Why Jesus Culture, Bethel Church, and Bethel's School of Supernatural Ministry are Spiritually Dangerous (Part 2 of 3)
In the previous post, I argued that doctrine is not only unavoidable, the Holy Spirit wants us to grow in our knowledge of biblical doctrine. Even so, I understand the many Christians who, burned by those intellectuals whose convictions were buried in seminary, believe avoiding deep theological study is the best salve for the injured soul. They believe that you can feed only your intellect or your spirit, seeking a moving experience that is not necessarily meaningful, and missing the fact that God created both in union.
As such, some of today's most popular teachers and preachers proceed with that foundation; books and sermons promising bigger and better experiences create many celebrity pastors. However, upon this foundation a house of theology must reside, inside which a Christians find a spiritually environment that is not up to biblical code. We will see this with our case in point --- Bill Johnson --- as we examine what doctrinal convictions nail his theological structure together.
First, Bethel Church is spiritually dangerous because it promotes false doctrine.
A. Bethel promotes a false dichotomy between mind and spirit.
Bill Johnson capitalizes on the fallacious concept that Christians should not think deep thoughts. On page 80 of "When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles," he writes "But to follow Him [Christ], we must be willing to follow off the map—to go beyond what we know." His words do not mean to trust God when trials confuse us; he advocates less scriptural understanding in light of spiritual experiences. Bob DeWaay, in his review of the book, points this out as well:
Johnson claims, “For decades the Church has been guilty of creating doctrine to justify their lack of power. . .”... He resorts to an often misused passage that promotes his anti-scholastic bias: “A powerless Word is the letter not the Spirit. And we all know, ‘The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’” (Johnson: 116). This twisting of Paul’s meaning in 2 Corinthians 3:6 has a long history of use to promote subjectivism and mysticism. The false implication is that studying the Bible will kill you spiritually. The context shows that Paul was speaking of the letters written on stone (verse 3), meaning the Decalogue. Paul explains how the law “kills” in Romans 7:5, 6. It kills because of our sinful passions that it exposes, not because it is studied for what it means. ...
Johnson warns, “The Church has all too often lived according to an intellectual approach to the Scriptures, void of the Holy Spirit’s influence.” This false dilemma (i.e., either intellect or Spirit) fools his readers into thinking that if they attend hyped up meetings such as Johnson promotes, the Spirit is at work; whereas if they were to carefully study God’s once-for-all revealed Word they would be stuck in a “powerless” situation (Johnson: 76).It is fair to say that true Christianity, at least in Johnson's mind, does not involve exegesis of the biblical text: wrestling with word definitions and sentence syntax to arrive at the Author's meaning. Instead, it is a radical commitment the subjective, internal experience that has no communicable qualities. Antithetical to God's own revelation, it ignores that Jesus' own words that we examined last time continue to call us to a deeper knowledge of Scripture. The New Testament Apostles, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, likewise call us to grow in our knowledge of God's Word.
Pause here and consider Peter. As he nears the end of his life, reminisces on his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration as an evidence of the reality of his message (2 Pt 1:16-18). However, he then says that "we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention" (v. 19). He continues, "knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (vv. 19-20). The Apostle Peter turns away from the experience back to the revelation of the Holy Spirit in Scripture.
Why does Peter focus on the weight of Scripture over that of experience? He does so because the Holy Spirit wants to prepare us: for "there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction" (2:1). After devoting the chapter to false teachers, the Spirit in Peter calls us back to the revealed Word: "I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles" (3:1-2). He concludes by warning that the ignorant and unstable twist the Scripture (v. 16), and commands us to "take care" and to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (v. 17-18). As such, the Book of 2 Peter advocates the same method to deal with false teachers as our Lord utilized when dealing with Satan's twisting of Scripture: through knowing and properly applying the Bible.
However, based on his understanding of 2 Corinthians 3:6, Johnson sets all of this aside and warns that studying the Bible can kill you spiritually. Again, genuine Christians applaud the desire to avoid the avarice of academia and to seek God without condition. Yet, he fails to purge self-righteousness from worship, for this dichotomy between the mind and the spirit advocates a more ruggedly individualistic Christianity, one delivered multiple thousands of times through extra-biblical revelations from God (compare to Jude 1:3). He misses that Paul warned of becoming puffed up "without reason," without intellectually engaging the things of God, of expanding oneself with the leaven of visions and angels and toppling the faith of others by going on about it (Col 2:18).
Thus, this teaching can only guarantee swift destruction, just as Peter predicted. As the mind opens to possibilities unknown, and the sword of the Spirit falls from the believer's armor (Eph 6:17), spiritual deception strikes. We will become like Eliphaz who, after counseling Job with a personal revelation from a spirit (Job 4:12-12), found that he spoken deceitful words and kindled the Lord's anger (42:7). Our minds must be sober and fortified with the Word of God if we are to avoid our enemy (cf. 1 Pt 5:8).
For no other reason than this, the Bill Johnson's ministry is spiritually dangerous to himself and to others. Correcting this understanding would alone bring real healing to Bethel, what we all want to see. However, this false dichotomy between the purity of spirit and the "evil" of the intellect gives way to other false teachings, as we will see.
As such, this acidic heresy erodes other doctrines that serve the support structure of the Christian faith.
B. Bethel promotes a false apostolic authority.
Doctrine is unavoidable, even in an anti-intellectual environment, and something else must increase while the Bible decreases. There must be some way for Christians to grow in their knowledge of the things of God, something solid upon which to build their faith. As such, Bethel answers that need with false apostles and prophets.
Consider the claim on the website of Bethel's School of Supernatural Ministry, which begins, "The academic instruction at BSSM is unique because it is taught by apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers...". In case you may think that they refer to the exposition of Scripture by professors and theologians, the statement continues: "...not by professors or theologians."
Again, this must come from a desire to cut oneself off from dead orthodoxy. However, in the process, they also cast aside Spirit-filled theologians able to prompt them to worship God in both spirit and truth; they cast aside biblical teaching. A theologian is someone who studies theology, which is defined by Theopedia as "the rational study and understanding of the nature of God and doctrines of the Christian faith based on the God's revelation of Himself, chiefly found in the Bible."
Perhaps you are wondering if BSSM really does not like to have their students learn from those who study the Bible to understand the God they worship and what the Bible teaches. Perhaps that stretches the meaning of the words here. However, according to the website, the "apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers" conducting the academics at the school includes "many powerful guest speakers throughout the year," as well as the "staff members" conducting the "primary teaching." In other words, the staff and guests are the inspired ones leading the students, not "professors or theologians."
Again, if the letter kills, then why train people to be able in the written Word? While students will still somehow "receive a great deal of historic commentary and insight into the scriptures, they are also immersed in a revelatory culture where the Holy Spirit becomes the chief instructor and tour guide." Students applying for the School of Supernatural Ministry should expect to hear a mix of the Apostles Paul, Peter, and Bill; they should expect to receive the correct and "uplifting" commentary from their "inspired" teachers and will learn to accept subjective feelings and experiences as the Holy Spirit's revelation to them.
Perhaps the title "Apostle Bill" is reading too much into the situation. Do people really consider Pastor Bill Johnson a holy apostle? The evidence points to that fact.
First, C. Peter Wagner, presiding over the International Coalition of Apostles, included Bill Johnson as one of the three "apostles" onstage who were to affirm the ministry of Todd Bentley, and even asked Bentley to recognize Johnson as his apostolic authority (see the 4:30 mark of this video). Second, Johnson himself, as the first three minutes of this video records, claims to have led his church through a difficult time with nightly, direct revelations from God (how many pastors long for that!). Third, Johnson is a frequent voice at the "Voice of the Apostles" Conference. Fourth, Bill Johnson redefines the word apostle from its the biblical definition to one that happens to befit his station as a pastor with significant influence. Fifth, the DVD curriculum from BSSM offers claims to contain the "apostolic and prophetic voice" of Bill Johnson.
Johnson indeed uses his podium at Bethel with an authority that rivals the New Testament apostles, then. However, even if we assume Johnson is sincere in his beliefs (and God has not called us to the business of examining sincerity), how can he be an apostle and reject the first and greatest commandment? If he, as a doctrinal commitment, rejects the importance of the mind in worship, then he cannot love God with all of his mind.
Again, we have seen enough to stay away from the ministry at Bethel. However, are these the only things that makes it dangerous? No - it teaches yet more false doctrine, and as we will see next week, it promotes false signs and wonders . Let us just examine two more points of doctrine before we stop.
C. Bethel promotes a false doctrine of man's dominion mandate.
As a visible personality in the heretical New Apostolic Reformation, Johnson also promotes false teaching such as dominionist theology, the idea that Christ awaits Christians to bring in His kingdom and rule. The clearest declaration comes via Bethel's own website: "Bethel Church is a congregation rooted in the love of God and dedicated to worldwide transformation through revival. It is our goal for God's love to be manifest in signs, wonders and miracles as well as practical demonstrations of care and affection." As such, it appears that Bethel is promoting more of a spiritual dominionism rather than a physical one at this time, but dominionistic nonetheless.
Bethel's Jesus Culture exists with the same mandate, as they state on their Facebook page and website: "Jesus Culture Music exists to ignite revival in the nations of the earth. ... We long for Jesus to be exalted in the nations and for His manifest presence to invade this world." While this longing exists in the hearts of all true Christians, remember that this theology teaches that the end comes through the hands of revivalists with a special anointing, not through Christ's own return.
This dangerous commitment turns our eyes from Jesus and sets them on the world. Johnson even chastises Christians for looking forward to the Lord's appearing. In the previously mentioned interview, DeWaay notes,
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). ... 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.The teaching is that we can either bring in or halt worldwide revival, not the Second Coming. As Brannon Howse notes, Johnson and Jesus Culture believe they must raise up the generation of revivalists who will bring Jesus to earth. They believe they can put death under their feet and roll back the curse. Why look for some future rule of Christ when we can bring it in ourselves?
However, this alone would not be a spiritually dangerous as the last item on our list.
D. Bethel promotes a false Christ.
We can't sugar-coat this one: Johnson presents a "Jesus" not found in the Bible, one who was not God while He was on earth. As the Crosswise blog notes, Johnson embraces the kenosis heresy, teaching that Jesus laid aside all divinity. DeWaay also notes,
Johnson says, “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” (Johnson: 29; emphasis and ellipses in original). Johnson’s theology requires that Christians do greater miracles than Jesus. If Jesus’ divinity had any influence on His mighty works, then we might think we could not do the same (and rightly so). So Johnson embraces what is often called the kenosis heresy—that Jesus laid aside His divine nature. He writes elsewhere: “He laid his divinity aside as He sought to fulfill the assignment given to Him by the Father . . .” (Johnson: 79).If Jesus was God on earth, then His miracles proved that He was God. However, Johnson believes Jesus' miracles are not only replicable, but beatable by us. His August Facebook post reflects this narcissistic theology:
To sacrifice the deity of Christ to exalt one's view of self is heresy of the rankest form, yet he also does so on page 50 of The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind:If Jesus Christ performed His earthly miracles as God, I stand amazed. But if He did them as a man dependent on God, I am compelled to follow His lead.
Jesus had no ability to heal the sick. He couldn’t cast out devils, and He had no ability to raise the dead. He said of Himself in John 5:19, "the Son can do nothing of Himself." He had set aside His divinity. ... He put self-imposed restrictions on Himself to show that us we could do it, too. Jesus so emptied Himself that He was incapable of doing what was required of Him by the Father – without the Father’s help. That is the nature of our call...In other words, Jesus wasn't so special when He was on earth, for we can and should do His miracles, too. His theology has us doing ALL of them. In this video by a girl graduating from BSSM, she says Jesus told her to forgive a man of his sins so he could go to Heaven, and comments on the responsibility God gives us:
Johnson does not stop with Christ's miracles, for a "non-God Jesus" would have something in common with anyone born a human birth. Jesus would need salvation just like us, wouldn't He? In a sermon entitled "Jesus Is Our Model" that Johnson preached at Bethel church on December 20, 2009, he states that Jesus had to be born again [stating at 3:35 in this video]:
Did you know that Jesus was born again? I asked the first service and they said, "No." But I will show you that it's in the Bible. Jesus was born again. He had to be: He became sin.
In Hebrews 1, it says this, "For to which of the angels did he ever say, 'You are my son. Today I have begotten you'?" And Acts 13 explains that "God has fulfilled this for us, their children, in that he has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm, You are my Son, today I have begotten You. And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption." He was born through Mary the first time and through the Resurrection the second time. He was "born again."At that moment, with the soft light of the Christmas tree testifying of a past witness, the mask slips, and we see the quintessential definition of anti-Christ (1 John 2:18-24).
Bill Johnson, as a supposed prophet and apostle of Christ, tells us to "go beyond what we know" and then preaches a false Christ. He warns avoid immersing ourselves in the teachings of the biblical prophets and apostles, and calls us to seek a Jesus who was not God and needed to be born again. He exhorts us to stop living in anticipation of Christ's return, but to instead turn our work and world to make it our own. In short, the ministry at Bethel asks us to turn our eyes away from what the Holy Spirit gave us and desire private experiences and interpretations through something he calls God.
Dear reader, do not believe Johnson. Do not place your hope in a false Christ. Parched souls seeking spiritual water from the well of Bill Johnson's gospel find nothing but darkness inside (cf. 2 Pt 2:17).
We will see what kind of fruit such false teaching manifests... next week.