Bill Johnson started seriously praying for the miraculous after attending the Toronto Revival in 1995. Shortly after that he was invited to lead Bethel Church in Redding, CA. Very quickly an outpouring of the Holy Spirit began, with healings, prophecies, speaking in tongues, and rather unusual manifestations of God’s pleasure during worship (feathers falling and oil spontaneously appearing on people’s hands, for instance). This is Johnson’s first book, published in 2003, and gives a framework for understanding what was happening.

Johnson sees a life of miracles as the normal Christian life, pointing to Jesus, who said that he can do nothing on his own (John 5:19). Although Jesus was God, he never used his divinity, and instead did everything as a man in right relationship with the Father. “If He performed miracles because He was God, then they would be unattainable for us. But if He did them as a man, I am responsible to pursue His lifestyle.” (p. 29)

The story of the Bible is related as follows. Originally God made Man and gave them authority over the earth. Satan wanted it, but he could not directly attack Eden, since he had no authority or dominion there. Instead he persuaded Adam and Eve to agree with his view of God, which resulted in the surrender of their authority to him (“you are a slave to the one you obey” [Rom 6:16]). In fact, when tempting Jesus, Satan said that all authority on earth had been given to him (Luke 4:7), and Jesus did not disagree. Instead, Jesus went to the Cross, and was punished for our sin. He was raised up after three days and given back the authority over the earth (Matt 28:18) and he delegates it back to us again. The original plan was for man to exercise authority over the earth. Adam and Eve derailed the plan, and Jesus put it back on track at the Cross. In the mean time, however, the devil did a lot of work, so a large part of our exercise of authority in this age is to undo the works of the devil.

A fundamental requirement for a life of miracles is faith. “Most Christians repent enough to get forgiven, but not enough to see the Kingdom.” (p. 37) The Kingdom of God that Jesus preached is the rule and reign of God. The Kingdom is not of this world (i.e. spiritual and unseen; John 18:36), but it is among us (Luke 17:21). Paul said that the unseen is eternal, and the seen is temporary (2 Cor 4:18); the spiritual is superior to the natural. Jesus told Nicodemus that to see this kingdom we needed to repent. “[Jesus] was basically saying ‘If you don’t change the way you perceive things, you’ll live your whole life thinking that what you see in the natural is the superior reality.’” (p. 38)

The ability to perceive the spiritual was intended for everyone, not just people with a special gift, as evidenced by Jesus’ judgment on the Pharisees who could perceive the weather, but not the spiritual climate (Matt 16:3). Faith is belief in the unseen spiritual reality. Unbelief is faith in the natural, the seen. Unbelief says that impossible things are impossible. Faith says that the unseen spiritual reality trumps the natural reality and can override it. The NET translation (not used by Johnson) has an interesting phrasing of Heb 11:3: “By faith we understand…the visible has its origins in the invisible.” There is no cancer in heaven; faith can call that spiritual reality into the natural reality. Johnson does not explain exactly why we can do this, but I assume it is because God gave Jesus all authority on heaven and earth, and he gave us the authority to do the things he did.

When asked how we should pray, Jesus said, worship God, ask for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, and then worship God (Matt 6:9-13). The requests for our daily bread, forgiveness, deliverance from the evil one, are examples of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. God’s children are not starving in heaven, so they should not be on earth, either. There is no unforgiveness in heaven, so there is to be none on earth (which also involves us forgiving). There is no temptation or bondage in heaven, so we are to be free of it on earth. We can pray for the sick because God showed us his heart in Jesus (“if you see Me, you have seen the Father” [John 14:19]). We know there is no sickness in heaven, and we know that God’s heart is to heal all people—Jesus healed everyone who came (Matt 12:15)—so we know that God’s will is that there be no sickness on earth.

Jesus said that we would do even greater things than him, and the power to do that comes from being clothed with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our anointing to do the supernatural; “to anoint” means “to smear” and when we are smeared with God we have the power to do what Jesus did. God baptized Jesus in the Holy Spirit right after John baptized him with water. The Holy Spirit came down as a dove and God said “this my son, whom I love.” This is the same formula that Jewish fathers used when they took their son-grown-to-manhood to the town square and announced that the son was equal to the father in business dealings. Jesus’ supernatural ministry started from that point on.

Paul includes miracles and demonstrations of God’s power to be part of fully preaching the gospel (Rom 15:18-19). Miracles are intended to reveal the heart of the Father—we know God wants wholeness, healing, and freedom because Jesus healed all the sick who came to him, and freed people from the demonic. Miracles validate the message of the gospel. When Jesus sent the disciples out on short-term mission trips, he told them to heal the sick and demonized, and to proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was near. Jesus instructed people who were having trouble believing to look at the miracles he did. In fact, he even said not to believe him if he did not do the works of the Father (John 10:37). Miracles bring glory to God, and they draw our heart to God. When people are healed and set free, they are excited, and they can very tangibly see that God cares deeply about them, personally, not just in a general “God loves the world” sort of way. When people see or hear what God does for others, they are amazed at God, and are reminded that God loves us individually. Hearing testimony of God’s miracles also gives us more faith for miracles ourselves.  

We are the representation of Christ to the world. We are ambassadors of Christ. We are event the dwelling place of God, God’s temple (1 Cor 3:16). In his vision, Jacob saw a ladder between heaven and earth, with angels coming and going on it. He said that the place was the house of God and equated it to the gateway to heaven. Johnson applies this to believers: since each of us is the house of God, each of us is the gateway to heaven, and we have been given the authority to dispense heaven’s resources to fulfill our commission of bringing the Kingdom of God. Each of us is an “open heaven” in the service of the Kingdom.

As ambassadors, we are infiltrate the system of this world like Daniel and Joseph. This requires purity arising from Christ-like character, and power from exercising the gifts of the Holy Spirit with the Father’s heart. Daniel truly served the megalomaniac Nebuchadnezzar, yet kept himself pure and was greatly honored. When the king went into a rage and ordered his magicians and astrologers killed, Daniel used his spiritual gifts to interpret the dream, saving all the condemned. In fact, this may be when he developed the gift—there is no record of him interpreting dreams or having visions before this. Joseph had impeccable character, completely forgiving his brothers despite the many years of trial they cost him. His spiritual gifts of dream interpretation and administration saved Egypt and the surrounding areas from starvation. The excellence of both was clearly recognized, and the rulers glorified God because of their character, but also because of the power displayed by God.

Johnson has several themes of frustrations that run through the chapters. They show up in various forms, but I feel like they all are essentially one frustration: much of the western church lives with no power. This seems to express itself in several ways. The first, widely prevalent, way is to remain stuck at the Cross and never move past it. What happens is that we focus on getting rid of our sin. We keep trying but it keeps being there, so we keep going to the Cross to get rid of it. Instead, Paul says “count/consider/reckon yourselves dead to sin but alive in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11). We are to change our mind (repent) about sin: we are to believe the spiritual reality that the Cross has covered our sin and we are sinless before God. We must never forget the Cross, for it makes everything possible, yet our sins are gone. We are not “sinners saved by grace”—in God’s eyes we are no longer sinners. Johnson does not specifically provide a contrast, but I think it would be better to say that we are “adopted new creations by grace.” The thing is, it takes no faith to see ourselves as sinners. It takes faith to believe that God means it when He says that He sees us as pure and holy, a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9).

The second expression of powerlessness is that much of the western church has a theology of powerlessness. The interpretation is that the church and society will get worse and worse and it gets so bad in the Tribulation that Jesus comes back. I grew up in this theology, and it seems like the feeling is that false teachers will come to deceive even the elect, but if you perservere in belief until the end you will be saved. This requires no faith. Nor does it look for revival. The thing is, we are the military representatives of Heaven. Jesus said that the gates of Hell would not prevail against us. Jesus did not say that the gates of the Church would not fall (i.e. although Hell battles against it with fury, the Church will stand firm). No, the battle is at the gates of Hell. We are on the offensive, we are storming Hell, and it is losing. This takes faith, and needs Holy Spirit power.

The third expression of powerlessness is fear of deception and excess. This expresses itself in restricting Christian experience to the Bible: if it isn’t in the Bible we aren’t going to believe it. It tends to lead to an emphasis on Bible study and correct theology. Because of the fear of excess, it takes the “safe” approach to experience: being “balanced.” “Many who have feared the excesses made by others in the name of faith have ironically embraced unbelief. … The word ‘balance’ has come to mean ‘middle of the road’—of no threat to people or the devil, with little risk.” (p. 51) Yet, Jesus clearly told us to do what he did, so we have created the theology that the spiritual gifts ended in Acts to explain the powerlessness. This is simply a lack of faith: “Satan has no power except through our agreement. Fear becomes our heart’s response when we come into agreement with his intimidating suggestions.” (p. 50) Fearfulness is the same as faithlessness, and the same as believing that the natural is more real than the supernatural.

Johnson talks a little about what kills revival, or sometimes prevents Christians with a deep relationship with God from seeing the revival they have been praying long and hard for. The primary key to revival is maintaining a desperation for God. “Those who reject a move of God are generally those who were the last to experience one. This is not true of everyone, as there are those whose hunger for God only increases though out their years. But many form the attitude that they have arrived, to not perfection, but to where God intended. They paid [past-tense] a price to experience the move of God.” (p. 158) It also extremely important to recognize that God likes to color outside the lines, and this really bothers us. We tend to limit God to the ways He has worked in the past, doubting anything outside of that, instead of being excited about the new ways God is working. Plus, being outside the line has a stigma. God showed up in the virgin birth, and Mary lived with the stigma of being an unfaithful bride all her life (and Jesus was considered an illegitimate child by the Pharisees).

I found the discussion of Joel 2 and Pentecost helpful in this. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit shows up in a completely new way. Predictably, some were not impressed (“they are drunk”). Peter explains the situation by saying that Joel 2 has been fulfilled. Since they are obviously filled with the Holy Spirit, we can assume that this interpretation is inspired. However, none of the things listed in Joel 2 were happening, nor did the preconditions happen. Johnson points out that the Bible illustrates the heart of God, which in this case is “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” Peter’s interpretation offends people like me because it goes against all the correct hermeneutical principles that describe how you are supposed to interpret the Bible. God colored outside the lines (nobody had ever spoken in tongues before), and Peter is explaining it by revealing God’s heart—“Hey guys, God is doing something amazing here, He’s pouring out His Spirit on everyone now! It’s like He said in Joel 2!”

Finally, Johnson observes that to follow the Holy Spirit is to travel off the map, into the blank areas of medieval maps. We would like a nice, safe, predictable (or controllable) box, but God is always doing something new. Sometimes, we are stretched to the edge of our comfort zone and are just unwilling to go farther, which is when we quench the Spirit. We avoid missing the revival by continuing to be so desperate for God that we are willing to follow Him off the map.

The subtitle is “A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles.” While there are many principles, which I find to be most practical, there is little in the way of do-this sort of practical. Still, there are several that stand out to me. On prayer, Johnson recommends praying until to you have faith for the situation. “You only have authority over the storm you can sleep in,” (p. 66) so pray until you have faith, as evidenced by peace. Then, exercise your authority to command the impossible to be removed. Regarding faith, he recommends worshipping and reading about God’s character and promises until you believe them. For teaching, he says that Jesus would frequently teach to explain the encounter that just happened. If we are not seeing breakthrough in power, Johnson suggests praying for power, and for specific things, such as specific diseases that you are not seeing get healed. If nothing happens, keep praying. If people are not getting healed, keep on praying for people to get healed. Finally, make space for God to act. And remember John Wimber’s adage: “Faith is spelled R-I-S-K.”

This book is jam-packed with great insights and pity quotes, often in the contrasting style of G.K. Chesterton (you can see many in the notes below). Johnson packs in a lot of principles, but sometimes he tosses in a principle that is unsubstantiated, because it is tangential to the argument. This disrupts the flow due to its tangential nature, as well as sometimes I am not sure I agree, but he offers nothing to back it up.

Frankly, the flow of the book is a little choppy. Many chapters are punctuated with discussions on the lack of faith of western Christianity. Coming from the type of churches he describes, I applaud the frank discussion of the problems, but I think they distract from his argument and would be better if he discussed them in a separate section. Also, the organization kind of wanders in and out of topics. In doing this summary, I found that a concept would start in one chapter, but be fleshed out in the next, with additional material occasionally sprinkled in other chapters.

However, I found the content very helpful, particularly the chapter on faith which exposed a lot of my unbelief. I think Johnson does a good job of outlining Charismatic thinking and explaining a different perspective on the Christian experience from the exegetical, Bible-only approach of the evangelical churches I am most familiar with. So while the writing is very average, the concepts are excellent and challenging.

Review: 10 (content), 5 (writing)

I am torn on how to evaluate this book. On the one hand, the content is great, and probably deserves about a 10. On the other hand, the writing is quite average. The general flow is ok, but each individual chapter feels a little independent, and tries to cover too many bases. So I’m giving this two values.