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The hidden pitfall of Bill Johnson’s ‘Red-Letter Revival’

January 6th, 2018 | 14 Comments | Posted in Bill Johnson/Bethel Church, Revival

Yesterday I read chapter 8 of Bill Johnson’s book Hosting the Presence: Unveiling Heaven’s Agenda. In this chapter, titled “Red-Letter Revival,” Johnson teaches that Jesus is the standard for people to follow — his words, his life, and his ministry. And Jesus’ primary mission, writes Johnson, was to reveal God the Father by doing only what he saw the Father doing.

Thus, our primary mission also should be to do only what we see the Father doing. Johnson goes so far as to suggest that perhaps bracelets should be changed from having the letters “WWJD” (“What would Jesus do?”) to “WIFD” (“What is the Father doing?).

To some, Johnson’s admonition — to seek what the Father is doing in the world and then do the same — may come across as biblical, inspiring, even revolutionary. Yet as pious as his mandate may sound, it contains a dangerous pitfall that can lead well-meaning Christians astray. I’ll summarize the three ways Johnson says he seeks to discover what the Father is doing. Then I’ll point out the danger of adhering to Johnson’s practice.

Johnson’s ways for discovering what the Father is doing

Here are ways Johnson teaches people to know what the Father is doing.

  • Direct word: Johnson says that sometimes “Jesus heard directly from the Father about what He wanted Jesus to do in a particular situation” (page 142, Kindle edition). He says that those direct words came during Jesus’ long nights in prayer, but also from the Holy Spirit who revealed direction to him in the moment. He suggests that we, too, can learn to hear directly from God in the many ways he speaks to us.
  • Seeing faith in another: Johnson says that “Jesus didn’t always seem to know what to do ahead of time, but got His direction by seeing faith in another person” (142). He gives the example of Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s servant in response to the centurion’s great faith (Matt. 8:13). He suggests that we can see how the Holy Spirit is at work in other people’s lives to receive cues for what we should be doing.
  • Using our own faith: Johnson says that “often we are unclear as to the specific will of God in a situation” (143). He says that, “in these situations, it is possible to find the will of God through our own faith as we respond to the revealed will of God in His Word” (143). How can we do this? He suggests that we respond to slight impressions we may have or ideas of what God might be doing. Responding in faith to these spiritual hunches can help us discover what the Father is doing.

The perils of a life in pursuit of Red-Letter Revival

Many issues could be raised with Johnson’s proposal, including the fact that Jesus, as the Son of God, has a unique relationship with the Father. What is entailed in that unique relationship can’t be emulated by us. But the pitfall I address here is Johnson’s teaching that believers ought to regularly pursue direction from outside of Scripture — from subjective impressions experienced by ourselves and others rather than the objective Word of God.

What we perceive as a “direct word” from God, and as directions given to us through impressions, are unreliable at best, and harmful to ourselves and others at worst. A life of chaos and confusion will inevitably follow those who follow their own imaginations. Scripture gives multiple warnings about the risks for self-deception when following our own hearts, including warnings that “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9) and “there is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

Doing only what the Father does may sound like an admirable agenda for one’s life. Yet seeking moment-by-moment direction through direct words and impressions is not taught in Scripture, which contains all the instruction we need for a life of effective ministry (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Seeking direction in the subjective manner proposed by Johnson takes us away from the clear and trustworthy words of Scripture.

Contra Johnson, the prophet Isaiah urged his followers to resist those who urged them to look outside of Scripture for direction. In their case, they were being advised to seek direction through occult practices. But he said, “Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (Isaiah 8:20). In other words, Isaiah told them to look for direction in Scripture — the tried and true — rather than the new and undependable.

By suggesting that people should ask, “What is the Father doing?” Johnson has switched the focus from looking to Scripture to following subjective intuitions. That’s a dangerous path to tread.


Holly Pivec is the co-author of A New Apostolic Reformation?: A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement and God’s Super-Apostles: Encountering the Worldwide Prophets and Apostles Movement. She has a master’s degree in Christian apologetics from Biola University.

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14 Responses to “The hidden pitfall of Bill Johnson’s ‘Red-Letter Revival’”

  1. Al Persohn Says:

    Thanks Holly, great post,

    Jesus’ omniscience during His earthly ministry is well established: “Now we are sure that You know all things, …” (John 16:30)

    Contrast that with Johnson: “Jesus didn’t always seem to know what to do”

    At the heart of NAR theology is incorrect Christology. Their position is that Jesus acted as a man, devoid of deity, influenced by the Sprit. We therefore can do the same things He did if influenced by the Spirit. They will hold that Jesus performed no supernatural act prior to the Holy Spirit coming to Him.

    The scriptures give us a difference perspective. His ministry at 12 in the Temple seemed to demonstrate supernatural understanding, but more to this, 30 years of sinlessness must also be considered supernatural.

  2. AriseMyLove Says:

    In NAR circles, there is the errant belief that one can pray or command a demon or demonized person to answer John’s “anti-Christ meme” as they ask “Do you deny that Jesus has come in the flesh?” And, believing that this is a qualifier for “testing the spirits” they believe that this question is some sort of magical elixir that will reveal the spirit of AntiChrist in their midst.


    To “test the spirits” regarding the counterfeit spirit of antiChrist or counterfeit Christ is to TEST THE DOCTRINE, as we also are admonished to “test all things”. But part of this great delusion of the NAR is they misapply and misappropriate and misinterpret that which the Lord has provided for their spiritual protection, and indicated through the Bereans who put Paul to the test of Scripture.

    That’s just one instance of the wrong handling of the Word of God in the NAR.

    Holly has honed in on another one here but, without reading NAR liar Bill Johnson’s book, I sense he is doing what Rick Joyner does in his writings. Joyner “denies the Father and the Son” in another somewhat ignored test of the AntiChrist spirit; I believe it is in his book with “Garden” in the title somewhere. In the Garden or something.

    Johnson basically is discrediting Jesus here by asking us to focus on the Father. Jesus tells us “to see Me is to see the Father” and “I and the Father are one”.

    KJV: “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?
    He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.”

    Commentary: Geneva Study Bible :
    “He shows now plainly the false doctrine of the antichrist’s,
    that is, that either they fight against the person of Christ,
    or his office,
    or both together and at once. They who do so, boast and brag of God in vain,
    for in denying the Son, the Father also is denied.”

    So, while I understand, and even have pondered how miraculously God works in my own life, when, at times, I will have a sort of “pre-vision” or foreshadowing of what I should do ahead of time but I don’t chase down this sign or vision. I don’t seek it out specifically.

    Signs and wonders are to FOLLOW believers, they are not to seek out a sign. We are to pray that “Thy will be done” in our lives and trust that He will give us all we need to be overcomers each day; we are NOT to strive spiritually with a grasping spirit that presumes an alienation from Christ, as Johnson infers.

    Johnson here is discrediting the office and authority of Jesus Christ being one with the Father: “Before Abraham ever was, I AM.” Johnson reveals he is speaking through familiar spirits, seducing spirits of AntiChrist as he denies the Father and the Son, i.e. their relationship and the fact that they are two parts of the Triune God.

    I could go on, as to how Johnson is “going beyond what is written” and that even our experiences in the Holy Spirit are subject to the boundaries of the “foundation already laid” with Christ as Chief cornerstone. In other words, we are not to go beyond what is written in terms of our experiences.

    Finally, I was reminded once again of the “supernatural sign and wonder” of seeing so many people in NAR churches “shake” seemingly supernaturally when they are attending the NAR freaky meetings. (I’m sure it is the same spirit that gave the “Shakers” their name in the 19th century.)

    I have inquired of these people as to why they believe they are literally shaking in their physical bodies at these meetings.

    Most of the time they believe it is some sort of sign of the Holy Spirit. And I agree with them, it is a supernatural “sign”.

    A bad one.

    How do I know? Because experiences in the Holy Spirit and supernatural occurrences or signs are covered by the Word of God; and God can never repudiate Himself or contradict Himself.

    The ONLY place anyone EVER SHOOK in the Bible was Jeremiah in http://biblehub.com/niv/jeremiah/23.htm

    And he shook in the presence of lying FALSE PROPHETS. It is a supernatural sign, when people shake at NAR meetings. It is a sign to them that they are surrounded by false prophets, who prophesy by familiar spirits, false teaching and the NAR antiChrist spirit.

    Jeremiah 23: Lying Prophets

    9 Mine heart within me is broken because of the prophets;
    all my bones shake;
    I am like a drunken man, and like a man whom wine hath overcome,
    because of the LORD, and because of the words of his holiness.

    10 For the land is full of adulterers; for because of swearing the land mourneth;
    the pleasant places of the wilderness are dried up, and their course is evil, and their force is not right.

    11 For both prophet and priest are profane;
    yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, saith the LORD.


    Finally, let’s remember that the besides an improper handling of the Word of God by the NAR, there will also be a trail of sin in their lives. All false teachers will have hidden sin.

    Here is my prayer about this:

    “Lord Jesus, please reveal deception in the Church, and spare Your own, Lord God! Reveal and unveil deceivers of the NAR so the church can see openly what is done in secret by those lying spirits of NAR leadership. Amen and Amen.”

  3. bill (cycleguy) Says:

    Thanks Holly for this. I won’t waste my time reading his stuff but do appreciate others, like you, who do and pass along a good critique and suggestions. What struck me as you summarized his thoughts was the line in #2: “Jesus didn’t always seem to know what to do ahead of time.” Say what? So now Jesus is taking his cue from others? Sounds like those today who can’t eat, think, or sleep without a “word” from someone who’s supposed to know. WOW! Talk about subjectivism! Talk about going down a bad path! Jesus didn’t know what to do? I’m stunned.

  4. nan Says:

    Good article. It seems he is no different than Ellen G. White, Joseph Smith or any other cult leader. Satan will give you what you want, what ever jesus you want so long as you don’t listen to the truth that we born again believers convey through the Holy Spirit (John 16). It is hard to try to convince people of what the Scriptures really say once they have been led astray by a cult leader which is what Bill Johnson is. Like a pyramid scheme. The people at the top are the false prophets the people in the middle are the leaders who teach their doctrine, and the people who are at the bottom are the sheep. Where I live there is a pastor who on his facebook page says he loves Halloween, it’s his favorite holiday. He has written books (self published) about ghosts. You can only know what he truly believes if you go to his facebook. I had a conversation with him because I went to a funeral. I brought up the fact that angels had free will and 1/3 of the host of heaven chose to follow Satan. He said, “where is that in the Bible?” I said in Revelation. I asked him, did God create Satan evil, he said yes. This man is a cult leader, the people in his church have no clue. It’s very sad!

  5. Chris Says:

    Thanks for sharing this look at Johnson’s book.

    I was a practicing Pentecostal for many years and attended a Pentecostal Bible college back in the day when mainline Pentecostals at least made an attempt to measure prophetic words or other forms of revelation against Scripture. Perhaps there are some that still do. But the hypercharismatics in the NAR movement have abandoned such restraint to the point that pretty much anything, quite literally, can be and often is assumed to be God speaking. And the result is, as you pointed out, utter confusion.

    Keep up the good work!

  6. AriseMyLove Says:

    Dear Chris:

    There are some of us practicing Pentecostals who absolutely check everything of our experiences or words of knowledge or prophetic dreams and utterances against Scripture.

    Even a false prophecy borne of an evil entity (such as Joseph Smith’s book of Mormon) can be tested against Scripture, with amazing results: the voice of the Evil one is revealed in the precise manner in which he twists the Word into mocking accusations.

    The crazy in charismatic circles should not cause us to become Cessationists, because that would nullify the entire raison d’être for the New Covenant in this, our Messianic Age.

  7. michael Says:

    Thank you, Holly.
    How anyone can take anything that comes from these folks seriously, (except to see the serious deception) I just dont understand. Seeing things like the impartation of demonic things like that vid of Heidi Baker with Bill Johnson, for one example among many, and seeing how they applaud each other, whether the false healings, the false doctrines and practices, etc., How can ppl give them a Red Cent or support them?

    I thought folks like Benny Hinn and others like Johnson, etc., had been exposed, but I saw on Benny’s vids from 2017, he’s still doing the stage magician tricks, only I guess age or practice has changed his style a bit. Instead of violently waving his sport-jacket to fling the ‘holy ghosss’ around, now he just waves his hand over someone or gently touches their face/neck, and grown men drop on stage like jellyfish. These folks all seem to recommend each other, they have alot of money, ‘power’ and prestige, and yet ppl are still being deceived and giving them more money and power. It’s craziness. I’m no brilliant guy or perfect sinless saint, I’m not meaning to judge ppl’s motives, but how can ppl not see thru some of this trickery and ‘religious/spiritual’ bulloney?

  8. ScottyMac Says:

    Holly, (and others): All I want to say for now is “THANK-YOU, and keep up the Good Work! I am not new to this NAR movement, and am fascinated by how quickly it has taken off! In these Last Days, that should be a RED flag in itself. I am busier than ever in coming in to what Our Father has for us, not any “seconds”. Thx!”

  9. Theresa Says:

    Bill Johnson’s statements are virtually identical to the teachings of Henry Blackaby in his book EXPERIENCING GOD.

  10. Theresa Says:

    Recently a friend recommended Henry Blackaby’s book, EXPERIENCING GOD. He indicated that it would revolutionize my Christian walk. I got as far as his butchered interpretation of John 5, which is the basis for the entire EG cottage industry that Mr Blackaby and his son have constructed. Now I see that Bill Johnson is repackaging and rebroadcasting the same dangerous misinterpretation. Very sad to see these forms of mysticism embraced within the church.

    Oh, by the way,my church and my friend are not part of a charismatic congregation. We are both Southern Baptists.

  11. Mark Says:

    Great piece! We need to keep exposing Johnson and those like him to the light to reveal their deception to all who would hear them. Johnson may not ever be turned around but perhaps we can keep some others from being deceived by him and these teachings.
    In my little corner of the world, deception is rampant and I battle constantly with those who would pervert scripture for their own desires. It’s getting worse and darker and I believe it will continue. The truth of God’s word needs to shine brighter than ever before………….

  12. roger olson Says:

    Paul the Apostle said to be like him. Should we then try to be like him? and what did he do?. and yes study scripture and then do scripture.

  13. Holly Says:


    Which Scripture passage are you referring to, specifically?

  14. roger l olson Says:

    in Philippians chapter 3, Starting at verse 17 , it says ” Brethren , join in following my example”….. , In the book of Galatians chapter 4, at verse 12, “brethren, I urge you to become like me”…

    Do you think we should want become like probably the greatest Apostle?

    again study Scripture and do Scripture. May the name of the Lord Jesus be exalted.

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