I have followed Mike Winger for years now and am constantly blessed by his dedication to truth and his gracious way in presenting it. Recently, Pastor Mike has been working on a scholarly project regarding Brian Simmons’ Passion Translation, inviting Old Testament and New Testament scholars to speak to the book and its usage of Hebrew and Greek.
In this interview we talk about the New Apostolic Reformation, or NAR. This term has recently been used extensively by apologetics writers and podcasters to label certain churches and Christian movements antithetical to the gospel. However, almost all the people talking about NAR are cessationist (do not believe spiritual gifts are for today), and there is very little discussion of the topic from a continuationist viewpoint. That’s what Pastor Mike and I do in this interview.
In this discussion:
- What is NAR?
- What is the difference between NAR and a basic charismatic church?
- How do we discern between the two?
- What is the Passion Translation?
- Is there any concern with this “translation” and how it is used?
You can follow the Passion Project and Pastor Mike on Youtube.
For information on how NAR got its name and the origins of the “movement” (most churches deemed “NAR” do not know or use the term), here is the original piece by C. Peter Wagner.
Podcast Transcript Below
Phylicia: Hi, friends, Phylicia Masonheimer here. I am so excited because we are doing an interview with someone who I admire so much and who has had a great influence on my life as both a Christian personally and as a Christian leader…
I’ve been following Pastor Mike for, gosh, a couple years now and watched a lot of his YouTube videos. If you guys have not followed him on YouTube, I highly suggest that you head over there and subscribe. He has a video on almost every single topic. Picture Ask Anything Monday, but YouTube version, and you can just play it like a podcast and listen to him, talk through these topics with just fantastic depth. I’m really excited for you guys to be able to hear him talk about today’s topic. One of the projects that he has is on The Passion Translation. He has been working on this for a long time and interviewing a variety of scholars on the topic. He also, yes, has been interviewed with Alisa Childers, which is so, so awesome. Hopefully, if we can get this working, we will be able to get him on here too.
I gave a little introduction of who you are, and touched on what’s to come and what you’ve been working on. I would love to just hear from you a little more about who you are and what you do at BibleThinker.
Mike: Well, basically, I’m just a pastor in Southern California, who’s really passionate about thinking biblically about everything. Like a lot of Christians who love the word of God, I have this inexpressible appreciation for the Scripture and how it can transform everything about our lives, and yet it remains like an untapped resource for a lot of believers. It’s just a book that they know the values there, but they aren’t sure how to get it or know what it teaches about different issues and all that. I just spent all my time studying, and researching, and reading so that I can try to present thorough biblical teaching, like taking people deeper, a layer deeper, might do topical stuff, as well as verse by verse teaching. I’m past somewhere in the middle between, “Ooh, I’ve got to teach this awesome, beautiful, amazing thing that Scripture says.” Then, on the other side, “What did I just see online?” Then I’m going to have to deal with that, and try to read. Hopefully, real biblical clarity that’s not from an angry place because a lot of times people don’t respond till they’re mad and I want to try to do it, because of the loyalty and faithfulness to Scripture, and not because I’m irritated, although sometimes that’s a challenge. [laughs]
Phylicia: Yes, it is. Honestly, that is one of the big reasons that I really wanted to interview you because I think that your loyalty to Scripture, but also your grace, really sets you apart from a lot of apologists. I really appreciate that. I know that here in that Every Woman a Theologian community, that is something we talk about a lot. That grace and truth, speaking the truth in love actually requires the love part. You do that really well.
Mike: Well, thank you so much. I’ll tell you what, that is not natural for me at all. It is entirely work of the Lord because it’s just slowly moving more and more towards having a gracious perspective on things in my life. I started out like a lot of people, “This is the facts, and you’re being dumb.”
Mike: -originally, I suppose. Thankfully, I wasn’t on YouTube at the time.
Phylicia: [chuckles] The Lord’s grace in that area, yes, that is so relatable to me. I want to jump right in, because we’ve got a lot of questions for you and all of your study on these topics. But we want to talk about your Passion Project. First, leading up to that, we want to talk a little bit about the New Apostolic Reformation or NAR. This has become a catchphrase that I’ve seen pass around almost like an umbrella term, that maybe people don’t always know exactly what it means, and there seems to be some confusion about it. Would you be able to describe it to us or explain what NAR is?
Mike: Yeah. I just want to say I’m not the expert on this. There’s people who probably know more about it than I do. But I have spent a large amount of time trying to review and understand and then respond to some of the stuff that’s coming from the people that are leading what is often called the NAR. What I’ll say is this. Probably the name itself, NAR, as a catch term, really caught on because of a book written by Holly Pivec and Doug Geivett. They talked about this new apostolic reformation. It is a real movement that’s going on in the body of Christ. I do consider these people, my brothers and sisters, I think that there are some real problems and some questions that are going on here. I do think though that NAR may be a bit of a misnomer. The name itself, NAR. came from within this larger group of, I would call more hyper charismatic, I believe in the gifts of the Spirit, but this is more a step further than that.
The name came from them, one of the groups within, C. Peter Wagner and this one guy– A long story short, this guy was trying to identify this apostolic movement and gave it a name. That name, really only a certain number of people in that movement actually use that name. Now, the people who are critical of the movement, they’re all using that name because they’ll go, “You’re part of the NAR,” and they go, “What’s the NAR?” Let’s just set aside the title NAR for just a second, and I want to say that here’s what’s legit. There is a group of movement, they expect massive miracles. They think we’re moving into a new wave, a new work of the Holy Spirit, greater miracles than ever before. At the core of it is the leading and teaching of specific leaders that are apostles and prophets, and that these are very official very, very high-status leaders in this group. Bill Johnson is one of them. There are apostles, and he’s an apostle in this group, at least that’s the name they give. They believe in what’s called The Fivefold Ministry. But again, a lot of people believe in that, but wouldn’t take it to the place this group takes it.
Long story short, I guess if I could summarize it like this, they’re orchestrating a new way of doing church around their beliefs in extremely large numbers of miracles, everybody prophesying, everybody’s doing healings, miraculous healings, all the time, that sort of thing. This is causing that group to just grow very rapidly because it’s exciting. They have spiritual keys that will unlock your church’s spiritual, new wave of the Spirit kind of thing. In the midst of it, there’s a lot of issues and a lot of questions, a lot of problems. I agree with a lot of the criticisms that are brought against the NAR. I just don’t like the title very much because [the people you’re talking to say] “Who are you talking about? I’ve never heard that term, NAR.” But if you say yes, signs and wonders, apostolic visions, trances and teleportation and things, they go, “Oh, yeah, well, that’s us. Yeah.”
Phylicia: Oh, my goodness. I talk about spiritual gifts frequently here on my account. Like you, I consider myself charismatic or continuationist regarding spiritual gifts. I think what I’ve seen with the criticism of NAR is this lumping in of anyone who is continuationist or anyone who is charismatic into this more extreme camp. What would you say maybe are some of the differences between your standard run-of-the mill continuationists or charismatic and the NAR? I think you said some of them, but for people who maybe don’t come from those traditions, what would be the biggest differences?
Mike: I think I’d want people to recognize who are maybe not charismatic is that within charismatic views, there’s this massive variety. You have people like me you might think I’m a soft charismatic, if you’re part of the hyper group, you’re like, “We’re not hyper!” But one of the things I would say is that if someone’s like, “Mike, I have a word from the Lord for you.” I’m all ears. I’m listening. I want to know what they have to share, I’m considering is this from the Lord or not, I’m going to weigh it. I’m not just going to swallow it. I’m going to evaluate it. But I think one of the big differences between say, myself and perhaps you, I don’t know all your views on this stuff and say, the group’s like Bill Johnson, is that they’re trying to systematize the work of the Spirit in a way that, I think, endorses, I hate to use this term, but I want to be clear, it endorses fakery, it endorses faking prophecy and faking even healings. It doesn’t mean that they’re trying to– It’s complicated. I think the intentions are positive, but I think that in their view, they don’t just want to be open to the work of the Spirit wherever as he wills. Hey, if I go 30 years with no prophecies, fine, as the Lord wills. If it happens every day, fine as the Lord will. But they want it to happen every day, all the time, everywhere, because of this, they’re trying to make it sort of a systematic thing.
For instance, in the trainings that they’ll give at Bethel [or] that this group [of believers] gives to people, they’ve set up their own system. They will line two people up, two sets of people, and will have people on one side of the line, identify a person on the other side. You have a partner, and each of you gives a prophecy to the other person. This is a recipe for fake prophecy. Prophecy never comes when we want – I don’t just “do it”. I don’t initiate anything; if the Lord gives me something then it’s His initiation.
But here – they encourage people to give that [prophecy] and then they go on to say, “Now, if you’ve got it wrong, hey, applaud. Good for you, at least you’re moving in the right direction.” But that’s moving in the wrong direction, even a lot of charismatics would say, that’s the wrong direction. That’s not the right direction. You’re encouraging people to be okay with proclaiming things in God’s name that may not be from God. Then, when you do this church-wide, you create a whole another culture, that is very problematic.
Phylicia: Well, yeah, that’s a perfect example because I think it’s so easy. Especially if you aren’t familiar with charismatic churches or their theology, I think just the idea of prophecy in general is probably really hard to understand or understand where they arrive at that biblically, that understanding, or how it can be walked out biblically. But then to see this very extreme version be the most public version, I think it can tend to create so much confusion about spiritual gifts in general and how soft charismatics [fit in with that]- how they believe and live.
Mike: When I look into these groups and these things, and I think: this is so different than what I’ve experienced in my past, where perhaps someone comes to me, and they’re like, “I think the Lord’s really leading me to share this with you,” and they share it with me. It’s not at all the thing that I’m seeing turned into a mechanized, formulized thing in that movement. As I watched, look at some of the prophets that have been speaking in 2020, trying to predict all the stuff that’s going to happen. The track record says, “Great, we don’t have to listen to pretty much any of you guys right now.” It makes me want to become a cessationist just seeing how outrageous some of this stuff is. But I don’t want to respond to the idea of prophecy, the way I respond to the abuse of it. That’s all. I want to be open to what God would do. I don’t think there’s any biblical reason to say that God won’t speak and give you a word of wisdom or knowledge, or something like that. I don’t see any scriptural justification for that.
Phylicia: That brings up a good point that, and we say this a lot here, reactionary theology is not sound theology. If you’re building your views based on a reaction to somebody else without checking it against Scripture, you’re going to just go to another extreme. I did want to add one thing. You were just on an interview with multiple people talking about the prophecies in 2020. I have shared that to my Facebook page. For those of you who want to watch that interview, Pastor Mike and also Dr. Brown, who I also have recommended both are interviewed on that. You can hear some of your thoughts on those 2020 prophecies. Since we’re getting to about halfway through the interview, I want to shift into a discussion of the Passion because I know that this is something you’re very passionate about. Had to throw that in there. My husband loves puns, so I get points.
Mike: Good for you!
Phylicia: Let’s talk about the project that you’re working on regarding The Passion Translation. What is that all about?
Mike: The Passion Translation here – actually I have multiple copies at this point. Here’s one of them, The Passion Translation, this is the new one that just came out. It’s the special Bethel Edition with a foreword by Bill Johnson on it. He’s endorsing this book quite a lot.
This is a translation that in short, gives a translation that’s specifically designed to support the movement that we’re discussing, this apostolic, hyper-charismatic movement. This translation is meant to prop that up. It does alter the Bible in countless places, not always heresy, but alterations. I had my eyebrows go up when I first started studying it, and I made a few videos responding to it, but I realized that what I was doing was insufficient because this thing is selling millions and millions of copies. So, I decided to make it the larger project where I hired a number of very reputable, very renowned scholars to review The Passion Translation, and then I’m doing interviews with them, and have them write papers and all that’s available totally free so that we can just really publicize what’s going on with this thing.
Some of the issues are complicated when it comes to Bible translation, and average people just go, “I’m not really sure what this is about. I don’t have the background info to understand.” So, those interviews are really taking people deep into understanding the very major problems with The Passion Translation and its author.
Phylicia: Well, we really appreciate what you’re doing there. What about the author? Can you give us a little bit of insight into– it’s Brian Simmons, correct?
Mike: Yep, that’s right.
Phylicia: I know maybe you don’t want to spend too much time on that, but can you tell us where he comes from, or what inspired his writing of the Passion.
Mike: In [our] circle it’ll look like he’s just a Bible translator who’s really investing all this time and energy in this stuff. When he’s in some circles, he talks like that. When he’s in more charismatic circles, he’s a little more open. I’ve been putting together the footage of all his claims, but basically, he says, “I was called by God. Jesus breathed on me and gave me the spirit of revelation, and I am empowered to create this translation. God has given me special revelations that nobody has known before that other translations don’t have.” Sometimes, he puts those in the translation, a lot of times, he puts them in the footnotes. We find out that there’s a few problems. One is, he doesn’t actually have the credentials to do a translation. He doesn’t have any sort of degree from a credible institution related to biblical languages.
There’s a variety of languages. It’s not just Greek, it’s also Hebrew, Old and New Testament, historical context, it’s been millennia. It takes a lot of work to do a translation, no one person is really up to the job. He’s making some very outrageous claims about the Greek, about supposed Aramaic. He says he’s translating from the Aramaic, that the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic, and these are just demonstrably false claims. He puts words into translation that don’t come from Greek, and he goes, “Oh, well, that’s from the Aramaic,” and the scholars who are reviewing it go, “There’s no Aramaic. What’s he talking about?”
Phylicia: Oh, my goodness. Yeah.
Mike: It’s just pulling the wool over people’s eyes. There’s a short version.
Phylicia: Yeah. Well, I watched an interview with him where he was talking about how he had received from The Spirit of Revelation, from an angel, actually, an extra 23rd Chapter of John, or an extra Chapter of John that was from the Library of Heaven. I think so many people don’t know who he is or any of this background. Someone in the comments said that TPT is listed as one of the translations in the Bible app. So, someone could just find it and read it and think that it’s just like any other. But the language– I think it was one of your videos where you pointed this out, the language, it’s very distinctly reflective of that NAR-type theology, isn’t it?
Mike: Yeah. When I talk about them systematizing things, an example of this is to suggest that you need to go to different levels of spirituality. They try to define these levels, levels of glory, that kind of thing. One of the things they’ll say is you have to be “activated” in your gifts. Your gifts have to be activated, and they can activate you with their special teachings or by reading their books or by reading The Passion Translation. Well, this idea of being activated spiritually is not in the Bible. It’s in The Passion Translation.
In Romans 12, where he talks about prophesying according to your faith, he [Simmons] adds the word ‘activate.’ He prophesied you have to be activated. Then he sells courses, and he gives this translation out, like, “This is going to activate you.” You see, this is taking the extrabiblical systemic– false systemization of questionable prophetic methods and putting it into Scripture. This is, to me, a huge, huge deal. It’s a real problem. That’s why we’re doing this whole project.
Phylicia: Yeah. I love that [explanation]. Can you tell us some of the scholars that you’re interviewing or what they’re talking about?
Mike: Yeah. I am so excited because to use the weird phrase, big-name scholars, to do this. Like Dr. Craig Blomberg, Dr. Douglas Moo. For instance, if you go to any, Book of Romans commentary, you’re going to see Douglas Moo’s is in there.
Mike: He’s the man when it comes to a lot of this stuff. He reviewed Brian Simmons, and it just went live this morning on my YouTube channel. He reviews the book of Romans there, and he says: “This is bad. You shouldn’t use this translation.” In his terms – you know scholars, the way they talk – he goes, “It’s an insufficient guide to the Word of God.”
Phylicia: [laughs] A nice way of saying it. A nice way of saying “don’t do it”.
Mike: Tremper Longman, who worked on the Song of Solomon for the New Living Translation, which is a great translation – he worked on the Song of Solomon for that. He says that Brian Simmons has so messed up the translation of the Song of Solomon that he’s actually changed the genre of the book. The whole genre is different now. He’s turned it into allegory, what was originally not allegory, it’s poetic, but it’s not allegory. He’s added tons to the text. If you just go to the Song of Solomon, read it in any translation, then read it in the Passion, you will find it’s a lot longer in the Passion, but it also adds and takes away lots of words, because it’s just not faithful to what the Scripture actually says. Every scholar has agreed that not only is that not a good translation, they’ve all agreed. I’ve asked them this question. It’s not even a translation.
It’s just improper to call it a translation. That’s misleading. Even the name of the thing, The Passion Translation, is not accurate. It’s not true. These are pretty extreme things. Those are a couple of examples. I’ve got quotes from all these scholars. Dr. Craig Blomberg said that The Passion Translation needs a Surgeon General’s warning because of its potential hazards.
Phylicia: Oh. Oh boy. Yeah.
Mike: He is a scholar who likes paraphrases and would normally be happy to see them, but not this one, because it’s got issues.
Phylicia: Well, that brings up another question, then what would you say are some of the differences between the Passion and The Message? Or, why would The Message be more safe to read? No Surgeon General’s warning.
Mike: I’m actually hearing the scholars they go, “Well, The Message isn’t so bad.” I’m like, “Really?” I don’t really like The Message very much personally. [But] I realized they have these two categories for translations. They have like, “Here’s your translation, it’s accurate. This is pretty much what the text is saying the original.” We’re going to call this other group paraphrase and paraphrase is what we consider almost a translation with commentary. If you acknowledge that, you can look at the Message as the translation with commentary, and then it doesn’t feel as bad because you don’t think it’s reading the plain text. In that category, the Message is acceptable. The thing scholars will say is that The Passion Translation is not even acceptable in that category, because it adds so many ideas that are foreign to the text.
Eugene Peterson, the guy who did the Message, actually did put it through some rigorous theological vetting before they published it. He said, “I don’t want people using the Message as their Bible… This is like an extra thing. I don’t want to teach you from the pulpit with it.” He said that as well.
Whereas Brian Simmons, he says [the Passion] is a translation, not a paraphrase. That’s not true. That’s basically a lie. Then, he says that you can use it as your primary study Bible. That’s not true. The scholars say not only is that not true, it’s not even sufficient as a paraphrase, because it adds too many — Dr. Darrell Bock says, “There’s more bad than good.”
Phylicia: Oh, I love how the scholars are so gentle, and how they’re saying it, but they’re just so honest. This is concerning. If the Bible is the authority on which we base our lives, our theology, it is so important that it be accurate to those original languages as best we can. We’re so grateful that you’re doing this project, and I can’t wait for everyone to head over and listen in.
One last question, and this can maybe spark a few more. In light of what we know about the Passion, in light of what we know about some of the unhealthy aspects of NAR, how would you encourage Christians today who are trying to discern through this stuff. Because if you go, especially on Instagram, but probably on Facebook, anywhere else, there’s a lot of stuff coming from certain corners of Christianity that is just: “the NAR is new age, and it’s evil and everybody involved with it is”, and if you have a friend who’s attending one of these churches, [it’s assumed] they’re literally “unsaved”, maybe demon possessed. If you have a friend then who is reading the Passion, without knowing this stuff – or maybe going to Bethel, it can be really hard to understand how to navigate this. Do you have any wisdom to share on that topic?
Mike: Yeah. Let me put it this way, and I’m afraid I might be controversially political for just a second to make a point. We are in the midst of experiencing the results of a strong divide in our country between two different political sides, and they’re both so entrenched that they only see the problems on the other side and they don’t see their own issues. That would be my perspective. This is causing them to sin against one another, and to not care. I think that this can happen in the church as well. I think that when we go, “Okay, we’re going to respond to the worst elements of this hyper-charismatic stuff. Then, we’re not going to be reflective about how we’re treating each other with Christian charity or understanding things carefully and thoughtfully.” My basic thought is: let’s not divide so harshly.
Both camps will look at the other at some point and be like, “You’re blaspheming the Spirit because you’re attributing these wonderful prophecies to Satan, and so you’re calling the works of the Spirit’s satanic.” The charismatics will say the cessationists are blaspheming the spirit or vice versa, the cessationist will say, “Well, you’re blaspheming the Spirit, because you’re proclaiming things from the Spirit that aren’t.” I just say, “A, I don’t think that’s what blaspheming the Spirit means anyways, but, B, this is going too far. It’s painting with too broad a brush.” I personally see believers on both sides, and when I look at Bethel, I see a church full of a lot of sincere people. I see a group – the NAR people – whether you call it NAR or not, I see a lot of very sincere Christians who are just being misled in some cases on the nature of prophecy and how accurate is supposed to be, and this systematizing of it is wrong. I just think we need to be treating each other like we’re Christians and then we can charitably call each other towards better things.
It’s one thing to recognize that a particular book, or particular teacher in a group is heretical, or is incorporating new age stuff, like the Physics of Heaven is a book that comes from the Bethel circle that’s just wickedly messed up. It just is. That doesn’t mean everybody in that circle is. It’s not like you find the worst thing in that circle and then you paint the whole circle with it. That’s what I want to say, let’s not do that, because if you think of your own journey as a Christian, you can realize that you didn’t always fit perfectly into the circle you were even part of. You’re your own person. I just want to treat each other like that. I think that we just have to have grace and honesty. I try to inhabit that middle ground as best I can. I get criticized on both sides for being too harsh and not harsh enough. Maybe that means I’m doing the right thing. [chuckles]
Phylicia: It’s interesting because I often hear from people saying that, “Oh, yeah, well, maybe they’re sincere, but they’re off base and that’s just facts.” But I think recognizing that there are sincere people who are misled and need to be redirected back to the truth or go back to a more grounded understanding on some of these things… it’s the grace and compassion for their sincerity that helps bring people to that understanding.
Also, how many times do we see very insincere Baptists or Presbyterians, or Reformed and Calvinist brothers and sisters who are practicing things that are also unbiblical. I think the visibility of the charismatic church and just the sheer sensationalism of it at times puts a target on it, and it’s really easy to find fault with every single piece of that, especially if you’re not familiar with a healthy version of it. So I appreciate that you’re pointing out there are brothers and sisters in these churches. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the charismatic/Pentecostal church is one of the biggest traditions worldwide at this point.
Mike: Yes, if I understand it correctly.
Phylicia: Yeah. So, to completely reject that any of those people are believers is definitely, like you said, painting with a really broad brush.
Mike: Yeah, and doing so without biblical warrants. If somebody’s preaching a false gospel, I’m going to call that out. If they’re misusing the gifts, then I look at say, 1 Corinthians, and I go, “Here’s a group misusing the gifts.” That doesn’t mean they weren’t saved. It’s not like, “well, you’re all not saved now.” When I look into the different things, I want to be honest first about the gospel. Where’s the gospel in here? What are their beliefs about? Who Jesus is and what he’s done for us and how we receive that? If that theology seems to be intact, then I’m going to be treating them as brothers, maybe brothers, or maybe brothers and sisters who have issues, but the brothers and sisters, nonetheless. I’m crossing a big line when I say that a whole group of people are unsaved because I see this, this, and that symptom in them, and especially when those symptoms aren’t actually the gospel, because I just think Christians can be in a lot of error and still be Christians.
Phylicia: Yeah. Fortunately, those of you who are listening on the podcast here, Pastor Mike has a ton of resources breaking down Bethel’s theology. You’ve done a whole thing on Bill Johnson. You’ve done the Passion. Now there are even more resources on the Passion and so much more. Mike has so many videos on YouTube, and then on his website. Do you want to tell us a little bit of where we can find you, how everyone can follow you, and keep up with your work?
Mike: Yeah, I’ll just mention two ways. One would be, my primary platform is YouTube, and so you can just look up my name, Mike Winger on YouTube, and you’ll find me there. I put up usually two videos a week, sometimes more. I’m actually doing a series, a whole bunch of videos coming late January, early February, I’m going to put one up a day, little short clips dealing with progressive Christianity. Also, you can go to biblethinker.org. Now, granted, my website is not that great, primarily because I built it myself and I’ve no idea what I’m doing, but we’re trying to improve it. In the future, maybe one day, this year hopefully, it’ll be a much better, more accessible website. One of the things about this ministry is, it’s extremely low budget. I’m just producing content, putting it out as far and wide as I can for free, and it being low budget means that I can do this. It’s been great.
Phylicia: That’s awesome. Well, we are so grateful that you made time to join us here, and so thankful for the work that you’re doing. This is Pastor Mike Winger of biblethinker.org. He is on YouTube also. I hope that you guys will give him a follow and subscribe to learn from him and his most recent project. Thank you so much, Pastor Mike, and we will be putting this interview on my podcast as well, and I’ll send it to you after the fact. Thanks for taking the time out for us this evening.
Mike: Thank you for having me.
Phylicia: I hope you have a wonderful night. Thank you everyone who joined us.