Bill Johnson and Kenosis Issues

More from my discussion with the Cultish folks re: Bill Johnson and heresy.

Ok, I have listened to this Bill Johnson excerpt a few times (the couple of minutes from where the video starts below (1hr 49m ff)). I’m a bit concerned that people may be reading more into it than necessary. Let me explain.

First, the “emptying” of Phil. 2:7 is a very complicated theological issue and we have to start at the very least with Bill Johnson’s previous clarification in order to have context:

““Without question Ben I believe that Jesus is 100% God, and Jesus is 100% man. That is the great and beautiful mystery of the gospel. Some people think I believe Jesus isn’t God. It isn’t true. But it probably comes from my emphasis of his humanity. I do that only to encourage the believer – Jesus gave us an example that could be followed. I certainly understand anyone who opposes me if they think I believe Jesus is not God. It would be well-founded. But in this case it isn’t. Jesus is God. He never stopped being God. He is eternally God.”

Note three things, Bill Johnson says that Jesus is 100% God and 100% man, Jesus never stopped being God, and he is eternally God. The question that I think goes unanswered here in this video is what Bill means by “emptying.”

Let me tell you why this is complicated. First, differences here are not necessarily (though they can be) a matter of heresy. It would be heretical to say that Jesus stopped being God in order to be human, and it would be at least wide of Chalcedon and classical Christology to say he suspended his attributes as God while incarnate (what functional and other kenoticists more technically argue). The former would be a first order heresy, but I am not sure the latter would be necessarily–it really depends on what’s meant as the Reformed classically put forward what we would call a krypsis view more fully exposited in Turretin (Calvin’s successor at Geneva).

Reformed theology teaches that the Logos never suspended any attributes but rather concealed them in regards to the humanity of Christ. Bill Johnson explicitly denies that Jesus ever stopped being God and doesn’t explicitly make it clear he’s a functional kenoticist. In fact, when he says above that Jesus “never stopped being God” that makes a kenotic view very difficult to prove on his part.

We don’t call Lutherans heretics, though they believe that the attributes of the Second Person of the Trinity were communicated to the human nature of Christ in order to defend their doctrine of the Real Presence, so it’s not like these issues haven’t been discussed in historical theology. Reformed doctrine, through the extra Calvinisticum, would say otherwise and maintain that the Word never suspended any attributes of his divinity or prescribed them to humanity. I would suggest reading Turretin’s Institutes, volume 2, pages 310-332 for more information here as well as Oliver Crisp’s book Divinity and Humanity: The Incarnation Reconsidered (chapter 5).

Turretin himself says the following of Christ and it sounds suspiciously like what Bill Johnson is saying:

“He who works miracles by a proper and physical virtue ought to be omnipotent. But Christ as man did not work them by his own power, but after the manner of a moral instrument. Therefore he ought to concur to a miraculous work by contributing what is his own, but the infinite virtue by which properly the miracle was produced belonged to the divinity alone (Mk. 5:30). The miracles are ascribed to Christ in the concrete, not to humanity in the abstract.” (Institutes, 2.331)

Now, Bill Johnson, I take it was never saying that God didn’t provide the miraculous power but that Christ as a man performed the miracles with the power of God. I’m not sure how that bare fact alone is debatable given what the Scriptures say.

And, while we can certainly debate whether other men can do similarly even Turretin references John 14:12 (“greater things than these”) in regards to the Apostles and their miracles that we have in Acts (Institutes 2.314). Moreover, we are told to be like Christ and emulate his person and work in our lives and the church has consistently worked with miracles throughout her history. So, while you may not agree with continuationism, it seems to me that the charge of heresy here in reference to kenosis is wide of the mark and extremely difficult to capably prove in Bill Johnson’s case given the above context.

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