Introduction – Why This Matters
The International House of Prayer in Kansas City claims to be in the service of Jesus Christ. Mike Bickle even claims to have received direct revelation from Jesus Christ commanding him to lead an end times movement. (In fact, Mike Bickle claims the acronym IHOP, trademarked by the restaurant since 1973, was given to him by God.) Therefore, an important question one might ask is this: are the people at IHOP-KC worshiping and serving the historical Christ of the scriptures?
Let’s first recognize that there is a real danger of a false Jesus being taught. Paul warned the Corinthians that their thoughts “will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” if they accept someone who “proclaims another Jesus” different than the Christ taught by the apostles (2 Cor 11:3-4).
What does “another Jesus” look like? It could be the Jesus of Islam, who is merely a prophet. It could be the Jesus of Mormonism, who is the literal, physical son of Elohim and the literal, physical brother of Lucifer. It could be the Jesus of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who is not co-eternal with God the Father, but rather is a created being and the reincarnation of Michael the archangel. It could be the Jesus of Oneness Pentecostalism, who is a created man with God inside. It could be the Jesus of Modalism, who is another manifestation of God the Father. It could be the Jesus of Pelagianism, who is little more than a better role model contrasted to Adam. All of these beliefs claim to hold to the historical Jesus, and will use Biblical language or cite passages to verify their claims… yet I’m sure the vast majority of my readers will recognize each one for what they are: “another Jesus.”
As one can tell from this, a change in Christology can have rippling affects throughout one’s entire theology. This is why so many false Christologies (eg., Pelagianism or Oneness Pentecostalism) invariably lead into works-based soteriology. This is why some Christologies (eg., Islam or Jehovah’s Witnesses) demean Christ to such an extent that He is no longer an object of worship. Point being, as popular as it might be in modern Evangelicalism to shrug off errors with, “Who cares so long as they believe in Jesus?”… it’s unfortunately not that simple.
We must therefore recognize not only the possibility of another Jesus being propped up, but that such false Christs need to be identified and avoided. We cannot be apathetic about this – which Jesus we direct our worship towards is a very valid concern.
The Christ taught at IHOP-KC is actually one that goes by a very specific name: the Kenotic Jesus.
The Kenotic Jesus Explained
The term “kenotic” comes from the Greek word kenosis, meaning “empty.” The modern idea is generally sourced to the writings of Gerald F. Hawthorne, a Greek professor at Wheaton College. For this teaching, Hawthorne appealed to 2 Corinthians 8:9 and Philippians 2:6-11 (especially verse 7, which says Christ “emptied” himself), and explained his view thusly:
The particular view of the person of Christ which seems to me most able to do this and which seems most in harmony with the whole of the teaching of the New Testament is the view that, in becoming a human being, the Son of God willed to renounce the exercise of his divine powers, attributes, prerogatives, so that he might live fully within those limitations which inhere in being truly human.pg. 208; The Presence and the Power
He explains further:
Jesus possessed the power himself, but (as has been argued above) by a preincarnate deliberate decision the eternal Son of God chose that all his intrinsic powers, all his attributes, would remain latent within him during the days of his flesh and that he would become truly human and limit himself to the abilities and powers common to all other human beings. Therefore he depended upon the Holy Spirit for wisdom and knowledge and for power to perform the signs and wonders that marked the days of his years.pg. 218; ibid
At the same time, Hawthorne denied the more extreme views of some from the 19th century who taught that Jesus emptied Himself of “relational attributes” to deity, such as his omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence, as well as those who taught that Jesus emptied every attribute of deity, thus removing all divine attributes and in essence ceasing to be God during His ministry (pg. 206; ibid). These 19th century beliefs might be called the earlier versions of “kenotic theory”, but they are not what most think when the idea is considered today. By “Kenotic Jesus”, we are not speaking of a Christ who is not divine, nor are we denying the eternal nature of God the Son.
The Kenotic Jesus teaching has taken a life of its own as it’s been adapted in the modern New Apostolic Reformation movement. Bill Johnson, C. Peter Wagner, and even Mark Driscoll have all pulled this doctrine from Hawthorne and run with it. Included among these NAR names is, of course, Mike Bickle.
Bickle has taught a Kenotic Jesus numerous times. He has said in presentations that Jesus “didn’t draw on his deity when he ministered, he said I’ll wait until you [God the Father] tell me by the anointing what to do.” Bickle says that Jesus lived just as people lived, dependent on the Spirit, waiting for impressions from God the Father. He “lived like they are to live, by faith.” He wouldn’t peer into information by His divinity, but would instead wait for a subtle impression from the Father. To quote from his written work:
Throughout the day Jesus asked, “Father, show Me what You are doing today.” The Father undoubtedly had many different levels of communication with Jesus. Sometimes He gave Jesus a prophetic impression revealing that He was going to heal a specific person in the meeting the next day. Sometimes Jesus received a prophetic dream about a healing that was soon to be released in His ministry. Sometimes the Father spoke to Jesus in more dramatic ways, such as sending an angel to Him. Jesus was continually paying attention to what the Father wanted to do… Jesus waited and only spoke by faith according to what the Father spoke to Him.pg. 172; Growing in the Prophetic
The Kenotic Jesus is the Jesus being put forward to the people at IHOP-KC. Is it the Jesus of the Bible?
A Scriptural Examination
A major problem with the Kenotic Jesus is that it is nowhere taught in scripture, and rarely do its modern teachers ever appeal to the words of scripture. (There is one passage cited, but we’ll cover that in the next section.) Hawthorne appealed to Philippians 2:6-11 and 2 Corinthians 8:9 for the very idea of the doctrine, and while both these passages certainly affirm that God the Son humbled Himself, neither one goes into detail about what this looked like in application, especially the extension of that emptying.
The first question is this: do we see Jesus behaving as Bickle and others say He behaved?
The immediate problem is that nowhere do we see Jesus doing what Bickle teaches. Nowhere do we see Jesus praying, “Father, show Me what You are doing today.” Nowhere do we see Jesus receiving “a prophetic impression revealing that He was going to heal a specific person in the meeting the next day.” I have never seen Bickle quote a passage of scripture to confirm any of these statements… probably because, to be blunt, he cannot. The scriptural support for this is next to nothing. (He cites one passage to defend his teaching, but we’ll get to that later.)
The second question before us is this: do we find anything contradictory to the idea of a Kenotic Jesus in scripture? It’s one thing to conjecture about things that scripture is silent about, so long as one does not wander into gross heresy. The danger is when we begin to propose things as fact which scripture presents an opposite case for, while we have little to support our own conclusions. At that point, we are teaching great error.
One of the biggest examples of how Christ’s lifestyle was unique from our own can be seen in how He handled miracles versus the apostles. For example, look at how Jesus spoke during a healing:
Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”John 5:8
And another example:
…he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home.Matthew 9:6b-7
And yet another:
But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” And her spirit returned, and she got up at once.Luke 8:54-55a
Now contrast this with how the apostles spoke:
But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”Acts 3:6
And yet another example:
And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.Acts 16:18
Christ healed through direct commands, while the apostles healed by invoking the authority of Christ.
Hawthorne himself was aware of these passages, but contended that although Jesus’ commands “appear quite different” than those of the apostles, it still appears that “Jesus was truly dependent upon the Holy Spirit… for the very power itself with which he did his mighty works” (pg. 218). He argues that, since Christ at times depended upon the Spirit, we can assume that He relied upon the Spirit at all times. However, this is reading a massive conclusion into the text which simply isn’t there. Yes, there were times when Christ, in His humanity, relied upon the Spirit (cf., Matt 4:1), but to argue that we can infer from this that Jesus was completely dependent upon the Spirit just like we are – and in spite of evidence to the contrary (admitting it in one sentence, then dismissing it in the next) – is an intellectual form of a non sequitur.
This is especially problematic when we consider other examples in scripture that point to the uniqueness of Christ’s power compared to believers. One example is seen in His calming of the storm:
One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”Luke 8:22-25
Why were the disciples amazed by Christ’s ability to control the weather? Why would they ask something like, “Who then is this?” Because Christ’s ability to control the weather hinted at His control over created nature itself. All tribute is given to him, as we see when the disciples say, “Who then is this, that he commands…” In no account of this story does Christ rebuke or correct the disciples in their understanding of who it was that commanded the weather. How could Christ invoke this power and make commands if, as the Kenotic Jesus teaches, He forwent any and all use of divine power? If His miracles were similar in delivery to Moses parting the Red Sea or Elijah performing a healing (as Hawthorne argues), why would the disciples have reacted as they did?
Another incident in Christ’s earthly ministry that we can examine is the raising of Lazarus. Christ tells Martha, after saying her brother will rise again, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Note that Christ ties in faith in Him with resurrection, and is using the condition of Lazarus to discuss this topic. In fact, Christ ties Himself in with the resurrection and the life, for He is the resurrection and the life. What happens later on in the story? Christ goes to the tomb of Lazarus, cries out, “Lazarus, come out!”, and Lazarus comes out (John 11:43-44). Again, if Christ were merely acting as a common believer and relying entirely on the Spirit, then His earlier tie in between faith that grants us life and bodily resurrection – all of which is centered around Him – would have made no sense. He is the one who raises, He is the one who gives life, and that is why He was able to raise Lazarus. He did not raise Lazarus the same way a human being would be able to bring someone back from the dead by praying to the Spirit.
Other sections point to Christ drawing power from within Himself, contrasted with what is seen with the apostles. It is said on many occasions regarding His interactions with people that, without them saying anything, He knew their thoughts – often with it being stated that He knew this “in himself” (cf. Matt 9:4; 12:25; Luke 6:8; John 6:61; 16:19). Other passages hint at His divine knowledge in other ways (cf., Mark 5:30; John 1:48; 2:24; 5:6; 13:1; 18:4). Contrast this with accounts in Acts, where it is explicitly said the Spirit transferred knowledge or information to them (cf., Acts 8:29; 10:19; 13:2; 21:11), or the Spirit filled the individual to grant them the ability to speak or do something (cf., Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 13:9). Again, scripture explicitly highlights the distinction between the power of Christ and the power of the apostles. Contrary to the argument of Hawthorne and others that we can conclude, from the testimony of scripture, that Christ was reliant upon the Spirit in the same manner as the apostles, scripture makes it clear that Christ’s relationship was, as I wrote, distinct compared to the apostles.
For Bickle’s part, there is one passage he turns to in order to defend the Kenotic Jesus. This passage happens to also be one of the most significant passages to turn to in regards to Christ’s power during His earthly ministry, as we shall soon see.
Bickle and John 5
There is only one passage to which Bickle often appeals to in order to prove a Kenotic Jesus, which is John 5:19. Bickle will often quote the following statement from Christ:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing…”
The argumentation here is that, since Jesus cannot do anything by Himself unless He first sees the Father doing it, then this must mean that Jesus had to wait on subtle impressions from the Father, or power from the Spirit, in order to do anything on earth.
Is this an accurate use of the passage?
First, we must establish the context that has led us up to this point. Christ had healed the paralyzed man by the Pool of Bethesda, which occurs on the Sabbath (vv. 1-9). This upset the Jewish leaders, who seek to persecute Jesus for daring to work on the Sabbath (vv. 10-16). Christ then makes the statement: “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (v. 17). This is said to greatly upset the Jews, since “not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (v. 18).
We have to pause here and ask: why was Christ’s statement so blasphemous to the Jews? For two reasons stated in the text: first, Christ’s use of “My Father” for God highlighted the unique, particular relationship between God the Father and Himself, a theme stressed throughout John’s Gospel; second, Christ had made the statement that just as God the Father is working, so too is He working. This latter point may be something we gloss over in our reading and study, but it needs to be honed in on. Why? Because there was a Jewish belief at that time that one of the “perks” of being God was that He was the only one allowed to work on the Sabbath. Everyone else was expected to rest, but God, naturally, got to keep working. Now Jesus is making himself equal with God by saying that, just as God works on the Sabbath, so too does He get to work on the Sabbath.
Now we get to verse 19, and the section that Bickle and others quote. However, we must recognize that they are only quoting half a statement. What does the full verse say? “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” Jesus then goes into depth about what this means:
“For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”vv. 20-24
In short, Bickle runs into the same problem as Muslims, who cite John 5:19a to try to deny Christ’s divinity. Namely, the full context reveals that Christ is not stressing his uniqueness apart from the Father, but His equality with the Father. He states that just as God the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so does God the Son raise the dead and give them life. Just as God the Father receives honor from men, so shall God the Son receive honor from men. This is stressed further even in the verses following this section.
In order to be able to apply John 5:19a to ourselves, as Bickle and others want to, we would have to logically conclude that we are little gods (as the Word of Faith crowd teach), or we would have to argue that we, too, are equal with God the Father, and can make all the same claims that Jesus makes in the chapter.
This also has relevancy to our larger discussion. If Christ were merely acting as a fellow believer, then the Jewish leadership would actually be in the right to condemn Him, for He was acting outside of the will of God by healing on the Sabbath. On the other hand, if Christ, as God the Son, were acting by His own power, with His own authority, then Christ’s words concerning He and His Father working together on the Sabbath cannot be condemned. Remember, Christ had told the Jews that just as God the Father was working, so too was He working. If Christ were relying entirely upon the Spirit as your everyday believer was, this statement would make no sense. How could God the Son be working as God the Father is working if, as Hawthorne and others say, Christ had decided pre-incarnation that “all his intrinsic powers, all his attributes, would remain latent within him”? How could we look at such a situation and say that Jesus had “become truly human” and limited himself “to the abilities and powers common to all other human beings”?
Far from being the best support for the Kenotic Jesus, John 5:19 and its immediate context is the best refutation of it.
Is the Kenotic Jesus the Jesus of scripture? The simplest answer is a negative – the Kenotic Jesus is not the Jesus of scripture. Much like Pelagianism, kenotic theory affirms the deity of the Son, yet extends His humanity to such an extent that He becomes functionally little more than the best example of believers, even if He still maintains His deity.
Why is the Kenotic Jesus the Jesus of the NAR movement, and especially with Bickle and his crowd? The answer should be obvious: because it permits Bickle, Johnson, and others to emphasis what we are able to do. They can leap from that to say that, since Christ relied completely on the Father to do all things and understand all things, then we are able to do and understand all things. Obviously there is some Biblical application of this, as the apostles were able to do some signs and wonders – but this was because of the Spirit’s work in them to establish the church, not because they had entered some new “higher” spiritual status.
Can it be any wonder, then, that there is very little emphasis on the Gospel at IHOP-KC and other NAR outlets? Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying the Gospel or Christ’s work on the cross are never talked about. What I’m saying is that the emphasis for much of the ministry is not on the finished work of Christ, but on signs and wonders happening in the end times. You will hear far more about “what the Spirit is doing” in our current day, and about miracles and signs, when you listen to IHOP-KC messages, than you’ll hear about the wiping away of our sins on the cross.
This is why you hear stories like that told by Misty Edwards, where she left her prayer closet feeling condemned, because she wasn’t having the spiritual experiences she thought she would have. This is why one of the most consistent details you’ll hear from people who have left the NAR movement is that they kept feeling condemnation or were questioning their salvation because they didn’t have the dreams and visions that their leaders were supposedly having.
Whether the inventors of kenotic theory intended this or not, the Kenotic Jesus becomes a Christ of works. Jesus lived as a complete human in his ability, and managed to rely on God the Father to do all these marvelous deeds and have all these wonderful experiences – what, then, is your excuse? Why aren’t you able, by the Spirit, to do these same things? This is nowhere clearer than in Bill Johnson’s book where he likewise taught on the Kenotic Jesus:
Let’s face it, if Jesus did all His miracles as God, I’m still impressed. But that is an impossible example for me to follow. I am simply an observer… But from the beginning, it has been God who continually sets the stage to partner with imperfect people in a co-laboring relationship. When I see that He did what He did as a man following His Father, then I am compelled to do whatever I need to do to follow that example…
There are two conditions put upon me in Jesus’ example. These qualifications are essential for me to emulate the life, presence, and power that Jesus made evident. First is the fact that Jesus had no sin… Now I am found in Christ, without sin, because His blood has made me clean. Because of such overwhelming mercy and grace, I have met the first qualification. The second condition is that Jesus was entirely empowered by the Holy Spirit. As a man, He was powerless. But the Spirit of God came upon Him in His water baptism. (See Luke 3:21-22.) It was right after that experience that we see Him walking in power. (See Luke 4:1, 14.)…
Jesus’ life was an illustration of what one man could do who had no sin and was entirely empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus, who was entirely God, modeled life with the limitations of a man.pg. 169, God is Good
Remember, too, that Bickle believes God requires our prayer and intercession in order to move on the order. That isn’t misrepresentation – that is precisely what Mike Bickle teaches.
Today, God requires our intercession to release the fullness of His power and justice on earth. As we speak, or pray, God’s will back to God, the Spirit releases it on the earth. If we do not speak out God’s Word, then the power of the Spirit will not be released in the same measure. God requires holy, persevering, believing prayer to release the fullness of what is in His heart. The fullness of God’s justice will only be released in the context of night and day intercession.pg. 36; 7 Commitments of a Forerunner; emphases mine
Earlier I made mention that a change in Christology can change other aspects of our theology. Whereas Bickle’s opinion of God came first or the kenotic theory did, it makes sense why Bickle would need to emphasize the kenotic theory. This is why there is such a minimal view on the Gospel in the NAR movement. What is drawn from Christ’s incarnation is not His death, burial, and resurrection, granting freedom from eternal condemnation for His sheep, securing them in covenantal promises which cannot be broken, for they are dependent upon Him and Him alone. Rather, what is drawn is the fact that He lived His life as the best Charismatic imaginable, like a glorified superhero, and we are all superheroes in potentia, if we but listen to God and beg for the Spirit’s power. In fact, this is something we need to do, for otherwise God will not be able to act on the earth with the power and extent that He desires.
This is why the Kenotic Jesus of IHOP-KC, and all it’s fellow groups in the NAR, is a false Jesus, and a dangerous one. It is a Jesus not only absent from scripture, but one which contradicts scripture itself, and turns the focus of the church away from the cross and towards themselves and their own actions. It becomes, in application, a works-based Gospel, even if on the surface it doesn’t claim to be.
I advise my readers to have nothing to do with IHOP-KC and their false Christ. If you already a part of IHOP-KC, I would of course beg that you flee from this movement, or begin to separate yourself from it. If you not willing to do this, simply ask yourself these two questions: first, is the Kenotic Jesus taught by Mike Bickle truly the Jesus of scripture?; second, if the Kenotic Jesus is not the Jesus scripture, then who was it truly that spoke to Mike Bickle that fateful day in Cairo, Egypt?
Bickle, Mike. 7 Commitments of Forerunner. 2009.
Bickle, Mike. Growing in the Prophetic. Lake Mary: Charisma House, 2008.
Hawthorne, Gerald F. The Presence and the Power: The Significance of the Holy Spirit in the Life and Ministry of Jesus. United States, Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003.
Johnson, Bill. God is Good: He’s Better Than You Think. N.p., Destiny Image, Incorporated, 2018.