In the case of BeyondGrace blog, being right is far less important than getting to the truth. So in this installment we revisit the question: Does Bill Johnson DENY that Jesus was divine (deity) during His incarnation here on earth?Back in 2010, based on the best evidence available, we said yes. On further reflection, we are not sure that he does.
2 minute theology lesson from Theopedia:
The term kenosis comes from the Greek word kenoo, translated "emptied" in chapter 2 of Paul's letter to the Philippians:
"Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men." (Phil. 2:6-7 NASB)What has come to be called "Kenotic theology" attempts to understand the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity in light of the kenosis of Phillippians 2:7. Its aim is to solve some of the supposed paradoxes arising from Jesus having both a divine nature and a human nature. For example, how could an all knowing God become a baby, how could God be tempted, or how could Jesus (being God) not know the time of His return?
The danger comes when it is concluded that in the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity took on human nature and gave up or lost some of the divine attributes -- such that Jesus was not fully divine. The doctrine of the two natures of Christ (known as the hypostatic union) maintains that Jesus possessed a full undiminished human nature and a full undiminished divine nature, which were not combined or confused into some new nature but were added to each other forever (yet remaining distinct) in the one person Jesus Christ.
The question regarding the kenosis comes to this -- What does it mean when Scripture says Christ "emptied" Himself? Did Jesus cease to be God during His earthly ministry?Certainly not, for deity cannot stop being deity or He would never have been true deity to begin with. Rather, the "emptying" is satisfactorily explained in the subsequent words of the verse, taking note of the two participles which grammatically modify and explain the verb: He emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. This emptying, in fact, was done as the man Christ Jesus, and neither of these ideas necessitates or implies the giving up of divine attributes.
Christianity maintains that Jesus did not "empty" himself of any of his divinity in the incarnation, although it is true that his divine attributes were veiled. When the Kenosis theory concludes that Jesus is or was less than God (as has been the case in the past), it is regarded as heresy.
The Johnson problem
Bill Johnson, in order to support his theme of "we shall do greater works than Jesus," takes great pains in his teaching to stress that everything Jesus did, He did as a Spirit-filled man rather than as God. If, as Johnson says, “Christ” is not a title of deity but merely means "anointed one," we too can be anointed with the Holy Spirit so that we can do the miraculous works Jesus did. Not only that, we can do even greater works.
Jesus lived his earthly life with human limitations. He laid his divinity aside as He sought to fulfill the assignment given to Him by the Father: to live life as a man without sin, and then die in the place of mankind for sin.Many of Johnson's followers will go even further than Johnson in explicitly affirming a kenotic view of Jesus, often attributing Johnson as the source of their extreme view:
-Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth
No, I don't see Jesus as having been ‘unwilling’ to act other than as a Man during the Incarnation. I believe (as Johnson) that He willingly set aside His divinity, came here as a Man, and was wholly unable and incapable of doing anything in and of Himself - just like us. By choice. When He was filled with Holy Spirit, He became capable - as do we. He Himself said that of Himself, He could do nothing. Jesus was a Man during the Incarnation. Period. I'm not sure how to state that any more clearly.Several of these statements were posted by Johnson’s followers in a Facebook discussion posted below) in which Johnson himself participated. They demonstrate the level of confusion that Johnson's teachings have spawned. The last comment, which states that "we are also divine," is heretical in a variety of respects. One might anticipate seeing an error of that degree expressed by the follower of a cult leader but surely not by the follower of a noteworthy evangelical pastor.
[Jesus] emptied Himself of His omnipotence while remaining fully God in his true essence.
If Jesus was God while on the earth, there would be no possible way for us to live like him (it's hard enough as it is)! He, being man, showed us how to like in perfect communion with God! We are to live like him. We even have the same ‘abilities’ (bad term, but I couldn't think of a better one) as he did! In fact he said we would do greater things!
Christ forfeited (for a season) His deity in that He traded His seat in heavenly places for the cross so that we all could be with Him.
Divine means: emanating from Go...d [sic]. Jesus was and is divine. It was the Spirit of God in Him that made Him divine. We are also divine and supernatural through the Holy Spirit that lives in us.
Recently fellow apologist W. B. McCarty discovered the following previously overlooked statement by Johnson in When Heaven Invades Earth:
For hundreds of years the prophets spoke of the Messiah's coming. They gave over 300 specific details describing Him. Jesus fulfilled them all! The angels also gave witness to His divinity when they came with a message for the shepherds: "For there is born to you this day . . . a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." Nature itself testified to the arrival of the Messiah with the star that led the wise men. Yet with this one statement, "Unless I do the works of the Father, do not believe Me," Jesus put the credibility of all these messengers on the line. Their ministries would have been in vain without one more ingredient to confirm who He really was. That ingredient was miracles.
Here Johnson seems to be affirming the full and unqualified deity of Christ during His incarnation on earth.
Jan Sherman, editor of Johnson's companion book, When Heaven Invades Earth Devotional and Journal, had this to say in the associated study questions:
Waxing theological again, what Johnson describes may comprise a functional kenosis (dealing with the job descriptions of the persons of the Godhead) as opposed to an ontological kenosis (dealing with their nature or concept of “Godness”). While I do not personally agree with functional kenosis, there is no theological consensus recognizing functional kenosis as heresy; ontological kenosis, on the other hand, entails explicit heresy.
The author [i.e., Johnson] emphasizes how important doing the works of the Father is, by comparing all the credentials Jesus had (prophetic voices, angelic witnesses, and nature's testimonials), to this one overarching credential. In your opinion, why did God bother to do all these other proofs of Jesus's divinity? Do you see their purpose within the context of His greatest credential?Recall that Johnson elsewhere stated that Jesus “laid aside His divinity.” The orthodox Christian view, established since the fifth century, is that Jesus was (and remains) both fully and truly divine and fully and truly human. His divinity was veiled but not cast aside. We can spend a lot of time quibbling over the semantic nuances of veiled or cloaked divinity versus set aside or laid down divinity. However, in the quoted text, Johnson seems to be affirming the eternal divinity of Christ--that is, before, during and after the Incarnation. That’s precisely the key affirmation necessary to establish theological orthodoxy.
While we can say that, despite several incomplete or ambiguous statements that seem to affirm the contrary, Johnson does ultimately appear to affirm orthodoxy, we cannot say the same for many of his followers. We very much wish that Johnson would deal with the problem. However, much of Johnson's "greater things" theme hinges on his edgy teachings that closely approach the boundary of error. One may suppose that leaves him understandably reluctant to deal with the problem by clarifying his position. In any case Johnson has stated more than once that relationships are much more important (to him) than correct doctrine. And his teachings have a decidedly anti-intellectual bias that seems inconsistent with proper theological precision. So, if you anticipate the indicated clarification from Johnson, dream on.
What does Johnson say?
Johnson is fairly active these days on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, he is the indisputable master of soundbyte theology, which often turns on loaded language and false dichotomy. Johnson’s soundbyte theology doesn't do justice to crucial theological questions of the sort that careful thinkers across the centuries have written volumes to explain. So his response to a request for clarification was, as anticipated, rather simple or even simplistic:
Jesus was (and is) God. Eternally God. That never changed. But He chose to live with self imposed restriction while living on earth in the flesh - as a man. In doing so He defeated sin, temptation, the powers of darkness as a man. We inherit His victory - it was for us. He never sinned!-Bill Johnson, Facebook 3/21/2011McCarty and I have discussed these recent clarifications and have agreed that in the light of this information we think it necessary and appropriate to revise our conclusion. We now consider that Johnson is best understood as espousing not ontological kenosis (which is heresy) but functional kenosis (which is not heresy). Functional kenosis, a relative newcomer on the theological stage, is distinct from the more traditional view that Jesus veiled his divinity. Those who hold the traditional view (veiled divinity) affirm that Jesus gave us occasional glimpses of his divinity ("he who has seen me has seen the Father") in such acts as calming the sea, turning water into wine, and other sundry miracles, signs and wonders. By these, he intended to reveal himself as the unique Son of God. Johnson’s view of functional kenosis ("self-imposed restriction") entails that Jesus’ miracles were done only by virtue of an anointing of the Holy Spirit on His ministry, and supports Johnson’s thematic claim that the same anointing is also available to us.
That we find it appropriate to revise our assessment is not to say that we have no serious problems with Johnson's teachings, which we continue to view as aberrant. Many people have noted the close parallels between his teachings and Hagin-style Word of Faith doctrine, including its notorious error that Jesus had to be born again. A more immediate problem for us is Johnson’s continual emphasis on "greater things."
The Greater things dilemma
To those who say we can do all that Jesus did McCarty often suggests--waggishly but with studied irony--that they get up on a cross, die, raise themselves from the dead on the third day, and save humanity from their sins.
Bob DeWaay, who has written an excellent critique of Johnson's kenosis and other issues with When Heaven Invades Earth, notes in personal correspondence that "his [Johnson's] approach means that things Jesus did during His earthly ministry that the gospel writers mention as proof of his divinity could no longer serve as such proof, even if only functional kenosis was being taught. If we can do what Jesus did, then we could prove that we are divine."
If the quotes from Johnson's followers cited above are taken at face value, it’s evident that at least one of them believes--contrary to everything true Christians have always believed--that we are divine.
It's not as though people have not pondered the meaning of “greater things.” It's a really good question. So think about it and be ready to join in the discussion. We will take up in detail the problem of "greater things" in a future installment.
UPDATE JUNE 20, 2011
Since I can't keep the link alive to the Facebook thread, I am posting the complete dialouge here. -Bill
Bill Johnson facebook 3/23/2011
Bill Fawcett Pastor Bill, you have said of Jesus that "When He became a man He forfeited
everything." I'm trying to understand what you mean by this. Did Jesus sin by becoming a man?
Phillipians 2 suggests that Jesus humbled Himself, but did He really give up his inheritance, did He irrevocalbly surrender His diety? Was there a chance that He COULD... HAVE FAILED in His mission, which was ordianed before the foundation of the world? Jesus, before his crucifixtion stated "Everything that the Father has is mine." How does that point to reinheritance?
Pehaps you can help me on these points. It's great stuff to think about.
Bill Fawcett Where's muy spel-chekur ? LOL!
Julie Threadgill Powers I, too, would love to hear your answer, Pastor Bill. I look forward to having my
confusion cleared up. Thanks.
Karen Blackford Sin is not something you do - it is a condition you are. You are born in the wrong
family. He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we could change families. He did not sin He became sin. It's the great exchange.
Bill McClure If there was no possibility for him to "fail his mission" (as you put it) was Satan's
temptation really a temptation?
Ray Robles Hello, very valid questions!
Did Jesus sin by becoming a man? No. 1 John 3:5 "And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him we have no sin." v. 8-9 "He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the begi...nning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God."
Did He irrevocably surrender His diety? No. He forfeited it while on earth, but not irrevocably. Today, we pray in Jesus' name when we heal the sick. However, while on earth He was a man just like you and I. He lived the perfect example of a normal christian. It would be unfair for Him to expect us to heal the sick as He did and fulfill our commission if He was deity while on earth. He went to the Father. John 14:12.
Could He have failed? Yes. Jesus came to restore the Glory that man fell short of at the garden. God gave His dominion to man and Adam forfeited it. He not only disobeyed God but obeyed the serpent thus switching leaders and giving up his God given dominion to the devil. That's why God sent His son to become man, and reclaim dominion. Once God confirmed Jesus was His son after He was baptized, the devil knew He came to reclaim dominion; so he tempted Jesus to switch leaders and obey him just like he did to Adam in order to steal dominion again. Jesus could have failed but He didn't. Now we have been commanded to cancel the assignment of the enemy and He not only lived the example of how to do it as a man...but has given us Holy Spirit to empower us to do so. We have Jesus, and Holy
Spirit...no excuse for powerlessness.
I'm far from Bill Johnson but I hope this helps :)
Bill McCarty Okay, I'm having some trouble getting my head around these issues. If Jesus forfeited deity, would it have been sin to worship him while he was on earth?
Ray Robles No. The term "deity" is a man made philosphical term that Jesus is not confined to. His disciples gave up everything to follow Him, to serve Him, to learn from Him, and be with Him.
Those are all acts of worship. Regardless of the fact that... Jesus lived with the limitations of man does not change the fact that He is still the Son of God, in whom He is well pleased. Matt 3:17. What we do know is this: He is the son of God, We can't get to the Kingdom except through Him, Any and all affirmities must flee in His name, He is currently seated at the right hand of the Father. Hope it helps. If you still have trouble with this, on Bill Johnson's website he has an article on what our approach should be with the mysteries of God. Mysteries should be valued. A huge liberating revelation for people with tough questions. Here's the link: http://www.bjm.org/content/13/the-value-of-mystery.html
Bill McClure Great comments Ray...
Bill McClure If Jesus was God while on the earth, there would be no possible way for us to live like him (it's hard enough as it is)! He, being man, showed us how to like in perfect communion with God! We are to live like him. We even have the same "abilities" (bad term, but I couldn't think of a better one) as he did! In fact he said we would do greater things! It is amazing to think, but it is right from his mouth!
Bill McCarty Okay, I hadn't thought about the disciples following him as being worship, since at first they didn't know that he was Messiah. So are you saying it was okay for them to worship him even though he was not divine?
Bill Fawcett Ray, you said "The term "deity" is a man made philosphical term that Jesus is not confined to." That seems rather radical, and I've never heard anything like this before. Is this someting taught at Bethel ? (I'm on the east coast) .
Bill McCarty Isn't deity the same as divinity?
Bill Johnson Jesus was (and is) God. Eternally God. That never changed. But He chose to live with self imposed restriction while living on earth in the flesh - as a man. In doing so He defeated sin, temptation, the powers of darkness as a man. We inherit His victory - it was for us. He never sinned!
Ray Robles There are only 2 times that Jesus marveled in the Bible. He marveled at faith, and the lack of it. Faith moves the Father, and thusly moves Jesus. Faith plays a pivotal role in the disciples following Jesus.
Divine means: emanating from Go...d. Jesus was and is divine. It was the Spirit of God in Him that made Him divine. We are also divine and supernatural through the Holy Spirit that lives in us. He came to Earth having seen the works of the Father, and not only demonstrated the works of the Father, but empowered us with the Holy Spirit so that we can also do the works of the Father. Notice how the disciples began doing miracles after they saw Jesus, and were filled with the Spirit in the Upper Room.
When we become born again we are more than saved from hell...we are made divine and supernatural because of the Spirit of God in us.
With that being said, Jesus was divine and supernatural. He came to show how a person confined with the limitations of being human is supposed to live when the Spirit of God is deposited in them through baptism in the Holy Spirit. Jesus was the Word that was with God in the beginning, before He became flesh. Jesus always was and is the Son of God; and for that reason: YES, it's always was and is OK to worship Jesus. ALWAYS! There's no way one could ever convince me that worshiping Jesus is a sin.Never in a million years. Hope this helps.
Bill Fawcett Great, now as to my original questions, Pastor Bill, you have said of Jesus that "When He became a man He forfeited everything." I'm trying to understand what you mean by this. Did Jesus sin by becoming a man?
Phillipians 2 suggests that Jes...us humbled Himself, but did He really give up his inheritance, did He irrevocalbly surrender His diety? Was there a chance that He COULD... HAVE FAILED in His mission, which was ordianed before the foundation of the world?
Jesus, before his crucifixtion stated "Everything that the Father has is mine." How does that point to reinheritance?
Ray Robles It looks like there's a difference in the way we define divine. I certainly didn't mean to imply that we are deity. Read Romans 8:1-17, then read 2 Corinthianns 3: 17-18. Verse 18 says it all "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as ...in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the spirit of the Lord." Christ killed our flesh and took up residency in our spirits. Therefore if our flesh is dead, and the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead has taken it's place (Romans 8:11) and I, with unveiled face, beholding as in a MIRROR the glory of the Lord, am being transformed into the same image from glory to glory...this means I am supernatural. Not because of me, my flesh is dead and I am made supernatural because of the Spirit of God that lives in me. I have dual citizenship in both heaven and earth right now, and am seated in heavenly places (Eph 2:6). If I am supernatural, and the kingdom of God is at hand, and God's will is for His kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven...that's a right now word! It's my duty to cancel the assignment of the enemy, and I can not do it in the flesh or by the flesh. The problem is, the church tends to be satisfied with accomplishments that can be done through human talent and goodness. God has deposited too much in us to not be functioning supernaturally. Like Bill Johnson says: "If you are not walking in the miraculous you are living far below your birthright." We need to prophecy, heal the sick, raise the dead. The world has enough powerless christians. That's why the world goes to fortune tellers, reads horoscopes, are fascinated by demonic exorcism movies, etc. They want power, and they're getting it from the wrong source because not enough christians are tapping into their birthright.
"Operating in kingdom power attracts the world and offends the religous" (Bill Johnson). This is what Bethel teaches, my church (ICLV), Harvest Christian Center, Morning Star, all do as well. I'm sure there are a lot more that do as well. Hopefully that cleared it up some for you :)
Ray Robles Steve Thompson from Morning Star (a really prophetic church) spoke at my church in our prophetic conference a couple of months ago regarding this very subject. He now lives in Redding and partners with Bill Johnson and the Bethel team. The ...Sermon is called "Supernatural Transformation."
I left those sermon notes in my wifes car so I just tried recounting what I remember from scripture and his sermon. If you have itunes that very sermon was recorded that day and you can find it on itunes.Type: "iclv message of the week." then click on the icon. His sermon is the tenth one, called "Supernatural Transformation" by Steve Thompson. it's well worth it, you can download video or audio for free. I guarantee it will give you a greater understanding of the supernatural and change your life!
John Borelli Christ forfeited (for a season) His deity in that He traded His seat in heavenly places for the cross so that we all could be with Him. Imagine the president of the US coming to your house to clean your toilet! Christ humbled Himself so m...uch more than this:
Heb 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Bill Fawcett Thanks Ray, that does help. yes, when I say divine I certainly don't mean those "who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." Funny you should mention those passages, because I prophesied around of Romans 8:11 on Sun...day.
But, no I don't think those passages suggest that Christ killed our flesh, or that our flesh is dead. If that was the case, we wouldn't have to bring our flesh under subjection as Paul exhorts in I Corinthians 9:27. Jesus himself told us that the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).
Granted, we should not live "in the flesh," but practically speaking the flesh will be only dead when 1) we cease to breathe or 2) we are caught away. The we shall be like Him (but still won't be deity). I'm curious though. If you did not mean to imply that we are deity (whew!), but you said Jesus was divine and you said we are also divine, was Jesus, when he walked on the earth, deity?
Bill Fawcett John, Here's the thing. If someone says "Mankind's authority to rule was forfeited when Adam ate the forbidden fruit" I can understand what they mean in the context of the "Satan's Gain" theory. Now, we all know that to forfeit means to los...e or have confiscated something because of some fault, offense or crime, a breach of contract or by treason. In otherwords, sin.
So, if Jesus Christ did not sin, "he never sinned," as Pastor Bill stated above, how did he forfeit His deity? Or back to the original quotation, what does "When He became a man He forfeited everything" mean?
The quote about Adam above comes from WHIE, page 11. In that context, it is clear that there is an understanding what the word forfeit means. Most football fans know what forfeit means.
I don't want to get picky, but I am perplexed by statements such as "(Jesus) forfeited everything."
Which is why I hope that Pastor Bill can clear this up.
Would appreciate your further thoughts, as well.
note some comments were deleted by posters
Tags: Bethel Church, BSSM, Bethel School of Supenatural Ministry, Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth, Redding, Kenosis, Kenotic Heresy, Functional Kenosis, Ontological Kenosis, Divinity of Christ, Incarnation
For further study: An Invasion of Error, A review of Bill Johnson – When Heaven Invades Earth by Bob DeWaay. link.