My last post, “The One Most Won’t Like” was an attempt to bring to bear the reality that discernment must be done right. Truth, honesty, and integrity. Unfortunately, the responses I have already received proved to be the same as when I first discussed the issue. Proverbs 18:13 becomes particularly important here as most approached the previous article without seeking to hear what was being said.

Regardless, we can move forward in my critiques, which are heavily leaning into the leadership of Bethel as they are the faces of Bethel. One of my critiques in the previous article has been the error that “because Jesus did, we can” and so I will not rehash that here. And there are a lot of valid and important critiques against Bethel (link to a playlist, Mike Winger’s analysis being a good starting point), but I have narrowed it down to some that are front and center in my mind.

Note that these are my reflections on the subject, so it will ultimately be up to you to be a Berean and to research and double-check what is said here. I also left some quick notes at the bottom of the article.

The Gospel

I went back to review my old show notes on the subject to find that many claims have been wiped from the various pages of Bethel, Johnson, and company. For example, the original video of Johnson’s claim, “I refuse to create a theology that allows for sickness” is gone, and the only remnants I can find are reposts of snippets such as this one. 

A significant critique against Bethel, especially Bill Johnson, deals with his statements found in the clip mentioned above. He states, 

“I refuse to create a theology that allows for sickness. Here we got a problem, only one, it’s a small one. The Apostle Paul gives a warning in Galatians, and he says this, he says, ‘if I’, and he’s the one who brought the gospel to them. He said, ‘if I or even an angel and comes to you and preaches to you a different gospel you are to reject them’. That’s amazing, an angel comes and he brings you a different standard, a different gospel, reject it. He says even if I come back and I change my mind, don’t pay any attention to me. Alright, what gospel is it? The Gospel of Jesus, the Gospel of the Kingdom. Let me illustrate, Paul refers to his thorn in the flesh, which has been interpreted by many to be a disease allowed or brought on by God, that’s a different Gospel. Jesus didn’t model it and he didn’t teach it. And Paul said, you can’t change the standard.”

Interestingly, Johnson seemingly addresses it in Rediscover Bethel, but he only addresses one part, the first line (see it here). He explains that when he said, “I refuse to create a theology that allows for sickness,” he meant it as “a personal statement” to say that he will not “sanctify sickness” but that “God can use it.” Further, “I won’t sanctify it in the sense of saying ‘God gave it to me to learn suffering or whatever.” He goes on to say he doesn’t want to formulate a theology that essentially kills faith or seeking Jesus for healing. 

The sentiment of Johnson’s statement in this video makes sense. Still, the baggage and concern of the original quote in full remains intact, especially when numerous other articles saying that “God will always heal” have been scrubbed from Bethel/Johnson’s sites.

Johnson, in his original quote, states that if one teaches that disease is allowed or brought on by God, they are teaching a different Gospel. Essentially, Bill Johnson’s original quote fundamentally changes the Gospel by adding a new parameter, Johnson’s theology. In other words, he taught a different Gospel and has yet to address this statement in full. This is not a mere “personal statement” in its original context. In the Rediscover Bethel series, Johnson and company further state something Johnson has said elsewhere, “Jesus healed everyone who came to him.” This is simply not true when we survey the Gospels (Matthew 13:58; John 5). When it comes to this notion that God doesn’t allow for sickness, we find several issues in that Paul even notes that he left “Trophimus sick in Miletus” (2 Timothy 4:20). 1 Timothy 5:23 indicates that Timothy, the “spiritual son of Paul,” had frequent illnesses. Job teaches the sovereignty of God and that all things are under God’s control, and you can see how Johnson’s theology changes what that means for us. His response to Old Testament texts that speak contrary to his position are dismissed by pointing out that they are of the “Old Testament” as if the Sovereignty and Providence of God changes. 

Here are the issues summarized: 1) Johnson never corrected his statement about the definition of the Gospel in this video, he only addressed his line “I refuse to create a theology that allows for sickness.” In his videos on the Gospel, it sounds good, but the issue remains; this statement changes the Gospel and abuses scripture to do so.  2) Johnson consistently allows for his theology to triumph over the text of scripture. 3) Johnson’s idea of God’s Sovereignty is incompatible with the whole of scripture.

Point three isn’t dogmatic inherently, as we know there can be in-house debates on foreknowledge and sovereignty, etc. Still, Johnson (ironically?) makes the point dogmatic in his original statement about the Gospel. 

Some other documented issues I have against Johnson and Bethel’s ideologies have since been removed from Bethel/Johnson’s blog, such as the statement, “It can’t be stated more plainly. Those who believe in Him will demonstrate signs and wonders.”  (My Emphasis, originally pulled from http://bjm.org/spending-the-inheritance/).

The problem is that these types of claims used to be rampant, and rather than having these statements addressed (as far as I can tell) in Rediscover Bethel, they were quietly removed and as far as I know, Bethel still teaches this ideology.

New Age Syncretism & Prophecy

It is worth stating at the outset that I am not one of those who believe that this is a Charismatic vs. Reformed or Continuationist vs. Cessationist debate. I think that overcorrection is easy when we have been in a position, and we recognize they have errors. With that said, Bethel’s understanding of prophecy and how they facilitate prophecy really does find a role in everything they seem to produce. 

A simple critique is that there is a hidden placement of prophecy, visions, dreams, etc., over the authority of scripture in how Bethel appears to operate. Boiling it down to the ground floor – Bethel is more experience-driven than theologically driven. It doesn’t take long to see that, and this is a reason for concern, especially when documented fabrications of experiences (i.e., glory clouds) have been lied about. 

I have said it before, but I’ll repeat it here, theology without practice is useless, but practice without theology is dangerous. There is a tension and balance to be maintained. Just as well, when their stewards of scripture interpret the Biblical text, it doesn’t take long to see that Bethel’s perspective is more driven by spiritualizing the text and importing their own theology into the text. Scan through Bethel’s posts and commentaries on various texts and watch how the approach is almost always driven by “reader’s response” and application as it pertains to their theological frameworks. This is especially interesting when we view Bethel’s endorsement of Simmon’s The Passion Translation, which has numerous issues in regards to its origins and Simmon’s credentials (see Mike Winger’s episodes on this, they’re fantastic, enough said). 

Most concerning for me is that Bethel isn’t particularly quiet about its syncretism of New Age practices. They are happy to embrace many practices and claim that the New Age stole these practices from Christianity. While some of their more controversial and well-documented practices from the past (such as grave soaking) have been denied dishonestly (even in their Rediscover Bethel series), Bethel has utilized various New Age practices and ideologies in their schools and services (Atmosphere alignment dances for example). 

A simple case study is a book called “The Physics of Heaven.” The preface is written by Bethel’s (and Jesus Culture, which comes from Bethel) leadership and the Johnsons themselves wrote two chapters. The book is sold in Bethel’s Shop with a description,

“Read what some of the most beloved leaders in the Christian charismatic movement have to say as they explore the mysteries of God hidden in sound, light, vibrations, frequencies, energy, and quantum physics.” 

The website for the book was inactive for the last year or so, but it is back up now so you can look for yourself. Also, check out the contributors and excerpts.

Within the books, we find quotes such as these:

“It wasn’t that I wanted to become a New Ager, I just wanted to find out if maybe they had uncovered some truths the church hadn’t.” 

“I have found throughout Scripture at least 75 examples of things that the New Age has counterfeited, such as having a spirit guide, trances, meditation, auras, power objects, clairvoyance, clairaudience, and more. These actually belong to the church, but they have been stolen and clearly repackaged.” 

“Now we are beginning to hear more and more revelation that is in line with what New Agers have been saying all along and we are hearing more and more teachings about Christians taking back truths from New Age that really belong to citizens of the Kingdom of God.”

There are many more of these quotes, but this is sufficient. The claims themselves are objectionable, with the only hint of a connection to New Age in the scriptures is that of meditation, yet, even Christian meditation is different in its praxis and goal. Bethel integrates New Age into their theology, and this integration is not illogical for Bethel as Bethel is fundamentally a product or variation of the Word of Faith/Prosperity movement which really overlaps with New Age thought in a lot of ways. Foundationally, there are starting points in the New Age that are not compatible with Christianity’s conception of theism and Trinitarianism. One example is the notion that Christians can create or manifest via their words because God created via his word. Such a claim is detached from scripture in that the Word that the Father created by was his Son! Jesus the Logos (John 1:1; Colossians 1). We do not have that divine prerogative of creating ex nihilo with the divine word as our agent of creation. I believe this ideology, “we can do what God does” also leads to or allows for Johnson’s poor application of Christology mentioned in my previous article, but I’m not entirely sure.

Nonetheless, I cannot help but compare the ancient Roman Mystery Cults with “New Age” practices that seem present in Bethel’s institutions that were allegedly stolen from Christians, 

“A mystery cult involved the worshipper in a close personal relationship with his god or goddess. The worship of the cult deities made an overpowering appeal to the physical senses and feelings of the worshipper, involving song, dance, musical instruments, public processions, religious feasting, ritualistic animal sacrifices, and (especially in the Isis cult) group acts of sexual immorality. Worshippers often fell into ecstatic states of trance and prophecy as they took part in the worship” (2000 Years of Christ’s Power Vol. 1, p. 32).

Obviously, I am not saying that Bethel is doing all of these things mentioned above. Still, one is left wondering where Bethel’s leadership sought out these New Age insights. Was it from the Mystery cults? Or perhaps the Gnostics or Montanists, who would undoubtedly be helpful in Bethel’s desire in regards to miracles and prophecy. 

Ultimately, there is no doubt that these ideas and allowances for syncretism spill over into Bethel’s means of acquiring prophecy.  However, what is concerning is that it is documented by students of Bethel’s schools, and leadership themselves, that they openly experiment with prophecy, and getting it wrong is okay and part of the process, which certainly is not a model found in scripture. What particularly grieves me are the documented cases of youth leaders teaching children (as young as pre-school) to engage with “angels” and “taught” how to exhibit spiritual gifts. This is particularly dangerous.

Regardless, there is a lot that could be said about the gift of prophecy that goes beyond my concern here, so I want to summarize the Bible’s teaching on prophecy and the means of gaining prophecy.

We glean the following from scripture: 1) a Prophet is one who begins within the covenant community, which presupposes a standard of doctrine and ethics, 2) a prophet is claiming to speak for God and must therefore be found valid through alignment with the revealed word of scripture, and 3) the blending of Christianity with other systems of acquiring revelation should be rejected (compare Deuteronomy 18:10-19 with the presupposition of said errors in texts like Revelation 21:8 and 22:15 where “sorcerers” (a broad term for those who do extraordinary things via occult and magic) are thrown into judgment. Applying these three points, we find that the prophet begins within the covenant community. They are united to Christ and indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Further, they are already presupposed to be in alignment with the basic principles of scripture. One of these basic principles is that using sorcery, magic, mediums, etc., as a means for revelation is antithetical to the Christian worldview. Given the strong reaffirmation and presupposition of Deuteronomy 18:10 within the New Testament, we are moved to believe that any use of divination, fortune-telling, interpreting omens, witchcraft, charms, mediums, etc., is a mark of a false prophet and teacher. The judgments against false prophets in the scriptures are quite dreadful (2 Peter 2; Revelation 19:20; 20:10). Loose experimentation and syncretism to acquire divine revelation are presupposed as erroneous.

According to scriptures, movements that entertain such should be considered at worst overtly demonic and at best dangerously misinformed. Those movements ultimately need to be reminded of the warnings found in Revelation 21:8 and 22:15. These various means of acquiring prophetic utterances have become prominent within the contemporary church at large to be honest, and leaders such as Bethel and company who move congregations into such practices should be placed immediately within the category of false prophets with a prayer for repentance. They are threatening destruction (Jude 12), rejecting authority (v. 8), wild waves of restless destruction (v. 13), and should be avoided (Romans 16:17-18). While there certainly are and have been in-house discussions that can occur on the topic of the gifts of the Spirit and what prophecy would look like within orthodox Christianity, where we should all find unity is in the rejection of the Christian church assimilating New Age and Ancient Pagan ways of procuring divine revelation. 

Jude actually provides us with a great list of “flags” for false teachers that I think can be pretty helpful here:

Conclusion

There are a lot of reasons to be weary of Bethel, especially as they, in many ways, look a lot like Hillsong in how they market themselves and move. Ultimately, there are too many unresolved problems, too much unspoken repentance, and many tossed bombs of smoke screen that come out of Bethel. I find that the leadership is pretty untrustworthy and certainly handles scripture poorly. They are all sharp, but that can be reason for more concern given the ‘red flags’ and dishonesty. Some will read this conclusion and say, “well, Nick, how can you admit this dishonesty while you wrote that piece on Christology earlier?” This is a fair inquiry, and my answer is that I find more consistency in Johnson’s theology of Christ across platforms than his other doctrines. That said, even if he has been dishonest about his Christology and I fell for it, then at least I can say I was duped in a desire to be fair in my analysis.

Quick Notes

[1] Bethel’s offering page can be found here in which prayers consist of things such as, “Repentance from poverty,” “making wealth,” “positions and promotions,” etc. These are reminiscent to other Prosperity teachers, however, the distinction between Bethel is their higher integration of “spirituality”. Declarations, and the premise of the laws of attraction, remain intact.

[2] When comparing practices of Hinduism with Bethel, they look very similar: Erratic Jerking and Sharking, Uncontrollable laughter (holy laughter), slain in the spirit, drunk in the spirit, healings, tongues, utilization of “laws of attraction,” etc. This is explained by the practice of New Age thought and prosperity teachings. 

[3] On Bethel Music see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38dtIg2AiVc and debate

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