Would Stephen Tan Wei Shan of the Australian Gospel Coalition ask a liar if they lie and expect an honest response? As a result of his recently published critique about ‘Awakening Australia’ and its ties to a hyper-charismatic ‘Signs and Wonders’ movement (with its epicentre at Bethel Church in Redding, California), Stephen was then contacted by well known heretic and occultic practitioner Ben Fitzgerald.
We ask the question – given the many warnings regularly posted world wide by more discerning Christian leaders, did Stephen expect Ben Fitzgerald to speak the truth?
Ps. Shan went on to share a very biblically naive post on Facebook when (publicly) reporting on his personal interaction with Ben Fitzgerald and NARpostle Bill Johnson. Shan stated, “One of the criticisms levied at me was that I did not contact the organisers of Awakening Australia before posting the article.” See original post here:
Why did Shan choose to give the benefit of the doubt to a well-identified wolf in sheep’s clothing? Fitzgerald is the son of Jen Hodge – a woman who like her son, engages in occultic practices in her ‘outreach ministry’ (Christalignment). Christalignment is publicly endorsed and advertised on Awakening Australia for supporting the event. Ben Fitzgrald is also recognised as a pastor in the heretical Bethel Church cult, the ministry he used to springboard off as he rose to prominence through Bethel’s Awakening Conferences.
With respect, does Stephen Tan Wei Shan care nothing about Christ’s warnings about people like Fitzgerald and Johnson?
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.” Romans 16:17 (Emphasis ours.)
Stephen Tan Wei Shan writes:
Meeting with Ben Fitzgerald – Friday 5 Oct 2018 //
When I wrote my article for TGC AU critiquing the Bethel movement I wasn’t expecting such an immense response. There were many people who were appreciative of my work but also others who weren’t. One of the criticisms levied at me was that I did not contact the organisers of Awakening Australia before posting the article. It was something that one of my ministry mentors pointed out to me as well. So when Ben Fitzgerald (founder of Awakening) contacted me on Facebook to organise a face-to-face meeting, I knew I had to respond and at least hear his response to my criticisms face to face. I recognise now that I could have at least emailed Ben ahead of time before publishing the article and by not doing that I had not extended as much grace to him as I could potentially have. I acknowledged my mistake both to Ben personally and also now publicly. I am grateful for the opportunity to meet and discuss concerns as brothers in Christ. I brought along three other pastors to this meeting (Jimmy, Don and Michael) and Ben brought along his fellow organiser of Awakening Australia, Dan Hagen.
#1 Ben the Evangelist
We began our time sharing about our conversion stories and spiritual journey. I was greatly encouraged to hear Ben’s testimony and how God had worked powerfully in his life despite a really difficult situation. I recently met Michael who taught Ben the Bible soon after his conversion many years ago and it was great that they could meet again after so many years. The one thing that stands out about Ben is his zeal for evangelism. Throughout our four-hour meeting, Ben paused to tell at least 4 to 5 guys walking past that Jesus loved them. According to Michael, Ben had the same zeal when he first became a Christian and remembers Ben preaching the gospel to cinema goers after they had finished watching The Passion of the Christ. As an evangelist myself, I was encouraged by the zeal that Ben has for people to come to know Jesus. Ben also displayed great humility and grace towards myself by seeking to meet me despite my criticisms of Awakening and his ministry mentor in Bill Johnson. I think that is highly commendable and I am truly grateful for it.
#2 Response to the Article
Ben wanted to clear up misunderstandings about Awakening and Bethel and made three important points.
i) Awakening is not Bethel
The first thing that Ben wanted to address is the connection between Awakening and Bethel. Ben felt that it was unfair for me to closely link Awakening to Bethel as Awakening is an inter-denominational evangelistic event which calls on Christians and churches to lay aside secondary theological differences for the sake of advancing the gospel in Australia. At the time of writing the article, the four listed main speakers were either from Bethel or affiliated to Bethel (Bill Johnson, Ben Fitzgerald, Heidi Baker and Todd White). In the last few days it has been announced that Nick Vujicic will also be a main speaker at the event and Nick is clearly not from Bethel or Bethel affiliated. Ben has also said that Bill Johnson will only have one 50-minute speaking slot at the event and that Nick and Todd are actually going to be the main speakers. With this new development I think it is fair to say that Awakening is more ecumenical than what I initially thought. In saying that there is still a strong Bethel influence (Bill Johnson, Bethel Music is one of the bands and Bethel is financially supporting the event and sending 200 members from California to serve).
ii) Jesus is 100% God
Ben wanted us to know that they do take the issue of the divinity of Christ seriously and said that despite being ecumenical they would not allow Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons to be involved. Ben sent a text to Bill Johnson to get a definitive statement on his position on Christ’s divinity. Here’s what Bill Johnson wrote –
“Without question Ben I believe that Jesus is 100% God, and Jesus is 100% man. That is the great and beautiful mystery of the gospel. Some people think I believe Jesus isn’t God. It isn’t true. But it probably comes from my emphasis of his humanity. I do that only to encourage the believer – Jesus gave us an example that could be followed. I certainly understand anyone who opposes me if they think I believe Jesus is not God. It would be well-founded. But in this case it isn’t. Jesus is God. He never stopped being God. He is eternally God.
Paul said that Jesus thought the equality was God was not a thing to be grasped. That’s a tough thing to communicate well. And I’m sure that in my efforts to do that I have created misunderstanding. I am sincerely sorry for that, but I also try in every setting where I teach on every subject to emphasise the Divinity of Jesus. So thank you for carrying the banner well. Much love”.
I am glad and encouraged that Bill Johnson took the time to respond to the criticism and clarify his position. I think this is an important clarification of his position. I want to be clear that I never called Johnson a heretic outright but rather was trying to point to the similarities between his teaching and that of Kenotic theologians. I still think that there are some similarities as Johnson believes that Jesus lays aside his divine powers (which would presumably include omnipotence, omniscience) but we now know that Johnson believes Jesus does not change his divine essence or nature. Johnson acknowledges that his teaching has caused misunderstanding and this is true as three people from my former church who were very influenced by Johnson’s teaching do indeed believe that Jesus stopped being God after taking on flesh. Hence, I think there is still potential for people to be confused. I communicated this to Ben as well.
iii) Ben does not believe in grave sucking
Ben wanted to affirm that he does not believe in grave sucking. Ben affirms that he does not believe that there is anointing in the bones of dead saints. He does admit that making that video wasn’t a wise decision on reflection but was disappointed that people stole it off him and used it without his permission. Ben said that what he was doing in the video was being inspired by the example of Smith Wigglesworth and was trying to pass that on to his friends who were watching the video. He pointed out that in the same video he does the same thing at the gate of a Welsh church (site of Welsh revival) but no one criticises him for that because he’s standing in front of a gate instead of a grave.
#3 Points of Disagreement
We spent a large chunk of time working through areas where we had differences in theology. It is my contention that there are many aspects of Bethel teaching which are interconnected, all of which I take issue with – i) Jesus is Perfect Theology ii) We need to go beyond Scripture and follow the Spirit “off the map” iii) We should be able to replicate the miracles that Jesus did as the normal Christian life iv) When we can’t perform miracles, the lack is never at God’s end as God is all powerful and he always desires to heal > implication being the lack lies with us v) Healing is guaranteed in the atonement vi) God does not send sickness vii) God is in charge but not in control
While we still hold different positions, we were able to have respectful yet robust discussion about our differences. Ben was adamant that healing was guaranteed in the atonement because of verses like Isaiah 53:4-5 (by his stripes we are healed) and its fulfilment in Matthew 8:16-17. Due to this he is convinced that God would never send sickness as a father would never give the Ebola virus to his child. Instead of focussing on sickness I suggested using a broader category of affliction. Ben was happy to acknowledge that God could send some forms of affliction such as persecution. He referenced several occasions where he received threats because he refused to stop preaching the gospel. I argued that God stands behind sickness and affliction differently from blessing. God stands asymmetrically behind affliction whereas he sends blessing directly. Ben argued that God not only could not send sickness but also would not acknowledge that God could allow sickness.
In my opinion this raises questions about God’s sovereignty and what the gospel promises. God is sovereign over the sending of sickness. He is both in charge and in control. In his wisdom he allows sickness to befall even his beloved children even if we cannot fully understand his reasons for it. I also think that this brings confusion over what God promises us in the gospel. I think it is misleading and harmful to tell people that their physical healing is guaranteed in this life because of the atonement especially if they don’t receive the healing they seek. Ben did acknowledge certain moments in his life when he was praying for someone’s healing and God told him that it was time for that person to go to heaven and so Ben responded in obedience to God’s direction and released the person into his care.
#4 Conclusion: Secondary Concerns?
Ben’s position is that these are secondary concerns and we can agree to disagree, put these disagreements aside and unite around the task of gospel proclamation. Personally, I think these differences are significant enough that I still could not openly recommend my church to go along and support Awakening. I still have many serious concerns about Bethel and Bill Johnson which we were not able to discuss. However, I do respect the zeal that Ben has and the guts that he has to organise a massive event like Awakening. Despite my unwillingness to support Awakening formally, I do pray that God would be glorified and his purposes would come to pass through this event. We ended our time together by praying for each other’s health and ministries. I continue to pray that God would bless Ben and provide him with everything he needs to carry out the calling that God has given him. Despite our theological differences, we are brothers in Christ and it is a God-honouring thing to learn from brothers who are so different from you. I left that meeting thankful for the opportunity to connect. I left encouraged by Ben’s zeal for the lost. I look forward to continuing the conversation and future opportunities for mutual learning.
Source: Stephen Tan Wei Shan, FaceBook, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10160947194940593&set=a.10150715561490593&type=3, Published Oct 08, 2018. Accessed Oct 08, 2018.
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