For those who haven’t had the pleasure, Bill Johnson is the senior pastor at Bethel church in Redding, California. It boasts a large congregation and no apparent gospel preaching (well, not that I’ve heard at any rate, and I have honestly listened to quite a few sermons, however I am here willing to be corrected).
Bethel church manifests all of the usual the Toronto Blessing-style signs and wonders that accompany the New Apostolic Reformation crowd…angel feathers, glory clouds, and bizarre spiritual manifestations. It’s all there, nicely rounded off by a seemingly endless array of rather expensive kingdom building, prophetic or Jesus Culture ‘worship’ conferences (yes, you have to pay to attend a worship service. At my church they are free).
It also has a world-famous a ‘Supernatural School of Ministry’ where you can sell up your earthly possessions and go and pay to learn to prophecy and hear God’s voice; receive prophetic dreams and visions of Jesus, heaven..you know, that kind of everyday stuff; heal people and raise people from the dead. No joke. With great zeal, many are flocking to get in on the ‘new thing’ God is doing.
Sure, right now you might be saying, but Sherryn that all sounds great. What’s the problem…where do I sign up? Right?
Well, after such such a stellar introduction, let me turn you over to Craig at the terrific Crosswise blog for a more scholarly and charitable assessment of some of Bill Johnson’s teachings. Stick it out to the end…it is worth it and is an excellent example how to biblically refute the multitude of problematic or outright false teachings flooding the church. This is something that all Christians would do well to get better at!
Keep in mind folks, in a recent sermon Bill Johnson claimed that someone had been raised from the dead that week…like it was no big deal. Yet strangely he did not preach a gospel I recognised. It certainly made me wonder by whose power this ‘miracle’ was performed. This may help you understand just how charitable Craig is…and highlight perhaps, where I need some work!
Assessing Bill Johnson’s “Eternally God” Declarations Amidst His Other Christological Statements
By Craig @ Crosswise
A hallmark of any true Christian is charity (this is not to say non-Christians cannot be charitable, of course). Christians will give their money and time with no expectation of return. Rightly, this generosity should extend to giving another the benefit of the doubt if a given statement or statements are not exactly clear. Everyone makes a ‘slip of the tongue’ or a ‘slip of the pen’, right?
But, on the other hand, when a teacher consistently makes statements that run counter to Christian orthodoxy, there is a need to address this issue forthrightly. When these statements are in the public realm via books, online sermons, video/audio, et cetera, these should be addressed publicly.
There are those who – while understanding that Bill Johnson’s Christological teachings are problematic, if not at least seemingly self-contradictory at times – do not fully agree with the views put forth on CrossWise regarding Johnson’s Christology. Specifically, there are those who are of the opinion that Bill Johnson teaches that the Word retained all His divine attributes when He became flesh, yet chose not to exercise those attributes for the entirety of His earthly ministry, instead relying on the Holy Spirit for all miracle workings. Whether they do this out of charity or out of a firm belief that this is Johnson’s teaching given the evidence of Johnson’s own words (as they read them), or both, I cannot be certain. The following tweet from April 7, 2013 by Bill Johnson in answer to a direct question, seems to have strengthened this view:
Bill Johnson tweet April 7, 2013
Does this statement render false the CrossWise articles asserting Johnson teaches that Jesus Christ did not possess any divine attributes during the Incarnation? Some may think so. But, on the other hand, what are we to make of the above tweet in conjunction with the following selection from the recent book co-written by Randy Clark and Bill Johnson titled The Essential Guide to Healing?
…Jesus emptied Himself of divinity and became man (see Philippians 2:7). While He is eternally God, He chose to live within the restrictions of a man who had no sin and was empowered by the Holy Spirit. In doing this, He provided a compelling model to follow.1
By the clear words in the first sentence, Johnson is claiming that the Word (Jesus) divested Himself of divinity in becoming incarnate. But, then again, in the second sentence we have the “eternally God” declaration like the tweet above. Is this a contradiction? Or should we be charitable and assume Johnson meant to state that Jesus ‘emptied Himself’ of all divine prerogatives, i.e., that Jesus voluntarily did not use the divine attributes He yet retained? (Though this view is not Biblical.) But please note, to assume the latter requires reading into this statement beyond what is clearly written in the first sentence.
To be certain we are not misunderstanding Bill Johnson, here is another passage from this same book:
…While Jesus is eternally God, He emptied Himself of His divinity and became a man (see Philippians 2:7). It is vital to note that He did all His miracles as a man, not as God. If He did them as God, I would still be impressed. But because He did them as a man yielded to God, I am now unsatisfied with my life, being compelled to follow the example He has given us. Jesus is the only model for us to follow.2
Once again, we have the same “eternally God” statement in conjunction with a claim of divested deity while incarnate. Yet, we also have the assertion that Jesus did all His miracles “as a man yielded to God”. Does this indicate we should, as noted above, assume Johnson really means that Jesus retained His divine attributes yet purposefully chose not to exercise them, instead relying upon the Holy Spirit for all miracle workings, despite the claim that “He emptied Himself of His divinity and became a man”?
I submit that there’s a different solution to this seeming conundrum, this apparent contradiction, without the need to read into any of the above. But, it will require a bit of explanation first.
The Christ Anointing
One cannot effectively analyze Bill Johnson’s Christological statements apart from his teaching on “the anointing”, which is central to his theology. In Johnson’s Christology, like some other teachers in hyper-charismaticism, both Christ, and then logically, antichrist are redefined.
Christ = the anointing
antichrist = against the anointing
It is of utmost importance to keep this in mind. “The anointing” is also called the “Christ anointing”,3 “Baptism in the Holy Spirit”,4 “Holy Spirit’s presence/rest upon” an individual,5 “the presence of God”,6 and “the outpouring of the Spirit”7 in Bill Johnson’s theology. This is not speaking of the Holy Spirit indwelling; this is in addition to the indwelling:
…Certainly this is not talking about the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that was already in Jesus’s life. This was the inauguration of Jesus’s ministry, and the Holy Spirit came to rest upon Him as a mantle of power and authority for that specific purpose…8
Bill Johnson’s duplicity is plainly evident in the way he first correctly defines Christ, and then redefines the term in the same paragraph in his book When Heaven Invades Earth:
Christ is not Jesus’ last name. The word Christ means “Anointed One” or “Messiah.”9
So far, so good. This is absolutely correct. Yet, observe how he redefines “Christ” to “the anointing”:
…It [Christ] 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.10
Contrary to Johnson, Scripture states that it was sufficient for Jesus to be the Christ, the Messiah at His birth (Luke 2:11). And, importantly, the term “Christ” is understood in Christian orthodoxy as indicating deity/divinity.11 Continuing on to the very next paragraph in Johnson’s book:
The word anointing means “to smear.” The Holy Spirit is the oil of God that was smeared all over Jesus at His water baptism. The name Jesus Christ implies that Jesus is the One smeared with the Holy Spirit.12
This completes Johnson’s redefinition. If Jesus is “the One smeared with the Holy Spirit” at His baptism, and this ‘smearing’ is the anointing, and this is the “experience” that brings forth the title of “Christ”, then it logically follows that Jesus was NOT the Christ prior to baptism.
To be sure the above is correct – that Jesus did not attain the “title” of Christ until He receivedthe anointing in the river Jordan following John’s baptism when the Holy Spirit came upon Him as a dove (aka Baptism in the Holy Spirit, etc.) – the following quote from another work makes it clear:
The outpouring of the Spirit also needed to happen to Jesus for Him to be fully qualified. This was His quest. Receiving this anointing qualified Him to be called the Christ, which means “anointed one.” Without the experience [the anointing] there could be no title.13
Had Jesus not received the anointing, He could not have received the “title” of Christ, for this was the “experience” that “qualified Him to be called the Christ”. But note how Johnson claims this “anointing” means “anointed one”. Is Jesus then the unique “Anointed One”, although He did not receive the title of Christ until the anointing? Does Johnson ‘merely’ have the timing wrong on when Jesus becomes the Christ? Note that in the first quote in this section he neglects to use the definite article (the) in front of “Anointed One”, and he does the same in the immediately preceding quote for “anointed one” (lower case). This is because, in another example of duplicity, ALL can receive this same “Christ anointing”:
…The outpouring of the Spirit comes to anoint the church with the same Christ anointing that rested upon Jesus in His ministry so that we might be imitators of Him…14
Be aware that this is consistent with Gnostic and New Age teaching as exemplified by Levi Dowling’s book The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ:
The word Christ is derived from the Greek word Kristos [ED: actually Christos] and means anointed. It is identical with the Hebrew word Messiah. The word Christ, in itself, does not refer to any particular person; every anointed person is christed…15
In Johnson’s theology, when ‘believers’ receive this “Christ anointing” do they become divine? Not exactly. Note below that it’s the anointing itself that’s divine, not Jesus. The anointing links the man Jesus to the divine, thus providing the supernatural power that the non-divine Jesus lacked:
The anointing Jesus received was the equipment necessary, given by the Father to make it possible for Him to live beyond human limitations…That would include doing supernaturalthings. The anointing is what linked Jesus, the man, to the divine, enabling Him to destroy the works of the devil…16
It follows logically then that those who receive the Christ anointing will be linked to the divine in the same way. To reiterate, just like mankind is non-divine and subsequently linked to the divine via the anointing, Jesus was merely a non-divine man who was linked to the divine via the anointing. Also, given that Jesus receives the “title” of Christ only by virtue of the Christ anointing, then it follows that anyone else who receives this same Christ anointing should receive this same “title” of Christ. This puts us back to the teaching of Levi Dowling above: “every anointed person is christed”.
Having adequately determined how Bill Johnson defines Christ, we’ll briefly illustrate how he defines antichrist. As he does with the term Christ, Johnson initially correctly defines antichrist(mostly, since anti can also mean “instead of”) as “anti, ‘against’; Christ, ‘Anointed One’.”17 Observe that he dispenses with the definite article (the) in front of “Anointed One” yet again. And once again, he subtly redefines the term: “The spirits of hell are at war against the anointing, for without the anointing mankind is no threat to their dominion.”18
In the following, he makes a clear distinction between believers – who would, by Christian orthodoxy, necessarily have the Holy Spirit indwelling upon conversion – and “the anointing”, though here he calls it “the Holy Spirit’s anointing” instead of the “Christ anointing”, or “Baptism in the Holy Spirit”, et cetera:
The spirit of antichrist is at work today, attempting to influence believers to reject everything that has to do with the Holy Spirit’s anointing….19
There you have it. By Johnson’s redefinition of antichrist, I myself have the “spirit of antichrist” since I am “attempting to influence ‘believers’ to reject” the anointing.
This teaching on the anointing corresponds with Johnson’s statements such as “He [Jesus] hadNO supernatural capabilities whatsoever!”20 and “Jesus had no ability to heal the sick. Hecouldn’t cast out devils, and He had no ability to raise the dead.”21 Given His total lack of inherent supernatural capabilities, this clearly indicates a temporally non-divine Jesus.
Eternally God Yet Temporally Man?
In Bill Johnson’s Christology, like all men, Jesus lacks divinity while in the temporal realm – except by virtue of the anointing. But how does that theology mesh with Jesus as “eternally God”? To answer this, first we’ll look at eternity in Scripture.
According to Ephesians 2:6 all Christians are currently seated in the heavenly realms; that is, though we are currently in our earthly bodies, we are in heaven (cf. Col 3:1-3). Believers have a sort of “dual citizenship”. Eternal life is a future that we already possess. This means, in a sense, we are already in the eternal realm, while we are yet still on this earth in the temporal realm. However, the tension between these two realities must be kept in check, as we are not bi-located; we are not simultaneously living in heaven as we walk on earth.
This is usually referred to as the already but not yet. True believers have eternal securityalready, but we are not yet seated in the heavenlies. The last days have already begun at Jesus’ first coming, but the final consummation is not yet. This understanding that we have been in the last days since Christ’s earthly ministry is also known as inaugurated eschatology (sometimesrealized eschatology, but not in the absolute sense by some liberal theologians that there is no future eschatology), with the understanding that Jesus Christ’s Second Coming brings in the eschaton (end of all things).
To explain further, Revelation 13:8 indicates one of two things (the syntax of the Greek allows one of two interpretations): 1) Jesus was slain from the creation of the world, or 2) the writing of the names into the Book of Life occurred from the foundations of the world. To accept number 2 would seem to necessitate number 1, as it appears difficult to have a Book of Life unless there first had been a Life Giver. In any case, the point is that some events from our temporal perspective are depicted in Scripture as already past and/or already present in the eternal realm. Therefore, we cannot conceive of the temporal realm, with its chronological developments, as if it were a subset of the eternal. In other words, time as we know it does not run parallel with eternity, as though eternity has a past, present, and future. Lewis Sperry Chafer aptly describes the relationship between the temporal and the eternal:
…Whatever time may be and whatever its relation to eternity, it must be maintained that no cessation of eternity has occurred or will. God’s mode of existence remains unchanged. Time might be thought of as something superimposed upon eternity were it not that there is ground for question whether eternity consists of a succession of events, as is true of time. The consciousness of God is best conceived as being an all-inclusive comprehension at once, covering all that has been or will be. The attempt to bring time with its successions into a parallel with eternity is to misconceive the most essential characteristic of eternal things.22
With the foregoing in mind, we can return to Bill Johnson.
It appears possible Johnson may be condensing the concept of already but not yet, with some of the not yet into the already. This would not be surprising as some hyper-charismatics are known as having an over-realized eschatology; i.e., some of the things reserved for the eschaton (the end of all things; when Christ returns) are claimed to be for now. The Manifest Sons of God (MSoG) doctrine is one example of over-realized eschatology.
It is conceivable then that, in the Johnson Christology, Jesus is “eternally God” because Jesus is God only in eternity, but not divine in the temporal, earthly realm. Stated another way, we can read Johnson’s tweet in conjunction with the question posed such that Jesus Christ is “eternally God”, i.e., Jesus is God in the eternal realm – and, of course eternity never ceases, as it has no beginning and no end – while He was simultaneously non-divine temporally in His earthly mission, as He had “emptied Himself of His divinity and became a man”.
Note that this adequately answers the question posed in the above tweet: Johnson affirms Jesus’ full deity while on earth, but only in virtue of the assertion that “Jesus Christ is eternally God” (again, eternity never ceases). This is somewhat similar to the believer claiming to already have eternal life. In other words, in its context, Johnson is not necessarily affirmingtemporal divinity in the earthly Jesus in and of itself in the above tweet; but, in assertingeternal deity it can be comprehended as somewhat analogous to the believer’s dual status in Ephesians 2:6 and Colossians 3:1-3. Understood this way, Johnson’s tweet and the two quotations from the book referenced at the very beginning are adequately synthesized.
To be clear, what I’m proposing above with regard to Johnson’s teaching is not orthodox; it’s merely an attempt at explaining the seeming contradictions in Johnson’s theology. This same idea can be applied to the following Facebook quote:
Jesus is God, eternally God, and never stopped being God. But He was also man, completely man.In His earthly life He lived from His humanity to illustrate dependence on the Father in a way that could be emulated. Jesus said, “the Son of man can do nothing of Himself . . .” illustrating His dependence. His limitations were in His humanity, not His divinity. Understanding the difference can help us to successfully live the life He gave for us to live. [Bill Johnson, Facebook, August 11, 2012]
Setting aside the fact that Johnson totally distorts the meaning of John 5:19 (“the Son of man can do nothing of Himself…”) by taking only a portion of this verse, wresting it from its proper context, we can understand this such that Jesus is an earthly non-divine man concurrent withan eternally divine Jesus. Some of the bolded portion will be discussed further below.
In another context altogether, there is evidence of Bill Johnson’s conflation of the not yet with the already:
When I first heard this phrase, the Kingdom now but not yet, over 20 years ago, it was used as a statement of promise. It was helpful for me to realize that we have access to things right now that I had always thought inaccessible. The phrase helped to bring into focus the reality that some things will be enjoyed in time, and some things only in eternity. But that same phrase has also been used to define limitations and restrictions, and not instill hope. It is used to ease people’s dissatisfaction with unrealized promises now…
It is true that a full manifestation of the Kingdom of God is more than our physical bodies can endure. But it is also true that when we are in Heaven we will still be able to say, now, but not yet, about the Kingdom, because there is no end to the increase of His government. Throughout eternity the Kingdom will be expanding, and we will always be advancing. I teach our people that ifnow, but not yet is used to define promise and potential, accept it. If it is spoken to build awareness of our limitations and restrictions, reject it. We don’t need more people without authentic Kingdom experiences telling us what we can and cannot have in our lifetime. Those who walk out their faith with an experiential paradigm understand that we will always live in the tension of what we have seen and what we have yet to see, and that we are always moving on to more in God. This is anunderstanding by experience issue.23
I’m not exactly sure how to understand Johnson’s statement, “Throughout eternity the Kingdom will be expanding…”, but the phrases “we have access to things right now that I had always thought inaccessible” and “we are always moving on to more in God” indicate, in context, that some of the not yet is for now.
But, I concede, this does not unequivocally prove that Johnson intends to teach an eternally divine Jesus with a temporally non-divine Jesus simultaneously. However, such a teaching is not without precedent within hyper-charismaticism.
The Two Realms of the Manifested Son of God
The late Bill Britton, a Manifest Sons of God (MSoG) teacher, has implicitly taught this in his booklet From Tent to Temple (and other works) in a subsection titled “A Man Living In Two Worlds”. In the following, please note that Britton is referencing the KJV/NKJV of John 3:13 that includes a clause at the end not found in most modern Bible versions – No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven (NKJV):24
Jesus told Nicodemus a very strange thing in John 3:13. He said that He was living in heaven at the same time he was living on earth. It was too much for Nicodemus to comprehend, as well as for many of God’s people today. But it was true. Hebrews 10:20 tells us that the Veil that separated heaven and earth was His flesh.
One side of the Veil faced the sanctuary with its candlestick and the priests who ministered daily. This was his earthly existence, living under a skin covering. But the other side of the same veil faced the Holy of Holies and the Skekinah Presence of His Father. So he could say “I do only those things I see my Father do – I say only those things that please Him”. He lived on the earth where men could see him, in an earth body. But in that body He also walked continually in a heavenly place on the other side of the veil. And I see a people who live in “tent” bodies which have beenredeemed from the sense realm, a people who walk victoriously because they walk in the spirit. Jesus showed us the way.25
Ignoring the fact that Britton has taken Hebrews 10:20 way out of context and John 3:13 beyond proper exegesis, the above quote indicates the very thing I’m illustrating that Johnson may intend. That is, Johnson’s quotes above are not incongruent with manifest sons of God (MSoG) doctrine. I’m not stating definitively that Bill Johnson actually teaches or believes Britton’s exact statement; I’m just providing it as a possible explanation.
Yet, the Facebook quote above from August 11, 2012 fits the basic thrust of Britton’s statement quite nicely – as exemplified by the title of this subsection as “A Man Living In Two Words”. Specifically, the Johnson statement “His limitations were in His humanity” [He was non-divine temporally on ‘this side of the veil’], “not His divinity” [He had full divinity in the eternal realm, on ‘the other side of the veil’] can align with Britton, especially when we add Johnson’s claims that Jesus is “eternally God” and “[b]ut He was also man”.
Johnson also alludes to something akin to Britton’s teaching above in his book The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind in a chapter titled “Becoming the Dwelling Place of God”:
…We are again becoming the dwelling place of God that was promised in the Bible. [ED: Holy Spirit indwelt Christians throughout the years weren’t?] We have hungered for more, prayed for more, and now we are receiving unprecedented insight into our privileges and responsibilities in the Kingdom of God. These insights aren’t just being pondered; people are acting on them, and more and more, God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.26
This chapter is describing the Christian in “tent” bodies (not this idea by itself is unscriptural), with an allusion to the not yet in the already. Johnson claims that Genesis 28:10-19, Jacob’s dream, with the ladder of angels ascending and descending, is the OT precursor to the above (Johnson takes this out of context to ‘prove’ his point, not surprisingly). He continues in this vein for a while, then discusses Jesus, after first quoting John 1:14 – And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth:27
Dwelt in this verse means “to tabernacle.” Jesus tabernacled among us – He was the House of God made flesh – the place where God lived. He was the initial fulfillment of the prophetic picture in Genesis 28…28
There is a New Testament reference to Genesis 28:12 as Jesus being the one whom angels had ascended and descended upon in John 1:51, thus identifying Jesus as the one, unique Redeemer.
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…your conversion was not God’s ultimate intent for you. It was His initial 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…29
For Johnson, “living the normal Christian life” means doing supernatural works in virtue of the anointing. And, of course, this is what he means by Jesus being the “House of God made flesh”.30 Overlooking the fact that, from an orthodox Christian perspective, we cannot equate Christians as a “House of God” (via the indwelt Holy Spirit) to Jesus as the “House of God” (as He is the unique Word made flesh, with His divine nature in hypostatic union with His human), is this a veiled version of manifest sons of God (MSoG) doctrine? I think so.
To assist in fully comprehending the unorthodox doctrine of MSoG, here’s occultist and New Ager Alice A. Bailey, as MSoG has a direct parallel with occult doctrine (the occult uses this very name). The second quote provides the key to understanding Bill Johnson’s “eternally God” statements in conjunction with his temporally non-divine Jesus. “Master” in the third selection is another name for a fully manifested son of God:
He [Christ] thereby liberated us from the form side of life, of religion and matter, and demonstrated to us the possibility of being in the world and yet not of the world, living as souls, released from the trammels and limitations of the flesh, while yet walking on earth.31
…We are also preparing for expansions of consciousness which will enable us to live in two realms at once – the life which must be lived on earth and the life which we can live in the kingdom of God [ED: kingdom of God = eternal realm]…32
If he chooses to take a physical vehicle [ED: body]… the Master will ‘function from the above to the below’ and not (as is the case today with all disciples, though naturally not with the Masters) on ‘the below towards the above’…33
The first Bailey quote is similar to both the Britton passage (“redeemed from the sense realm”), while portions of this first quote align with the “eternally God” yet temporally non-divine Jesus in some of the above Johnson quotes (Bailey’s “being in the world and yet not of the world…while walking on earth”). However, it’s the second one that quite adequately explains Bill Johnson’s “eternally God” with a non-divine earthly Jesus, while also being congruent with the Britton quote. And here’s a Facebook comment of Bill Johnson from May 12, 2012, which sounds similar to the third Bailey quote, and two more quotes from other Johnson works, which read like a bit of all three:
The most consistent way to display the kingdom of God is through the renewed mind. It is much more than thinking right thoughts. It is how we think – from what perspective. Done correctly, we “reason” from heaven toward earth. [Bill Johnson, Facebook, May 12, 2012; emphasis added]
…He wants you to see reality from God’s perspective, to learn to live from His world toward the visible world…34
…That which is unseen can be realized only through repentance [ED: contemplative prayer, aka “experiencing His presence”]. It was as though He said, ‘If you don’t change the way you perceive things, you’ll live your whole life thinking what you see in the natural is the superior reality…35
However, for more explicit MSoG teaching we have the following, in which Johnson claims that the glorified Jesus Christ of Revelation 1:14-15 is the model for which the believer is to aimwhile here on earth.36 Note how he takes 1 John 4:17 out of context (as He is, so are we in the world) – just as Alice Bailey does in her works to promote MSoG:37
…[W]hy didn’t the Father send Him [Holy Spirit] until Jesus was glorified? Because without Jesus in His glorified state there was no heavenly model of what we were to become! As a sculptor looks at a model and fashions the clay into its likeness, so the Holy Spirit looks to the glorified Son and shapes us into His image. As He is, so are we in the world.38
To summarize this section: Keeping in mind Johnson’s teaching on the anointing, which indicates a temporally, earthly non-divine Jesus, who is only ‘linked’ to the divine via the anointing, we can systematize this doctrine with Johnson’s other statements that Jesus Christ is “eternally God” by understanding Jesus living in two different realms, the temporal and the eternal, simultaneously. That is, there is a temporally non-divine Jesus concurrent with an eternally divine Jesus. This is not unlike Manifest Sons of God teaching, and Johnson looks to be teaching a somewhat veiled MSoG at some times, while teaching it more explicitly at others.
Overcoming Some Objections
Before concluding, there other statements of Bill Johnson that are less strongly asserting divested divinity (notwithstanding Johnson’s prevalent teaching on the anointing), while seemingly more strongly implying that the Word retained His divine attributes, yet chose not to exercise them. Following are two. We will focus on the bolded portions:
Jesus was (and is) God. Eternally God. That never changed. But he chose to live with self imposed [sic] restriction while living on earth in the flesh – as a man. In doing so He defeated sin, temptation, the powers of darkness as a man. We inherit His victory – it was for us. He never sinned!” [Facebook 3/21/2011]
…Everything He did in His life and ministry He did as man who, though He was fully God, had set aside the privileges of His divinity in order to show us a model of the kind of life He would make available to each of us through His death, resurrection, and ascension…39
The first of these is not too dissimilar from the quotes in the very first part of this article; however, the “self imposed [sic] restriction” [should be “self-imposed”] part can be read such that Jesus had continually restricted Himself from utilizing the divine attributes He retained, throughout His earthly ministry. But, on the other hand, this can also be read that the Word’s limitation came just before the Incarnation in the form of a divestment, or partial divestment, of His divine attributes – or at least those divine attributes providing supernatural power – resulting in this “restriction”.
One unanswered question (at least explicitly unanswered) is just what the term divinity means. From the above, it’s clear that possessing divinity entails an ability to perform the supernatural, since when it is “emptied” or “laid aside” the result is a complete inability to act supernaturally. This implies no longer possessing the means by which to perform supernatural acts, rather than a continual, conscious self-limitation. For, if Johnson means that the Word continued to possess supernatural powers, yet consciously chose not to use these powers, instead relying on the Holy Spirit, then words such as “no ability,” “couldn’t,” and “NO supernatural capabilities” would not be used. Moreover, when “Jesus, the man” is ‘linked’ “to the divine”40, i.e. the anointing, Jesus has supernatural capabilities via this linking “to the divine”. Therefore, divine, is another form of divinity, both entailing the ability to perform the supernatural.
Also, we can construe that divinity and deity are interchangeable, as the term deity was part of the question posed to Johnson in the above tweet, and the term divinity is used in Johnson’s other quotes in a similar manner. So, in Johnson’s dictionary, to empty of divinity does not result in ceasing to exist. So, to recap, to empty or lay aside divinity/deity entails a continued existence but at the expense of any and all supernatural capabilities, in Johnson’s theology.
In the second quote above, if we take the bolded section just as it is (and the quote in isolation from all other Johnson material), we could understand this to be stating that the Word retained all divine attributes when He became flesh, yet refrained from using His divine “privileges”, i.e., supernatural powers. But, on the other hand, this can be understood such that He was formerlyGod, that is, prior to becoming man, He was fully God; however, upon becoming a man He was no longer God having – to use one of the earlier quotes – “emptied Himself of divinity” when He entered the temporal realm. Alternatively, we can interpret this statement such that “He was fully God” means He was “eternally God” (fully God) concurrent with the time He was temporally non-divine “as a man”. The latter understanding is congruent with our analysis of the rest of Bill Johnson’s statements.
In each of the above quotes, it must be conceded that to apply the understanding that the Word retained possession of His divine attributes during the Incarnation is directly opposed to Johnson’s teaching on the anointing, which clearly reveals a non-divine earthly Jesus. Therefore, to accept the interpretation that Johnson is stating that the Word retained all His divine attributes yet chose not to exercise them during His earthly ministry (while ignoring the “emptied Himself of divinity” statements) renders Johnson’s Christology totally incoherent, self-contradictory.
One other objection noted is based on a passage in When Heaven Invades Earth, which appears to affirm that Jesus was indeed Christ/Messiah at the virgin birth:
For hundreds of years the prophets spoke of the Messiah’s coming. They gave over 300 specific details describing Him. Jesus fulfilled them all! The angels also gave witness to His divinity when they came with a message for the shepherds: ‘For there is born to you this day…a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Nature itself testified to the arrival of the Messiah with the star that led the wise men…’41
Besides the fact that Johnson above, in His Christ = the anointing teaching, illustrates that anyone who receives the anointing is an “Anointed One” or “Messiah”, the above passage does not necessarily affirm that Jesus is the Messiah/Christ at the virgin birth. The interpretive key is the remainder of the paragraph:
…Yet with this one statement, ‘Unless I do the works of the Father, do not believe me,’* Jesus put the credibility of all these messengers on the line. Their ministries would have been in vain without one more ingredient to confirm who He really was. That ingredient was miracles.42
Do we imagine that the archangel Gabriel was pacing the heavens hoping that Jesus would perform miracles to prove He really was the Messiah, the Christ, and thus prove Gabriel to be true? Certainly not. The asterisk (*) above refers to John 10:37 in a footnote in the original quoted passage. In this Scripture Jesus Christ was not making some sort of all-inclusive statement putting “the credibility of all these messengers on the line;” He was addressing the unbelieving Jews. Johnson is mixing Biblical contexts here. However, note that in John 10:37 Jesus is pointing out that they should believe He is the Son of God by virtue of the works/miracles He performs. Jesus’ point is that, though they do not believe He is Who He claims to be, they should believe by the miracles. Johnson proof-texts this to remain consistent with the rest of his teachings that Jesus was not really the Christ/Messiah until His Baptism after which, of course, He performed the miraculous works having been ‘enabled’ by the anointing mentioned earlier in this same book.
So, it would seem the above paragraph can be perfectly harmonized with the rest of Johnson’s teachings. To state another way: With Johnson’s assertion that “The name Jesus Christ implies that Jesus is the One smeared with the Holy Spirit”,43 in its original context (see above), he makes it apparent that baptism is the point at which Jesus receives the title/name of Christ (Messiah). Consequently, according to this teaching, it follows that since Jesus did not have the name of Christ, and, hence was not yet Christ before baptism, the angels’ and the other messengers’ words were contingent upon Jesus ‘proving Himself’ by performing the miraculous, thereby showing Him to be an “Anointed One” – for anyone receiving the Christ anointing is an anointed one. Moreover, Johnson’s quote is not necessarily proclaiming Jesus’ divinity (“the angels gave witness to His divinity”) since he asserted that it was the anointing that linked “Jesus, the man, to the divine.”44 Jesus’ divinity was only by virtue of the yet future anointing.
But what about the specific language in the first part of the paragraph above, especially the use of Luke 2:11, that states, in effect, that the Messiah had come at that time, at the virgin birth? To answer this, I’ll quote New Ager/occultist Levi Dowling:
…When we say ‘Jesus, the Christ’ we refer to the man and to his office; just as we do when we say…Lincoln, the President…Lincoln was not always President, and Jesus was not always Christ…45
If one has this in mind, one could use Luke 2:11 – “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” [NIV 1984] – to mean that Jesus is the future Christ and NOT that Jesus was born as the Christ. This would be similar to stating, “President Lincoln was born On February 12, 1809.” Certainly, Lincoln wasn’t born President, for he was elected to the office of the President later.
Once again, if one does not accept the above explanation, then one is left with self-contradictory teaching. However, I submit that Johnson’s penchant for redefining terms and concepts, as well as his overt duplicity in doing so at times (whether he borrowed any of this from someone else or not matters little), indicates he could be deceptive in other areas (as he has been in the account of the Roberts Liardon library acquisition); that is, Johnson could throw in the odd orthodox statement now and again in order to purposefully confuse those who see his main teachings as unorthodox.
As this article illustrates, by using Bill Johnson’s own words, he does in fact deny the full deity/divinity of Jesus Christ while He was on earth in his teaching on the anointing. This is not a “hurtful rumor”, as he states in his tweet; it’s an established fact as evidenced by Bill Johnson’s own clear (and sometimes unclear) teachings. Is this being uncharitable towards Bill Johnson? Scripture does not indicate we should be charitable toward false teachers:
17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. (Romans 16:17-18, NKJV)
It is Bill Johnson who is causing division with his teachings that run contrary to orthodox Christianity. Having identified this, we are to avoid him. The Apostle Paul states quite clearly, “such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ”. Anyone who consistently denies the divinity of Jesus Christ in any form or fashion, as Johnson clearly does in his Christology, is an enemy of the Cross of Christ and an enemy of the Christian faith.
1 Bill Johnson “Healing and the Kingdom” in Bill Johnson, Randy Clark. The Essential Guide to Healing: Equipping All Christians to Pray for the Sick, © 2011 by Bill Johnson and Randy Clark, Chosen Books (a division of Baker Publishing Group), Bloomington, MN, p 125. Emphasis added. Each chapter is authored by either Bill Johnson or Randy Clark.
2 Bill Johnson “Healing and the Authority of the Believer” in Johnson, Clark Essential Guide to Healing, pp 132-133. Emphasis added.
3 Bill Johnson Face to Face with God: The Ultimate Quest to Experience His Presence. 2007; Charisma House, Lake Mary, FL, p 77. Underscore added.
4 Johnson Face to Face, pp 21-22, 58, 77-82, 100-102
5 Bill Johnson When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles. 2003, Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA, p 80; Johnson Face to Face, p 22
6 Johnson, Face to Face, pp 21-22
7 Johnson, Face to Face, pp 79, 109
8 Johnson, Face to Face, pp 21-22. Bold added.
9 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 79
10 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 79. Emphasis added.
11 Wayne Grudem Systematic Theology, 1994, Inter-Varsity, Grand Rapids, MI, pp 233-38, 543-554, 624-33; Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology, 1941, 4th revised and enlarged ed, 1991, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, pp 91-5, 312-13, 356-66
12 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 79. Emphasis added.
13 Johnson, Face to Face, p 109. Italics in original; bold added.
14 Johnson, Face to Face, p 77. Bold added.
15 Levi Dowling The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ: The Philosophic and Practical Basis of the Religion of the Aquarian Age of the World, © 1907 Eva S. Dowling and Leo W. Dowling, © 1935 and © 1964 Leo W. Dowling, (11thprinting, 1987), DeVorss, Marina del Rey, CA, p 6. Italics in original; bold added.
16 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 79. Emphasis added.
17 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 79. Italics in original.
18 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 80. Bold added.
19 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 81
20 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 29
21 Bill Johnson The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind: Access to a Life of Miracles, 2005, Destiny Image: “Speaking to the Purposes of God for This Generation and for the Generations to Come”, Shippensburg, PA, p 50. Bold added.
22 Lewis Sperry Chafer Systematic Theology, 1948, 1976 Dallas Theological Seminary (1993), Kregel, Grand Rapids, MI, Vol. VII, pp 141-42. Emphasis added.
23 Bill Johnson Dreaming with God: Secrets to Redesigning Your World through God’s Creative Flow, 2006, Destiny Image: “Speaking to the Purposes of God for This Generation and for the Generations to Come”, Shippensburg, PA, pp 64-65. Italics in original; bold added for emphasis.
24 This clause will be the subject of a future article here on CrossWise.
25 Bill Britton From Tent to Temple, nd, Bill Britton (no publisher listed), Springfield, MO, pp 15-16. All as per original except bold, which is added for emphasis.
26 Johnson Supernatural Power, pp 53-54. Bold added.
27 Johnson Supernatural Power, pp 54-57
28 Johnson Supernatural Power, p 57. Italics in original.
29 Johnson Supernatural Power, p 57. Bold added.
30 I’ve argued elsewhere that Bill Johnson is teaching that Jesus is really the Word of Faith (WoF) “rhema” word ‘made flesh’, aka the “present truth” word made flesh, in the following: <http://notunlikelee.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/open-challenge-to-fans-and-critics-of-bill-johnsonbethel-church/ >. This is also is consistent with the Gnostic/New Age doctrine of divine spark or divine seed within each person waiting to be awakened.
31 Alice A. Bailey From Bethlehem to Calvary: The Initiations of Jesus, © 1937 by Alice A. Bailey, renewed 1957 by Foster Bailey, Lucis Trust, 4th paperback ed., 1989, Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY, p 187. Emphasis added.
32 Bailey Bethlehem to Calvary, p 51. Emphasis added.
33 Alice A. Bailey The Externalisation of the Hierarchy, © 1957 Lucis, NY, 6th printing 1981, Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY, p 597. Emphasis added.
34 Johnson Supernatural Power, p 45. Italics in original; bold added.
35 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 38. Italics in original; bold added.
36 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 145
37 Alice A. Bailey The Reappearance of the Christ, 1948, Lucis Trust, 9th printing 1979 (4th Paperback ed.); Fort Orange Press, Inc., Albany, NY, p 145; Bailey Bethlehem to Calvary, p 110.
38 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 145. Italics in original; bold added.
39 Johnson, Face to Face, p 23
40 Johnson, Heaven Invades, p 79
41 Johnson, Heaven Invades p 97
42 Johnson, Heaven Invades p 97. Italics in original.
43 Johnson, Heaven Invades p 79
44 Johnson, Heaven Invades p 79
45 Dowling, Aquarian Gospel, p 8. Emphasis added.
Craig has a series of articles on this subject, as well as many other excellent ones.