Round the Mulberry Bush with Bill Johnson
August 11, 2012 19 Comments
Here we go round the mulberry bush,
the mulberry bush,
the mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush
so early in the morning.
Yesterday evening a storm came through knocking out electrical power in the immediate area from just after 5pm until about 1:15 this morning. No air conditioning. No computer. With the growing stuffiness, I had opened some windows to get some air flowing and therefore was rudely awakened by the sound of the condensing unit kicking on which is just outside my bedroom. But, hey, at least I had air conditioning! So, I closed all the windows and decided to check emails. There was one showing a new Facebook quote of Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, CA. Just a bit later, another individual sent the same quote plus one other.
“Here we go again,” I said to myself. “Maybe I’m still half asleep and this is merely a dream,” I hoped. But, alas, these emails were still in my inbox when I got up just after dawn. Here are the two statements:
If Jesus Christ performed His earthly miracles as God, I stand amazed. But if He did them as a man dependent on God, I am compelled to follow His lead. [Bill Johnson, Facebook, August 11, 2012]
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]
The first one is merely a reiteration of other similar statements Johnson has made to promote what I call his “Annie Get Your Gun” doctrine – ‘anything Jesus can do I can do better’ – based upon a faulty interpretation of the “greater things” in John 14:12. This fallacy of Johnson (and other hyper-charismatics) has been covered in a previous article.
The second quote is a bit thornier. It looks almost orthodox. One could construe this as functional(ist) kenosis, i.e. that the divine Logos retained all divine attributes when He took on flesh at the virginal conception [this term is more accurate than “virgin birth”] yet He elected not to use any of His divine attributes during His earthly ministry, instead relying solely upon the Holy Spirit for all supernatural workings. This view does not hold up under Biblical scrutiny, however (cf. John 2:11; John 5:21-22, 24-27; Mark 4:35-41, etc.). [This will be covered in-depth in an article currently in the works.]
Note that Johnson uses “Son of man” in his partial quote of John 5:19, yet in this passage Jesus uses “Son” only. It seems Johnson makes the common mistake of ascribing “ the Son of man” to Jesus to denote His humanity at the expense of His divinity. He does this same thing in the following passage from one of his books:
Most all of the experiences of Jesus recorded in Scripture were prophetic examples of the realms in God that are made available to the believer. The Mount of Transfiguration raised the bar significantly on potential human experience…The overwhelming lesson in this story is that Jesus Christ, the Son of man, had the glory of God upon Him. Jesus’s face shone with God’s glory, similar to Moses’s after he came down from the mountain… [Face to Face with God 2007, Charisma House, Lake Mary, FL; p 200. Emphasis in original.]
Notice how Johnson states that the “Son of man had the glory of God upon Him.” Let’s be clear: Jesus Christ was/is God. When the Word/Logos took on flesh at the virginal conception, He remained a divine ‘person’; He remained a part of the Trinity. Jesus Christ is one divine person consisting in two natures – one divine and one human. “Son of man” was Jesus’ favorite self-designation; but, He also called Himself “Son of God”. Both titles refer to the one divine person of Jesus Christ. “Son of man” was used in the Book of Daniel as a Messianic, prophetic passage – to refer to the coming Messiah (Daniel 7:11-14). By the context, clearly this “Son of man” would be divine.
I’ve already pointed out the problems in Johnson’s assertion that Jesus had the glory of God upon Him at the Transfiguration [see “Transfiguration” section here]; however, they bear repeating. During His earthly ministry Jesus was, as already noted, a fully divine person; therefore, it was His inherent glory which the Apostles glimpsed at the Transfiguration. This was nothing like Moses’ experience on Mount Sinai, and we believers will not experience our own Transfiguration like Jesus. This illustrates just how far Johnson wishes to go with his “greater works” theology. To make this doctrine work, he must reduce Jesus to the level of a Spirit-filled man and simultaneously exalt man to the status of Jesus as exemplified in the NT.
But, what does John 5:19 actually say? As with any text, one must place it within its proper context. Here are the verses preceding:
16 For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”
Jesus’ Equality with God
18 For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. [NASB]
“These things” in verse 16 refers to verses 1-15 including Jesus’: healing of the paralytic (v 8) and instructing the now healed man to “pick up his mat and walk” (vv 8, 11-15) – all on the Sabbath. With Jesus’ statement that He is working as His Father is working (v 17), the Jews understood that Jesus was equating Himself with the Father. This confounded their strict monotheistic viewpoint; therefore, they deemed this blasphemy wanting to kill Jesus as a result.
So, what does Jesus do in verse 19? According to Johnson in the Facebook quote above, Jesus, in effect, backs down and states that He can do nothing at all without the Father’s help as He was “illustrating His dependence”, as if He was wholly incapable of doing anything apart from divine intervention from the Father or the Spirit, or choosing not to use His own divine capabilities. Yet, of course, this does not fit the context. Note how the NASB begins a new subsection title with verse 18 – “Jesus’ Equality with God”.
In proper context, Jesus, in verse 19 and following, is affirming the Jews’ assertion that He is “equal with God” since Jesus, the Son, is part of the Trinitarian Godhead with the Father. Jesus claims He can actually “see” the Father (vv 19-20); therefore, His dependence here is as opposed to acting independently from the Father. Jesus does not just ‘do His own thing’, as it were; He acts of His own divine power as He emulates His Father, following what He “sees”, in obedience. Contrary to Johnson, He is not reliant on the Father or Spirit – as in not having the ability in and of Himself or choosing not to use this ability– as the rest of the context makes clear:
19 Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. 22 For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.
24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
25 Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; 27 and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. [NASB; emphasis added]
So, in continuing with this pericope, we see Jesus “gives life to whom He wishes” just like the Father (v 21); and, moreover, all judgment is left to the Son (v 22, 24-27). This clearly illustrates Jesus used His inherent divine power as He was granting eternal life in the then present (v 24-25) indicating inaugurated eschatology, i.e. the Kingdom of God had already begun [cf. Craig S. Keener. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume One 2003, 1st Softcover Ed, 2010, Hendrickson, Peabody, MA; pp 650-652].
Marianne Meye Thompson does an excellent job describing the way in which Jesus receives “life” from the Father comparing this to Jesus’ “giving life” to believers and the way in which believers receive “life”:
…Unless Jesus’ life were granted to him from the Father, he would have no life; unless he came from the “living Father,” he would be unable to confer life. The two assertions of this verse [v 21] offer analogous, although not parallel, affirmations about the way in which Jesus and the believer receive life. Just as the Father has life and gives life to the Son, so the Son has life and gives life to those who have faith. Jesus lives because of the Father’s determination that he should have life in himself (cf. 5:21, 24-27), even as believers live because of Jesus’ determination that they should have life. There is a difference, however, for believers always have a mediated life, never “life in themselves.” They cannot pass on their ‘life’ to others; they have no offspring or heirs. If others live, it is because they receive the Father’s life through the Son. Furthermore, although those who believe are said to become “children of God” who are “born of God” (John 1:12-13) or born “from above” by the power of the Spirit of God, the terminological distinction between them as children who are born of God and Jesus as the Son who comes from God remains. [Marianne Meye Thompson The God of the Gospel of John 2001, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI / Cambridge, UK; pp 79-80. Emphasis in original.]
Jesus did not “give life” by the Holy Spirit and neither can we. To paraphrase Thompson, Jesus “gives life to whom He wishes” by the divine authority conferred upon Him by the Father; yet, it is of His own inherent divine power that Jesus confers eternal life to those individuals who have faith.
Craig Blomberg notes that there are two things Jews recognize that God continues to do on the Sabbath, namely, giving life (birth) and passing judgment (death) [The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel: Issues & Commentary 2001, InterVarsity, Downers Grove, IL; pp 112-114]. Jesus illustrates that He Himself does these very things so that the Jews may understand He is further equating Himself with God (vv 21-22 & 24-25; cf. John 9:39-41). This indicates quite clearly that Jesus did not live his earthly life merely and solely “from His humanity” as Bill Johnson states above implying this is to the exclusion of utilizing His inherent divine attributes.
Note also that Jesus uses both Son of God (v 25) and Son of Man (v 27) for Himself (speaking in the third person) in this particular pericope.1 This illustrates that Jesus used these self-designations almost, if not wholly, interchangeably.2 Both refer to God in the flesh, i.e. the Person of Christ, including both His divine and human natures.
Here’s the bottom line. Even if Bill Johnson comes out with an unambiguously orthodox Christological statement, this would not undo the unclear, contradictory, and flat-out false statements he’s made with respect to Christology. There are many unclear statements such as the following which could be construed as either functional(ist) kenosis or ontological kenosis (the Logos divested Himself of certain or all divine attributes during His earthly ministry), in and of itself:
…Jesus set aside His divinity, choosing instead to live as a man completely dependent on God. [Face to Face; p 108]
This one below reads like ontological kenosis and perhaps even metamorphosis (the Word literally transformed Himself fully into a man devoid of all divine attributes during His earthly ministry). While some have tried to read functional(ist) kenosis into this, such a reading is forced. Johnson’s claim of Jesus being eternally God either contradicts the first part of the quote; or, Johnson construes eternity as wholly separate from temporal time and thus envisions an eternally divine Jesus apart from an earthly non-divine Jesus:
…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 for us to follow. [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.]
And here’s one that is flat-out false. An essential aspect of a divine Being is the possession of supernatural capabilities:
…He had NO supernatural capabilities whatsoever! [When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles 2002, Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA; p 29]
Unless and until Bill Johnson both comes out with an unambiguous, orthodox statement and corrects all his other unorthodox statements I remain unconvinced that he actually intends on promoting orthodox Christology. This would be a monumental task, for sure; however, “with God all things are possible” [Matthew 19:26].
1 I note that my NIV 1984 omits “of man” in v 27 (NASB capitalizes the “M”); however updated NIV translations (that I checked) contain it. I’m assuming it was an error as it is in the original Greek.
2 Yet, there may be a very nuanced difference; see Herman Ridderbos The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary 1997, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 200-201, 92-93.