Bill Johnson’s Christology: A New Age Christ?, part I
March 11, 2012 333 Comments
Heresy has become the term used to describe anyone who disagrees with a particular leader, but that is not so. We need to give more grace to those who differ from us. The essential doctrines of the church – the Virgin Birth, the divinity and humanity of Jesus, the Atonement, and the like – qualify as issues we should fight for.
- Bill Johnson1
There are certainly those who are hasty in labeling doctrines as heresy when they are not really so. This is both irresponsible and hurtful to the body of Christ. Let’s call teachings heresy and teachers heretics only when this is indisputably evident.
By inference, it would be fair to assume that with Bill Johnson’s statement above he would define heresy as any doctrine which departs from the orthodox Christian teachings on the essentials of the faith. These are “issues we should fight for” and Johnson should consider the following a fight, a defense of the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ and the Atonement over against Johnson’s own doctrine with respect to these essentials.
This article will restate and clarify Bill Johnson’s teaching on Christology – the study of the person and work of Jesus Christ – which has been the subject of many different articles here on CrossWise. Johnson’s Christology will then be compared to that of New Age / New Spirituality teaching which is really not very ‘new’ as it goes all the way back to the early Church.
In Constance Cumbey’s pioneering work, the 1983 book The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow, is the assertion that New Age Christology meets the test of antichrist as per the Apostle John in his first epistle [1 John 2:22].2 Cumbey notes that “New Agers generally do not openly repudiate Christianity”. Instead “they often clothe New Age concepts in Christian language and…undermine Christianity while pretending to be its friend”.3 This was the specific goal outlined by Alice Bailey in her numerous writings (most of which were channeled through her by “Master Djwhal Khul”) and it’s these writings which form much of the basis for the current New Age / New Spirituality:4
The Christian church in its many branches can serve as a St. John the Baptist, as a voice crying in the wilderness, and as a nucleus through which world illumination may be accomplished…The church must show a wide tolerance…The church as a teaching factor should take the great basic doctrines and (shattering the old forms in which they are expressed and held) show their true and inner spiritual significance [ED: occult/esoteric meaning]. The prime work of the church is to teach, and teach ceaselessly, preserving the outer appearance in order to reach the many who are accustomed to church usages. Teachers must be trained; Bible knowledge must be spread; the sacraments must be mystically interpreted, and the power of the church to heal must be demonstrated.5
In a 1982 letter to Cumbey, Marilyn Ferguson, author of the New Age book The Aquarian Conspiracy: Personal and Social Transformation in the 1980’s, defends her professed stance as a ‘Christian’ yet she promotes liberal, non-Christian methods to expand Christianity while simultaneously denigrating orthodox teaching:
My definition of Christianity has expanded over the years. After I became involved in meditation, for example, I experienced the vision of Christ more vividly than I ever had through sermons and dogma. You would be surprised, I think, to know how much of the New Age Movement centers on Christ Consciousness. Many Christian churches are seeing that direct spiritual experience offers a revitalization for modern Christianity.6
“Christ consciousness” is another term for the “expansion of consciousness” or “transformation of consciousness” akin to contemplative prayer aka centering prayer which are all in reality much like transcendental meditation (TM) in methodology. [See “Christ Consciousness” section of the “Christ” in the New Age article.] Note how Ferguson stresses spiritual experience, i.e. mysticism, over “sermons or dogma”. She appears to be following the agenda as set forth by Alice Bailey in the above quote. As Bailey states elsewhere, “Christianity will not be superseded. It will be transcended…”7
Bill Johnson’s Christology Explained
In essence, Bill Johnson, Senior Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, a recognized “apostle” by some, teaches that at conception, or at least prior to the Virgin Birth, Jesus divested Himself of all His divine attributes thereby living a sinless earthly existence by being totally reliant upon the Holy Spirit while receiving the power to do miracles at His baptism. This divine self-emptying is known as the kenosis doctrine as discussed here. The quotes used in this section are taken from six different books by Bill Johnson (and one sermon) to illustrate that this teaching undergirds his entire theology.
Jesus did everything as a man, laying aside His divinity in order to become a model for us.8
…Jesus did everything in His earthly ministry as a man who had set aside all His divine privileges and power in order to model the Christian life for us.9
..Jesus set aside His divinity, choosing instead to live as a man completely dependent on God.10
…He laid his [sic] divinity aside as He sought to fulfill the assignment given to Him by the Father: to live life as a man without sin…11
The above quotes can be construed such that Jesus retained all His divine attributes yet chose not to exercise them; however, the following illustrates that He no longer had inherent deity:12
Jesus Christ said of Himself, ‘The Son can do nothing.’ In the Greek language that word nothing has a unique meaning—it means NOTHING, just like it does in English! He had NO supernatural capabilities whatsoever!…He performed miracles, wonders, and signs, as a man in right relationship to God…not as God.13
…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 did miracles as man in right relationship with God because He was setting forth a model for us, something for us to follow….Jesus so emptied Himself that He was incapable of doing what was required of Him by the Father – without the Father’s help…14
Given that deity is by very definition supernatural, Johnson has, in effect, reduced Jesus to less than God. With Johnson’s claim that Jesus had no inherent ability to perform miracles in and of Himself, it is clear that Johnson means Jesus no longer had his divine attributes to utilize even if He so desired. He “had NO supernatural capabilities”; He was totally and completely a man but “in right relationship to God” by the Holy Spirit:
The Father, by the Holy Spirit, directed all that Jesus said and did.15
Analytic theologian Oliver Crisp describes this view that Jesus Christ performed all His miracles by the Holy Spirit rather than His inherent divinity/deity as “not conventional”.16 Furthermore, this doctrine is simply not Biblically accurate. Jesus certainly exercised His deity in providing life to whom He “is pleased to give it” [John 5:21, NIV 1984] during His earthly ministry pre-Cross [John 5:24-25; cf. Luke 23:43].17 This life-giving to the believer was performed by Jesus not as an agent through whom the Spirit worked but because Jesus had “life in himself” [John 5:26].18 In other words, the life Jesus Christ as God the Son gives to those who believe comes from God the Father since both are part of the Triune Godhead. Jesus was not an intermediary per se in this regard.19
Johnson makes the explicit claim that Jesus became the Christ after coming up out of the water at His baptism in the Jordan by John when the Spirit came upon Him as a dove at which point He received the “Christ anointing” (see quote further below) contradicting Luke 1:35/2:11 [cf. Matt 1:22-23/Isaiah 7:14, etc.]. Brackets are inserted to provide explanation:
Christ is not Jesus’ last name. The word Christ means “Anointed One” or “Messiah.” It [Christ] is a title that points to an experience [Spirit resting upon Him after baptism in the Jordan]. It was not sufficient that Jesus be sent from heaven to earth with a title [Christ]. He had to receive the anointing[“Christ anointing” resulting in Christ title] in an experience [Spirit resting upon Him] to accomplish what the Father desired.
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 [after water baptism in the Jordan].20
Admittedly, this is a bit confusing; but, with his concluding sentence above logic follows that if “the name Jesus Christ implies that Jesus is the One smeared with the Holy Spirit” immediately following John’s baptism, then, by further implication, before baptism He must have been simply Jesus of Nazareth [again, contrary to Luke 1:35/2:11]. Bill Johnson is more direct in the following:
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 [“Christ anointing” by the Spirit after water baptism] there could be no title.21
In Christian orthodoxy the term “Christ” denotes deity/divinity22 which would mean that in Johnson’s Christology Jesus was not divine before the Holy Spirit came upon Him after His baptism by John in the Jordan and, consequently, Jesus would be made divine by virtue of this “Christ anointing” after which He is “qualified” to be called Christ. This is exactly Johnson’s intended meaning:
…The anointing is what linked Jesus, the man, to the divine enabling Him to destroy the works of the devil.23
This statement flows logically from all the previous statements. This “anointing” ‘enabled Him’ for He had “NO supernatural capabilities whatsoever” having laid His divine attributes aside. To reiterate, if, as in the Johnson Christology, the ‘anointing’ “linked Jesus, the man, to the divine” then, as implied earlier, Jesus is merely a human made divine at baptism by virtue of the “Christ anointing” by the Holy Spirit coming upon Him. Further, this would infer that as others receive this same “Christ anointing” they too would be “linked to the divine” in the same manner. The following adds weight to this inference:
…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…24
Moreover, given that Jesus was called “Christ” when He was, as Johnson puts it, “smeared by the Holy Spirit”, believers should logically be called “Christ” at this “Christ anointing”, too.
Johnson calls Jesus’ second baptism in the Jordan (the first is water, the second follows and is by the Holy Spirit coming upon Him) the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” and this is available to all who believe.25 This is consistent with the over-arching theme permeating all Johnson’s work that “Jesus is our model”. After quoting John 1:32, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him” [NKJV] Johnson continues
…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 [baptism in the Holy Spirit / “Christ anointing”] as a mantle of power and authority for that specific purpose. But the fact that the Holy Spirit came to rest on Him is evidence of Jesus’s faithfulness to be perfectly trustworthy with the presence of God. The same principle is true for us.
The Holy Spirit lives in every believer, but He rests upon very few…26
Johnson continues to drive home his assertion that Jesus was not inherently God but merely divine by virtue of the Holy Spirit as He was “perfectly trustworthy with the presence of God” (“the presence of God” being the “Christ anointing” or “baptism in the Holy Spirit”) so that the Spirit of God did “rest upon Him”. And we can enjoy this same privilege if we are just as ‘faithful’ proving that we are “trustworthy”.
This anointing [“Christ anointing” / “baptism in the Holy Spirit”] is what enabled Jesus to do only what He saw the Father do, and to say only what He heard the Father say. It was the Holy Spirit that revealed the Father to Jesus.27
It was the Holy Spirit upon Jesus [“baptism in the Holy Spirit” / “Christ anointing”] that enabled Him to know what the Father was doing and saying. That same gift of the Spirit has been given to us for that same purpose.28
If the Son of God was that reliant upon the anointing, His behavior should clarify our need for the Holy Spirit’s presence upon us [“baptism in the Holy Spirit”] to do what the Father has assigned….This anointing [“Christ anointing”] is actually the person of the Holy Spirit upon someone to equip them for supernatural endeavors.29
The second baptism deals with…getting us filled with God so we can walk with Him and more effectively represent Him as His agents of power on the earth.30
Without this “Christ anointing” there seems to be no possibility that God could perform supernatural works through an individual (including Jesus Christ) in Johnson’s theology. The individual is simply powerless until this second “baptism in the Holy Spirit”. In addition, one receives the ability to “walk with God” only after receiving this “Christ anointing” / “baptism in the Holy Spirit”.
Jesus’ inherent powerlessness is carried all the way beyond the Cross to the Resurrection thereby negating the efficacy of Jesus Christ’s Atonement for our sins.31 He cannot even raise Himself from the dead contrary to John 2:19/10:17-18:
…The sacrifice that could atone for sin had to be a lamb, (powerless), and had to be spotless, (without sin).
The anointing Jesus received was the equipment necessary, given by the Father to make it possible for Him to live beyond human limitation…32
…Jesus gave Himself to be crucified. He did not raise Himself from the dead…His job was to give His life to die. The Father raised Him by the Spirit…33
Of course He did not raise Himself from the dead; He could not as He was “powerless” except by virtue of the “Christ anointing” according to Johnson. Faulty Christology always has negative implications on the Atonement.
Bill Johnson’s Christology can certainly be described as heresy. It is known as separationist Christology34 for it separates Christ from Jesus and vice versa. By definition, as Cumbey states above, it meets the test of antichrist as it denies Jesus is the Christ [1 John 2:22] since He is only human (having “laid His divinity aside”) and becomes Christ only by virtue of the “Christ anointing” which also, in effect, denies Jesus is the Son of the Father (as opposed to merely a son) which in turn denies the Father [1 John 2:22-23];35 moreover, Johnson’s Christology denies that the person of Jesus Christ has come in the flesh [1 John 4:1-3] since it was merely Jesus of Nazareth who came in the flesh.
However, Johnson at times makes statements which appear entirely orthodox in and of themselves:
Jesus Christ was entirely God. He was not a created being. Yet He became a man and lived entirely by man’s limitations…36
The first two sentences are completely orthodox while the third is not, yet this third sentence is consistent with Johnson’s Christology as put forth in the foregoing. Confoundingly, these first two seem to contradict the rest of Johnson’s Christological doctrine – but, do they really? Keeping in mind the Alice Bailey goal of “transcending” Christianity by “preserving the outer appearance in order to reach the many who are accustomed to church usages” let’s compare the above with these two quotes from the well known New Age book The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ:
Before creation was, the Christ walked with the Father God…The Christ is son, the only son begotten by the Almighty God…37
We recognize the facts that Jesus was man and that Christ was God, so that in very truth Jesus the Christ was the God-man of the ages.38
Notice how, in the New Age version, Christ is distinct from Jesus for Christ was God as God’s son while Jesus was merely a man. This is not inconsistent with the Christological views of Johnson as shown in this article. This will be explored in much more detail in Part II, Part IIIa, Part IIIb, and Part IV (Conclusion) of this article.
[For more on Johnson's Christology, including more indications of a separationist Christology, see "The Christ Anointing and the Antichrist Spirit".]
1Johnson, Bill Face to Face with God: The Ultimate Quest to Experience His Presence. 2007, Charisma House, Lake Mary, FL; p 71. Emphasis in original.
2Cumbey, Constance. The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow: The New Age Movement and Our Coming Age of Barbarism. 1983, rev. ed., Huntington House, Shreveport, LA; p 146. This resource is also available as a free download at <https://public.me.com/cumbey> “HIDDEN DANG…ND COVER.pdf”
3Cumbey, Hidden Dangers, p 146. Emphasis added.
4Cumbey, Hidden Dangers, p 39
5Bailey, Alice A. The Externalisation of the Hierarchy. © 1957 Lucis, NY, 6th printing 1981; Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY; pp 510-511; [underscore from emphasis in original; bold added for my own emphasis.] While the book was not published until 1957, most sections within the book have corresponding dates of initial writing, or, more accurately, transmission. The portion quoted here is from 1919, some of the earliest writings of Bailey/The Tibetan.
6Cumbey, Hidden Dangers, pp 146-147
7Bailey, Alice A. 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 20. Emphasis added.
8Johnson, Bill Strengthen Yourself in the Lord. 2007, Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA; p 26
9Johnson, Bill. Release the Power of Jesus. 2009, Destiny Image “Speaking to the Purposes of God for this Generation and the Generations to Come”, Shippensburg, PA; p 79
10Johnson, Bill Face to Face, p 108
11Johnson, Bill, When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles. 2003, Treasure House/Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA; p 79
12The terms “deity” and “divinity” are used throughout this article interchangeably (as always on CrossWise unless specifically identified otherwise) both defined as “God” or “godlikeness”. Bill Johnson seems to prefer “divinity” over “deity” as the latter is not readily found in his material. He uses “divinity” as in “godlikeness” e.g. divine attributes.
13Johnson, Heaven Invades, p 29. Emphasis and last ellipsis as per original; underscore added for my emphasis.
14Johnson, Bill, 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. Emphasis and last ellipsis as per original except underscore added for my emphasis.
15Johnson, Face to Face, p 108
16Crisp, Oliver D. Divinity and Humanity: The Incarnation Reconsidered. (Current Issues in Theology series) 2007, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK; p 25. Crisp continues, “A conventional view would claim that Christ was able to perform miracles in virtue of the action of his divine nature in and through his human nature in the hypostatic union.” Crisp is being polite in not calling this view heterodox or heresy given that Crisp’s point was that such a view violates the Chalcedonian Creed which itself was codified in order to combat the heresies of its day and to provide a means by which to judge future doctrine. To be at odds with Chalcedon is to be in the realm of heterodoxy.
17To make the claim that it was by the Holy Spirit that Jesus “gave life” logically infers that any Holy Spirit indwelt individual can give life to whom s/he chooses – obviously an incorrect assertion.
18Marianne Meye Thompson explains [The God of the Gospel of John. 2001, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI]: “[T]he Son partakes of the very life of the Father: the Son has life in himself. Therefore, when Jesus confers life on those who believe, they also participate in and have to do with the life of the Father because the Father has given the Son to have life in himself, even as he has it. Such predications assume and are dependent upon the conviction that there is but one God, one source of life. Jesus is not a second deity, not a second source of life, standing alongside the Father. Rather, the Son confers the Father’s life, which he has in himself” [p 78; italics in original, underscore added]. “[T]he Son exercises certain divine prerogatives and…exercises them even as God does….Jesus exercises these powers as no other figure – save God – can or does” [p 175].
19Herman Ridderbos expounds [The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary. 1997, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI; translated from the Dutch by John Vriend], “Just as the Father as Creator and Consummator possesses life, he has given that possession to the Son, not merely as the executor of incidental assignments but in the absolute sense of sharing in the Father’s power. And it is on account of that power and authority that the great decisive ‘hour’ of God is not only coming but here” (during the Incarnation). [p 178; emphasis in original]
20Johnson, Heaven Invades, p 79. Underscore added; other emphasis in original.
21Johnson, Face to Face, p 109. Underscore added; other emphasis in original.
22Grudem, Wayne Systematic Theology. 1994, Inter-Varsity, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 233-38, 543-554, 624-33. Also, Berkhof, Louis Systematic Theology. 1941, 4th revised and enlarged ed, 1991, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 91-5, 312-13, 356-66.
23Johnson, Heaven Invades, p 79. Underscore added.
24Johnson, Face to Face, p 77. Underscore added.
25Johnson, Face to Face, pp 79, cf. 21-22, 58, 77-82, 100-102
26Johnson, Face to Face, pp 21-22. Underscore added. “The first baptism deals with getting us out of the red…The second baptism deals with getting us into the black – getting us filled with God so we can walk with Him and more effectively represent Him as His agents of power on the earth” [p 58].
27Johnson, Heaven Invades, p 80. Underscore added. This creates a logical fallacy within the Johnson theology: if Jesus could only see/hear the Father by virtue of the “Christ anointing” He received at John’s baptism, how could He know to ‘be about His Father’s business’ [Luke 2:49] as a 12 year old?
28Johnson, Bill 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; p 136
29Johnson, Heaven Invades, p 80
30Johnson, Face to Face, p 58
31Insufficient Atonement means no salvation for the sinner. No salvation means no eternal life! As Erwin Lutzer contends [The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians. 1998, Kregel, Grand Rapids, MI]: “…The real question is whether [Jesus] Christ is capable of being the Savior of mankind” [p 33]. “If [Jesus] Christ is not God, then God has not saved us” [p 34]. “Only an incarnate Christ who is fully God qualifies to be Savior” [p 36].
32Johnson, Heaven Invades, p 79. Underscore added.
33“ewenhoffman” Maintaining the crosswalk- sermon of the week Feb 27th 2011. <http://ewenhuffman.podbean.com/2011/03/01/maintaining-the-crosswalk-sermon-of-the-week-feb-27th-2011/> 16:45-17:00. Emphasis in original; underscore added. As accessed 03/11/12. Johnson stated the same basic thing on Facebook in mid-February of 2011 in an exchange with Kevin Moore: “…He needed to be raised from the dead. Acts 13 calls Him ‘the first born from the dead.’ He did not raise Himself. The Father through the Spirit raised Him…”
34This term is defined in Heikki Raisanen’s The Rise of Christian Beliefs [2010, Fortress, Minneapolis, MN; p 208].
35Judith M. Lieu [I, II & III John: A Commentary. 2008, Westminster John Knox, Louisville, KY] makes an excellent point on this verse by putting it in proper context: “It appears that what sounds like the traditional formula of belief in Jesus as Messiah has taken on a new dimension of sonship…This confirms that the force of the correct confession is ‘that Jesus is the Christ,’ and not, as is grammatically possible, ‘that the Christ [about whom we know] is Jesus [rather than someone else or as not yet appeared]’…The author’s logic is simple and can be understood within its immediate context. His strategy is to start from what matters: the real charge is not about ‘the Christ,’…Rather, it is that the antichrist denies the Father and the Son: this is no longer denial of belief about (‘that’) but a refusal to acknowledge…it is ultimately a question of acknowledging, or denying the Son…the Son is Son only in relation to the Father, and the Father is Father only in relation to the Son; to reject the Son is to reject both, even if this was not the intention” [p 106]. While Lieu refers to “sonship” this explanation works just as well with the respect to separationist Christology.
36Johnson, Face to Face, p 199. Johnson’s phraseology here sounds not like ontological kenosis but rather metamorphosis instead: God the Son literally transforms Himself into a fully human being devoid of any deity/divinity.
37Dowling, Levi. 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, (11th printing, 1987), DeVorss, Marina del Rey, CA; p 6. On page 3 is the following from the “Introduction” by Eva S. Dowling: “The full title of this book is ‘The Aquarian Age Gospel of Jesus, the Christ of the Piscean Age’…”
38Dowling, Aquarian Gospel, p 8