Ray Johnston’s Jesus Called – He Wants His Church Back 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” (back cover). Johnston wrote (or at least released) this book after his Hope Quotient book (an awful book infested with much manmade doctrine). This 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 Jesus 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). Therefore, in this book review, I throw the title aside and I instead focus on its 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). Ortberg most definitely calls him one who “hits the good-prophet standard” as it pertains to humility and repentance (p. xv). This is a problem because there are no living apostles/prophets today. Finally, it appears the title of this book may have come from Ortberg’s beliefs himself (pp. xv-xvi):
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 either lost their first love (although no less than one example does exist; more on that later), quarrel over what meat to eat, quarrel over which spiritual gifts count the most, quarrel over which party to vote for or quarrel over which show not to watch (making his statement seemingly a straw man). If churches are “always” doing this, why can’t he support his claim with a plethora of facts 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; Psalm 12:6; John 17:17; John 10:35). 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?
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, 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 a brief history lesson on the last seven decades of this country’s history (pp. 7-15). Johnston gives decent stats in explaining each decade. Sans his citation of the Phillips Bible, this is probably the best chapter in the book. He could have elaborated a bit more in this chapter than he did (i.e., show the impact of satanist Aleister Crowley and the great damage Rick Warren has done to the church).
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 and 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 greeting 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. God’s Word says we are to expose the deeds of darkness, not partake in them (Ephesians 5:11-13; see also 2 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 10:21; Romans 14:13).
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/pastor 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 review some of the highlights in this section because it has already been proven that Johnston has zero discernment, zero problems with endorsing the heretical idea of Jesus wanting His church back and zero problems 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.
In chapter nine, 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). This is absolutely blasphemous. He turns this beautiful text into a law passage filled with five manmade principles for the reader. They are:
- Raise Your Expectations (p. 124)
- Anticipate Obstacles (p. 127)
- Increase Contact (p. 129)
- Start Lifting People Up (Instead Of Putting People Down—p. 131)
- Expect God to Work (p. 132)
I have to ask the question; which apostle or church father ever taught the above principles as it pertained to Mark 2:1-13? Answer: nobody. What Johnston is doing here in introducing his own manmade doctrine. This is not a good thing (1 Timothy 1:3-4; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; Matthew 15:1-20). Also, how did the church survive two millennia without the five above principles?
What I want to do now is show the passage in context in a good translation (NASB). We shall see if this passage is telling the reader to engage in those five above principles.
2 When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them.3 And they *came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. 4 Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying.5 And Jesus seeing their faith *said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”6 But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, *said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He *said to the paralytic,11 “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” 12 And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”
13 And He went out again by the seashore; and all the people were coming to Him, and He was teaching them.
It is important to understand that faith always has an object. The faith described here in verse five describes the men’s faith in Christ, not themselves. Furthermore, this passage is a narrative; it is not normative (see also Matthew 9:1-8 and Luke 5:17-26). Johnston, sadly, takes this text about Jesus’ authority to forgive sins and makes it all about you, the reader. Furthermore, he places the emphasis on raising one’s faith to trigger a miracle (something a person needs to do). This is absolutely narcissistic and blasphemous. Faith is a gift from God, not a muscle to be exercised (see Ephesians 2:1-10; Romans 4; Galatians 3:1-14; John 6:26-29; 1 John 3).
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, Scripture refutes Johnston’s nonsensical statement.
Johnston, once again, cites the false teacher Rick Warren in chapter eleven (p. 155). Another thing Johnston biffs is his concept of relationship theology. He demonstrates this in his attempt at exegeting 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 (titled “I Love Jesus – I Just Can’t Stand Church”), Johnston lists the six things early Christ-followers majored in (pp. 173-185). It’s basically a lot of law (things you have to do) and no Gospel (what Christ has already done for you). Worse, Johnston makes an absolutely false statement when he states, “Jesus talked more about money than heaven and hell combined” (p. 180). Pastor Chris Rosebrough of Fighting For The Faith easily debunks this myth that seemingly runs wild in modern evangelicalism (especially the seeker-sensitive/purpose-driven movement).
Johnston concludes the “chapter” part of this book with chapter thirteen, titled “Share Your Faith Without Embarrassing God” (pp. 191-208). The chapter title alone is problematic; Christianity would legitimately be embarrassed only if one could definitively provide the bones of Jesus Christ. After all, if Christ isn’t raised, Christians’ faith is in vain and they would be the people most to be pitied for this last two millennia (1 Corinthians 15). Johnston continues his bad relationship theology as he leads the reader into a sinner’s prayer to conclude the chapter (p. 208). A “Read This Last” section follows this last chapter (pp. 209-213).
I mentioned earlier that John Ortberg, the person who wrote the foreword for this book, stated Johnston “hits the good-prophet standard” as it pertains to humility and repentance (p. xv). I beg to differ. Johnston needs to repent of his false doctrine, his twisting God’s Word, his being a hireling shepherd as evidenced by his lack of discernment (see John 9-10) and his telling lies about what the Bible teaches as it pertains to money, heaven and hell. There is forgiveness for his blaspheming Jesus Christ. If Johnston is a prophet anything, he resembles the false prophets spoken of in Jeremiah 23. Needless to say, Johnston’s book is not one I would recommend. One ought to stay away from the book and also mark and avoid Ray Johnston (Romans 16:17).
Folks, Christ’s church has always been His. He never lost it, so He technically does not need to want it back. What He does want, though, is to save His people from their sins (1 Timothy 1:15; Matthew 1:29; John 1:21). Are you a Christian? If not, I do have some bad news for you; you are dead in trespasses and sins. Ephesians 2:1-10 (one of the New Testament books) explains (NASB):
2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
The Bible is clear that people are born dead in trespasses and sins (2:1-3). God’s being rich in mercy makes one alive in Christ (2:4). Furthermore, it is by grace through faith that one is saved (2:5-9). It is not based on works (2:9).
If you do not believe what Ephesians 2:1-10 states, I would ask you please look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen something, even if it was small? Have you ever used God’s name in vain? Jesus said that whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus also said that if you ever get angry at someone, you’ve committed murder in the heart (Matthew 5:21-26). Just the mere thoughts of adultery and murder make you guilty of the very acts themselves.
Please understand that it only takes one murder to be a murderer, one lie to be a liar and so forth. David said in Psalm 51:5 that he was conceived in sin. Genesis 6:5 states that every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually. Clearly, man has a sin problem. Romans 3:23 states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Man is in big trouble with God because of his sin. This is more amplified by the fact that perfection is the standard (Matthew 5:48).
Now, some people try to justify their sin by trying to balance it out with the good deeds that they have done. However, if you were to try that in a court of law, the judge would throw the book at you. A good judge would not accept a bribe. He would cast you off into jail. God likewise will not accept a bribe, for there is no partiality with Him (Deuteronomy 10:17; Ephesians 6:9).
Thankfully, Jesus came to solve the sin problem over 2000 years ago (Isaiah 53:1-12). You and I broke the law. Jesus paid the fine (Matthew 26:14-28:20). This means that the judge can do what’s legally right in dismissing your case. He can say, “This person has broken the law, but someone has paid his fine. He’s out of here.” This is good news.
There are two things a person must do. He must repent. This means to turn from his sin (Mark 1:16; Luke 24:36-49; 2 Timothy 2:19-26; Acts 17:30-31). He must also put his trust in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31, 17:30-31; Romans 4:1-25, 10:1-17; Galatians 3:1-14; John 6:26-29). These gifts of repentance and faith are granted by God (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:22-26). If you repent and put your trust in the Savior Jesus Christ, He will forgive you of your sins and grant you everlasting life (John 6:47). Oh may you know His mercy and grace today.
If you are already a Christian and you have sinned today (which you have, as I have), repent and be forgiven, for Christ has bled and died for all your sins. 1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8).
Thank you for reading, and may God bless you.
NOTE: I tweeted my review of this book. I tagged Johnston in it. This was the same thing I did when I reviewed his other book, Hope Quotient.