I just finished reading Bill Johnson’s book “When Heaven Invades Earth” and, well, quite frankly, I have mixed feelings about the book. But before we go there, let us take a quick look at Johnson’s background.
Bill Johnson grew up in the Assemblies of God church as the son of a 4th generation pastor (making him a 5th gen pastor). In 1996, Bill became the senior pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California (a church started by his father in 1968). This church has about 3,000 members and is home to the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, which has about 1,500 students. In 2006, the members of Bethel voted to withdraw their membership in the AG – allowing them greater freedom to network with churches outside the AG.
Knowing Johnson’s background, you can really see a lot of AG theology within the book. You can also see elements of the Word of Faith movement that arose out of Kenneth Hagin’s ministry in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Swirling around in between those two streams of theology are various concepts from John Wimber and the Toronto Blessing.
Got that? Ok. Now we can move into the book.
The core of the book is fairly simple: heaven is invading earth as seen through power encounters with the kingdom of darkness. Christians are to step out in faith and expect signs and wonders to follow them.
And to that, I say “Amen.” Well, maybe ‘amen’ with a little ‘a’ as there was a lot of stuff in the book that did not sit well with me. As I read the book I kept thinking about mathematical proofs...
In high school geometry, my math teacher stressed the importance of using mathematical proofs to solve an equation. Each proof was to be a convincing demonstration that the mathematical statement shown is necessarily true. The problem was that I hated doing proofs as I could solve the problem in my head quicker then writing out each theorem.
Theology is like this. Sometimes we can skip steps and come out with the correct answer…yet, other times we miss the boat.
Specifically, Johnson seems way too focused on individual faith and anti-intellectualism. While I recognize that faith – or the belief that God can and will heal people today – is important, I see a danger in believing that it is my faith, your faith or anyone faith that heals people.
Having grew up in Tulsa as part of a Pentecostal/Charismatic family, I know first hand the pain that comes with being told that you are the reason someone did not get healed (i.e. “if you had had enough faith, that person would heal today”). Not only does this theology hurts people, it isn’t actually biblical (check out Authority To Heal by Ken Blue or Power Healing by John Wimber for more information on that point).
This leads me to Johnson’s anti-intellectualism. Throughout the entire book, Johnson kept slamming people who use their brains to study the Bible or theology (note that theology is simply the study of God – meaning that every time you apply a Bible verse to your life, you are ‘doing’ theology). Yes, Johnson says that Christians should study the Bible, but he does this after spending large chucks of time preaching against intellectual study of the Bible – meaning that the overall feeling one gets from the book is “don’t use your head, just use your heart and emotions.”
Again, having grown up thinking that “theology” was a cuss word, I know this mindset very well. Johnson (and others like him) is reacting against the removal of the Holy Spirit and the power of God by mainline church theologians in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, in reacting, I think he goes too far the other way, over emphasizing the experiential nature of Christianity.
To me, being a follower of Jesus means using my heart, mind, soul and spirit. It is about being a full human being and not about separating myself into small fragments (i.e. “God can have my heart and spirit, but I get to keep my mind“). We need to return to the days when Spirit-filled, power infused Christians were the top scholars and theologians (yes, there were days like this!)