by Bob DeWaay
Bill Johnson of Redding, California has become a popular teacher in one of the latest iterations of the Signs and Wonders movement. His book, When Heaven Invades Earth, reveals his underlying theology. Johnson believes that there will be a great end-time revival that will be initiated by an “Elijah generation”1 (a concept from the heretical Latter Rain movement) that shall transcend all other generations of Christians in regard to their ability to do great works of power. Johnson claims the following about himself and associates: “We will carry the Elijah anointing in preparing for the return of the Lord in the same way that John the Baptist carried the Elijah anointing and prepared the people for the coming of the Lord” (Johnson: 184).2 Supposedly these elitists will set off a great revival of signs and wonders greater than those of Jesus. This miracle explosion, they expect, will cause a great revival before the return of Christ. Johnson states, “I live for the revival that is unfolding and believe it will surpass all previous moves combined, bringing more than one billion souls into the Kingdom” (Johnson: 23).
The basic premise is that God always wants to do abundant and remarkable miracles but is kept from doing so by the fear and unbelief of the church. God awaits the arrival of specially anointed and enlightened Christians who will make it possible for Him to bring at long last an invasion of heaven to earth before the return of Christ. That is the point of Johnson’s title. His subtitle is A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles. Accordingly, with the right information, zeal, desire, piety, faith and anointing, any Christian can “make the supernatural natural” (Johnson: 133).
In this article I will show from Johnson’s book that he has departed from orthodox Christian teaching in many serious ways. He teaches the heretical kenosis doctrine about Christ. He denies the Reformation principle of sola scriptura. He embraces pietism, elitism, subjectivism, fideism, dominion theology, and many other errors. I will claim that his supposed end-time revival is actually end-time apostasy.
How to Introduce Heresy
As I read Johnson’s book, I noted the various errors in it by category. At the end of the process the largest number of entries was under “anti-scholastic bias.” Johnson is firmly against careful scholarship based on sound exegesis of Scripture. To him, such study is likely to bring one into bondage and spiritual death. Sadly, this bias is widespread in current evangelicalism, but Johnson is quite blatant in his rejection of scholarship.
Johnson claims, “For decades the Church has been guilty of creating doctrine to justify their lack of power. . .” (Johnson: 116). It is hard to imagine what “problem” he is reacting to when most of our evangelical educational institutions are committed to postmodern mysticism, with their heroes being mystics like Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. It is hard to find a Bible college or seminary that does not promote “spiritual formation,” which is merely a fancy term for Roman Catholic mysticism. Yet Johnson decries the presence of doctrine. We will see later just how willing he is to depart from orthodox doctrine.
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 2Corinthians 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.3
For example, does “you shall not steal” have some secret, mystical meaning that can only be assessed by certain elite persons with subjective spiritual impressions, or does it mean what it says? It means what it says. But to truly live as a person who is free from the sin of stealing we need the grace of God that comes through the gospel. In 2Corinthians 3, Paul is speaking of those who have the Law but reject Christ. Bill Johnson is warning Christians that studying the Bible will kill them. In so doing he abuses the passage and lowers the value of Scripture in the minds of his readers.
Johnson warns against “a powerless Word.” The only way God’s Word lacks power is if we refuse to believe and obey it. Johnson suggests that he and others like him who refuse to be taught the truth but relish signs and wonders have “power.” The rest of us who love and believe God’s Word (from Scripture, understood according to the Holy Spirit inspired authors’ intent) are supposedly powerless. Johnson’s teaching is false and is abusive to the Lord’s flock. Ordinary Christians who cannot replicate the miracles of Jesus and His apostles are relegated to a lesser category: powerless Christians to be pitied by elitists like Johnson.
It is easy to see where Johnson is taking his attack against Christian scholarship:
Those who feel safe because of their intellectual grasp of Scriptures enjoy a false sense of security. None of us has a full grasp of Scripture, but we all have the Holy Spirit. He is our common denominator who will always lead us into truth. But to follow Him, we must be willing to follow off the map—to go beyond what we know. (Johnson: 76)
We will see in the next section just exactly where Johnson has gone “off the map” and where he wants to take us. The claim that we cannot know the Scripture but can know what the Holy Spirit is saying by other means is absurd. The Bible claims that Scripture is the Holy Spirit speaking to the church. The Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures. We understand the Bible using our intellect.
Johnson’s approach is to use the person of the Holy Spirit as an excuse to reject scholarly Bible study in favor of undefined, subjective religious experiences. He further denigrates the Bible:
But in reality, the Bible is a closed book. Anything I get from the Word without God will not change my life. It is closed to insure that I remain dependent on the Holy Spirit. (Johnson: 93)
His categories are false. The Bible is the Holy Spirit speaking to us and its power is not dependant on us using religious experience to escape its boundaries. Any lack of life-changing power is due to unbelief, not the meaning of Scripture as correctly understood. But Johnson claims that the Holy Spirit leads us off the map. Thus he denigrates sola scriptura.
The absurdity of Johnson’s claim is such that it amazes me how many are deceived by it. For example, the claim that the Holy Spirit leads us into truth (which He does through Scripture) by some subjective means that go “off the map” and beyond an “intellectual approach” is disingenuous. Those who go off the map are going somewhere. If they have gotten information directly from the Spirit about where they think they should go and then follow it, they are using their intellect as well. The subjective information from the spirit realm must register in someone’s mind in order for them to act on it. So if the intellect is a bad thing when contemplating the Scriptures, why is it a good thing when determining which subjective impressions to follow? But 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).
By discounting careful Bible study, scholarship, and using one’s mind Johnson disarms his readers to the point that they are susceptible to heresies such as those he teaches. For example, “Reaction to error usually produces error” (Johnson: 51). If this is true, why did Paul write Galatians, Colossians, and other of his epistles to correct error? Johnson brags that he doesn’t read any books of people who disagree with his version of revivalism. He consistently downplays or rejects the value of scholarly study. He says: “It’s in the environment of worship that we learn things that go way beyond what our intellect can grasp” (Johnson: 44). That statement reminds me of one I read from a New Ager who suggested we contemplate “the sound of one hand clapping.” How do we learn things but they never register on our minds? Probably by subjective, religious feelings that remain undefined. By such feelings people like the Dalai Lama feel close to God. But are they? . . . . . . .
read the full article here.