Part I of this article discusses the various Kenosis theories and provides good background information, if rather technical, for part II which will focus on other Christological errors potentially influencing kenosis or derived from kenosis doctrines, the importance of adhering to the tenets of ecumenical creeds in upholding orthodox Christology, and how all these things relate to the doctrine of Bill Johnson.
Other Christological Errors Potentially Related to Kenosis
Gregg R. Allison, in his Historical Theology, cites both Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albert Schweitzer (Schweitzer was apparently one of Schleiermacher’s followers,71 along with Thomasius72) as revisionists with respect to the historical Jesus Christ of the Incarnation,73 humanizing Him at the expense of His deity.74 It seems possible that Schleiermacher, Kant, Hegel and other progressive liberals from the 18th and 19th centuries75 may have paved the way for the proponents of the various kenosis theories and their adherents starting around the mid 19th century and continuing to today.76
New Ager/occultist Alice A. Bailey, who furthered the work begun by the 19th century Theosophy of Helena P. Blavatsky, cites Dr. Schweitzer approvingly in her 1937 treatise of esoteric Christology titled From Bethlehem to Calvary.77 Bailey’s explanation of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness by Satan provides an example of her heretical Christology which, while not kenotic – the belief is that Jesus was a man (with latent divinity like all men) who had the Christ spirit descend upon Him at Baptism and subsequently leave Him prior to the Crucifixion,78 similar to the belief of first century proto-Gnostic Cerinthus79,80 – suffers, among other serious issues, from some of the same inherent problems as some forms of kenosis:
“…Was it possible that Christ in reality could be tempted, and if so, could He have fallen into sin? Did He meet these temptations as the omnipotent Son of God, or did He meet them as a man and therefore subject to temptation? …What really took place in the wilderness? For what purpose are we permitted to share with Him in this experience?” 81
Bailey continues, disparaging the Athanasian Creed82 in the process. In the original text, she refers to it in a footnote signified in the following with an asterisk (*):
“Many such questions arise in the mind of the intelligent man, and many have been the commentaries written to prove the particular point of each writer. It is not the purpose of this book…to define the times when Christ was functioning as a man, and when He was functioning as the Son of God. Some believe He was simultaneously both, and was ‘very God of very God,’* and yet essentially and utterly human at the same time. People make these statements, but they are apt to forget the implications. They affirm with decision their point of view, and omit to carry their attitude to a logical conclusion. The inference is that we are allowed to know about the temptation in order to teach us, as human beings, a needed lesson; let us therefore study the story from the angle of Christ’s humanity, never forgetting that He had learned obedience to the divine spirit, the soul in man, and was in control of His body of manifestation.” 83
Bailey is cited here to illustrate both the importance of understanding proper Christology and as a potential example of historical error leading up to current Christological error. Adherence to the ecumenical creeds which had established proper Christology in the early Church will help to minimize or alleviate these sorts of errors about the person of Christ in the Christian Church of today.
71 Berkhof, p 316. Berkhof hints that Schweitzer has followed in Schleiermacher’s footsteps, at least to a degree.
72 Hodge, Vol II, p 453. Hodge specifically cites Thomasius as a “general disciple” of Schleiermacher.
73 Allison, pp 382-83. By mentioning Schleiermacher and Schweitzer together in the same sentence, it may be assumed the author intends a strong connection.
74 Berkhof, p 316
75 Lutzer, Erwin W. The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians. 1998, Kregel, Grand Rapids, MI; p 35. Lutzer specifically mentions Kant who “believed in a human Christ” and Schweitzer who “believed in a Christ who was essentially insane.” He also mentions Rudolf Bultmann who denied the pre-existence of Christ [Craig A. Evans, The Historical Jesus: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies, Volume I. 2004, Rutledge, London, UK; p 328].
76 Hodge, Vol II, pp 453, 440-54. Hodge cites others influenced by Schleiermacher while identifying Schleiermacher’s pantheistic doctrine and associated aberrant Christology and anthropology. My working hypothesis is that 18th and 19th century liberalism in general including Schleiermacher, Kant, Hegel and his dialectic process, Darwinism, et cetera, continued to barrage the Church and has resulted in the state of the church today. Taken together, these liberals may have influenced society to the extent they helped enable various underground esoteric doctrines to flourish in the late 19th and into the 20th century (such as Rosicrucianism) and directly or indirectly lead to Theosophy (a confluence of esoteric doctrines throughout the centuries which may have influenced Latter Rain) and New Thought (which definitely influenced Word of Faith via Kenyon [cf. McConnell, D. R. A Different Gospel. 1988, Hendrickson, Peabody, MA] ), which may have, in turn, led to various errors of today.
77 Bailey, Alice A. From Bethlehem to Calvary. Copyright 1937 by Alice A. Bailey, renewed 1957 by Foster Bailey; Lucis, NY, 4th paperback edition, 1989; Fort Orange Press, Inc., Albany, New York; pp 102-03, 111, 160-61, 168, 213, 228, 279
78 Bailey, pp 187-189, 194
79 Bercot, David W. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. 1998 (3rd printing Nov 2000), Hendrickson, Peabody, MA; p 91
80 Hodge, Vol II, p 400
81 Bailey, pp 107-08. Emphasis added.
82 Theopedia. Athanasian Creed. <http://www.theopedia.com/Athanasian_Creed> as accessed 06/15/11
83 Bailey, p 108. Underlining from emphasis in original; bolding added.
Credence for Ecumenical Creeds as Basis for Christology
Historically, councils were called to establish creeds (statements of beliefs) in order to codify specific truths as borne out in Scripture while simultaneously refuting specific errors. The ecumenical creeds – those accepted by the Church catholic, as in universal, and not merely the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) but to also include Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches – have largely been uncontested over the centuries as to their veracity, or accuracy, compared to Scripture until the 19th century84 with the various kenosis doctrines. Oliver Crisp, in his book God Incarnate: Explorations in Christology, puts the historical Christian creeds in perspective:
“…Creeds are not merely a means to making dogmatic sense of, say, the Incarnation. They are – just as fundamentally – a means of confessing faith in the Christ to whom the creeds bear witness, as they are attempts to make sense of the gospel accounts of who Christ is. This underlines the fact that the creeds of the Church, and the ecumenical creeds in particular, have several functions that run together: they bear witness to the gospel in Scripture, they tease out aspects of the doctrine of the gospel, and because they do this, they serve as doxological and liturgical purpose in the life of the Church as a means by which Christians may affirm what it is they believe, and what it is that holds the church together.’ 85
A proper view of Christ is essential to the Christian faith. For a given teacher to put forth a doctrine which is at odds with the ecumenical councils is to put said teacher at odds with historical orthodox Christianity and, as a potential consequence, in the realm or vicinity of heresy.
Crisp continues stating that the ecumenical creeds which asserted proper Christology are “theologically binding” because they are “dogmatic reflection upon Scripture by the undivided Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”86 While noting that the creeds are “not infallible guides,”87 Crisp strongly believes the ecumenical councils have “not…in fact canonized substantive errors”88 due to Holy Spirit influence.
In an interview discussing the book God Incarnate, Crisp reiterated the authority of Scripture over ‘tradition’ while defining what that tradition is:
“…I think Scripture is the norming norm, the bedrock of all Christian theology. The ‘tradition’ consists in a cluster of different, subordinate norms, such as the catholic [universal] creeds, confessional creeds, confessional statements (e.g. Westminster Confession) and the works of particular theologians. But these are all subordinate to the Word of God.” 89
Of the four ecumenical councils embraced by the Church catholic (universal) which include Christological discussions (Nicea in 325, Constantinople in 381, Ephesus in 431, and Chalcedon in 451), the Council of Chalcedon is the most recent and most definitive. Here’s a modern English translation of the Chalcedonian Creed:
“Following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in divinity and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a rational soul and body; of one substance [homoousios] with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the virgin, the God-bearer [theotokos]; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence [hypostasis], not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.” 90
In his Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology, Thomas Oden affirms the importance of ecumenical Christology in general91 and notes how adherence to the ecumenical creeds will aid in avoiding Christological error.92
“…The major tendencies to heretical distortion in the two-natures are these: it runs the risk of inordinately divinizing the human, humanizing the divine, or dualizing the one person. Keeping these factors in due balance is the challenge of classic Christian teaching or Christology.” 93
Cognizant of the inherent mystery of the Incarnation and the fact that it’s not “fully comprehensible to objective analysis,” but rather it’s “a divine gift for joyful contemplation,”94 he states:
“…Modesty of expression remains a radical intellectual requirement in the presence of this incomparable Person…” 95
In other words, Oden’s point was that we should not try to go beyond Scripture in attempting to define the mystery of the Incarnation. Even the Apostle Paul did not fully fathom the person of Jesus Christ:
16 Beyond all comprehension, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached from the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory. [I Timothy 3:16, NIV 1984]
Recognizing the continuing assault on Christology, Martin Luther once commented, “I know nothing about the Lord Christ that the devil has failed to attack.”96
84 Allison, pp 377, 381
85 Crisp, Oliver D. God Incarnate: Explorations in Christology. 2009, T&T Clark, London, UK; p 13
86 Crisp, God Incarnate. p 13
87 Crisp, God Incarnate. p 14
88 Crisp, God Incarnate. p 14. See explanation in Crisp’s footnote 10
89 Davies, Guy. Exiled Preacher Blog. “An Interview with Oliver Crisp” March 24, 2010 <http://exiledpreacher.blogspot.com/2010/05/interview-with-oliver-crisp.html>; Answer to Davies’ 5th question. As accessed 06/15/11
90 Allison, pp 376-77. Footnote reads, “Creed of Chalcedon, in Schaff 2.62-63; Bettenson, 56.” I assume Bettenson translated to modern English from Phillip Schaff’s 3-volume The Creeds of Christendom.
91 Oden, Thomas C. Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology. 1992 (2009), HarperCollins, New York, NY; p 306. This printing is a single-volume condensed version of three separate volumes.
92 Oden, p 307
93 Oden, p 306
94 Oden, p 307
95 Oden, p 307
96 Oden, p 307. Quotes from Martin Luther’s Table Talk. 1.269
Bill Johnson’s Kenotic Concept
All the preceding background brings us to the Christological doctrine of Bill Johnson which illustrates the peril of not using ecumenical creeds as a basis for proper Christology, as he clearly teaches kenosis. However, the questions are: 1) which type; and, 2) can his teachings be harmonized into one consistent doctrine with respect to kenosis? Here are two quotes from his book When Heaven Invades Earth:
“…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…The sacrifice that could atone for sin had to be a lamb, (powerless), and had to be spotless, (without sin).” 97
“Jesus Christ said of Himself, ‘The Son can do nothing.’…He had NO supernatural capabilities whatsoever! …He performed miracles, wonders, and signs, as a man in right relationship to God…not as God.” 98
The asterisk (*) in the first quote denotes the place in which Johnson originally had a footnote in referring to Philippians 2:5-7 – the very Scripture kenotics use in justifying the theory. Since God Himself is, by definition, supernatural, then by the wording in the quotes, Johnson appears to be teaching ontological kenosis as Jesus was “powerless” with “NO supernatural capabilities whatsoever.” This is as opposed to functionalist kenosis which maintains that Jesus had all His divine attributes, but rather chose not to exercise some of them. Had Johnson stated something like, “He chose not to exercise any of His supernatural capabilities,” then he could be construed of intending functionalist kenosis instead. However, as pointed out in part I, claiming it was the Holy Spirit who performed Christ’s miracles rather than Jesus Himself is both “ not conventional”99 and not Biblical even though this claim is growing in charismatic circles.100
Here’s another quote, this time from his book The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind:
“…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…Jesus so emptied Himself that He was incapable of doing what was required of Him by the Father – without the Father’s help…” 101
Once again, this suggests ontological kenosis as Jesus was both “incapable” of performing and “had no ability” to perform miracles. If, according to Johnson, Jesus Christ had merely chosen not to exercise His divine attributes as in functionalist kenosis, then He would still have the ability to perform miracles if He so desired.
Johnson references a portion of John 5:19 in the quote above and the one immediately preceding this one [by footnote 98]. Putting this verse in its proper context, however, shows that Jesus Himself had both the authority and the power (omnipotence) to raise the dead and give life apart from the Father (v 21) contrary to Johnson’s proof-texting above. Andreas Kostenberger states, “He claimed not merely to be God’s instrument in raising other people, but to give life himself to whom he is pleased to give it.”102 [See Luke 23:43; John 6:70; 10:28-29; 11:1-44; 13:18; 15:16, 19.] Once again, this argues against a functionalist kenotic interpretation. Furthermore, this provides one more example illustrating that functionalist kenosis, in general, as not a viable, Biblical doctrine as Jesus Christ certainly displayed His omnipotence.
18 Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. 19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”
24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. 25 Most assuredly, I say to you, the 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 as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, 27 and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.” [John 5:19-27, NKJV]
In verse 18, the Jews wanted to stone Jesus for blasphemy since the claim that God was “His” Father was understood by the Jews that Jesus was equating Himself with the Father and hence claiming He was God also.103 In the rest of this passage of Scripture Jesus goes on to explain that He is, in fact, deity.104
Do we assume Jesus was only able to ‘give life’ post-Ascension? The text clearly shows otherwise as Craig Keener explains in his well-regarded commentary on the Gospel of John.105 Going further to verse 25 and through to 27 is the indication that Jesus could grant life in the then present106 and that Jesus had life “in Himself” granted by the Father along with the authority to make judgment (vv 22-23 also). Taking all this into account indicates, once again, that Jesus Christ not only could, but very likely did, perform other miracle workings apart from the Father or the Holy Spirit,107 contrary to Johnson.
97 Johnson, Bill, When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles. 2003; Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA; p 79. Asterisk replaces original footnote which is referenced on page 85 of Johnson’s book. Emphasis added.
98 Johnson, Bill, The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind: Access to a Life of Miracles. 2005; Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA; p 29. Underline for emphasis in original; last ellipsis as per original. Bolding added for emphasis. Johnson makes a specific footnote reference to John 5:19 in his book on p 35.
99 Crisp, Divinity and Humanity. p 25 [Tyndale; p 134]
100 Musick, Dan, Kenosis: Christ “emptied Himself”. “Christ’s Miracles Performed Only by the Holy Spirit?” <http://kenosis.info/index.shtml#Miracles> copyright 1997-2005; as accessed 06/15/11
101 Johnson, Supernatural Power. p 50. Emphasis added.
102 Kostenberger, Andreas J. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: John. 2004 (4th printing July 2009), Baker, Grand Rapids, MI; p 187. He is quoting from NIV 1984.
103 Kostenberger, pp 185-86
104 Kostenberger, pp 186-89
105 Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume One. 2003, 1st Softcover Ed, 2010, Hendrickson, Peabody, MA; pp 650-52. Keener, agreeing with Kostenberger, states, “Like the Father, Jesus could give life (5:21; cf. 17:2); this made him act in a divine manner.” Moreover, in a section titled “Jesus as Life-Giver in the Present and the Future (5:24-30)” Keener shows agreement. He continues, “Jesus returns to the claim that the Father has authorized him to give life (5:21) with the image of realized eschatology implied by ‘passed from death to life’ (5:24); one already abides in death until believing in the one who sent Jesus, hence in Jesus’ delegated mission…”
106 Keener, pp 650-52.
107 Kostenberger, pp 187-89. Kostenberger also points out that Jesus Christ provided eternal life during his earthly ministry referring to John 5:24 as “…one of the strongest affirmations of realized (inaugurated) eschatology in John’s Gospel.” [p 188] And, also, “Jesus claims that God granted him life in himself, a divine attribute” [p 189] illustrating clearly that Jesus both possessed and utilized divine attributes, contrary to Johnson’s claims.
Johnson’s View of How Jesus Received His Title/Name of Christ
In Johnson’s zeal to humanize Jesus Christ at the expense of His divinity, he goes even further with his kenosis doctrine. He makes Jesus into a man indwelt by the Holy Spirit at the Incarnation who subsequently receives the ‘Baptism of the Holy Spirit’108 by the “Christ anointing”109 at His Baptism by John which provides Jesus the title/name of Christ. In the following, brackets are inserted within the text for 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 [Baptism]. 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/name] in an experience [Baptism] to accomplish what the Father desired.
“The word anointing means to ‘smear.’ The Holy Spirit is the oil of God that was smeared [anointed] all over Jesus at His water baptism. The name Jesus Christ implies that Jesus is the One smeared [anointed] with the Holy Spirit [at Baptism].” 110
After reading this in the full context Johnson provides [and setting aside his horrendous portrayal of Jesus being “smeared all over with the Holy Spirit”], without adding or subtracting anything, the reader will understand that he is teaching that the “title” of Christ was received in “an experience” – referring to Baptism. Furthermore, according to Johnson, the ‘name’ of Christ did not actually belong to Jesus’ until He was anointed, “smeared all over,” by the Holy Spirit at Baptism. Logically, this means Jesus did not have the Christ ‘name’ or ‘title’ until this point, and, hence, could not rightfully be called “Jesus Christ” until then. This implies Jesus was simply ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ and not “Jesus Christ” prior to Baptism which contradicts Luke 1:35/ 2:11 and other Scripture. Yes, according to orthodoxy, Jesus Christ was anointed at Baptism which began His earthly ministry, but He already had the title of Christ prior to Baptism as He was proclaimed the Son of God before His birth [Luke 1:35] and referred to as “Christ the Lord” upon His birth [Luke 2:11].
The term Christ is used universally within orthodox Christianity indicating divinity111,112 [see Hebrews 13:8, 1:12/Psalm 102:27] as the Messiah must, by necessity, be deity in order to atone for our sins. Jesus Christ, the Eternal Logos [John 1:1-18], was “from the beginning” [I John 1:1] and is the “Alpha and the Omega” [Rev 1:8, 1:17, 21:6, 22:13] and no one can rightly be called Christ except Jesus. Berkhof states:
“There are especially five names [Jesus, Christ, Son of Man, Son of God, Lord] that…are partly descriptive of His natures, partly of His official position, and partly of the work for which He came into the world.”
“…Christ is the official…name of the Messiah…Christ was set up or appointed to His offices from eternity, but historically His anointing took place when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Luke 1:35, and when He received the Holy Spirit, especially at the time of His baptism…It served to qualify Him for His great task…” 113
Note that Berkhof explains that Christ was “eternally appointed” yet did not receive the anointing for His office until conception by the Holy Spirit [Luke 1:35; Matt 1:18-20]. This means that Jesus was the Christ at conception. The angel Gabriel referred to Him as “Son of God” in Luke 1:35 and the angel in Luke 2:11 referred to Him as “Savior,” “Christ,” and “Lord.” He was also understood to be the Messiah/Christ by Herod [Matt 2:3-4] and He was Immanuel, “God with us,” [Matt 1:22-23/Isaiah 7:14] from the moment of the virgin birth. Moreover: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” [Heb 13:8 NIV 1984] To claim, as Johnson does, that Jesus did not receive the name or title of Christ until Baptism is serious error. Jesus Christ is the Eternal Logos made flesh [John 1:1-14].
Bill Johnson makes it clear that the “anointing” linked Jesus to the divine (hence, implying Jesus the person was not divine) and that this ‘linking’ provided the power necessary to perform the miraculous which corresponds with his two paragraphs above regarding when/how Jesus received His Christ title/name:
“…The anointing is what linked Jesus, the man, to the divine enabling Him to destroy the works of the devil.” 114
“To fulfill His mission, Jesus needed the Holy Spirit [anointing]….
“This anointing is what enabled Jesus to do only what He saw the Father do, and to say only what He heard the Father say.” 115
To state Jesus was ‘enabled’ by the Holy Spirit (at Baptism) implies, once again, that Jesus did not have omnipotent power of His own and is thus less than divine. In Face to Face with God, Johnson goes into more detail emphasizing this “experience” as the ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit,’ while specifically referring to Jesus being ‘indwelled’ by the Holy Spirit prior to Baptism and that Jesus is our model in this regard.116 This next quote is following a reference in Johnson’s book to John 1:32 in which the Holy Spirit descended as a dove upon Jesus at His Baptism:
“…Certainly this is not talking about the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that was already in Jesus’s life. This [Baptism] was the inauguration of Jesus’s ministry, and the Holy Spirit came to rest upon Him 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…” 117
The Holy Spirit ‘resting upon’ Jesus and others is Johnson’s vernacular for his version of the ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit’ which is necessary to provide power for the miraculous.118 Stating that Jesus was “perfectly trustworthy with the presence of God” implies that Jesus was not God Himself but instead merely a “trustworthy” man faithful enough to ‘earn’ God’s continued “presence”. Once again, this is indicative of ontological kenosis. Also, Johnson is pointing out that we can receive the same “Christ anointing”,119 or “baptism in the Holy Spirit”120 as Jesus.121 He is more explicit below:
“…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…” 122
To reiterate: Jesus Christ is the Eternal Logos, the Word, the second person of the Trinity, made flesh [John 1:1-14]. Scripture does not indicate that the Word plus the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, were made flesh – the Incarnation was simply the Word made flesh. As a contrast: Holy Spirit indwelled believers would not say “the Holy Spirit became flesh” in the new believer as that would be absurd. Rather, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell the already existing flesh of the newly saved individual. On the other hand, the Logos acquired a human nature (not a human being) and dwelt among us [John 1:14]. At the Incarnation He did not subtract from His divine nature; He added to it. As Berkhof affirms, “The pre-existent Son of God assumes human nature and takes to Himself human flesh and blood, a miracle that passes our limited understanding.”123
108 Johnson, Bill Face to Face with God: The Ultimate Quest to Experience His Presence. 2007; Charisma House, Lake Mary, FL; pp 21-2
109 Johnson, Face to Face. p 77
110 Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth. p 79. Underline from emphasis in original; bolding added for emphasis; bracketed comments added for explanation.
111 Grudem, pp 233-38, 543-554, 624-33
112 Berkhof, pp 91-5, 312-13, 356-66
113 Berkhof, pp 312-13, 312-15.
114 Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth. p 79. Emphasis added.
115 Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth. p 80. Underline from emphasis in original.
116 Johnson, Face to Face. pp 77-80
117 Johnson, Face to Face. pp 21-22. Emphasis added.
118 Johnson, Face to Face. p 79
119 Johnson, Face to Face. p 77
120 Johnson, Face to Face. p 79
121 Johnson, Face to Face. pp 78-79
122 Johnson, Face to Face. p 77. Emphasis added.
123 Berkhof, p 333
Johnson Contradicts His Kenosis by Affirming Jesus Christ’s Deity?
With the following, a paragraph at the start of chapter 9 in Bill Johnson’s When Heaven Invades Earth, he appears to affirm Jesus Christ’s full deity:
“For hundreds of years the prophets spoke of the Messiah’s coming. They gave over 300 specific details describing Him. Jesus fulfilled them all! The angels also gave witness to His divinity when they came with a message for the shepherds: ‘For there is born to you this day…a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Nature itself testified to the arrival of the Messiah with the star that led the wise men…’ 124
Does the above quote show that Johnson affirms Jesus Christ’s full deity and thereby contradict his kenosis teachings above? Or, alternatively, does this show that Bill Johnson is actually teaching a very poorly articulated functionalist kenosis rather than an ontological kenosis? The key is the rest of this paragraph:
“…Yet with this one statement, ‘Unless I do the works of the Father, do not believe me,’* Jesus put the credibility of all these messengers on the line. Their ministries would have been in vain without one more ingredient to confirm who He really was. That ingredient was miracles.” 125
Was the archangel Gabriel pacing the heavens hoping that Jesus would perform miracles to prove He really was the Messiah, the Christ, and thus prove Gabriel to be true? Certainly not. The asterisk (*) above refers to John 10:37 in a footnote in the original quoted passage. In this Scripture Jesus Christ was not making some sort of all-inclusive statement “putting the credibility of all these messengers on the line;” He was addressing the unbelieving Jews. Johnson is mixing Biblical contexts here. However, note that John 10:37 is pointing out that they should believe He is the Son of God by virtue of the works/miracles. Jesus’ point is that, though they do not believe who He claims He is, they should believe by the miracles. Johnson proof-texts this in his attempts to ‘show’ that Jesus was not the Christ/Messiah until His Baptism after which, of course, He performed the miraculous works having been “enabled” by the “anointing.”
So, it would seem the above paragraph can be perfectly harmonized with the rest of Johnson’s ontologically kenotic teachings. He is unambiguously clear in his basic doctrine that Jesus was merely “a man in right relationship to God” who “had no ability to heal the sick,” “couldn’t cast out devils,” and “had no ability to raise the dead”126 except by virtue of the ‘enabling’ by the “Christ anointing,”127 occurring at Baptism. With Johnson’s assertion that, “The name Jesus Christ implies that Jesus is the One smeared with the Holy Spirit”128 within its original context (see above), he makes it apparent that Baptism is the point in which Jesus receives the name of Christ/Messiah. Consequently, according to this teaching, it follows that since Jesus did not have the name of Christ, and, hence was not yet Christ before Baptism, the angels’ and the other messengers’ words were contingent upon Jesus ‘proving Himself’ by performing the miraculous thereby showing Him to be the “Anointed One.” Therefore, the first part of the quote from chapter 9 is merely affirming Jesus’ future “title” or name of Christ/Messiah at Baptism instead of a definitive statement that Jesus was the Christ, or Messiah, at the virgin birth. Furthermore, Johnson’s quote is not necessarily proclaiming Christ’s deity since he asserted that it was “the anointing” which “linked Jesus, the man, to the divine.”129
To further explain by way of example I’ll make a statement: “Dr. F. F. Bruce was born on 12 October, 1910.” This is 100% correct; however, Bruce did not have his doctorate bestowed upon him until later, of course, as he was obviously not born with his degree.130 Similarly, one could interpret (incorrectly, of course) that Luke 2:11, the verse referenced in the first part of the above quote, is merely affirming Jesus as the Christ at some point in the future rather than at the virgin birth.
124 Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth. p 97
125 Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth. p 97. Emphasis in original.
126 Johnson, Supernatural Power. pp 29, 50
127 Johnson, Face to Face. pp 21-22, 77-79
128 Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth. p 79
129 Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth. p 79. Emphasis added.
130 Wikipedia. F.F. Bruce. F.F. Bruce biography <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F._F._Bruce>; par 1; as accessed 06/15/11
Eternal Implications of Johnson’s Kenosis
Bill Johnson claims Jesus did not raise Himself at the Resurrection, contrary to John 2:19/10:17-18 and other Scriptures. From his sermon at Bethel on February 27, 2011:
“…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…” 131
He stated the same basic thing in answering a question on his Facebook page in February of this year just prior to the date of the sermon above. This illustrates that Johnson carried ontological kenosis all the way to the Resurrection which would necessarily include the Cross. It would appear Jesus could not raise Himself from the dead since He was a “powerless” lamb on the Cross [see above for full context]:
“…The sacrifice that could atone for sin had to be a lamb, (powerless)…” 132
Being “powerless” means Jesus lacked the divine power in Himself necessary to provide proper Atonement which is explicit heresy. Insufficient Atonement means no salvation for the sinner. No salvation means no eternal life! As Erwin Lutzer asserts: “…The real question is whether Christ is capable of being the Savior of mankind;”133 and, “If Christ is not God, then God has not saved us…”134
“…Only an incarnate Christ who is fully God qualifies to be Savior.” 135
According to Scripture, Jesus Christ raised Himself [John 2:19], He was raised by the Father [Gal 1:1; Acts 5:29-31], He was raised by the Holy Spirit [Rom 8:11], and, He was raised by God [Acts 2:24; Rom 4:24; Col 2:12], beautifully illustrating the interrelationship of the Trinity.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) contrasts mankind’s eternity, which will commence at a definite point some time in the future, with that of God’s which is infinite with no beginning point. Of course, according to orthodox Christianity, both man, upon resurrection in his new glorified body [I Corinthians 15:50-54], and God have no termination point in the eternal realm.
“Man eschatologically and God ontologically experience an endless duration of time; both experience a non-terminating sequence of events; both participate in eternity.
“…[A] person’s eternity is bounded on one side by its beginning at a point in time…” 136
With this in mind, here’s Bill Johnson in a statement on his Facebook page on 3/21/2011:
“Jesus was (and is) God. Eternally God. That never changed. But he chose to live with self imposed restriction while living on earth in the flesh – as a man. In doing so He defeated sin, temptation, the powers of darkness as a man. We inherit His victory – it was for us. He never sinned!”
So, with this statement, does Johnson once and for all prove that he believes Jesus was fully divine during the Incarnation, i.e., is his kenosis functionalist rather than ontological? Taken as a discrete statement apart from the rest of Johnson’s doctrine, this could potentially be labeled as functionalist kenosis [although the “as a man” part is problematic]. However, when this statement is added to the entire corpus of Johnson’s written works, sermons, etc., it merely affirms Jesus Christ’s eternality as God; but, it does not prove the belief in Jesus’ earthly existence as God. As shown above, Johnson explicitly disavows Jesus Christ’s full incarnational deity on many occasions. It should be pointed out that to affirm Jesus Christ as eternally God yet claim He “set aside His divinity”137 during the Incarnation is self-contradictory.
However, can the above quote be harmonized as a complete, non-contradictory statement in and of itself and in relation to the rest of Johnson’s teachings on the subject of kenosis? It really depends on how Johnson defines and interprets the word “eternally” and how he views eternity in relation to the temporal, created realm. Do they intersect in any way or are they wholly separate from one another?
If Johnson understands eternity as that in which there is no past, present, or future as opposed to the temporal realm which, of course, does have a past, present and future, then he can make the statement above and not be contradicting his particular doctrine of kenosis. In fact, it would be necessary to keep his ontological kenosis teaching from falling into self-contradiction. To explain: By simple logic, Jesus must have been God pre-Incarnation in order to have possessed the divinity He had “set aside.” Similarly, Jesus was God post-Incarnation as there’s no evidence Johnson has ever stated the contrary and has inferred, if not outright stated, Christ’s deity post-Ascension (or, perhaps post-Resurrection) in his teachings.138
To rephrase: By definition, ontological kenosis in general, with all divine attributes – or at least all the ‘omni’ traits – laid aside when the Logos became flesh, implies, or at least potentially implies, a break in the eternality of the Son of God. That is, a logical conclusion of this doctrine is that Jesus Christ would leave the eternal realm at the Incarnation and return again upon Ascension (or, perhaps, at the Resurrection) since unbounded eternality is a divine attribute. So, if Johnson believes the eternal realm is wholly separate and distinct from the temporal, then he could maintain that Jesus is and was eternally God but not temporally divine – and, hence, not God during the Incarnation – and, thus, keep his version of ontological kenosis consistent and non-contradictory.139
Going back a bit to the first set of quotes of Bill Johnson used above, and, adding more of the context, we can see more of this concept in evidence regarding the eternal realm as wholly separate from the temporal with no intersection:
“…He had NO supernatural capabilities whatsoever! While He is 100 percent God, He chose to live with the same limitations that man would face once He [sic] was redeemed. He made that point over and over again…He performed miracles, wonders and signs, as a man in right relationship to God…not as God” 140
Yes, according to Johnson, Jesus is/was God eternally – just not during the Incarnation as He performed miracles as a man, not as God since He was not actually God during the Incarnation.
From an orthodox Christian perspective, God exists unrelated to time or anything material and is therefore not constrained by these. God created both. Did eternity pause or cease during the Incarnation? Of course not. Chafer states:
“…Whatever time may be and whatever its relation to eternity, it must be maintained that no cessation of eternity has occurred or will. God’s mode of existence remains unchanged. Time might be thought of as something superimposed upon eternity were it not that there is ground for question whether eternity consists of a succession of events, as is true of time. The consciousness of God is best conceived as being an all-inclusive comprehension at once, covering all that has been or will be. The attempt to bring time with its successions into a parallel with eternity is to misconceive the most essential characteristic of eternal things.” 141
There are apparently varying understandings of eternity and how the temporal realm relates to the eternal among theologians. It is beyond the scope of this article to get into a full discussion on the subject of eternity; however, Matthew Henry’s words help put the subject in perspective:
“…Should we ask why God made the world no sooner, we should but darken counsel by words without knowledge; for how could there be sooner or later in eternity?” 142
131 “ewenhoffman” Maintaining the crosswalk- sermon of the week Feb 27th 2011. <htt6://ewenhuffman.podbean.com/2011/03/01/maintaining-the-crosswalk-sermon-of-the-week-feb-27th-2011/> 16:45-17:00. Bolding added. As accessed 6/15/11
132 Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth. p 79. See full context at quote referenced by footnote 97.
133 Lutzer, Doctrines That Divide. p 33
134 Lutzer, Doctrines That Divide. p 34
135 Lutzer, Doctrines That Divide. p 36
136 Bromiley, G. W., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Volume Two. 1982 (1988 reprint), Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI; p 162. First published 1915.
137 Johnson, Supernatural Power. p 50
138 I’ve not seen any quotes to the contrary; and, his Facebook quote affirms current deity. Further, the quote referenced below in footnote 140 confirms present tense deity.
139 This view is not without precedent as A. B. Bruce refers to a variation in The Humiliation of Christ in quoting Ebrard (as in Chafer as quoted in part I at footnote 22), “The Logos, in assuming flesh, exchanged the form of God, that is, the eternal manner of being, for the form of man, that is, the temporal manner of being.”
140 Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth. p 29. Underline from emphasis in original; bolding added for my own emphasis. The “He” identified by “sic” is rather curious – probably a typographical error, however, as written it seems as though it was Christ who was redeemed.
141 Chafer, Vol. VII, pp 141-42
142 Henry, M. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume 1. 1991 (8th printing 2006), Hendrickson, USA; p 2
Like some others before him, Bill Johnson refuses to adhere to orthodox Christian teaching concerning the person of Jesus Christ as exemplified in the Chalcedonian Creed. He denies that Christ possessed His divine attributes during the Incarnation because “Jesus did everything as a man, laying aside His divinity in order to become a model for us.”143 While Johnson affirms that Jesus Christ is eternally God, this does not negate his teachings that Jesus had “so emptied Himself that He was incapable of doing what was required of Him by the Father – without the Father’s help…”144 during the entirety of the Incarnation to the point of not being able to raise Himself at the Resurrection. It is certainly self-contradictory to assert that Jesus is eternally God and yet had no divine attributes during the Incarnation. But this is a part of Johnson’s overall doctrine.
On the other hand, when filtering Bill Johnson’s seemingly orthodox statements affirming Jesus Christ’s deity through the ontologically kenotic lens of the rest of his teachings, these statements can be harmonized into one mostly, if not totally, non-contradictory doctrine with respect to kenosis. This is not to say that some of Bill Johnson’s teachings do not contradict Scripture as, of course, they clearly do.
In considering the entire corpus of Bill Johnson’s teachings we seem to have the Logos, the Word, divested of His ‘omni’ attributes, His impeccability (inability to sin – note the last sentence of his Facebook comment above), His immutability (changeless perfection), and perhaps other divine attributes, having ‘laid these aside’ in order to live His earthly existence as a man who was subsequently successful in living a sinless life and thereby providing an example to mankind. This necessitated the second person of the Trinity leaving the eternal realm at the Incarnation; however, He re-attained His full deity upon Ascension (or, perhaps the Resurrection) as He reentered eternity.
In any case, whether one believes the entirety of Johnson’s teachings is hopelessly self-contradictory or whether one accepts that it can be harmonized as ontological kenosis throughout, the fact remains that certain aspects of his teachings are unambiguously ontologically kenotic. This is explicit heresy.
If Johnson ‘merely’ intends functionalist kenosis instead (with its teaching that the Word made flesh retained all divine attributes but the Holy Spirit performed all Christ’s miracles and all ‘omni’ functions and possibly other divine functions), he has many very poorly worded passages in his books, sermons, etc. which need correction or clarification. However, even a functionalist kenosis account such as this suffers from a debilitating problem (in addition to the fact that it denies immutability): it violates Scripture [John 5:24; John 2:19, 10:17-18, etc.] and it necessarily precludes the Word made flesh from upholding the cosmos [cf. Colossians 1:16-17; Heb 1:3] via the so-called extra calvinisticum [aka extra catholicum].
To amend these works to bring his Christology up to Christian orthodoxy would be a monumental task for sure; but, it all depends on how much he really loves the truth. Everyone makes mistakes; however, the extent to which individuals are willing to correct those mistakes is the mark of a true teacher who reveres both God and Scripture and who cares about his flock. A case in point regarding the correct way to respond to mistakes is illustrated in the following taken from a 2002 DVD by R. C. Sproul:
“…Just this week I got the second letter from somebody that read my book Renewing Your Mind which is now out in its third title, third edition. The last edition of which was reworked, brought up to date by an editor at the publishing house. And, after they did it they sent it to me – after they made their changes – and asked me to give the final corrections and proofs, which I did. Hastily. And I missed something that somebody who read it wrote to me and said, ‘Did you? – I can’t believe it. You teach the Kenotic heresy.’ Because on one of the pages in that book it has me saying that in the Incarnation, Jesus laid aside His divine nature. I saw that; I almost fainted. I called the president of the publishing house, ‘This must be my fault. I didn’t catch that.’ ‘But,’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t say that on the worst day of my life.’ And, I said, ‘What can we do?’ And, you know what he did? He pulled every single copy that they had in inventory off the shelves and reprinted it to correct that error.” 145
To continually refer to Jesus Christ as merely “a man in right relationship with God,”146 as Johnson insists throughout his works, at the expense of deity, does our Lord and Savior much disservice. Even the decidedly non-Christian first century Jewish historian Josephus paid Him more reverence:
“Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works – a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” 147
143 Johnson, Bill, Strengthen Yourself in the Lord. 2007, Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA; p 26
144 Johnson, Supernatural Power. p 50
145 Sproul, R.C. The Mystery of the Trinity. DVD 2002, Ligonier Ministries, Sanford, FL
146 Johnson, Supernatural Power. p 50
147 Josephus, Flavius, W. Whitson, The Works of Josephus Complete and Unabridged: New Updated Edition. 1987 (22nd printing June 2009), Hendrickson, Peabody, MA; p 480. Emphasis added.