Friends, today I write to you about something that I’ve wrestled through for over six months. When you are an outsider to a particular movement, it is very easy to look at the surface level and assume the best. Let me start off by saying, I do believe many within the Bethel movement are genuine saints of God. If I am willing to say God calls forth His elect from Roman Catholicism and Mormonism, I surely am willing to say He’d call forth many from the Bethel movement.
As a preface, if you have come here already knowing Bethel's shortcomings and are excited to cast more stones; leave. I mean it, I do not look at false teachings with a sense of pride and superiority. I grieve for false teachings and those ensnared within them. So if your heart is not set on hope for those within this movement; go.
Many of these articles, lately, I have been needing to state the posture of my heart. This is not from a place of frustration or anger, but rather from a place of genuine desire for truth. I think it has become far too common in our culture today to forfeit truth in the name of niceties. I desire truth more than I desire being nice. I desire a genuine love and kindness that helps others understand error when error is found. That is the point of this article.
A good portion of my loyal readers also attend the church I pastor. To you, I have been entrusted to shepherd (see Acts 20:28 and Hebrews 13:17) and I want to write in a plain way- what I discuss below is so that none of you become entangled with false teachings. Are they damning? I lean toward likely not. But could they? Absolutely– and that is the scariest thing. If the teachings could be damning – we ought to steer far and wide.
"Every heresy is due to an overemphasis upon some truth, without allowing other truths to qualify and balance it." - John Stott
One sad reality is that charismatics are unwilling to disconnect from other Christians in the name of love. Love is founded in truth, and truth requires us to all connect on primary issues. Is Bethel and Bill Johnson too far off for us to engage with? Yeah, I believe so. My heart can be summed up in what is below, this comes from a place of love for my congregation and others that may read.
"In what is necessary, unity; in what is not necessary, liberty; and in all things charity." - Augustine
Bill Johnson’s Heart
Honestly, Bill Johnson seems like an honest man. He knows his Word and knows what he believes. He wants nothing short of revival. He genuinely reads the Lord’s Prayer, “thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” as a command. Johnson genuinely believes it is God’s will for earth to be made like heaven. Is this a bad idea? Definitely not! I think we could all agree earth needs a bit more heaven in it.
The problem lies within this heart for revival, miracles, signs, wonders and prophecy – he centers his entire theology around them. Rather than say, I will take the Word as the Word and build my theology around the Word, he says (direct quote) things as below.
“I refuse to create a theology that allows for sickness.” -Bill Johnson
This is where Johnson is coming from. I do believe he desire good things, but good things are often times not God things. You may argue, well, revival, signs, wonders and miracles – those are God things, and admittedly, you are right! But they are only God things when God is involved. What we see in many of these miracles today are a form of emotional manipulation. Sometimes, often times, Bethel leans far too much on their own heart, talents, abilities and pre-conceived notions than on truth.
"Emotional manipulation does nothing for the sanctification of the heart." -Nick Campbell (Christ is the Cure; Ep. 152)
What I am witnessing from Bethel and all hyper-charismatic circles is a genuine child-like faith. A faith that is so obsessed with God and in love with Him that they believe and trust in God for everything. They want to pray for hours, worship endlessly and dance before Him. Those are all great things! Some think it may be for show or for attention, but I lean to believe their hearts and intentions are (most often) pure.
Even RC Sproul, before engaging with the Pentecostal movement, thought this.
"Because of the marvelous ardor for prayer these students displayed, I began to wonder whether I was missing something in my own spiritual life." - RC Sproul (Zeal without Knowledge)
They tell their congregants to earnestly seek the gifts, everyone can prophesy, everyone can speak in tongues and any miracle they wish for is given with no hesitation. However, so much of these good things are tainted with falsities strung in. I am all for child-like faith, but not without truth. I desire truth built into my child-like faith. As a Pastor, I am called to build truth into my very core – truth must reign.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. – 2 Timothy 2:15
Bill Johnson believes he has a specific mandate from God to perfect a “revival culture” and export it to the rest of the world. In an interview, he stated that he believed he needed to iron out the kinks and export this 'revival' culture to America and then the world. They intentionally send their graduate students out, in order to expand their teachings. Talk about commitment.
This sounds fantastic, if it were given in full truth. The main problem I see with this is that revival culture is Jesus culture (pardon the pun). All of their (including the band just mentioned) is built around emotions to draw you into a desire for revival, wonders and miracles. Is that immediately evil? Absolutely not! But revival cannot be our chief end. Our chief end must be to glorify God in truth and full counsel of the Gospel. You may lean to believe revival is the perfect will of God, but is it?
Revival is a great thing to yearn for and desire. In fact, I’ve found myself praying for revival for a long time. Words echo in my head, “Lord, pour out your Spirit in a mighty way that people are desperate for a touch from you.” This is not a bad petition of the Lord! But what is my goal? Why is it my goal? Well – you’d think, to glorify God. Often times, we forget God is still glorified in all things – not just “good things.”
Over the past couple of weeks, I have returned to the revival thoughts. Jesus Culture, Bethel, and the other hyper-charismatic circles all yearn for revival. Why? Well, that to me became obvious. Pentecostalism was birthed in revival, of course they want a new revival. While praying on this topic, the Spirit convicted me quite heavily. While petitioning the Lord about revival and the future of America, I heard Him speak to me (this is not a prophecy, reformed friends) “Am I not enough?”
Usually when God speaks to me in this type of way, it breaks me. I was undone in the presence of a loving Father. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to honor or glorify God – it wasn’t even that I didn’t know God was enough. It was just a personal epiphany, when God's presence smacks you. God is enough – revival or not, God is enough.
Bill Johnson’s Theology
I truly do not want to spend too much time on this particular subject, but it is dense, so I will try to write as simply as I can in what you need to know. Firstly, his theology is not based on the Bible, it is based on the personhood of Jesus Christ. Johnson wholeheartedly believes that the person of Jesus trumps any other nature of God we find throughout the rest of Scripture. To put it as plainly as I can, Jesus is God and Jesus defines Christianity. Fair? Kind of.
This idea is pretty on-par with progressive Christianity. Perhaps that is why Bethel culture is so attractive to millennials and younger, we are so susceptible to our feelings. Because Jesus is the model for his theology, he must certainly believe Jesus is God, right? Think again.
Johnson is a big-time advocate for the Kenosis heresy, which is the belief that misunderstands Philippians 2:7. Essentially, Christ gave up his divinity and was fully man relying upon God.
“[Jesus] laid His divinity aside as He sought to fulfill the assignment given to Him by the Father.” – Bill Johnson (When Heaven Meets Earth)
Unfortunately, the offenses will start to pile up, but I’m trying to only dedicate one paragraph per false teaching. The next is offense of Bethel that I carry is they overtly believe in Pelagianism. This belief is that the original sin did not taint the human condition enough to prevent us from achieving perfection on our own. I mean, to me, this is bad.
Another teaching that most of you should know is the prosperity gospel. Bethel’s involvement in this false teaching is not necessarily about money, but it bleeds into the same mentality. All things good, all things healthy, all things wealthy, all things perfect, all things on and on. This is latched on to Johnson’s belief that he refuses to believe in sickness. Reformers have even called Johnson out for calling, from the stage, that anyone with any problems with their vision are to be healed – yet, Johnson has bad vision. Common sense dictates this man creates theology based on what he wants rather than the reality Scripture. No?
Perhaps one of the scarier things that Johnson believes is in modern-day Apostles. Yes, capital A. He believes that God has modern-day Apostles that are equipped to continue the importance of which teachings are relevant. His entire argument is based on Acts 2 (verse 42) where it says the disciples “continually devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles.” He then would argue that he finds it quite odd that they don’t list all of the apostles or all of the teachings they were devoted to, and thus implies, we today must continue honoring the new Apostles teaching. He is implying his own teachings. To continue in the new teachings; He essentially is elevating his own teachings alongside the Word of God. Scary opinion – I’m just saying.
With a quick side-note, I do believe Johnson is a bit better at remaining humble (or so it seems) than others like Benny Hinn or Kenneth Copeland. Those two want the esteem, recognition and everything in between. Johnson believes himself to be an Apostle, but you wont hear him call himself that. He believes his teachings are on par with Scripture, but he doesn’t directly say that. Everything he does is for the sake of his heart's desire – he wants these teachings and this culture to expand exponentially. It is not for vanity, or so it seems, it is from a strong desire for revival. Once again, not a bad thing.
Returning to the framework for Christ and He is the proven theology we must abide by – as great as this sounds. Much of Johnson’s argument stems from Galatians 1 where Paul writes, “Even if I or an angel of light preach to you another gospel…” Johnson interprets this to mean that even Paul cannot give them a new gospel, only Christ can – this entire framework is not only “unhitching from the Old Testament” but it is completely removing the New too! He then goes on to say that Paul’s gospel, that of a thorn in his flesh, was not of Christ.
Johnson teaches that God cannot give what He does not possess. He cannot give sickness, because He is health. He cannot give brokenness, because He is whole. He cannot give storms, because He is peace. He once says, “what storm did Jesus bless?” Johnson’s language is implying that because Jesus never caused a storm, or sent a famine, or allowed demons to ‘have their way.’ Than God cannot and will not do that. All evil things stem from Satan. This wouldn't bother me as much, if it were the only difference we had.
You may wonder, if you know your Word, what about Job? God clearly allows Job to be put through (nearly) hell by Satan. Johnson’s response to the Job challenge? He casually responds, “Job is the question, Jesus is the answer.”
I mean, honestly, he isn’t wrong. But then Johnson allows this same mentality to completely ruin his theology. He states any reality of God’s character, that is not found in Christ, is inferior to the reality Christ gives us. He likes to use fancy words to state Christ is superior to God the Father and the character of Christ trumps the character of the Father. They are one in the same, and Christ was there through it all - yet, only Jesus' ministry is what we can build our image of God upon. Interesting.
Johnson has given inspiring sermons, especially if you are for signs, wonders, miracles and revival. In fact, Bethel has thousands of sermons that seem totally fine and encouraging. It is not until you are deeper into Bethel you see some of this come out. Kind of like the LDS faith - you have to be with us before we give you the hard truths.
He is very intriguing to listen to – and nothing he says seems downright heretical. It is just finely laced within. They avoid black and white questions like the plague. Bethel thrives on their congregation lacking Biblical knowledge. They genuinely believe Johnson’s teachings are the new mandate from God and that Christ is the framework for theology. They are sadly mistaken. It just falls short.
Johnson encourages false healings and miracles. No man would stand up and say, “pretend you are healed.” Rather, he teaches that if you are not healed it is because you didn’t believe – so even if you don’t feel healed, you should say you are healed (make them pretend). When asked about his son, Johnson said he cannot even discuss the idea of his son not being healed, because then his son surely wouldn’t be healed. The reality? His son wasn’t healed. Faith isn't the enemy of reality. Faith is substance that causes our hope - not just hope.
Because of this teaching, they have to have more teachings on how to “keep your healing.” Which, honestly, a lot of what they say in this arena is not too off from what I believe. But they are telling people that once they doubt their healing, it is gone. My back hurts, and hurts, and hurts so I doubt and its gone? No. It never came. They don’t take no for an answer. The main area of concern is that people lie about healings and prophecies often in order to not lose them – which is a farce.
Honestly, there are a few more things I could point out, but I’m going to only give one more and that is their way of prophecy and the way Johnson teaches it. In one of his sermons, he taught how they began the prophetic movement in Weaverville. He states he asked everyone in the circle to say what they believed Christ would say upon entering the room – once everyone was done, he said, “you all just prophesied.” Does that seem like a rhema word? Or a word from the flesh? As someone who loves true, genuine prophecy, it is deeper than that. He's teaching people to prophecy from their heart and not from the Word.
Johnson has fire for revival. He wants this culture to spread like wildfire. It is truly, revival or bust. But because he is focused on the wrong thing, he is missing the mark. I see serious consequences if this movement infiltrates charismatic churches. In fact, I do believe in order to be safe, charismatics should stay far away from Bethel and their teachings. Do I hope to see them in heaven? Absolutely! Do I yearn they experience genuine revival? Of course! It is just the fact that they have so many falsities lined into their teachings, it has become problematic.
Other Bethel Oddities
The other Bethel oddities that are mostly proven to be true will be briefly mentioned here. There are certain things that you only hear of from students who quit Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) or people who come ‘out of’ the church. Which is rare – but it happens.
Firstly, the glory cloud. Shimmering gold flakes flood the atmosphere at Bethel events. I want this particular thing to be true, but it only happens indoors – and isn’t necessarily something you see in the Bible. I’m not opposed to the reality of this, I’m very opposed to the fact that it could be manufactured. Take it as you will.
Secondly, destiny cards. Destiny cards are Christian tarot cards. Ironically, Bethel did come out and state that they are not specifically using these cards. But they are fully endorsed by their creative arts pastor, and then renounced, and then picked back up. Students who leave BSSM have stated they are absolutely used and endorsed, but they are quiet on it because the rest of Christianity is not ready for the practice. These cards are used, when they go to New Age events, to help the speak prophetically and help them evangelize. Odd and New Age-y.
Thirdly, destiny leggings. That is all I really want to say in regards to this – but the same creator of destiny cards created destiny leggings. Google it. New Age-y.
Fourthly, every one is a prophet. Always, always prophesy. Always prophesy good. Chris Villatton also seems to love to contradict himself. Anyway, I love prophecy, but it is just done wrong at Bethel. Its from the heart, not from the Lord.
Lastly, grave soaking. This practice has been in movement since early Catholicism. Here we are, in 2021 and we are not much better. New age, same old heresy. Unfortunately for Bethel, this is just something many of their students do and have no association with, right? Well, no. Johnson’s wife is often posting pictures on her social media at graves of saints. Is she openly saying she soaks? No. That would be just too easy. Be careful on this one, search it out for yourself. A lot of hyper-charismatics grave soak (or suck).
My conclusion is this, God is on His throne and reigning supreme. Does He allow Bill Johnson and Sean Feucht to bring about revival for His glory? Surely. The problem isn’t with what they want, its that they allow what they want to altar the truth of God and the truth of the Word of God.
On one hand, you have reformers who are quick to toss the baby out with the bath water. Even if you do not believe in the gifts of the Spirit. Would you not want to embrace their congregation with love and help raise them up in sound doctrine? Please, reformers - this I ask of you: take in the Bethel, hyper-charismatic group and give them doctrine. I promise, not all of them are scary - only a few are (namely Kenneth Copeland).
Charismatics - please seek balance. Johnson's doctrines have long been refuted. He's just bringing them back out to a group that doesn't know better. I refuse to toss the baby out with the bath water. I want to help reach the hyper-charismatic group and give them the Word of God. Let us reach a balance of Word and Spirit.
On another note, let me ask you this, the author of “It is well,” when he lost everything and was able to muster up enough faith to still glorify God – was that not for God’s glory? Us American Christians seem to forget how much God can be glorified in tragedy. What is God more glorified in, a healing or a man who refuses to give up on God when everything else collapses? They both glorify God, not just the healing.
Mike Winger says it best,
“There are consequences when we tolerate too much error. We should tolerate a certain amount of error, yes. But not when it comes to the theological standards of who Jesus is, not what it means when it comes to speak in the name of the Lord.” - Mike Winger
The reality is this: no matter how many motivational and inspiring messages someone can give, we are seeking for Biblical truth. If you do not know already, even though I hope for those within Bethel and the Johnson's - I choose to not associate with them. I will never recommend them or encourage participation in their content. We need to abstain from those who are not of us - and with this many differences in opinion on Christ and theology, I view it as essential: avoid Bill Johnson and Bethel.
In love, have knowledge of Johnson and Bethel – have knowledge with love; for the glory of God.
Think on it,