A book that aims to reintroduce believers and skeptics “to the Jesus who is calling you to the deepest connection — and the most vibrant life — a person could ever experience”, Ray Johnston writes Jesus Called — He Wants His Church Back. Johnston wrote (or at least released) this book after his Hope Quotient book (a book that was an awful train wreck infested with much manmade doctrine). Johnston’s latest book has a title that is heretical on the surface. After all, to state Jesus wants His church back is to imply He once had it but now lost it. Thing is, if he ever lost it, that would make Him anything but an all-powerful God (and it would also make whoever took it more powerful than Him). Ironically, the book never really hammers down that title (or perhaps theme) throughout that book. Furthermore, given it is a fact that Johnston is an excellent public speaker and storyteller with quite the sense of humor, my theory is that Johnston used this book title to grab one’s attention than to promote some heretical view of God (although I could be wrong). Nevertheless, I do take the title into consideration in this book review (in addition to, of course, the content).
THE STUFF BEFORE PART ONE
John Ortberg writes the foreword to this book after some pages of endorsements (including those by false teachers Francis Chan, Mark Burnett, Roma Downey and Jim Daly) and a page of thanks from Johnston. This is a problem because Ortberg has huge ties to the unbiblical practices of spiritual formation and contemplative spirituality. Furthermore, in the foreword, Ortberg basically calls Ray Johnston a living prophet without stating verbatim that Johnston is a prophet (p. xv). This is a problem because there are no living apostles/prophets today. Finally, it appears the book’s title may have come from Ortberg’s beliefs himself:
In fact, Jesus has been calling to ask for his church back ever since he went into ascension mode. Churches are always losing their first love or quarreling over what kind of meat to eat or which spiritual gift counts the most or which party to vote for or which show not to watch. And Jesus is forever calling His people back to the main thing.
Notice Ortberg does not use a single biblical text to back his claim. Furthermore, he does not give any examples of any churches that indeed lost their first love (although no less than one example does exist; more on that later). If they are “always” doing this, why can’t he support his claim with a plethora of facts and/or evidence? This makes his claim weak. Also, where are the texts clearly showing Jesus’ asking for His church back? Answer: No such texts exist.
Jesus did, however, tell a church about the first love it lost. Revelation 2:1-7 explains (NASB):
2 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks [a]among the seven golden lampstands, says this:
2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. 6 Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
In that passage, Jesus uses the Greek work metanoeo for “repent” twice in the same verse (verse 5). This means to change one’s mind or purpose. It is different from saying, “I want you back.” The church Jesus built is not something Jesus lost. If the gates of hell could not prevail against it, how could He lose it?
Matthew 16:13-20 explains (NASB):
Peter’s Confession of Christ
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He *said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” 20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.
Jesus Christ Himself said He would build His church (verse 18). Furthermore, in that same verse, He states that the gates of hell will not overpower it. One must understand that all of God’s Word is inspired of Him, all-powerful and all true (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 4:12). Jesus means what He says and says what He means. Therefore, if Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against His church, then it is nonsensical and heretical to state “Jesus has been calling to ask for his church back ever since he went into ascension mode.” After all, if we have to give Christ back His church, wouldn’t that make us more powerful than God? Wouldn’t this prevent God from being a God who does what He pleases (Psalm 115:3)?
Two sections titled “Read This First” and “Read This Second” follow Ortberg’s nonsensical foreword (pp. xvii-xx). Both brief sections provide good stats and analysis. What follows these sections are the three parts of this book, as follows:
PART ONE — A WORLD WITHOUT JESUS (PP. 1-32)
It is worth noting that Johnston has a Bible verse cited under the chapter heading to begin each chapter in this book. Unfortunately, he cites only part of the verse at hand without using an ellipse to show there were some words omitted at the beginning, middle and/or end of the verse (thus technically making his citations dishonest). Furthermore, at times he uses a bad translation of Scripture. Case in point, he uses the Phillips Bible for his verse citation in chapter two (said Phillips Bible composed by one who was known as a heretic who denied Bible inerrancy). At this point, it should be known that Johnston has absolutely little to no discernment. He has already demonstrated this with both his having Ortberg write the book’s foreword and his using bad Bible translations.
As far as content goes with part 1 of this book, chapter one, titled “Finding Jesus in South Africa”, focuses on a story of Johnston and his wife Carol’s trip to South Africa’s Dutch Reformed Churches (p. 3). Long story hopefully short, Johnston explains how the pastor at “the largest Dutch Reformed church in the country” basically gave the church back to Jesus (pp. 4-5). Here it becomes clear that this idea of Jesus’ getting His church back (which again implies He cannot be all that powerful if He has to want His church back) never originated with Johnston. Rather, he had to have piggybacked off that idea to use it as his book title. While it is good to know he did not come up with the heretical idea himself (at least it appears that way), the fact he would approve of such an idea by using it as his book title is more evidence of his lack of discernment.
Chapter two is basically an outstanding brief history lesson on the last seven decades of this country’s history (pp. 7-15). Johnston gives good stats in explaining each decade. Sans his citation of the Phillips Bible, the chapter is solid.
In chapter three, Johnston spends most of the chapter explaining “Christianity’s Greatest Competition” (which include the worldviews of hedonism, materialism, individualism, pragmatism, humanism and fatalism; pp. 20-25). Irony occurs when Johnston explains the three ways to strengthen one’s foundation (pp. 26-31). One of these ways involves “spotting counterfeit truth” (pp. 28-29). It is too bad he cannot take his own advice when he both partners with such false teachers as Andy Stanley & Mark Driscoll (the latter of them an unrepentant one behaviorally) and cites them as he does when he cites Dallas Willard (p. 29; Johnston even called him a “great theologian”, which is simply insane because he was a universalist) and others (more on that later in this review).
PART TWO: CHRISTIANITY WITHOUT JESUS (PP. 33-76)
Johnston kickstarts part 2 by once again citing the awful Phillips Bible (p. 35). Johnston also calls heretics (the author of this hyperlinked article, Elizabeth Prata, calls them “not saved”) Mark Burnett and Roma Downey “friends whom I greatly admire” (p. 43). 2 John forbids Christians from even greetings those who teach contrary to sound doctrine, as follows:
1 The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. 4 I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father. 5 Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.
7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. 12 Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that your joy may be made full. 13 The children of your chosen sister greet you.
Obviously, Johnston has done more than simply give the aforementioned heretics a greeting; he has called them “friends whom I greatly admire.” If this is not undeniable approval, I do not know what else would qualify as such. As Prata notes, Downey is a habitual practicioner of mysticism and necromancy (the latter of which is absolutely forbidden in the Bible, per Leviticus 19:31, Deuteronomy 18:9-12, 2 Kings 21:6, Isaiah 8:19 and Revelation 21:8). Burnett, Downey’s husband, is a Roman Catholic (alongside Downey). Roman Catholicism is not in alignment with biblical Christianity. Despite all of that information, Johnston considers Downey and Burnett (devout enemies of the Gospel) “friends whom I greatly admire.” God’s Word would say Johnston is one who participates in the evil deeds of both Downey and Burnett. This is not good.
Johnston’s opinion mainly dominates chapter five. In chapter six, he mentions how the fastest growing religion is something called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (p. 65). He does a decent job in describing what that is (pp. 65-66). However, given his unashamed affirmation of two blatant heretics from earlier in part two, it really does not matter at this point what good Johnston has to say. He has absolutely zero discernment, thus making him void of any credibility as an author whatsoever.
PART THREE: MEET THE JESUS PEOPLE MISS (PP. 77-208)
The longest part in the book, Johnston dedicates more chapters to this part (7) than in the first two parts combined (6). Supposedly, this Jesus that Johnston describes in part three wants you fully alive, calls you to stop playing it safe, wants to work through you, redefines greatness, says “Come to me!”, still believes in the church and is a magnet for sinners (pp. 77-208). While this is the longest part of his book, I will only briefly (it’s an attempt at brevity, anyway) review some of the highlights in this section because it has already been proven that Johnston has both zero discernment and zero problem with endorsing the heretical idea of Jesus wanting His church back (not to mention zero problem with endorsing heretics).
Johnston continues his lack of discernment in chapter seven when favorably quoting both the heretical Message translation of the Bible (p. 88) and ecumenist Max Lucado (p. 95). Johnston also promotes his nonsensical Thrive Conference, a conference that is a harborer of false teachers (p. 95). Johnston continues his citation of false teachers when he cites Francis Chan (p. 103), Paul Tournier (a universalist; p. 107), John Ortberg (p. 110; this is the same guy who wrote the book’s foreword) and Bill Hybels (a guy who both turns “his back on same-sex issues” and “disobeys God’s Word flagrantly” (start at the 1:07:14 mark of this episode to see how; p. 112) in chapter eight. He also promotes the false “dream destiny thingy” doctrine (pp. 97-98).
In chapter nine (a chapter mostly dominated by Johnston’s own manmade doctrine), Johnston continues his awful citations when he cites false teacher Rick Warren (p. 127). Worse, Johnston absolutely perverts Mark 2:1-13 when he states that the faith, expectations, actions and “willingness not to quit” that was demonstrated by the four men carrying the paralytic triggered the miracle that happened in the paralytic’s life (p. 121-123). He also states he believes “anyone willing to take the same steps two thousand years later can see the same kinds of things happen in the lives of people they care about” (p. 123). This is nonsense. First, the text is descriptive, not prescriptive. Second, it was Jesus who did the miracle (Mark 2:5-12). While Johnston acknowledges that the miracle-working is God’s job alone, his aforementioned assertion implies that people can actually do certain things to trigger a miracle from God. If this indeed is the case, why couldn’t Paul trigger a miracle when he pleaded to God three times to remove the thorn from his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:1-9)? God’s Word absolutely refutes Johnston’s belief here.
Johnston, once again, continues the awful citations when he cites The Living Bible, the Amplified Bible and the God’s Word Translation in chapter ten (p. 146). Worse, he absolutely perverts 2 Timothy when he states the following (p. 138):
Paul wrote to Timothy to inspire him to ask one question:
How do you rediscover a fresh vision from God for life and service?
The above quote is absolutely false. First, nowhere in Scripture are the words “fresh vision” found in sequence (notice also that Johnston does not even back his nonsensical statement with a biblical text). This is simply Johnston’s own manmade doctrine. Second, if Paul really wrote to Timothy to inspire Timothy to ask one question, wouldn’t Paul make that explicitly clear in the book? After all, God, the essential author of all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:16-21), is certainly not an author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). Paul explains various reasons why he wrote 2 Timothy (found in the notes of the NASB Zondervan Bible, which appeals to the biblical texts):
- He was lonely and longed to see Timothy (1:4, 15; 4:9-12, 21).
- Because Paul was concerned for the churches’ welfare during this time (the churches were being persecuted under Nero), Paul “admonishes Timothy to guard the gospel (1:14), to persevere in it (3:14), to keep on preaching it (4:2) and, if necessary, to suffer for it (1:8; 2:3).”
- He wanted to write to the Ephesian church through Timothy (4:22). Like the end of 1 Timothy, the Greek word for “you” in the last verse of 2 Timothy is plural (which means the apostle Paul expected the letter to be read to the entire Ephesian congregation).
You will notice that nowhere in the notes (or even in any of the “Timothy” books) is the concept of rediscovering a fresh vision from God for life and service even discussed. In short, Johnston’s statement is absolutely nonsensical. Furthermore, Scripture absolutely refutes his nonsense.
Johnston, once again, cites the false teacher Rick Warren in chapter eleven (p. 155). Another thing Johnston biffs is his concept of relationship theology, as follows in his attempt of exegeting (more like ripping out of context) the words “Come to me” in Matthew 11:28 (p. 150):
Notice He didn’t say, “Come to religion,” “Come to rituals and rules,” “Come to cathecism,” “Come to confirmation,” or “Come to liturgy.” All those things may be fine and good, but they are not the main thing. The main thing is this: “Come to me.” Jesus’ primary invitation is to a relationship! When we miss this, we end up going through the motions and miss the life-giving relationship that is the heart of the Christian faith.”
Johnston’s statement shows he does not have a right grasp of “relationship theology.” He does not seem to understand that everybody already has a personal relationship with God. After all, we were all created in His image (Genesis 1:1-31). Already, there’s a relationship of creation/Creator between every single human being ever created and God. Furthermore, this relationship, as mentioned, is personal. After all, think about the complexity of the human body. The eye, brain and heart (or even the body itself) are so complex that this Creator/creation relationship only makes sense to be personal.
For the non-believer, another relationship already exists; God is judge over the non-believer. Furthermore, the non-believer, dead in his/her trespasses and sins, stands in condemnation before a holy God (Exodus 34:7; Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 2:8-10; Revelation 9:2; 19-20; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:14-46 Mark 9:43; Isaiah 66:24). Needless to say, this is a bad, damning relationship. Having a right and only a right relationship with Him (i.e., being a penitent believer in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world–Acts 4:12; John 1:29, 14:6; Acts 16:31; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21; Matthew 1:21; 1 Timothy 1:15) would be the best relationship one could have with Him (with God being Savior rather than Judge).
In chapter twelve, Johnston twists both Acts 20:35 and Matthew 25:40 (pp. 180-181). Worse, he says something tantamount to taking the LORD’s name in vain before the Scripture-twisting occurs (p. 177):
We have to be called to unleash compassion. Our church is in the process of letting God flip everything around.
This is heresy. God is in heaven and does what he pleases (Psalm 115:3). If I have to let God flip a church, wouldn’t that make me more powerful than God? Wouldn’t that be tantamount to saying God cannot flip a church unless I let Him?
In concluding this book, Johnston concludes a book full of citing false teachers (or in this case, people/radio stations to steer clear of) by citing Amy Grant (p. 202) and K-LOVE (p. 204) in the last chapter. He concludes the chapter with basically a sinner’s prayer (p. 208). What follows is a “Read This Last” section (basically a personal story of a mission trip of his to Mexico), some acknowledgements, a bibliography and a very short paragraph about Johnston himself (pp. 215-227).
This book, like Hope Quotient, is mostly a train wreck. While Johnston gives some good stats in the beginning of the book, he cites too many false teachers/heretics (building them up, even, especially in the case of Roma Downey and Mark Burnett) to be considered a credible author. Furthermore, the book’s title does not even align with the subject matter throughout the book. Simply put, this book is mostly a mess of nonsense, false teaching, manmade doctrine (although not as bad as Hope Quotient) and heretic-endorsing. Unless you are reading this book for research purposes, stay away.
GRADE: 1.0 out of 5