Bethel, Jesus, and Dove Dung
Bethel Church in Redding, California, is becoming increasingly influential amongst churches in my own city of Sydney. This is partly due to its promotion by Hillsong and also because of its influential music label. So I’ve set myself the task of reading through some of Bethel’s books in order to understand their theology. The first book I’ve chosen is The Physics of Heaven: Exploring God’s Mysteries of Sound, Light, Energy, Vibrations, and Quantum Physics (ed. Judy Franklin & Ellyn Davis; Shippensburg, PA; Destiny Image: 2012). The contributors to the book are associated in various ways with Bethel Church, and there are key contributions by Bill and Beni Johnson (senior pastors of the church).
Before I read the book, I was hoping to find something positive to be able to say. Anything. But I could find nothing. In short, as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, I found this book extremely disturbing (especially one part of it).
The broad thrust of this book: God’s new work is seen in New-Age quantum mysticism
The broad thrust of the book is that New Age spirituality, especially in its manifestation in “quantum mysticism”, contains vital spiritual truths that Christians must learn from, so we can get on board with God’s new ways of working in the world as we anticipate a new, better Pentecost.
“Quantum mysticism” refers to popular spiritual views and practices that are (allegedly) drawn from ideas in the scientific field of quantum mechanics. As a former electrical engineer, I can affirm that the claim to be “scientific” is highly questionable (to say the least). While there were a couple of attempts to summarise a few basic elements of quantum theory using vaguely-defined terms like “wave” and “vibration”, there was no coherent explanation of what quantum theory actually is. Furthermore, many of the “scientific” claims in the book were transparently erroneous and even ridiculous. The claims were frequently based on fringe, or outright false, pseudo-scientific theories, e.g. sound waves existing on the same spectrum as light waves (p. 66), the four elements of water, wind, fire and earth (p. 67), sacred Hebrew / Sanskrit / Egyptian / Tibetan chanting affecting molecular bonding (p. 88), crop circles (p. 88), radio waves causing brain disruption by drowning out the Earth’s natural vibrations (think tin-foil-hat wearers) (p. 94), etc.
But for me, even more disturbing than the pseudo-science was the pseudo-theology. Despite the disclaimer at the start of the book that its contents are “not intended as spiritual advice, doctrinal position, or comprehensive scientific fact”, nevertheless throughout the book there is detailed advice about spiritual practices, strong claims about the nature of God’s work in the world, denunciations of opponents, and exhortations to action accompanied by claims to divine authority.
While the authors at a few points seek to clarify that the New Age movement does not get everything right about God, nevertheless their main thrust is that much of the New Age movement is very much on the right track when it comes to understanding how God works in the world. The authors back up their claims by citing alleged new “revelations” from God that align with the spiritual claims of the New Age movement. For one author: “Now we are beginning to hear more and more revelation that is in line with what New Agers have been saying all along” (p. 15). For another: “The way that God moves in power looks a lot like the New Age” (p. 44).
In fact, one author goes so far as to declare that those Christians who oppose this New-Age-like view of God’s supernatural activity are following “false doctrines”, and are therefore even worse than the non-Christian New Age “false religionists operating out of evil power sources” (p. 48). In other words (the author is saying), while it’s dangerous to be a demonic New-Ager, it’s even worse to be one of those reactionary Christians who oppose the author’s own New-Age quantum-mystical doctrines about the Spirit! According to the book, New Age quantum mysticism (even in its demonic manifestations) is closer to God’s truth than traditional biblical Christianity.
That’s pretty disturbing. It’s also, by the way, quite a rhetorical power move. (Define your Christian opponents as worse than demonic miracle workers: How can one disagree without sounding like a Pharisee?)
How quantum mysticism changes the Bible’s teaching about God
What is the book’s view of God and his work in the world, then?
At various points in the book, the New Age quantum mysticism being promoted takes over and even overturns the Bible’s teaching about God and his work in the world. For example, according to one of the editors, one of the major concepts of quantum mysticism is that God is identical with the universe—and so we ourselves are God:
The second major quantum mysticism concept is that the universe is a unified, inter-connected whole. This translates to the idea that, because all is one, then all must be God which means that you are God and your consciousness is an aspect of the divine consciousness.The Physics of Heaven, p. 114
This idea is part of “Eastern mystical beliefs about the nature of the oneness of all reality and the power of human consciousness to create and manipulate that reality” (p. 113). This is a classic expression of what is normally called “Pantheism”—and it is certainly not biblical teaching.
Now, the author is not at this point directly stating that she wants to promote pantheism. in fact, in a short paragraph, she acknowledges that “Christians and quantum mystics part ways” over various issues, including “where God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit fit into the picture” and “where the Bible fits into the picture” (p. 127). You might expect, then, that the authors of the book would go on to use the Bible to critique the pantheistic view of universal consciousness. However, they do not do this. Instead, they do the opposite. That is, they extract words and phrases from biblical passages, and reinterpret or rewrite them in a way that is highly compatible with these quantum mystical views.
For example, one author refers to a passage from 1 Corinthians 1:18–31, which is about Jesus’ death on the cross. In this biblical passage, the apostle Paul is talking about how Jesus’ death turns upside down our whole understanding of human wisdom and power and social relationships. This is why in 1 Corinthians 1:28, Paul says: “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are”.
However, the author who quotes this passage says nothing about Jesus’ death or its implications for our lives and relationships. Instead, he gives it a quantum mystical interpretation. He adds extra words such as “invisible” and “visible” to the biblical passage. Then, on the basis of these added words, he turns the passage into an exhortation to act like God and bring reality into existence:
First Corinthians 1:28 says, “…God (has) chosen…things which are not (the invisible) to bring to naught things which are (the visible).” This Scripture makes sense only when you understand it at the atomic and subatomic level. Everything is made up of atoms, which are frequencies of energy. These frequencies of energy are the voice of Jesus causing all things to be! …
None of this is real in this dimension because they exist only in a state of possibilities until someone observes them. Then, at that observation, the potential becomes a thing—a particle or a wave. This quantum wave collapse, caused by observation, is your first step to taking a quantum leap. You can see or observe a God qwiff (something God shows you that is not yet real in this dimension) and, by observing, or popping that qwiff, cause that potential to become your reality.The Physics of Heaven, p. 135
Another author refers to a passage from Romans 4, which is a passage about justification by faith. The apostle Paul is explaining in Romans that since we are sinners standing under God’s judgment, we can’t achieve a right standing before God by ourselves. So we need to trust, not in ourselves, but in God, and in Jesus’ death on the cross which atones for our sins. It’s all about not seeking to achieve God’s saving purposes for ourselves, but instead trusting (i.e. having “faith”) in God who has done it all for us. In Romans 4:17, Paul describes Abraham’s faith this way. The God whom we trust is unlike us. God has creative and justifying power that we cannot achieve. So Paul speaks of Abraham’s faith “in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17). God does it all, and we just trust it. That’s how we are justified and saved.
The author, however, reverses the meaning of the text, and through a quantum mystical interpretation puts us in the place of God:
Christians believe that through faith (which could be considered a form of “intent”) we can affect changes in the material world, and, as Romans 4:17 says, “call the things that are not as if they are.”The Physics of Heaven, pp. 127–128
This idea that our faith makes us like God is caught up with a particular understanding of what “faith” actually is. For many of the authors of the book, “faith” is not trust in God, but rather a physical/material force that we can wield on the earth in a God-like fashion. One author refers to Hebrews 11. The biblical passage describes “faith” as looking forward to God’s future promises. However, the author understands faith in a very different way from the biblical passage:
Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is a substance. It is the invisible substance from which your physical world was and is being created by Jesus Christ. Annette Capps said, “God used faith substance and word energy to create the universe. He spoke and the vibration (sound) of His words released (caused) the substance that became the stars and planets.” …
Annette Capps says that faith is an energy force that affects the vibrational realm and can cause things to be brought from the invisible realm into the visible, “Faith is an unseen energy force. It is not matter, but it creates matter and actually becomes matter. You have a choice to use the energy of your words to change matter.”The Physics of Heaven, pp. 143, 145.
What is happening here? Words and phrases from the Bible are being extracted from the Bible, quoted in short bursts, and given the opposite meaning to what they mean in their biblical context. The effect is to reverse the Bible’s teaching about God—who is holy and different from us—and to reverse the Bible’s teaching about God’s gracious, saving relationship with us which is based on his power not ours. Instead of this biblical teaching, the book consistently teaches that God infuses us (in a physical way), and our faith becomes a God-like physical power to wield on earth. This is, of course, quite consistent with New Age quantum mysticism. But it is not biblical. And it is profoundly at odds with the Bible’s teaching about salvation.
But not even that is what I found most disturbing about the book.
The implication: God’s past action is now “Dove Dung”
The most disturbing thing for me appeared in a chapter by one of the editors, “Extracting the Precious From the Worthless” (pp. 11–19). It was a statement about “dove dung”. Let me explain.
The overall point the author was making was that the spiritual discoveries from the New Age movement are a new work of God:
I believe that a great work of God is in process as He restores knowledge and insights that have been lost to Christians but are now hidden in the teachings and practices of quantum mysticism.The Physics of Heaven, p. 17
According to the author, God once did things a certain way, but now he’s doing things a new way. The new way might seem to contradict the old way. But that’s to be expected, because God has “moved on” from “what He’s done in the past”:
As Christians, we … get comfortable with what God has done and we tend to camp there, even when He’s moved on or is giving us new revelation. Why? Because almost every time God “moves on” He takes us into unfamiliar territory that seems dangerous and sometimes seems to contradict what He’s done in the past.The Physics of Heaven, pp. 17–18
At this point, as a believer in Jesus Christ, I wanted to say:
But what about God’s past action in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? What about the fact that God has now spoken decisively in his Son, the very radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his nature (Hebrews 1:2)? What about Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday and today and forever” so that we are not to be “led away by diverse and strange teachings” (Hebrews 13:8)? What about the faith delivered once for all to the saints (Jude 3)? What about the gospel by which we are saved—if we hold fast to that word that was preached (1 Corinthians 15:2)? What about the apostle Paul, who claimed there was no other gospel, and pronounced a curse on anyone who would preach a different gospel (Galatians 1:6–9)? What about the Holy Spirit, who always leads us to have that same gospel message “Jesus is Lord” on our lips (1 Corinthians 12:3; 2 Corinthians 11:4)? What about the Trinitarian doctrine of God and the centrality of the cross? The Holy Spirit whose ministry unites us to God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ, with Christ’s death and resurrection always at the centre, and applies that decisive reality in our lives? What about the fact that the truth about God’s utterly unique past acts in Christ are so precious and wonderful and powerful and deep and transforming now and forever?
Well, it seems that for the authors, this kind of reaction is just typical of those boring Christians who are predictably “squeamish” (p. 20) and not ready for the new thing. I need to realise that all the stuff about the way God used to work is now just old news. God keeps moving on. And in fact, when God moves on from the old, he moves something on the old. What? Here are the author’s words:
Toward the end of his life, I was fortunate to sit under the teaching of Ern Baxter. In his younger years, Ern had been an associate of William Branham, so he had seen more healings and miracles than almost anyone I have ever met. When I met Ern, he had lived through multiple moves of God and had this to say about them, “When the Holy Spirit moves on, all that’s left is dove dung.” I believe that the Holy Spirit is moving again. So do all of the Christian leaders who contributed to this book. They are all trying to position themselves to be “where the puck is going to be,” not where it’s been.
None of them want to be caught in the “dove dung” left behind when the Spirit moves on. They all agree that the next move of God will cause a shift at the deepest level of who we are—perhaps at the very “vibrational level” that the New Age movement has been exploring. They also all agree that there are precious truths hidden in the New Age that belong to us as Christians and need to be extracted from the worthless.The Physics of Heaven, pp. 18–19.
So according to the author, holding on to God’s past (or even present) action is not only worthless. It is, in fact, to find yourself in the faeces. And not just any old faeces, but the dung of the Holy Spirit himself. Dove dung. Misery. Probably even God’s judgment (if she meant to be referring to 2 Kings 6:25). So we must not stay in God’s old ways. We need to abandon our hold on God’s old ways, and try to get ahead of God: move on to the new realities, anticipate the future Pentecost, the “shift at the deepest level of who we are”, that is currently “hidden” in New Age spirituality, so we don’t end up in the dung from the ever-shifting movements of the Holy Spirit.
To summarise: The past and present work of God is all but over. In its place is just the faeces of the Holy Spirit. Don’t get dung on yourself. Move on to discover God in New Age quantum mysticism, and so anticipate the new Pentecost.
This is more than highly disturbing, especially in a book written and promoted by leaders and key players in a highly influential movement whose music label is increasingly being embraced and sung in mainstream Christian churches.
The antidote: Continue in Christ
When the apostle Paul wrote Colossians, he was writing to people who faced something like this kind of teaching. For a variety of reasons, the Colossian Christians were being tempted to “move on” from what they had experienced of Christ, to find something greater: higher, newer, more “spiritual” experiences and practices and philosophies.
The answer that the apostle Paul gave was this: don’t move on! You’ve already got it all in Jesus. The gospel that was preached to you is the “word of truth” (Col 1:5). It’s utterly amazing. Stick with it. Jesus, as proclaimed to you in the gospel, is everything (Col 1:15–22). Stick with Christ (Col 1:23). Keep trusting him, loving him and living for him.
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.~ Colossians 2:6–10
Now, of course, in one sense the Christian life is about “moving”. We need to keep growing in our faith, hope and love of Christ (Col 1:9–12). We need to keep rejoicing and appreciating more and more the wonder of what God has done for us and in us in Christ (Col 1:13–14). We need to keep setting our mind on Christ (Col 3:1–2). We need to keep putting our sin to death (Col 3:5). We need to keep putting on the new self that Christ has given us (Col 3:10–11). We need to keep seeking the presence of Christ in his word, sharing with one another and glorifying him (Col 3:16–17). But that’s not “moving on”. It’s staying put—and digging deeper, where we are. It’s holding fast and pressing in to Christ and the gospel. It’s not new. It’s Christ. He hasn’t moved. Don’t let anyone take you away from him. And the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son. God doesn’t move on! And if you really get what that means—it never, ever gets old.
So against those who insist that God has moved on and that we need to be looking for something new, the apostle Paul insists that we need to stay where we are. We need to stay in Christ—in the gospel that has already been proclaimed to us—because we already have it all.
Christ is so precious. Don’t let anyone take you away from him.
This article was originally published here and has been republished with permission of the author.
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Lionel Windsor is a lecturer in New Testament at Moore Theological College, Sydney, Australia
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