Monday, June 18, 2012

Jesus Culture :: A False Jesus, A False Gospel

Bill Johnson is the lead pastor of Bethel Church, in Redding, California. Bethel is the sending church for Jesus Culture, and a frequent key speaker at their conferences. 

(Read FULL ARTICLE HERE. Some reformatting has been done for clarity, and some comments from the article as of this posting have been left in for instruction. These are common objections and well-responded to by the author and commentors. )

It is with great sadness that I write this analysis of Bill Johnson’s book, When Heaven Invades Earth. I do pray for him and other pastors who teach these things. I also pray for those in their churches. There are people I love dearly sitting in their pews. Throughout the book and the teachings I’ve heard, there are many things I disagree with (doctrines such as healing in the atonement, the anointing, impartation, dominion theology). Instead of trying to refute every point, I’ve tried to identify some of the more significant errors.

View of Jesus

Bill Johnson plucks John 5:19 out of its context saying of Jesus, “the Son can do nothing.” He basically claims that Jesus laid aside all of His godly attributes and had only human attributes and abilities. In the history of the church, this teaching has been identified as a heresy called kenoticism. Johnson teaches that Jesus was completely powerless needed to be anointed by the Holy Spirit to perform miracles (p79). I found this confusing believing that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one. Johnson also said that “the Holy Spirit revealed the Father to Jesus” (p80). I don’t see this anywhere in Scripture. On the contrary, Jesus asserts, “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30) and also, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:9-10). Why would Jesus need the Father to be revealed to Him if they are one?

Johnson’s purpose behind this view of Christ is to show that a believer can do everything Jesus did. His reasoning is as follows: Jesus had no sin to separate Him from the Father and He was completely dependent on the Holy Spirit’s power. Since Christ’s sacrifice has removed the barrier of our sin, now nothing separates us, we only have to depend on the Holy Spirit. While it is true that Christ’s sacrifice has sufficiently dealt with our sin, I don’t think He went to the cross so that we could operate in the miraculous but rather because of God’s great justice and mercy. The penalty needed to be paid for our sin. We could never pay it. He paid it for us to reconcile us to Himself. And although I am holy and blameless in His sight, covered in the righteousness of Christ, while I am still in this earthly tent, I am still a sinner. I await the day when I will be in my glorified state but until then I cannot be compared to the sinless Jesus.
The Gospel

My greatest concern with the teaching of Bill Johnson and Bethel Church in Redding is that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are not central to their message. It appears that the cross and the empty tomb are just a means to an end - namely, operating in the miraculous. I fear they may be preaching a different gospel.

“Salvation was not the ultimate goal of Christ’s coming… [The ultimate goal] was to fill each born again person with the Holy Spirit.” (Johnson, p71)

“This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

“The gospel is the story of the Father wooing the hearts of mankind through His love.” (Johnson, p101)
“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.” (Johnson, p185)

Jesus summed up His message with these words: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16-18)

“Through the shedding of His blood, it would be possible for everyone who believed on His name to do as He did and become as He was. This meant then that every true believer would have access to the realm of life that Jesus lived in.” (Johnson, p138)

“…the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)

“Without [signs and wonders/miracles], the world suffers, God is grieved, and we are the most to be pitied” (Johnson, p119)
“We are most to be pitied if we think we’ve reached the fullness of what god intended for His Church here on earth.” (Johnson p186)

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:17-20)

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9)

View of Suffering

Johnson teaches that a loving Father would not allow His children to suffer. According to him, a good God would not allow sickness for a greater purpose. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, “So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

On page 48 of his book, Bill Johnson uses Hebrews 11 as a summary of faith. He fails to include those who by faith “were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated--” (Hebrews 11: 35-37). Throughout history God’s people have always endured hardship and persecution. A good God is one who upholds and strengthens His own in the midst of suffering so that He is glorified by doing so.

Biblical Interpretation

There are basic rules of interpreting the Bible that I think are very important. For example, verses must be interpreted in their context. We also must understand what message was being conveyed at the specific time and to a specific people. A text can never mean what it never meant…in its original context. (See page 65 and Joshua 1:3). I also have concerns with Bill Johnson’s hermeneutics on a different level. I affirm that we do need the Holy Spirit to reveal the truths of the Bible to us and we do need to lay aside our presuppositions and let God speak to us through His word. But Johnson goes beyond that and places a subjective prophetic word over the straightforward meaning of Bible passages. Of course he would say that the Bible has the ultimate authority but I haven’t seen that principle practiced. The result: (1) relativism - to me this verse means…and (2) a new form of popery - the great Reformation principle of sola scriptura is cast aside and the prophet/teacher’s interpretation is the new standard.


One great danger spread throughout this book is the equating of discernment with fear. Bill Johnson is quick to defend himself against those who question his teachings. The apostle Paul commended the Bereans for searching the Scriptures to see if what he said was true. Those who are concerned about being deceived and hesitant to sign on are condemned as full of fear (which is viewed as the worst possible thing). In order not to fall victim to fear, all are encouraged jump in unreservedly.
“For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” (Mat 24:24)

seeker3 said...
What false teachers often do is take some CONSEQUENCES of the gospel and make that the gospel INSTEAD.

For Brian Houston (Hillsong, Australia) that becomes: “Jesus came so that we can be worldly successful in business, leadership, possessions and money.”

For Bill Johnson it becomes: “Jesus came so that we can do supernatural miracles”

The Devil tried to entice Jesus (after the fast in the desert) to do supernatural things or get involved in worldly kingdoms – see;&version=31;

The Devil is trying the same enticement to Christians through people like Bill Johnson, Brian Houston, Todd Bentley, Rick Joyner, etc.
Anonymous said...
While in no way am I defending Bill Johnson, I would encourage people to read the chapter "Is Kenosis Orthodox?" in the 2006 book EXPLORING KENOTIC CHRISTIANITY (most of the chapter is available on The book is a collection of works by scholars from various theological traditions and the Reformed view is presented as well.
Glenn said...
I am so relieved to come across an honest and biblical critique of Bill Johnson's teaching. I have just finished reading a copy of his latest book 'The Supernatural power of a transformed mind' that a friend insist I read. It is simply a further elaboration of the same distorted gospel that permeates 'When heaven invades earth.' Johnson continues to ramp up his theory that Jesus was a little less than divine when he ministered. Bill's commitment to the kenosis theory seems to be for the purpose of elevating man to a level where everything depends on what we do or say. God becomes a little less sovereign and we become a little more omnipotent. It all gets subtly packed in around 'testimonies and stories', so the enthusiastic Christian can easily get swept along if they don't take the time to slow down and evaluate the warped doctrine behind it all. This type of teaching deserves to be challenged as it damages the true gospel and builds a hollow faith that tends to minimise the cross and salvation. I'm concerned at the impact I can see it having in my own church as people seem to become dogmatic about defending Johnson rather than weighing his teachings against scripture in context. Your review is very insightful Bob. Thanks.
Anonymous said...
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)
Bob said...
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 Johnson seems to is not the WHOLE truth. Orthodox Christiainity through all ages has affirmed while the above is true in regard to Christ's human nature, 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 seperate and distinct natures.

With that said, what you 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, Johnson wants to assert that in taking on flesh Jesus also took off Divinity. Johnson does this because he wants us to see Jesus more as our model for supernatural life than the most exceptional Person ever.

Thus, in Johnson's zeal for making supernatural signs and wonders an everday Christian thing he tosses the Divine nature of Christ making Him our entirely immitatable example. It is true that Christ is our example, but again not the whole truth. This is because He also had Divine attributes and a calling (Messiah) that none of us share in.

I must add on the calling aspect that the signs Christ performed in His earthly ministry were confirmatory in nature in regard to His messiahship and message (gospel). That is why He could tell John the Baptist when asked by John "are you the one?" Jesus replied, "The dead are raised the sick are healed..." In short Jesus said "You see the signs don't you?" This again mitigates our ability to immitate as the signs performed by the Messiah and His apostles were intended to be unique confirming their ministry and the new covenant gospel message. Thus, they would hardly be unique and confirmatory if Bill Johnson 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 the point.

Sorry for the brevity, but those are the 2 things to take into consideration. 1. Christ did not dump His divinity at the incarnation, and 2. Signs and wonders performed by the Messiah and His apostles would hardly be confirming of their message if signs and wonders were a normal everyday thing. That's what makes them signs (pointer to something) and wonders (an unusual occurance)after all.
Bob said...
Also, and this is so huge I feel bad for neglecting to add it as it is the most important point, it would be impossible for one mere man to die for the sins of even one man substitutionarily let alone many men. Jesus couldn't have done that strictly as a man, the dying part yes, the substitution no, He needed to be fully God as well to bear all the sins of me, let alone billions of others. Only God can placate God's wrath both being infinite.
Craig said...
A previous comment referenced Evans’ Exploring Kenotic Christology. I have the book and here’s a synopsis of Davis’ essay “Is Kenosis Orthodox?” In short, the answer is “no.” Davis attempts to distinguished between ‘essential’ and ‘accidental’ divine attributes with the ‘omni’ traits merely ‘accidental’ such that God is, for example, “omnipotent-unless-freely-and-temporarily-choosing-to-be-otherwise.” Of course, this denies immutability, but Davis gets around this by claiming it’s merely “soft immutability” and the Word, of course, subsequently re-attains all the ‘omni’ attributes upon Ascension. Essentially, Davis has redefinedGod. However, both John 2:19 and 10:17-18 indicate that Jesus was in fact omnipotent as He raised Himself on the Third Day. [In fact, the entire Trinity was involved in the Resurrection as other Scripture attests.] That’s the real crux (pun intended) of the matter. Moreover, the Word must have retained and utilized omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience in order to sustain the cosmos [cf. Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:3]. Thus, kenosis theories are insupportable by Scripture consequently, as such, they are by definition unorthodox and I would contend heresy.

You can read more here:
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Anonymous said...
1 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this.

3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)

4 At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. 5 Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, 6 he said, “Listen to my words:

“When there is a prophet among you,
I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions,
I speak to them in dreams.
7 But this is not true of my servant Moses;
he is faithful in all my house.
8 With him I speak face to face,
clearly and not in riddles;
he sees the form of the LORD.
Why then were you not afraid
to speak against my servant Moses?”

9 The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them.

To everyone hating on Bill Johnson - You are naive to talk against God's servant.

"Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

This forum and others like it are utter rubbish. What is the point of hating on men and women of God who walk with God daily? You're only fighting against God himself.

I ask how many of you here posting negative comments about Bill do as Jesus commanded us and "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give." Not only are we to do these, but dare to refute Jesus himself when He says: "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."

Even if Bill does have some bits of theology wrong (I'm not at all backing your statements) since He is living and growing in Christ won't God give him revelation on these if what he currently preaches is destroying God's church?

Anyway have a good day everyone!
Bob said...
This forum and others like it are utter rubbish. What is the point of hating on men and women of God who walk with God daily? You're only fighting against God himself. -Anonymous

Well that's begging the question, I can't see Bill's personal relationship with God but I wouldn't put him in the same catagory as Moses. We are called to test all things, rather than just suspend our discernment. Here's one that will throw you for a loop, I walk with God daily too...I disagree with Bill Johnson...whose side are you on? Why is your criticism of me not fighting against God like my criticism of Bill?

Is Bill more of a Christian than me? Why is he untouchable but I am not?

"Even if Bill does have some bits of theology wrong (I'm not at all backing your statements) since He is living and growing in Christ won't God give him revelation on these if what he currently preaches is destroying God's church?"

God takes teaching error far more seriously than you seem to think He should. God gave His entire church the final revelation in scripture, I don't need men and their private conversations with God I have a Bible as my authority. Bill has that as well, he is in no need of some private word from God saying, "Hey Bill, you are teaching error..." That's the Bible's job and that was the point of the post, a Biblical examination of the teachings of Mr.Johnson.
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