Learning Etymology with Bill Johnson: A New Age ‘Repentance’?

Many prominent authors and conference speakers add fuel to the fire of fear assuming that because the new age movement promotes it, its origins must be from the devil

-Bill Johnson1

Etymology is the study of the derivation of words, the history/origin of the elements which make up a word.  For example, the Greek word (transliterated) pharmakeia is translated to English in the New Testament as medication, magic, sorcery, and witchcraft.2  Obviously, the English word pharmacy is derived from this same word.  Hence pharmakeia is part of the etymology of the English word pharmacy.

There are at least two instances in which Bill Johnson breaks down words in order to help the reader understand the meaning.  However in each case, Bill Johnson explained the words in a way which went beyond their actual etymology and true meaning.  In his book Dreaming with God is the following:

A good way to remember the intent of the word desire is to break it down by syllables.  ‘De’ means ‘of.’  And ‘sire’ means ‘father.’  The question should not be, ‘are my desires from God?’  The question should be, ‘With what, or with whom have I been in communion?’*  I can communicate with God or the enemy… 3

For the record, the asterisk above replaces a footnote in the original text which indicates that the portion in quotation marks is from Lance Wallnau.  While it’s possible the above was a sort of mnemonic device (a concept such as the general rule for spelling in English “i before e except after c”) in order for Johnson to make a larger point, it should have been stated for the sake of correctness that this is not the actual origin, the etymology of the word desire to alleviate any potential confusion.

The word de, a preposition,can mean not just “of”, but also “with”, “by”, “for”, “from”, or “in” in Spanish, French, Latin, and other languages.  The word desire is a shortened form of the Latin desiderare with its origin explained in the following:

Early 13c[century]…“long for, wish for,” original sense perhaps “await what the stars will bring,” from the phrase de sidere “from the stars,” from sidus…“heavenly body, star, constellation”…4

So, as can be seen, the word’s derivation is essentially “longing for what the stars will bring” which has absolutely nothing to do with the Wallnau/Johnson claim above.  While the word sire does mean “father”, this is not part of the etymology of the word desire.

Here’s another example.  In Johnson’s book The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind is the explanation of the word “repent”:

Renewing the mind begins with repentance.  That is the gateway to return to our original assignment on earth.  Jesus said, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  To many Christians, repent refers to having an altar call where people come forward and weep at the altar to get right with God.  This is a legitimate expression of repentance, but it’s not what the word repentance means.  ‘Re’ means to go back.  ‘Pent’ is like the penthouse, the top floor of the building.  Repent, then, means to go back to God’s perspective on reality. And in that perspective there is a renewal, a reformation that affects our emotions, and every part of our lives…5

In the first example with the word desire the intent of Johnson/Wallnau may not have been clear, however, with Johnson’s repent he appears to be making the explicit claim that his explanation is the true meaning and origin.  Nevertheless, the word’s actual etymology proves Johnson wrong.

The term comes from the French repentir with prefix “re” from Latin (“again”) and penitire (“regret”) which is itself derived from Latin poenitire (“make sorry”) which in turn comes from poena (“punishment”).6  Obviously, within the word is the recognition of and regret for wrongdoing.

With this sort of carelessness with the English language, one must wonder how Bill Johnson handles the Word of God.   As has already been shown here on CrossWise, Johnson is similarly haphazard with Scripture as he reinterprets terms and concepts.  However, despite Johnson’s botching of the etymology of repent, it appears to be similar to the orthodox Christian understanding of the term.  Or is it?  Johnson’s phrase “God’s perspective on reality” is rather peculiar.  We’ll return to that in a bit.  First, let’s establish the meaning of repent from an orthodox Christian perspective.

Orthodox Christian Meaning of Repentance

Repentance is the noun form of the verb repent which means “[g]odly sorrow for one’s sin and a resolve to turn from it”.7  The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines it as, “The act of expressing contrition and penitence for sin.  Its linguistic roots [Ed: etymology] point to its theological meaning of a change of mind and life direction as a beginning step of expressing Christian faith (Acts 26:20).”8

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) is more thorough noting true repentance affects our intellect, emotions, and will.  As to the intellect, “…human beings must apprehend sin as unutterably heinous, the divine law as perfect and binding and themselves as falling short of the requirements of a holy God…”  As to emotions, repentance involves, “…an earnest appeal to God to forgive according to His mercy…”  The most important element is the understanding that to repent is an act of the will; we must choose to turn from sin.  Repentance is not a one time event but the constant choosing between alternatives.  However, equally important is that God takes the initiative.  It’s a paradox of sorts “reflecting the mysterious relationship between the human and the divine personalities”.  The choice is to follow Him or not .9

In terms of how repentance relates to salvation, the ISBE notes:

Repentance is only a condition of salvation and not its meritorious ground. The motives for repentance are found chiefly in the sinner’s experience of God’s kindness (Rom 2:4), love (Jn 3:16), and earnest desire that sinners be saved (Ezk 33:11; 1 Tim 2:4), of the inevitable consequences of sin (Lk 13:1-5), of the universal demands of the gospel (Acts 17:30), and of the hope for spiritual life…and membership in the kingdom of heaven (Mk 1:15).…A consciousness of spiritual poverty dethroning pride…surrender to God…spiritual hunger and thirst, are all part of the experience of one who wholly abandons sin and heartily turns to God who [alone] is able to grant eternal life.10

The words repent and repentance are translated from the Greek (transliterated) metanoeo and metanoia respectively.  In the definitive A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Early Christian Literature, Third Edition (BDAG) the definition for metanoeo is “feel remorse, repent, be converted”.11  Similarly, metanoia means “repentance, turning about, conversion”.  Now let’s look at the etymology of these Greek words.12

Meta is a preposition in the Greek (and is used as a prefix in English) meaning “with”, “among”, “in company with someone else”, “take”, “bring something along”, “behind”, “after”, et cetera, basically meaning “in the vicinity of”.13

Noeo means “to grasp or comprehend something on the basis of careful thought, perceive, apprehend, understand, gain an insight into”; “to think over with care, consider, take note of”; “to form an idea about something, think, imagine”; or, “to pay heed with intent to set appropriately, be minded”.14

Note again the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms definition near the beginning of this section which states, “The linguistic roots point to its theological meaning of a change of mind and life direction as a beginning step of expressing Christian faith…”  This seems to capture the etymological root of the Greek word metanoia (the noun form of the verb metanoeo) keeping in mind the first part of the Westminster definition, “the act of expressing contrition and penitence for sin.”  Once we understand God’s holiness and righteousness as compared to our unrighteous, sinful condition, we perceive/comprehend/gain insight into the mind of God and act accordingly in penitence.

The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology states similarly that repent has the meaning “to turn back, away from” sin feeling “[h]eartfelt sorrow for sin” with a call to conversion.  “Repentance is the theme of the preaching of John the Baptist (Mt 3:1; Mk 1:4; Mt 3:8).  Baptism in water unto repentance is accompanied by confession of sins (Mt 3:6; cf. 1 Jn 1:8-9)…Generally…metanoia can be said to denote that inward change of mind, affections, convictions, and commitment rooted in the fear of God and sorrow for offences committed against him, which when accompanied by faith in Jesus Christ, results in an outward turning from sin to God and his service in all of life…”15

This establishes the orthodox Christian understanding of repent and repentance.  Now let’s look at how some of the unorthodox/heterodox16 define the terms.

Unorthodox/Heterodox definitions of Repentance

In the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary used by the Unity School of Christianity is the following definition of repentance:

The Greek word metanoia is translated ‘repentance,’ which has been interpreted to mean an admission to God of sorrow for past sin and a resolve to be good in the future.  The field of action for that which has been assumed to be goodness in the sight of God has nearly always been in conduct.  The whole Christian world has in a measure failed to discern the teaching of the New Testament about mental laws.  A proper translation of the mission of John the Baptist is: He came into all the region round about Jordan preaching immersion in mentation for the doing away with shortcomingMetanoia means change of mind, middle mind, transformation of the mind, change of thought and purpose.17

The word “mentation” is not defined, but by the usage it seems to indicate a transformation of the mind by contemplative/meditative prayer.  [See "'Christ Consciousness'" and "The 'Christ Within' or 'Inner Christ'” sections of the "'Christ' in the New Age' article here on this site.]  Apparently, in the Unity view, mainline orthodox Christianity has had it wrong all these years with the focus on sin.

In New Ager Cynthia Bourgeault’s book The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind – a New Perspective on Christ and His Message is a reinterpretation of Jesus’ earthly ministry as a “teacher of the transformation of consciousness”.18   She agrees with fellow New Age author Jim Marion as she writes:

…Jim Marion’s wonderfully insightful and contemporary suggestion is that the Kingdom of Heaven is really a metaphor for a state of consciousness; it is not a place you go to, but a place you come from.  It is a whole new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that literally turns the world into a different place.  Marion suggests specifically that the Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus’s own favorite way of describing a state we would nowadays call a ‘nondual consciousness’ or unitive consciousness.’ 19

Apparently Bourgeault and perhaps Marion are not very well informed as this teaching is hardly new having been around for quite a while in the Eastern religions which have infiltrated the US for at least the past 100 years including inside the Church.

Bourgeault also defines metanoia for the reader:

…It doesn’t mean feeling sorry for yourself for doing bad things.  It doesn’t even mean to ‘change the direction in which you’re looking for happiness’…The word literally breaks down into meta and noia, which…means ‘go beyond the mind’ or ‘go into the larger mind.’ 20

Similar to Unity, Bourgeault espouses the contemplative/meditative as a vehicle to the transformation of the mind.  What does “go into the larger mind” actually mean?

…I sometimes joke with my Centering Prayer students that when they sit down to do their twenty minutes of meditation, they are really engaged in an exercise in repentance.  It’s true if you take metanoia in this alternative sense.  They are going beyond their minds, into the larger mind.  And Jesus, the master of repentance, is leading them there.21

Perhaps that would be akin to Johnson’s “go[ing] back” to “the penthouse, the top floor of the building” to receive “God’s perspective on reality”?

It’s interesting how terms meant to convey ideas in a figurative way are literalized instead and, conversely, how terms meant to be understood literally are reinterpreted metaphorically in the New Age and esoteric ‘Christian’ groups.

A Closer look at Bill Johnson’s Definition of Repentance

Bill Johnson rightly mixes repentance with renewing the mind.  Upon salvation/justification one must repent.  After this, each one must continue to repent for sins committed throughout their Christian life.  With sanctification comes the renewing of the mind as this is the process of sanctification as we grow in the Christian faith.  By submitting ourselves to the indwelt Holy Spirit rather than succumbing to the sinful nature (flesh) we continue to be sanctified (Romans 8:1-17; Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 5:16-26).  And, it’s the Holy Spirit who convicts of the sins we commit as we live out the Christian life.

Yet, Johnson uses some peculiar wording as he explains both concepts.  Here’s the quote once again:

Renewing the mind begins with repentance.  That is the gateway to return to our original assignment on earth.  Jesus said, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  To many Christians, repent refers to having an altar call where people come forward and weep at the altar to get right with God.  This is a legitimate expression of repentance, but it’s not what the word repentance means.  ‘Re’ means to go back.  ‘Pent’ is like the penthouse, the top floor of the building.  Repent, then, means to go back to God’s perspective on reality. And in that perspective there is a renewal, a reformation that affects our emotions, and every part of our lives…22

Yes, weeping in an altar call, while “a legitimate expression of repentance”, is not the actual meaning of repentance as the definition is much more.  However, to claim that “God’s perspective on reality” is the full definition is not adequate needing both further elaboration and a reigning in.  Since God is omniscient, He has full “reality”; mere men do not and will not.  And as noted above, Christian orthodoxy requires penitence as part of the definition of the term repentance.

Sure, if we take the strict meaning of metanoia as from its etymology we could arrive at the Johnson view divorcing sin and penitence from the definition as we know it and, similarly, we could redefine desire to mean “longing for stardust” thereby adding to its accepted meaning by using its etymological roots.  However, just like there’s an established meaning for desire as a “longing” or “craving”, throughout the past 2000 years the Christian understanding of repentance is as described above in the “Orthodox Christian Meaning of Repentance” section.

Let’s continue with the above quote in order to keep Johnson’s words in proper context:

…Without repentance we remain locked into carnal ways of thinking.  When the Bible speaks of carnality, it doesn’t necessarily mean obvious, disgusting sin.  Most Christians have no appetite for sin; they don’t want to get drunk or sleep around, but because they live without the demonstrated power of the gospel, many have lost their sense of purpose and gone back to sin…23

This is not wholly untrue.  If we do not submit to the Spirit and consequently live by the flesh, we will be stuck in “carnal ways of thinking”.  But, it doesn’t necessarily take the “demonstrated power of the gospel” to keep the already justified/saved Christian from sin; it’s by submitting to the Spirit instead and living by and in faith.  But, this is Johnson’s usual lure: to give the reader/listener the idea that the Christian life is primarily about living in the supernatural realm:

…Having a renewed mind is often not an issue of whether or not someone is going to heaven, but of how much of heaven he or she wants in his or her life right now.24

This goes to Johnson’s faulty premise that we can literally ‘bring heaven to earth’ based on his esoteric understanding of the “Lord’s Prayer” (Mt 6:9-13).  As Grant Osborne explains, there will be a new heaven and a new earth in the age to come at which point the current age is no longer.  Heaven and earth are separate and remain so:

…[I]t is a prayer that the fullness of his will, known only in heaven at present, be fully consummated via the second coming.  This will come with the arrival of ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ (Rev 21:1), when the old order passes away and the eternal order will begin.  At present we cannot introduce his perfect will and lead the people of this world to embrace it.  But we can proclaim his name and guide those around us to follow his will more fully…25

The Apostle Peter explained that the heavens (the atmosphere surrounding earth, not God’s dwelling place!) and the earth will disappear (2 Peter 3:10-13): “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:10b-d; NIV 1984).

There are different views of eschatology (end times) which we should not divide over; however, to assume that we can literally bring the heavenly realm down to earth in bits and pieces until Christ returns is not Biblical.  But, it is a New Age and Latter Rain belief.

Johnson also states, “The only way to consistently do Kingdom works is to view reality from God’s perspective.”26  Johnson claims that when Jesus tells Nicodemus one cannot see the Kingdom unless one is born again (John 3:3) He meant that with a “renewed mind” one can literally see the Kingdom in the here and now instead of Jesus’ intent that this will be in the age to come.27  But what exactly does Johnson mean by his line of thinking?

Johnson’s Word of Faith Roots Showing

Bill Johnson has roots in Word of Faith theology as evidenced, for example, by his belief that all Christians should be healed of all afflictions.  E. W. Kenyon is recognized as the originator of Word of Faith doctrine with Kenneth E. Hagin, Sr. popularizing it in the past 40 years or so.  In D. R. McConnell’s book (McConnell did his graduate work at Oral Roberts University) A Different Gospel, he notes how Kenyon appropriated practices from metaphysical cults such as New Thought, Unity and Christian Science in order to form his own theology.28  Of Kenyon he states

The typical pattern in such instances is to disclaim any similarities with cultic teaching on a particular topic and then proceed to teach exactly that.29

In the following, McConnell quotes from Kenyon illustrating this practice:

We are not dealing with mysticism, philosophy or metaphysics.  We are dealing with realities…we are dealing with the basic laws of man’s being, the great spiritual laws that govern the unseen forces of life.30

This is not a new metaphysics or philosophy.  This is reality.  This is God breaking into the sense realm. This is God imparting His own nature to the human spirit.31

Now here’s Johnson with his disclaimer on his repentance/renewing your mind teaching.  He sets this up by pointing out how some have studied theology to the exclusion of living out a life of faith contrasting that with the excesses of others who promote supernatural experience at the expense of any sort of theological orthodoxy thinking doctrine has no value.  Of course, that’s not incorrect.  This then prefaces the following statement:

Many Christians instinctively distrust the mind, thinking it is irredeemably corrupt and humanistic.  They point to Harvard and Yale and other universities that were originally founded on Christian principles, but which today promulgate deceptions and lies…32

He follows this tact for a time setting up the quote above on repentance.  After establishing his definition on repentance and how important a renewed mind is to ‘bring heaven to earth’, he makes this statement:

…He wants you to see reality from God’s perspective, to learn to live from His world toward the visible world…33

This sounds very much like a quote from Bourgeault’s book, “…the Kingdom of Heaven is really a metaphor for a state of consciousness; it is not a place you go to, but a place you come from”.  Also, compare this to part of one of the Kenyon quotes above “This is God imparting His own nature to the human spirit” plus the following quote from Kenyon:

This is not psychology or metaphysics.  This is absolute fact.  God becomes a part of our very consciousness.34

Is Johnson conveying with the above that we need to, in his words, repent, i.e. “go back” to “the penthouse, the top floor of a building” which means regaining “God’s perspective on reality” in order to “to live from His world toward the visible world” and that the renewed mind is literally the mind of God?  That we can literally see the supernatural realm as if we were God himself and “view reality from God’s perspective”?

Compare this to the following taken from one of McConnell’s footnotes:

…It should be pointed out that ‘Reality’ as Kenyon uses it is a term used in New Thought and Christian Science to refer to the spiritual realm and truths that were hidden by the sensations of the physical realm, which were not reality at all, but was considered ‘error,’ the opposite of metaphysical reality….35

This is describing the concept in Brahmanism, a subset of Hinduism, known as maya, or illusion.  The physical realm is considered a dream, illusion.  Kenyon above called it “the sense realm”.  As Ankerberg and Weldon explain, “…Essentially, the idea that the world is an illusion ‘hiding’ Brahman [sic] is a key teaching of Hinduism in America.  The teaching aims at supposedly revealing one’s inward divine nature by ‘contacting’ Brahman [sic] through occult practices such as yoga, meditation, and altered states of consciousness.”36  If Brahma/God is inside everything in “hiding”, then Brahma/God can be contacted by going inward via meditation/contemplative prayer and the individual can become “one” with “God” thereby possessing the very mind of “God”.  That’s the essence of Transcendental Meditation.

Occultist H. P. Blavatsky, one of the founders of Theosophy in the late 19th century and thereby contemporaneous with New Thought and Christian Science, utilized the term “reality” in the same manner, denoting the spiritual realm in opposition to the illusion of maya, the physical universe:

…When the spiritual entity breaks loose for ever from every particle of matter, then only it enters upon the eternal and unchangeable Nirvana. He exists in spirit, in nothing; as a form, a shape, a semblance, he is completely annihilated, and thus will die no more, for spirit alone is no Maya, but the only REALITY in an illusionary universe of ever-passing forms.37 [all spelling, capitalization, and emphasis in original]

Is this similar to what Johnson means?  Taking the same basic information from another Johnson book, When Heaven Invades Earth, we see the same concepts as explained above, “Repentance is not complete until it envisions His Kingdom”.38

The focus of repentance is to change our way of thinking until the presence of His Kingdom fills our consciousness.  The enemy’s attempt to anchor our affections to the things that are visible is easily resisted when our hearts are aware of the presence of His world…

If the Kingdom is here and now, then we must acknowledge it’s in the invisible realm.  Yet being at hand reminds us that it’s also within reach39

Note how Johnson compares the ‘visible’ to the ‘invisible’.  Is this like Kenyon’s ‘sense realm’ as opposed to ‘reality’?  Johnson continues with the same reference to Nicodemus in John 3:3 claiming we should be able to “see” the Kingdom now on earth rather than Jesus’ intention that this will be in the future at the consummation, the Second Coming.  Continuing with the quote:

…That which is unseen can be realized only through repentance.  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…40

Does this not appear to be expressing the same basic New Age, Eastern and Unity doctrines described above?

Meditating on Johnson’s Doctrine of Meditation

Considering the quote on Brahmanism above and comparing this to Johnson’s use of the word “reality”, what exactly does Johnson espouse regarding meditation?  In Dreaming With God is Johnson’s explicit promotion of meditation which he begins with the definitive statement ‘Learn the biblical art of “meditation”’.41 After quoting Psalm 77:6, he goes into his own definition utilizing the same methodology of Kenyon in making a disclaimer and then actually promoting the very thing disclaimed.  Yet, in this case he misconstrues the occult/esoteric practice of meditation:

…Biblical meditation is a diligent search.  Whereas religious cults teach people to empty their minds as the means of meditation, the Bible teaches us to fill our minds with God’s Word.  Meditation has a quiet heart and a ‘directed’ mind.  Mulling over a word in our heart, with a pursuit that springs from the inquisitive child’s heart, is meditation.42

First, notice that he seems to state the Biblically correct way to meditate on God’s Word in the first few sentences yet his concluding sentence runs contrary to what he just explained.  “Mulling over a word in our heart” is not diligently studying and meditating on God’s Word using our mind.  What he’s describing is actually a definition of occult esoteric meditation!

This is not unlike the way in which cultists work; i.e., making a series of orthodox statements and then concluding with an unorthodox sentence.  The mind is prepared for a logical, orthodox conclusion so that when what seems to be an illogical or unorthodox conclusion is reached instead, the hearer may reject it assuming he just did not hear or read it correctly or some other such reason.  This is known as cognitive dissonance, the uncomfortable feeling in holding two conflicting views at once, which results in some sort of action to alleviate this feeling, in this case which may be either by 1) rejecting the negative thought that the conclusion is unorthodox or illogical while mentally inserting one’s own orthodox or logical conclusion instead; or, 2) just dismissing the conclusion as a misunderstanding on the reader/hearer’s part; or, 3) assuming the speaker simply misspoke.

The teachings in Alice Bailey’s books [available from Lucis Trust, known initially as Lucifer Publishing] are recognized as the foundation for current New Age doctrine and practices.  Here’s a section from a book almost 100 years old describing meditation dos and don’ts as well as its purpose :

…The stage at which a man awakens to group realisation, and becomes a conscious participant in the activities of the group is brought about in two ways: through meditation, and through a series of initiations…There is much misconception these days as to what meditation really is, and there is a great deal of so-called meditation which has been truly described by a person not so long ago, as ‘I shut my eyes, and open my mouth, and wait for something to happen.’  The true meditation is something that requires the most intense application of the mind, the utmost control of thought, and an attitude which is neither negative nor positive, but an equal balance between the two.  In the Eastern Scriptures the man who is attempting meditation and achieving results, is described as follows… ‘The Maha Yogi, the great ascetic, in whom is centred the highest perfection of austere penance and abstract meditation, by which the most unlimited powers are attained, marvels and miracles are worked, the highest spiritual knowledge is acquired, and union with the great Spirit of the universe is eventually attained.’  Here this union with the group life is held to be the product of meditation, and there is no other method of attainment.

True meditation (of which the preliminary stages are concentration upon and application to any particular line of thought) will differ for different people and different types.  The religious man, the mystic, will centre his attention upon the life within the form, upon God, upon Christ, or upon that which embodies for him the ideal…We need to find our own method of approach to that which lies within, and to study for ourselves this question of meditation.43   

What are “initiations” and their purpose as defined by Bailey above?  By the context, an ‘initiation’ is associated with ‘meditation’ which brings one ultimately in “union with the great Spirit of the universe”.  In a book, of the same vintage as the one above, titled Initiation, Human and Solar, Bailey defines the term:

An initiation is an expansion of consciousness – a means of opening the mind and heart to a recognition of what already exists in reality.44

This “union with the great Spirit of the universe” accomplished by the “expansion of consciousness” corresponding to “a recognition of what already exists in reality” – is this the same as “chang[ing] our way of thinking until the presence of His Kingdom fills our consciousness” thereby gaining “God’s perspective on reality” as Johnson states above effected by using his rather vaguely defined method of meditation?  Note the last sentence of the first Bailey quote above: “We need to find our own method of approach to that which lies within, and to study for ourselves this question of meditation”.  Is this the reason Johnson’s description of the practice is so general?

Johnson asserts later in Dreaming with God, “While it’s true that God does not give His glory to another, we’re not another – we are members of His Body” (the capital “B” in original).45  Does he mean God will give us His full “perspective on reality” along with His glory, or perhaps as Kenyon would say “God imparting His own nature to the human spirit”?  Johnson then goes on to quote John 16:13-15 and explains his interpretation:

…the Holy Spirit is therefore leading us into experiencing all truth.  He receives all of His instructions from the Father.  It was the Holy Spirit upon Jesus 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.46

Johnson is once again promoting the unbiblical and heterodox kenosis doctrine [see here for more] in effect denying Jesus’ inherent divinity and, simultaneously, he is claiming that we will be able to communicate with God with the same clarity and frequency as Jesus during His earthly ministry.  This is not too dissimilar from John Hick’s assertion that the Incarnation was not actual but instead metaphorical in that the human Jesus of Nazareth so communed with God that He “incarnated” God in a figurative sense:

The idea of the incarnation of God in the life of Jesus, so understood, is thus not a metaphysical claim about Jesus having two natures, but a metaphorical statement of the significance of a life through which God acted on earth.  In Jesus we see a man living in a startling degree of awareness of God and of response to God’s presence.47

Thus, as per Hick, Jesus is merely an example to which we should aspire.48  Similarly, according to Johnson, we can achieve the same level of communion with God as did Jesus as we repent, as per his redefinition of the term, and renew our minds by receiving God’s glory and thereby “view reality from God’s perspective”.

A New Age of Sanctified Imagination?

Elsewhere in this same book Johnson states, “A yielded imagination becomes a sanctified imagination; and it’s the sanctified imagination that is positioned for visions and dreams.  There is great paranoia over the use of the imagination in the Church of the Western World.”49  I suppose it could be argued that as we submit to the Holy Spirit as opposed to the flesh our entire mind is sanctified which would necessarily include our imagination, however, I contend that we can’t actually submit our imagination to the Spirit by itself as Johnson states.  In addition, Johnson’s words set up an expectation for visions and dreams when it’s the Spirit who gives as He determines (1 Cor 12:11).  But why is he using the word “imagination”?  Here’s Webster’s definition of imagination:

  1. (a) the act or power of forming mental images of what is not actually present; (b) the act or power of creating mental images of what has never been actually experienced…creative power…
  2. image in the mind; conception, idea
  3. a foolish notion, empty fancy
  4. the ability to understand and appreciate the imaginative creations in others, especially works of art and literature.50

Of the choices above the more generic #2 or the more esoteric #1 could apply given Johnson’s context although #1 appears more appropriate.  Johnson makes his meaning more obvious by the footnote accompanying this text:

Many prominent authors and conference speakers add fuel to the fire of fear assuming that because the new age movement promotes it, its origins must be from the devil51

Does Johnson really believe it’s safe to assume that doctrines and practices of the New Age Movement can originate with God rather than the enemy?!  Does he not understand that the New Age worships a different god (actually many different “gods” including the god of self)?  Continuing with the above:

…I find that form of reasoning weak at best.  If we follow that line of thought we will continue to give the devil the tools that God has given us for success in life and ministry.  In doing so we will be building a confidence in the power of darkness above the Spirit of God.52

So then, what of God’s sovereignty?  Is He too weak to carry out His purposes?  This is yet another example of the numerous false dichotomies Johnson promotes.  However, is he stating this as justification to promote New Age doctrine and practice himself?

It is clear that Johnson’s explanation of repentance and renewing the mind are at odds with historical orthodox Christianity.  While some of the wording is peculiar, this peculiar terminology and phraseology can be found in New Age teachings.  Is Bill Johnson embracing and teaching New Age doctrine whether wittingly or unwittingly?

1Johnson, Bill. Dreaming with God: Secrets to Redesigning Your World through God’s Creative Flow. 2006, Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA; p 86 (1st endnote).  Emphasis added.
2Strong, J., Baker, W. and Zodhiates, S. AMG’s Annotated Strong’s Dictionaries. 2009 (November, 1st printing), AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN; p 953.  Pharmakeia is Strong’s # 5331.
3Johnson, Dreaming; p 30
4Dictionary.com, “desire,” in Online Etymology Dictionary source location: Douglas Harper, Historian. <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/desire>.  Available: <http://dictionary.reference.com>. As accessed 2/18/2012.
5Johnson, Bill. The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind: Access to a Life of Miracles. © 2005 Bill Johnson, Destiny Image Publishers, Shippensburg, PA; p 44
6McKechnie, Jean L. (Ed.) Webster’s New Twentieth Century (Unabridged) © 1983, Simon & Schuster, New York, NT; p 1533.  Dictionary.com, “repent,” in Online Etymology Dictionary source location: Douglas Harper, Historian. <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/repent>. Available: <http://dictionary.reference.com>. As accessed 2/18/2012.
7Erickson, Millard J. Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology. 1986, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI; p 142
8McKim, Donald K. Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms. 1996, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY; p 237
9Bromiley, Geoffrey W. (Gen. Ed.) The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 1988, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI; p 3.136-137
10Bromiley, p 3.137
11Bauer, Walter, Danker, F.W., Arndt, W.F., Gingrich, F.W. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 2000 (3rd ed.), University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL; p 640.  Also known as and hereafter identified as “BDAG”.
12BDAG, pp 640-641
13BDAG, pp 636-638
14BDAG, pp 674-675
15Elwel, Walter A. (Ed.) Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 1984 (10th pr. 1994), Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI; p 936
16McKim defines heterodox “[t]hat which is counter to or different from accepted orthodox belief in a church [p 127].  It seems to be a ‘softer’ term than heresy.
17Unity School of Christianity Metaphysical Bible Dictionary. 1931 (1955, 8th pr.), Unity School of Christianity (no publisher specified), Lee’s Summit, MO; p 552.  Underscore added; other emphasis in original.
18Bourgeault, Cynthia The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind – a New Perspective on Christ and His Message. 2008, Shambhala, Boston, MA; pp 25-33.  Bourgeault self-identifies as per the back cover as “an Episcopal priest, teacher, and retreat and conference speaker”.  The book promotes contemplative prayer, mysticism and worst of all, Jesus as merely one path [pp 65-71] putting her squarely in the New Age camp as well as a promoter of religious pluralism.  In addition, “Shambhala” is a New Age term from the Buddhist tradition.  It is also spelled “Shamballa”and is known in Theosophy/New Age as the dwelling place of the governing deity of earth, Sanat Kumara, and his ‘Spiritual Hierarcyh’ and other associates.
19Bourgeault, p 30. Emphasis in original.
20Bourgeault, p 37.  In a footnote referencing her redefinition of meta and noia she claims indebtedness to Marcus Borg as the source [The Heart of Christianity. 2003, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, CA; p 180].   Also, interestingly, the first quote, “change the direction in which you’re looking for happiness” is Thomas Keating’s preferred definition as per her footnote. Keating, a Roman Catholic Mystic in the tradition of St. John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila, is a major promoter of centering prayer’.
21Bourgeault, pp 37-38.  Emphasis in original.
22Johnson, Supernatural Power, p 44
23Johnson, Supernatural Power, p 44
24Johnson, Supernatural Power, pp 44-45
25Osborne, Grant, Arnold, Clinton E. (Gen. Ed.) Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. © 2010 by Grant R. Osborne, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 228-229
26Johnson, Supernatural Power, p 42
27Johnson, Supernatural Power, p 45
28McConnell, D. R. A Different Gospel: A Historical and Biblical Analysis of the Modern Faith Movement. 1988 (4th pr. 1991), Hendrickson, Peabody, MA; pp 43-55.  Back cover states McConnell, “did his graduate work at Oral Roberts University in theological and historical studies”.
29McConnell, p 45 citing Kenyon, E. W. The Hidden Man. 1970, Kenyon’s Gospel Publishing Society, Seattle, WA; p 35
30McConnell, p 45 citing Kenyon, The Hidden Man, p 74.  Emphasis added.
31McConnell, p 45 citing Kenyon, The Hidden Man, p 137.  Emphasis added.
32Johnson, Supernatural Power, p 43
33Johnson, Supernatural Power, p 45
34McConnell, p 45.  Emphasis added.
35McConnell, p 55.  This is in a parenthetical note in his 53rd footnote.
36Ankerberg, John, Weldon, John. Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs. 1996, Harvest House, Eugene, OR; p 220.  The authors confuse Brahman with Brahma; “Brahma” is the name of this Hindu deity while “Brahman” denotes something ‘of Brahma’.

37Blavatsky, Helena P. Isis Unveiled: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology: Vol 1 – Science. 1988 (unabridged from original 1877 first edition), Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, CA; p 290
38Johnson, Bill, When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles. 2003, Treasure House/Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA; p 38
39Johnson, Heaven Invades, p 38. Bold in original, underscore added for emphasis.
40Johnson, Heaven Invades, p 38. Emphasis in original.
41Johnson, Dreaming, p 132.  Bold in original.
42Johnson, Dreaming, p 132.
43Bailey, Alice A. The Consciousness of the Atom. © 1961 Lucis Trust (1st prtng 1922, this issue 9th prtng 1974 {2nd paperback ed.}), Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY; pp 110-112.  Underscore added for emphasis, other emphasis and spelling as per original.

44Bailey, Alice A. Initiation, Human and Solar. © 1951 Lucis Trust (1st prtng 1922, 14th prntg, 1980 (4th paperback ed.)), Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY; back cover.  Emphasis added
45Johnson, Dreaming, p 135.  Emphasis in original.
46Johnson, Dreaming, p 136.  Emphasis in original.
47Hick, John, The Metaphor of God Incarnate. © 1993, 2005 (2005 2nd ed.), SCM-Canterbury Press, Great Britain; p 102
48Hick; pp 109-110
49Johnson, Dreaming, p 67
50McKechnie, Webster’s, p 907
51Johnson, Dreaming, p 86 (1st endnote).  Emphasis added.
52Johnson, Dreaming, p 86

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