How a miracle-obsessed megachurch conquered a California city

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It’s hard not to get drawn into the sermons of Bill Johnson. With his soft-spoken voice and frequent quips, Johnson, senior leader of the nondenominational megachurch Bethel Church in Redding, California, is so charismatic he can make stories about God sending “glory clouds” to rain gold dust on Bethel worshipers sound folksy, even reasonable.

“I did just stand there in awe,” Johnson said, discussing supposedly miraculous gold dust with the matter-of-fact tone you’d use to recall your favorite moment from a concert. “I remember standing there, talking to a friend … just seeing these pieces float by.”

Whether he’s regrowing missing body parts with prayer while leaning casually on a pulpit or responding “just call me Bill” when asked if he’s a prophetic apostle, his tone is always soothing — perfect for helping reaffirm your faith in a world that seems hellbent on shaking it.

Something else sets Johnson apart from the fire-and-brimstone televangelists of yore: His insistence that his followers build God’s kingdom here on Earth right now rather than passively waiting around for the end times. This philosophy, sometimes known as dominionism, is increasingly common among American evangelicals — particularly in “apostolic” churches like Bethel, meaning church leaders call themselves apostles or prophets and claim they can hear God speaking to them. Although few of these churches are directly affiliated with one another, many observers believe they share enough unique traits to represent a new sect of Christianity, dubbed the New Apostolic Reformation.

Johnson has preached and written extensively about how his followers can bring godly influence to the seven major pillars, or “mountains,” of society, identified by Johnson as business; education; the church; family; arts and entertainment; science and medicine; and government. The argument is laid out most clearly in the 2013 book “Invading Babylon: The 7 Mountain Mandate,” in which Johnson and his co-author use downright warlike language to describe Christians taking over … well, everything.

“Leaders around the world are discovering that lasting cultural transformation only occurs when the Gospel infiltrates every aspect of society,” according to the book’s introduction. “God is pouring out specific strategies to invade our culture, so that we can see complete cultural transformation.”

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