Open Challenge to Fans and Critics of Bill Johnson/Bethel Church

[09/07/13: An in-depth “answer” to this post is now available: Answer to Open Challenge to Fans and Critics of Bill Johnson/Bethel Church.]

The following transcription comes from a sermon on 12/20/09 titled Jesus Is Our Model1 from Bill Johnson of Bethel Church.  This is the same one which contains Bill Johnson’s infamous “Jesus was born again” statement.2  This time we’re taking a closer look at a different and more lengthy portion of this sermon.

Before proceeding, a brief review of the Trinity may be in order.   The first Person of the Trinity is God the Father, the second Person is God the Son, and the third Person is God the Holy Spirit.  Orthodox Christianity affirms that each member of the Trinity has the divine attributes of omnipotence (being all-powerful), omniscience (possessing all knowledge), omnipresence (being everywhere present),3 immutability (inability to change, divine constancy), and other divine properties, in distinction from humanity.  For our purposes, even more needs to be said on the second Person. 

The Gospel of John describes the second Person of the Trinity as the Logos, “the Word”, who was “with God” in the beginning and who was (and is) God [John 1:1-2].  Then, the Logos, the Word “became flesh” and dwelt among us [John 1:14].  That is, the eternal Word, the second Person of the Trinity, entered our temporal realm as God in the flesh – fully/truly man and fully/truly God.  Jesus Christ is the one, unique “Word made flesh”.

With our brief review completed, we can proceed with the selected statement of Bill Johnson.  In the following selection, ALL CAPS indicates words/phrases in which Johnson himself is being emphatic; underlining is added to bring the reader’s attention to something deemed important towards understanding Johnson’s overall statement.  Interspersed throughout the selected transcription is some explanatory commentary as well as some questions (in green text) which comprise this “challenge”.

To participate in this challenge, simply copy and paste the question(s) you’d like to answer into the comment box with your answer(s) following.  You may answer any or all questions, but please keep each individual comment relatively brief with one or perhaps two questions and your responses in each comment box.  Any comment which does not attempt to answer a question constituting this challenge may be summarily deleted, unless it is in response to another’s comment.  Please view the Before You Comment tab if you are new to commenting on CrossWise.

First, we’ll provide the transcription in full, and, following that, we’ll repeat the selection, breaking it down into smaller sections while adding the related commentary and questions.

Here’s the complete selected text in order to provide full, uninterrupted context.  Johnson begins by describing Jesus’ testing in the wilderness in Luke 4, quoting from the NKJV:

…Look at verse 3, “And, the devil said to Him, ‘IF you are the Son of God command this stone to become bread.’”  Jesus answered Him saying, “It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone but by every WORD of God.”  What was the first temptation?  It wasn’t to turn stone into bread, it was to question who He was.  Verse 3, “the devil said to Him, IF you are the Son of God’.”  What did it say in verse 22, chapter 3?  “YOU are My beloved Son.”  “In YOU I am well pleased”.  What was his first temptation?  “IF you are the Son of God”.

Jesus explains this later to the disciples in Matthew 13; I’ll just read the one phrase to you that’ll help that concept to make sense.  He was talking about people who had no root in themselves; they hear the Word but there’s no depth in their person.  They’ve not been prepared for what God is saying and doing.  And, then it says “for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the WORD [ED: 3 second pause for emphasis] immediately they stumble.  Persecution, difficulty, conflict arises because of the Word.  The WORD of the Lord attracts CONFLICT.  It’s not punishment.  It’s not to humiliate.  It’s for two basic reasons: it’s because the Lord wants to give reward and He wants to honor character.  Character is not formed in the absence of options.  There has to be two trees in the Garden where I am honored for a decision.  Do I honor what God has declared over my life or not?  Do I consider other options, other possibilities? 

The Scripture, this story in Matthew 13, the parable of the seed and the sower actually gives this picture of soil; and the seed of God’s Word, the sperma of God, is released into the seed, through His Word, into the soil.  And, then it says, but other things grow and they choke out the life of that seed of God.  Think about it: the Word of God, the most powerful thing in the universe, is put into an environment that if we give attention to other IDEALS, other VOICES, other WORDS, we actually give them a place in our heart to take root and they choke out the Word of God, the most powerful thing in the universe.  For a season, the Lord has allowed our choices to affect the power, the effect of the most powerful thing in the universe.  It’s stunning.4

Now, here’s the same selection broken down a bit for our challenge: 

…Look at verse 3, “And, the devil said to Him, ‘IF you are the Son of God command this stone to become bread.’”  Jesus answered Him saying, “It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone but by every WORD of God.”  What was the first temptation?  It wasn’t to turn stone into bread, it was to question who He was.  Verse 3, “the devil said to Him, IF you are the Son of God’.”  What did it say in verse 22, chapter 3?  “YOU are My beloved Son.” “In YOU I am well pleased”.  What was his first temptation?  “IF you are the Son of God”.

In this first section, by Johnson’s context, to whom or what does “WORD of God” refer: Jesus Himself, the written Word (Scripture), the Father’s words spoken over Jesus following Baptism, or a combination of some or all of these?  Explain.

Considering the Biblical context of Luke 4:1-13, how did Jesus Christ answer the devil in each of the three temptations?  Which kind of “Word” does Jesus refer in each of His answers?  Is each response a different kind, is one different from the other two, or are all the responses the same kind of “Word”?

Take note how Johnson relates the Father’s words “You are My beloved Son” and “In You I am well pleased” from Luke 3:22 to his interpretation of Luke 4:3-4, which is that the devil’s temptation was “to question who He was”, and how Johnson then proceeds to correspond this to Matthew 13 [verses 18-23] as “Jesus explains this later to the disciples”:

Jesus explains this later to the disciples in Matthew 13; I’ll just read the one phrase to you that’ll help that concept to make sense.  He was talking about people who had no root in themselves; they hear the Word but there’s no depth in their personThey’ve not been prepared for what God is saying and doing.   And, then it says “for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the WORD [ED: 3 second pause following for emphasis] immediately they stumble.  Persecution, difficulty, conflict arises because of the Word.  The WORD of the Lord attracts CONFLICT.  It’s not punishment.  It’s not to humiliate.  It’s for two basic reasons: it’s because the Lord wants to give reward and He wants to honor character.  Character is not formed in the absence of options.  There has to be two trees in the Garden where I am honored for a decision.  Do I honor what God has declared over my life or not?  Do I consider other options, other possibilities?

Given that Johnson has started this section with “Jesus explains this later”, how exactly does Matthew 13 ‘explain’ how the first temptation of Jesus in the wilderness [Luke 4:3] “was to question Who He was”?

Did Jesus Christ potentially have ‘no root in Himself’?  In what way is it possible, or is it impossible, that Jesus could be in a position to ‘hear the Word but there was no depth in His Person’? 

Is it possible Jesus could have been in any position in which He had “not been prepared for what God is saying and doing”? Explain.

Could Jesus have ‘stumbled’ due to “tribulation or persecution because of the WORD”?

In Johnson’s question “Do I honor what God has declared over my life or not?” it’s clear that Johnson is referring to himself and/or his audience as ‘believers’.  Does this mean Johnson is referring to the words spoken over Jesus by the Father in Luke 3:22 and that these words will be ‘declared over’ the believer’s life; or, does he mean some other declaration?

From a Biblical perspective, does Matthew 13 even apply to Jesus at all?  If not, then to whom does Matthew 13 apply?  Explain.

Finishing up the selection:

The Scripture, this story in Matthew 13, the parable of the seed and the sower actually gives this picture of soil; and the seed of God’s Word, the sperma of God, is released into the seed, through His Word, into the soil.  And, then it says, but other things grow and they choke out the life of that seed of God.  Think about it: the Word of God, the most powerful thing in the universe, is put into an environment that if we give attention to other IDEALS, other VOICES, other WORDS, we actually give them a place in our heart to take root and they choke out the Word of God, the most powerful thing in the universe.  For a season, the Lord has allowed our choices to affect the power, the effect of the most powerful thing in the universe.  It’s stunning.

Taking the full context of this selection of Bill Johnson’s Jesus is Our Model message, is the “Word of God” (“Word of the Lord”) used in the second and third parts of the transcription the same as the “WORD of God” in the first part (from Johnson’s interpretation of the NKVJ of Luke 4:4)?  Why or why not?

Could Jesus have succumbed to other IDEALS, VOICES, and/or WORDS and therefore have ‘choked out’ the Word of God?  Explain.

Is there Biblical support for Johnson’s assertion that the Word of God is “the most powerful thing in the universe”?  If so, cite chapter(s) and verse(s). 

Is the “Word of God” more powerful than the Trinity or any one Person of the Trinity?  Explain.

From a Biblical perspective, what is meant by “Word” in Matthew 13:21-23 when put in the full context of Matthew 13:1-23, i.e. does it refer to new revelation from God, the written Word (Scripture), the Gospel, Jesus Christ as the Word made flesh, something else, or a combination of some or all of these?  Explain.

Does Bill Johnson’s statement in any way affirm that Jesus Christ is the one, unique “Word made flesh”; and, if so, how?  If not, then does this selection actually affirm the converse, i.e., that Jesus Christ is not the one, unique “Word made flesh”; and, if so, how?

This “sperma of God” concept of Bill Johnson is rather difficult to unravel by the context.  It seems that everyone, or every potential ‘believer’, has “soil” within which contains a “seed”.  The “sperma of God” is the same as “the seed of God’s Word” which is then released into the ‘seed’ of the individual, which is in the individual’s ‘soil’.   Thus, there appears to be two “seeds”: one is “the seed of God’s Word”/“the sperma of God”/”Word of God”; the other is the “seed” within the “soil” of the individual which may be brought to life by this “seed of God’s Word”/”sperma of God”/“Word of God”.

Please note that Biblically it’s only “the farmer” [13:3-4] with seed who then ‘scatters’ it, with it falling either: “along the path” to be eaten by birds [v 4], i.e. snatched by the evil one [v 19]; on rocky places in shallow soil with the resulting plants scorched “because they had no root” [vv 5-6] lasting only for “a short time” [vv 20-21]; among thorns which choked the resulting plants [v 7] due to the “worries of life” and “deceitfulness of wealth” [v 22], or on good soil where it produced a crop of “a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” [vv 8, 23].

However, there is an occult/New Age concept in which all things have a divine seed/spark/‘”Christ” within’,5 which may be ‘activated’ to grow by “the Word” aka “the Christ”.  That is, there is a “Christ” without:

Christ is the Logos [Word] of Infinities and through the Word alone are Thought and Force made manifest.6

And, there is a “Christ” within:

…Now Christ, the universal Love, pervades all spaces of infinity…7

The above quotes are taken from Levi Dowling’s 1907 book titled The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ.  The ‘Christ without’ is the only vehicle through which all things were made;8 hence, it could be called “the most powerful thing in the universe”. 

The following provides some more explanation:

Perfection is the ultimate of life.  A seed is perfect in its embryotic life, but it is destined to unfold, to grow.

Into the soil…these seeds, which were the Thoughts of God, were cast…and they who sowed the seeds, through Christ, ordained that they should grow…9

These “seeds” (‘Christ within’) were cast into all of creation from the very beginning.  The goal, then, is for each person (and thing) to listen to the “Word” aka the ‘Christ without’ in order for “Thought and Force” to be “made manifest”, thus activating the seed/spark/‘Christ within’, with the goal of growing to “perfection” by transcending the outer material ‘shell’ with only the ‘divine’ remaining.

In this occult/New Age conception, Jesus is not actually the Christ as in the Jesus Christ of Scripture.  Jesus was merely a man (but a special man) who, like all of mankind, had the ‘Christ within’; conversely, “Christ” is ‘God’ as part of a false Trinity.  Jesus’ ‘Christ within’ was activated by the “Christ Spirit” (the ‘Christ without’) when it descended upon Him as a dove.  At this point, Jesus received the “official title” of “Christ” and became known as “Jesus the Christ”, with “Christ” referring to His office.10 

This Jesus is but man who has been fitted by temptations overcome, by trials multiform, to be the temple through which the Christ can manifest to men.11

Thus, He began the journey to become “the Christ” for our current era/aeon, which was not fully consummated until Ascension.  At Ascension, He became the fully divine “Master Jesus”, and as such, He became the pattern for all to follow towards the attainment of self-deity/divinity.12

This leads to the final question of this challenge:

Keeping in mind the title of Johnson’s message – Jesus is Our Model – and the entire content of the selected transcript, could this be an adaptation of the occult/New Age concept described above?  Why or why not?

1This is from the 2nd of two services that morning.
2Johnson’s statement was covered in an earlier article, “Bill Johnson’s ‘Born Again’ Jesus, Part I” <https://notunlikelee.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/bill-johnsons-born-again-jesus-part-i/>
3I particularly like the way in which Thomas V. Morris [The Logic of God Incarnate. 1986, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY & London, UK] describes omnipresence with its close dependence on the other two ‘omni’ attributes and vice versa: “Perhaps the best understanding of the attribute of omnipresence is that of its being the property of being present everywhere in virtue of knowledge of and power over any and every spatially located object” [p 91].
4Bill Johnson Jesus is Our Model sermon from 12/20/09, Bethel Church, Redding, CA, taken from compact disc subtitled “sunam2” (Sunday AM, 2nd message, 11:00); 25:21 – 28:24.  CD (and DVD or MP3 download) available at ibethel.com, titled “Jesus Is Our Model 11:00am December 20, 2009” <http://store.ibethel.org/p3322/jesus-is-our-model-11-00am-december-20-2009> as accessed 02/24/13.
5Levi Dowling 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’…”  See also Alice A. Bailey 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; pp 162-163, 280.  A favorite Biblical text to pervert in this regard is Colossians 1:27, “Christ in you, the hope of glory”.
6Dowling; p 6
7Dowling; p 6
8Dowling; p 6
9Dowling; p 6
10Dowling; p 8, 82-83.  Also, Bailey; pp 100-101.
11Dowling; p 8
12Dowling; pp 8-9.  Also, Bailey; pp 231-284

Advertisements