Sometimes 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.
“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.
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.