation, there is another reformation coming that will unearth the very foundation of Christianity. This move of the Spirit will absolutely redefine your ideologies and philosophies concerning what the Church is and how she should function.’ I asked Him, ‘What will this transition look like?’ He said, ‘My Church is moving from denominationalism to apostleships.” …He said, ‘I am about to open up the vaults of heaven and reveal depths of My glory that have never before been seen or understood by any living creature’” (Pg. 23, location 200).
“The emphasis in the Lord’s Prayer is that earth would become like heaven. In the same way the Romans were to make their conquered cities look like Rome, we have been commissioned to pull heaven down to earth until the will of God is done here exactly as it is there!” (Pg. 67, location 765).
“Mary, the mother of Jesus, experienced this supernatural phenomenon. Dr. Luke writes, ‘But Mary treasured all these things [the prophetic word the angel gave her about giving birth to the Savior of the world], pondering them in heart’ (Luke 2:19). Mary brooded over the word of God in her heart and gave birth to the Messiah. What she imagined became flesh and, through the Holy Spirit, dwelt among us. In other words, what she perceived in her heart gave her the courage to endure difficulty along the path to her destiny. As human beings, we reach our highest potential when we harness the power of our imagination to birth the realities and purposes of God for us and for the world. When we dream with God, as Mary did, we co-create masterpieces of His imagination.” (Pg. 175, location 2098).
Christ in You: Why God Trusts You More Than You Trust Yourself – Eric B. Johnson
“As the Body of Christ has matured and stepped into the things God has in mind, a dramatic shift has taken place. The Church has moved from an understanding of salvation to an understanding of the Kingdom…It is our responsibility to see the name of Jesus made known in all the earth, to take things that are wrong and make them right and to bring the goodness of God into every situation” (Pg. 20, location 143).
“If we are going to navigate the sin and evil rampant on the earth and help usher the Kingdom into every level of society, we have to recognize how important it is to see the image of God in every person we meet. If we do not realize the importance of that image in them, we most likely will deal with sin and evil from the basis of a short-term mindset that has as its goal alleviating the consequences of sin but not helping the person become healthy and whole as well as saved” (Pg. 33, location 286).
“Since Reformation times, the Body of Christ has put a lot of emphasis on the gospel of salvation, which largely focuses on getting people ‘saved’ so that they will spend their eternity in heaven. Now, however, the Body of Christ is becoming more aware of the gospel of the Kingdom. Jesus made emphasizing this a major priority in His time on earth. Throughout the gospels, He is found leading the charge to help people see the Kingdom of God come here on this earth…Seeing the Kingdom come means that whatever it looks like in heaven is what it needs to look like here on earth. Jesus entrusts the knowledge of His ways and His thoughts to His people so that we will apply them in every area of our lives to usher in the Kingdom, whether it be in the area of health, government, education, the workplace or our home life. Our mandate is to see that in every area, the ways of His Kingdom are ushered in on earth” (Pg. 42, location 388).
Bethel.Tv Moments – Seth Dahl
“Jesus asked me to forgive him” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3MdF6GJ6fE)
Gaebelein, Frank e. Gen. Ed., The Expositors bible Commentary, Vol. 8. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984.
Frame, John, M. Systematic Theology; An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013.
Johnson, B. (2014). The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind [Kindle Version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Johnson, Bill. When Heaven Invades Earth. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2003.
Johnson, E.(2015).Christ in You:Why God Trusts You More Than You Trust Yourself [Kindle Version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Vallotton, K. (2013). How Heaven Invades Earth: Transform the World Around You [Kindle Version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.
Valloton, K, Johnson, B. (2006). The Supernatural Ways of Royalty [Kindle Version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Youtube, last accessed November, 2015.