Book Review: When heaven invades earth

heaven johnsonSometimes reading books suggested to you by others proves to be a real blessing and other times it puts you into a predicament because you don’t like the book. It’s taken me a while to figure out which category this book falls into.

I have many friends who are and have been greatly impacted by the ministry of Bill Johnson and Bethel Church in Redding, California. In fact my mother-in-law is currently spending a year at Bethel Church and so I respect them and what God is doing in their lives. So as Bill Johnson says you need to ‘chew the meat and spit out the bones’. Sadly When Heaven Invades Earth is more spare rib than rump steak.

First let’s spit out the bones.

#Bone 1: Language. There are a few issues I have here. One is that although I recognise all the words I don’t understand many of the sentences. There’s a church culture and a theology that lies behind it that I simply have no comprehension of. For example:

“Burning within my soul is a piece of the original flame from the day of Pentecost. It’s been handed down generation after generation.”

Is he talking about the Holy Spirit? A piece of the original flame? There were plenty more of those.

Then there’s an awful lot of ‘invading’, ‘colliding’, ‘warring’, ‘infiltrating’, ‘plundering’ going on. It’s all a bit Kapow, Thwack, Sock, Wham, Bam. I don’t know if that’s the reality or not but why God has to invade His own earth and infiltrate governments that He presides over or why anything would ‘collide’ into God is a little beyond me.

Lastly on language this is writing by soundbite. I’m fairly sure there couldn’t have been a sentence more than about 15 words long. It’s all pithy, punchy stuff but after 189 pages you’re just longing for some half decent writing. Bill Johnson may have authored any number of books but he’s no writer.

#Bone 2: Some of it is just silly. OK, here are two examples of what I’m talking about.

“When we are smeared with God, it rubs off on all we come into contact with…” (p135)

Well, I’m just a little bit uncomfortable with talking about God in the same way as I do grease. You get smeared with oil if someone anoints you, to say that when a person is filled with the Holy Spirit they are ‘smeared with God’ is well, just a bit silly. That’s confusing the action with the meaning.

And

“We are to be a witness of God. To give witness is to ‘represent’. This actually means to re-present Him.” (emphasis original p119)

No, Bill it doesn’t. That’s simply not what the word means, sorry about that. Represent and re-present are two different words meaning two different things.

#Bone 3: Theology. Of course language often betrays our theology and some of what I’ve already said is theological. However, on the basis of this book I think there are genuine questions about how Johnson understands the person of Christ, the Trinity, Scripture, the Holy Spirit, the church, eschatology and spiritual warfare and money. So, just a few minor areas of concern then.

To take one example he functionally elevates personal revelation above scripture and makes it the key to successful interpretation. We have enough trouble working out what scripture means without everyone claiming their personal experience the key to successfully interpreting the Sermon on the Mount.

#Bone 4: Bridge burner not bridge builder. If I wasn’t convinced about the gifts of the Spirit for today and I was reading this book to try and understand what was happening, I think I’d come away incredibly offended and not because of the conviction of the Spirit. Johnson argues (p81) that the spirit of the anti-christ is at work in churches that are cessationist, that those who do are of a ‘religious spirit’ which is demonic.

Now I happen to think that cessationism is wrong along with infant baptism and an egalitarian view of leadership for example. I don’t think that those who hold those views are essentially influenced by the devil and the anti-christ. I just think they’re wrong, but let’s sit down and chat it over. Hard to do that when the bloke opposite thinks God has his back and the devil has yours.

There’s more but to carry on just makes me feel hyper-critical and we’ll miss the good stuff that should be chewed on.

#The Meat

I’ve no wish to believe anything other than the miracles Johnson writes about actually happened. I’m sure those people were healed and healed by the power of the name of Jesus. His ministry and His church has seen more people healed than I’ve met and who am I to be churlish about that? No, there’s something there that is good and I’ll praise God for that.

Secondly, there is a genuine concern for the poor and vulnerable. There were sufficient mentions in a very understated (unlike the rest of the book) way of care and compassion. The opening story alone of the wedding is wonderful and challenging. I absolutely applaud and desire to see more of this.

Thirdly, there is a deep passion for God, for an intimate relationship with God and a recognition that we need God. Amen.

Fourthly, real conviction that prayer and seeking after God is fundamental. If anything stood out, it was this. The rest of his teachings were so-so at best, but I think the key is this. He prays, his church prays and they pray a lot for God to be at work and He does. I don’t know why God blesses people whose theology is up the creek except that I’m pretty sure if He didn’t he might never bless me.

Lastly, an expectation that the Gospel is powerful, that God is powerful, that the future is bright and not bleak and that we can hope for healing, deliverance, freedom and grace to triumph in the lives of many.

God is at work, lives changed and the power of God is clear. I’m just not sure I’m any the wiser about how to see that happen after reading this book.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: When heaven invades earth”

  1. David says:

    The critique sounds a bit harsh. Is the book really that bad…I have not read it yet but have enjoyed many good things from Bethel…

    1. Phil Whittall says:

      I tried hard to be fair but maybe I’m being harsh. I like the faith and the trust in God and the belief that God can heal and transform lives. Maybe it’s a culture thing for me but I just found it hard to enjoy, hard to like and there were some things that were just wrong. I may post some more up here soon.

  2. Peter Kirk says:

    I could try to discuss several of the issues you mention here, and defend Johnson’s position. But I will restrict myself for now to one of them. You write: “why God has to invade His own earth … is a little beyond me”. But who is in control of this world? According to 1 John 5:19, it’s not God. The detailed theology of this may be debatable. But the biblical picture I see is that, although the earth if indeed the Lord’s by right, it is currently occupied by evil forces, and God needs to take control of it, through his people. I’m not sure I would use the word “invade” as that implies entering a territory which is entirely under enemy control. Perhaps that is what Jesus did, on the cross and when he rose again. But what needs doing now is to liberate the entire world, and for that a spiritual war needs to be fought – although I too have issues with over-use of military terminology.

    1. Phil Whittall says:

      Hi Peter
      Thanks for the comment. I understand that perspective and obviously the Bible talks about the liberation of creation, setting captives free and so on. My understanding though is that above the ‘control’ that the enemy has, is the truth that Jesus is Lord, that God is sovereign, that it’s Him not anyone else who raises up and throws down nations. That He hasn’t ceded ownership of His creation and that from Job, the devil has his limits. 

      So while I’m not saying there is no spiritual battle to be fought (after all I’ve just said we have ‘an enemy’), I think that despite Bill Johnson’s desire not to give the devil more credit than he’s due, his theology does just that.

      1. Peter Kirk says:

        Thank you, Phil. I don’t really disagree with you. I just think it is a matter of finding the right balance, which may depend on the context. Bill Johnson may have gone a little too far one way. To start with you may gone too far the other way. But it is good that we have such discussions.

  3. Trevis says:

    Phil, we all have one thing in common and that is a love for God. It is clear that you are a dedicated man of God. For this, I commend you.
    However, Bill Johnson clearly has a deep burning desire and love for Jesus Christ. How do I know this? I know this because the same Holy Spirit that dwells in him, dwells in me. Therefore, through God’s Spirit, Bill’s writing touched me on a deep level. Let us examine the pros and cons you posted. First, does the Bible teach us to put down our brothers and sisters in Christ? Sure, judge accordingly TO GOD”S WILL but dare not break another down. Who is the Judge? In other words. examine God’s word and check to see if things line up. If they do, say no more. If they do not, be quick to listen and slow to speak. BE WISE AND SELECTIVE WITH YOUR WORDS. Did you pray before you wrote this? Were you in the Spirit when you wrote this? I am sure that Bill Johnson was in the Spirit of God when he wrote this book. Were we taught to tear others down before recognizing their strengths? Have you ever read the book of Ephesians? I recommend reading it asap. Be very careful before you speak. Our tongues are like deadly poison especially those who ARE LOOKING FOR THE NEGATIVE IN OTHERS, ESPECIALLY OUR CHURCH FAMILY. What are the three most important things? Faith, hope and love. What is the most important of the three? LOVE. To put a man down whose main focus is to feed the poor, LOVE GOD, spend time with GOD, live in GOD”S SPIRIT, cast demons, save lives, etc. is ludicrous. The churches are dead today and it seems they may just have something quite special going on in Bethel. I do not know this for sure but I certainly won’t speak much on it until I go there myself, which I plan on doing. We live in a dark world, not in a GODLY NATION. WE ARE IN THE END TIMES. ALL of the signs are here. WE ARE IN A SPIRITUAL WAR and there is no in-between. There ARE two sides. GOD AND satan. I strongly recommend re-reading the book with an open mind. I don’t say this to you to put you down but because I care about you and ALL of our brothers and sisters in Christ. I hope and pray God gives you some Revelation. My prayers will be with you.

    1. Phil Whittall says:

      Hi Trevis, thanks for the comment. I guess a couple of brief comments. Yes I have read Ephesians and I’m not trying to pull Bill Johnson down, I doubt he’s going to be too troubled by my book review. I’m just evaluating the book, not the man and I have some questions. It doesn’t serve any of us to ignore those things just as it doesn’t serve us to be mean. I certainly wasn’t trying to do that.

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