This article is in response to the MANY searches on my site for some clarity over Bill Johnson’s theology. Looking at my blog statistics and the search words people are using I see that by far the most popular search phrases are:
- Bill Johnson Newfrontiers
- Bill Johnson Mark Driscoll
- Bill Johnson John Piper
- John Piper on Bill Johnson
- Mark Driscoll on Bill Johnson
- Bill Johnson Theology
It seems to me that there is MUCH interest in the things of the spirit that is occurring over in Bethel at Bill Johnson’s church, but that same interest seems tempered with some concerns over their theology which is causing people to look to their tried and tested and thus trust worthy teachers such as Mark Driscoll, John Piper and Terry Virgo at NewFrontiers. I myself have spent the last 18 months or more studying, reading and praying so that I too might have some peace over the internal turmoil I have felt over these very things. I have written on my blog about it several times but the one I wrote just prior to going to the “When Heaven Invades Earth” conference in Tunbridge early in 2010 give, I hope, quite a balanced and open view to the “heart” I went with to that conference. Having now been to that conference and continued to read even more of the Bethel material I still, like the many others that are searching the net for reassurance over the issues of theology that seem so far adrift from the things that we hold too. I think that we must always examine our theology and it must, of course, stand up to scrutiny, but we cannot simply jettison it. As I examine books such as “When Heaven Invades Earth” on finds some stunning quotes …
- “When we are silent, we have chosen to keep those who would hear away from eternal life. Sobering indeed!” Pg 33
- “Unbeleif is actually faith in something other than God” Pg 46
- “The whole nature of faith implies a relationship with God that is current” Pg 52
- “What this world needs is for the Church to return to a SHOW & TELL message of the kingdom of God” Pg 53
- “Signs have a purpose. They are not and end in themselves” Pg 129
This stuff excites me, energises me and fills me with faith and I love that, but also in the pages of the same book I find such “very serious theological howlers” as Terry Virgo puts it (1) when Bill states that Jesus ’laid his divinity aside’ which I am pretty sure many would take issue over. “Jesus lived his earthly life with human limitations. He laid his divinity aside as He sought to fulfill the assignment given to Him by the Father: to live life as a man without sin, and then die in the place of mankind for sin” Pg 79 As I have clearly stated in my previous article I see something of the Holy Spirit operating in ways that I read of in the bible and personally long for. My thinking is that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on anyone, or any church, does nothing to validate the person, the church or the ministry it simply validates GOD’S GRACE to us in that he pours our his Holy Spirit as he wishes and and the Holy Spirit gives His gifts to the church as He wills (Hebrews 2:4). We cannot assume that because in His grace God is pouring out his Holy Spirit in Bethel and through Bill Johnson, that this is an endorsement of their entire theology but is simply the “unmerited favour of God“. Bill’s position on Christ laying aside his divinity is an impossible pill for me to swallow as it quite wrong . This point is one that occurs not only in “When Heaven Invades Earth” but over several years of book writing. “Strengthen Yourself in the Lord” (pg 26) and “The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind” (Pg 50) would be other examples where this same statement is made.
Now that said, and I cannot reiterate it enough, Bill Johnson is clearly moving in the blessing of God in a way I am not and in a way I would like to but I wonder if it is his theology that will lead me there, or if it is his passion for the presence of God, his commitment to prayer and his boldness in stepping out in faith. My thinking is “Eat the Meat and Spit out the Bones“!
I think that GRACE is the best approach here. I like to remember the words of Gene Saunders when he famously said “The ability to see faults, is a cheap and common gift“. We press on together as the universal church of Jesus looking, each of us, to love God and love people which is the greatest commandment. I don’t think that because there are areas of theology that I find impossible to agree on with Bill Johnson, or anyone else for that matter, that I should look to jettison everything the man says or does. I am sure that there are things where my thinking and even my theology might be suspect and best, or in error at worst, and so I think that I would want to show the same measure of grace I would hope to receive. So many of us look for justice in the errors of others and wish for grace in our own!
So again I come back to the fact that we need to “Eat the meat and spit out the bones” and then move on together in unity! Lets focus on the things we do agree on! There is a world of need out there and we have the answer in Jesus. There are people who don’t yet know Jesus, who are sick and need us to pray for their healing, who are poor and destitute and need our love, care and support, there are widows, orphans and the unborn who need defending and we need to pump our time, effort and resources into do the things that the bible clearly commissions us to do. Yes as an elder I have a biblical mandate to “rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9) but we must do this reverently, graciously and not harshly. As another pastor friend of mine once said “We must learn to be discerning. How about following a biblical model like the Bereans of Acts 17:11 who are definitely among ‘the early church’. When they heard Paul’s teaching they examined the scriptures daily to see if these things were true.” And I totally agree but we must also not do it disproportionally so that all we do is defend and test the teaching of the bible and never actually DO what it teaches – to go into all the world, make disciples, teach them, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons and proclaim the year of God’s favour. (Matthew 28:19, Matthew 10:8, Isaiah 61.2)
So, to conclude. “The ability to see faults, is a cheap and common gift” (Gene Saunders) and an “Eat the meat and spit out the bones” appraoch will help us a great deal as we consider not just the theology of Bill Johnson but of anyone with thinking that differs from ours. I am not saying either that we just “roll over” on things that are clearly wrong but let us do so in grace as together we work towards Jesus return!