Thoughts on the Message of Bill Johnson and Bethel Church

Q: I am curious about the Bethel Church with Bill Johnson. My church is getting into their music, teaching, and conferences. What advice can you give me?

A: This is a very, very, toxic ministry. I wrote about this in principle in a book called Counterfeit Revival: Looking for God in All the Wrong Places. In that book, what I do is contrast genuine revival from the kinds of things that you are going to find at Bethel Church in Redding, California, with Bill Johnson as the senior pastor.

There are others like Todd White — now the newest rage in these Christian circles. He has tens of thousands of followers. Why? Because he is promising that as he walks through crowds, as he walks through malls, as he goes about his daily life, people are getting healed left and right from all kinds of maladies. And so, there is a great, great propaganda machine that backs him up: Charisma magazine. You have big churches that start talking about it. Pretty soon, very much like what happened with the Counterfeit Revival in Pensacola, Florida, people start flocking to the scene.

The hell of it, if you will, those people who are most desperate — and when you are sick, I can tell you from personal experience, if you are not enveloped in a cloak of peace, you can get very desperate — you want to be healed. This world has its good points (we know the next world’s a lot better), but all of us feel like we have a mission to complete in this world, and so you want to be healed. I still remember with great pain in my heart when I was writing the book Counterfeit Revival, hearing the story of a man whose baby had just died. He was so desperate for a resurrection, and he was listening to a Counterfeit Revivalist in Pensacola, Florida. He drove all the way across the country with a dead baby in an ice chest, a baby on ice, drives across the country, you can imagine the agonizing experience, only to find when he gets there, it is all a hoax. This is precisely what Bill Johnson is unfortunately perpetrating.

They have their healing rooms. They have their schools of supernatural ministry. They emphasize the need of believers to return to a ministry of signs and wonders. They consider miracles, signs, and wonders to be a norm. Now, do I believe in healing? I absolutely do. I absolutely do. But, through proper means. Not through a con artist’s sleight-of-hand / sleight-of-mind kind of shenanigans.

If you look at the theology of Bethel Church, what you in essence find is the theology of a very capricious God. Not only that, but you find loads and loads of examples of the supernatural that really are not examples at all. In other words, this is being hyped. Johnson tells of God having a storehouse of body parts. He says,

Years ago, one of our students had an encounter with the Lord. It was really quite bizarre. In heaven she actually saw this room with spare body parts. You say, “Well that doesn’t exist in heaven.” I don’t know. I haven’t seen it. But she did. And she was with Chris ministering down in Santa Rosa, I think it was. And a gal came up that was in a head-on collision, had really messed up her legs. Used to be a dancer and had very little function….and she says, “I don’t even have a kneecap.” Well, the gal who’d seen the spare parts room in heaven says, “Well, I’ll get one for you.” That’s like, that’s got to be like the ultimate response ever! “Well, I’ll get one for you.” She reaches her arm like this, she brings it down, lays hands on the knees and within fifteen minutes, she has a new knee cap.

Here we have a warehouse in heaven and the spare parts are coming down. This is a common occurrence. In his theology, you are not to pray, “Thy will be done.” This is a nonstarter in this community.

If you look at the Bible, Jesus prays, “Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:44 KJV). The apostle Paul teaches us to pray in this manner. Peter teaches us to pray in this manner. Who can forget the apostle James? The words ought to be familiar to all of us. Chapter 4 of his epistles says, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’” Then James says, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Here are the operative words: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:13–16 NIV). The reason that I bring that up specifically is because in an article that we did in the Christian Research Journal (I do believe it is up on the Web right now), there is an article entitled “Off the Map: Johnson and the Pursuit of Extrabiblical Authentication,” an article written by Bob Hunter. This article really goes into the excesses that you will find in this ministry. In fact, it has a section on what Bill Johnson and company believe when it comes to Christ praying, “If it be thy will.”

I can tell you, having now gone through a bone marrow biopsy, and waiting for the results, the greatest thing in my prayer is to be in the center of God’s will. That is what I really care about. I’ve had a cough that has plagued me for many, many months. It has been undiagnosed, and I have been praying about this, and praying about this, and praying about this, but, always in the context of “if it be your will Lord,” because I have found — I have been on this a long time — I have found that God teaches you so much in your suffering and sorrows. C. S. Lewis said it is His megaphone to a deaf world.

—Hank Hanegraaff

This blog is adapted from the May 2, 2017, Bible Answer Man broadcast.


Church, Tongues and Prophecy


Is speaking in tongues Scriptural or Satanic?

I certainly do not think speaking in tongues is Satanic. I think that there are people who prostitute tongues. We have a great example with Rodney Howard-Browne and Kenneth Copeland, and when they prostitute the gift of speaking in tongues, I think it is a very serious thing because now you are attributing something to God, which has nothing whatsoever to do with God. That is the quintessential definition of blasphemy.

When Paul says, “Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.  But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor. 14:39-40),* the apostle is pointing out that what we want to do is to edify, strengthen, and encourage the body of Christ. We do this by doing what we do in a way that is pleasing to the Lord, and not deflective to the body of Christ.

If someone is speaking in a tongue, in a language you do not understand, there has got to be an interpretation because you might be edified by what you say but those around you within the context of the church are not going to be edified. Tongues that are interpreted have the effect of prophecy (1 Cor. 14:26-33).

Unfortunately, there are so many examples in the church today of people who prostitute the gift and they make it something other than what it really is. As mentioned, Rodney Howard-Browne, a notorious Counterfeit Revivalist, and Kenneth Copeland, a leader of the Word of Faith movement, do that on a regular basis (i.e. prostitute the gift of speaking in tongues). When they were speaking together in dueling tongues in front of thousands and thousands of people, and the people thought they were very, funny doing this, what Howard-Browne and Copeland were actually doing was saying that this was the gift of the Holy Spirit being manifested through them but in reality it was nothing but sheer blasphemy (An audio clip of Howard-Browne and Copeland dueling in tongues can be heard on September 14, 2016 Bible Answer Man broadcast, which is introduced at the 25:28 mark.)

Is speaking in tongues at church ok?

One of the great texts to go to is 1 Corinthians 14. If you look at verse 22, Paul says there, “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.” So Paul is saying that if you are prophesying—and not in the sense of telling the future but forth telling, equipping, encouraging, exhorting, the saints—you should be prophesying because that’s for believers, but tongues then is “not for believers but for unbelievers.”

Paul then says, “If the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind” (v. 23)? The apostle is giving a rational thereabout why believer should not speak loudly and many at the same time in tongues in the context of a church. And now if someone gives an interpretation within the context—what is tongues but a prophecy.

If there is a tongue, according to Paul, you cannot all be talking at the same time, and loudly, and be disruptive. If a tongue is given within this New Testament context there has to be an interpretation because then a tongue can serve to edify the body of Christ. But in general what is the principle? The principle is “tongues then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers.” And then he gives a very strong warning about what happens when you speak in tongues in public and how that can be disruptive and discombobulating for an unbeliever and instead of reaching that unbeliever you end up repelling the unbeliever.

—Hank Hanegraaff

“For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says” (1 Cor. 14:13)

Learn more about speaking in tongues, spiritual gifts, and Holy Spirit in the following equip.org resources:

Is Speaking in Tongues the Evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit? (Hank Hanegraaff)

What Does It Mean to Say that The Holy Spirit is In You? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Is There a Difference Between Indwelling and Infilling? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Are There Apostles and Prophets Today? (Hank Hanegraaff)

The Counterfeit Revival (Part One): Rodney Howard-Browne and the “Toronto Blessing” (Hank Hanegraaff)

The Counterfeit Revival (Part Two): Visionary Hoaxes And Revisionary History (Hank Hanegraaff)

The Counterfeit Revival (Part Three): Separating Fact from Fabrication on the Pensacola Outpouring (Hank Hanegraaff)

The Counterfeit Revival (Part Four): Modern-Day Mesmerists (Hank Hanegraaff)

The Counterfeit Revival Revisited (Hank Hanegraaff)

Counterfeit Critique (Hank Hanegraaff)

Questions & Answers on Holy Laughter (Hank Hanegraaff)

Scripture vs. the Spiritual Gifts? (Elliot Miller)

Fivefold Ministry Makes A Comeback (Douglas LeBlanc)

This blog adapted from the September 14, 2016 Bible Answer Bam  and “Is speaking in tongues for today?

* All Scripture cited from The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), unless noted.