There’s this old joke about a man who, wanting directions from God from Scriptures, opened his Bible randomly to see what God wanted to tell him. First, he read that Judas “hanged himself” (Matt. 27:5). Another random opening led him to “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37) and finally “What you do, do quickly” (John 13:27). The moral of the story is about the importance of reading Bible verses in context. That is, we need to know what the original author’s intention was in writing those words and can’t expect God to speak to us through such a manner of just randomly flipping open the Bible.
Related to the above, I came across a chapter in Bill Johnson’s Secrets To Imitating God (formerly entitled Dreaming With God) entitled “Celebrating the Living Word” (Chapter 8). As some readers would already know, I love Bill Johnson’s ministry. I’ve read almost all of his books and in the same way I’ve gained so many insights into Scripture through Pastor Joseph Prince’s teaching/preaching ministry, I’ve experienced the same through Bill Johnson’s books.
I’m quite cautious of flaky charismatic ministers. I know there are so many flaky charismatic leaders out there. However, I want to be careful not to be too critical of them – that’s why I have defended Todd Bentley (to a certain extent) in this blog in the past. I think flaky charismatics tend to be very anointed in many ways, though also open to deception. We ought to be wary of deception, yet recognize the anointing and not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think Benny Hinn, for example, is greatly anointed in healing. However, I probably wouldn’t agree with a lot of his other stuff (like some of his theology, his lifestyle or even the style of his meetings).
Through Pastor Joseph Prince’s sharing through the years, one can tell that he too is very cautious of flaky charismatics and charismania – in my opinion, to the point of over-reacting sometimes. A sad result of flakiness is that charismatism has gotten such a bad name and non-charismatics (and even some charismatics) throw the baby (authentic charismatism) out with the bathwater (flaky charismatism).
And all this is why I appreciate Bill Johnson’s ministry so much. I think John Wimber would probably be remembered as the most respected and balanced charismatic who has ever lived. Wimber’s with Jesus now. Perhaps the most respected and balanced charismatic alive today is Bill Johnson.
I don’t think Bill Johnson is a great theologian. And that’s perhaps a plus point. Great theologians are somehow seldom good at the practical charismatic stuff. You have people like John Piper and Wayne Grudem who are great theologians and both very open to charismatic stuff, but I don’t think they are good at the practical charismatic stuff. And you have people like Benny Hinn who is greatly anointed in healing, yet you wouldn’t want to trust a lot of his theology. It’s hard to find someone who is both well grounded theologically and yet greatly anointed in doing the charismatic stuff. I think Bill Johnson is probably the closest to that – though perhaps leaning more to the practical stuff.
The fruit of Bill Johnson’s ministry is simply undeniable. You just have to respect the guy. And while the fruit of his ministry doesn’t validate every single thing he says or teaches, here’s a guy that I know I have so much to learn from. Yes, I’m uncomfortable with some stuff he says. But for a left-brain Christian like me who loves good theology and lacks in the areas Johnson is gifted in, that probably isn’t such a bad thing.
And with that long introduction, I quote a portion from his book for your consideration:
Often I would come to the Bible with a need and God would address it clearly from His Word, again and again. There were times when He spoke so clearly from a verse, yet I knew that what was ministering to me wasn’t what the writer originally intended. But it was a living word, a sword, ministering to the very need of my heart.
…The God who speaks through circumstances and unusual coincidences wants to talk to us again through the pages of His Word, even when it appears to be taken out of context or is not exactly in line with what appears to be the author’s original intent.
…In studying the Old Testament prophecies quoted in the New Testament, it doesn’t take long to realize that Jesus and other writers of Scripture took many Old Testament passages out of context to prove their point. The common thought today is that the Holy Spirit worked that way for the Scriptures to be written, but it is unacceptable to do this today because the canon is complete. How could it be wrong to use the same principles used to write the Scriptures to interpret the Scriptures? That rule is designed to keep us from creating doctrine by experience and contradicting orthodox Christianity. While the reason is noble, the rule is not biblical
…How is it possible to set a rule of Bible interpretation that the Holy Spirit Himself did not follow in inspiring the Bible? And to say that it is no longer allowed because the canon is complete has little merit as the Holy Spirit is with us, and He knows what He meant when He wrote it. This is potentially dangerous because of the bent of some toward creating unholy and/or inaccurate doctrine, but it does not justify removing a necessary tool of the Spirit that He uses to speak to His people. There is danger, but there is also great treasure. This is the necessary tension. (p. 141,143, 145-146)
What struck me first about what Johnson wrote was his belief that God could speak to people through Scriptures even though what spoke to them may not have been what the biblical writer originally intended. He appeals to the fact that even the NT writers took many OT passages out of context to prove their point. I thought this was very interesting. I’m no NT scholar (and I may be getting a bit out of my depth here) and I hadn’t heard of this line of thinking before but I recently read that what seemed out-rightly ridiculous (i.e. the fact that NT writers took many OT passages out of context to prove their point) was actually something of a debate in academic circles. While Graeme Goldsworthy wrote that “contrary to what is sometimes suggested, the New Testament writers were not in the habit of quoting texts without reference to their context” (Gospel and Kingdom, p. 19), other scholars, however, would probably agree with Johnson. An example would be Richard N. Longenecker who wrote that “It is my contention that… Christians today are committed to the apostolic faith and doctrine of the New Testament, but not necessarily to the apostolic exegetical practices as detailed for us in the Next Testament” (see G. K. Beale’s The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?). Maybe here too is a defense of the charismatic distinction between a Logos and Rhema word? Just a spontaneous thought that needs to be developed further…
Moving on, in that same chapter, Bill Johnson acknowledged how in one occasion his church and him heard wrongly about a healing/resurrection – “…we didn’t actually hear from God and missed it with all our prophetic pronouncements” (p. 149). I greatly value his honesty here. Being in charismatic circles for over a decade, I’ve heard too many prophecies which have missed it and very few charismatics are humble enough to acknowledge they could be wrong and apologize when they are wrong. Charismatics need to adopt more humility when it comes to the prophetic. Yet the existence of lots of situations of hearing God wrongly doesn’t invalidate the fact that God speaks and it shouldn’t prevent us from seeking to hear correctly. One thing I’ve read over and over again is that we have to be prepared to fail if we want to succeed. If we’re too afraid to fail, we won’t try. If we don’t try, we won’t learn. People constantly refer to this when talking about entrepreneurship – an entrepreneur always takes risks and a successful entrepreneur is one who has failed many times. And the same for succeeding in healing (i.e. when praying for someone) and hearing God’s voice. As Bill Johnson wrote:
It is obvious and easy to assert that those who try to hear God from the pages of Scripture will not always hear clearly. Some of us will make huge mistakes and claim to have heard from God when it wasn’t Him at all. Yet, to succeed, one must be willing to fail. (p. 148)