Within the realm of online ministries, fewer have larger platforms than that of Mike Winger, whose BibleThinker Ministry, which has grown to a subscriber base of 482K on YouTube with years of content catalogue on topics ranging from apologetics, biblical exegesis, Q&A, and occasionally discernment. His content reaches a broad range of believers from across theological camps. His audience would include many who are Calvinist and Cessationist. Winger began his career being trained at Cavalry Chapel Costa Mesa, becoming a youth pastor until his online ministry grew into a full-time job.
Recently, Mike Winger has come under fire for various issues from Doctrinal Watchdog and Tim Hurd of BTWN News. As a disclosure, the former is a subscriber to EDW’s YouTube channel and his video clips were akin to Woke Preacher Clips short form style. Tim Hurd is seemingly a MacArthur bro who issued an apology to Winger for his loose accusations, yet maintains the bulk of his criticisms against Winger. In fact, he has replaced his initial criticism with his latest video on 9/20, believing that Winger is “petting wolves.” It is commendable on Hurd’s part to acknowledge his mistakes.
Given the prominence of Mike Winger, I do believe the initial comments were brought forth without adequate context. However, it is Mike Winger’s response to these criticisms where legitimate concerns can be found. Admittedly, I was subscribed to Mike Winger and have previously enjoyed his old apologetic content, yet we do not pick favorites or grovel for those we like. This is about calling balls and strikes. Any such complaints against Winger should be thoroughly fleshed out and unambiguous. That being said, the focus of this article will follow Mike Winger’s response video, outlining the claims against him by Tim Hurd that he rebuffs.
Claim 1: Mike Winger Trashes MacArthur while Defending Bethel
The first claim against himself that Winger defends is whether he was trashing John MacArthur’s teachings on charismatic teaching and the spiritual gift of tongues. In this clip, Winger is on a livestream with Ruslan. Ruslan makes a complimentary statement towards Winger’s reticence to label false teachers those in charismatic camps, juxtaposing him with MacArthur, whose commentary he references.
To clear up any confusion, the MacArthur commentary emphasizes the distinction between “tongue” and “tongues” found in 1 Corinthians 14 to differentiate between a “pagan counterfeit gibberish” discussed in Verse 4 and that of human languages. MacArthur’s cessation position for “speaking in tongues” as is understood by charismatic camps would equate the practice with pagan rituals, not necessarily demonic possession.
It is expected Winger, being a continuationist, would disagree with MacArthur’s stance on tongues.
Winger states he would not wholesale write off half a billion Christians over the doctrine of tongues. In addressing this claim, Winger asserts that he is slow to judge other believers and teachers as to whether they are genuine. He cites Calvinism, being that he is not a Calvinist, as being one of these disagreements before going on to say the following:
This is really what I am in trouble for with Doctrinal Watchdog and Tim is that primarily the biggest thing that they say about me that’s true is not a lie, is that I really think a lot of Christians are real Christians even though they have major issues in their lives. Whether it’s some doctrinal things that are wrong or whether it is some practical living their life and there’s issues, and maybe I’m less confident that they’re a Christian because of the things I see, but I’m not going to call them false brethren.
Winger then explains that he does this even with Joel Osteen despite also acknowledging his red flags. He “leans hopefully” on the side that that Osteen is saved in that he presents the true gospel or that he lacks evidence to the contrary. This is somewhat ironic given that Winger had two videos on Osteen sermons removed from YouTube, due to a Lakewood copyright claim. In his most recent video, he claimed an overwhelming majority (14 of 15) of bible verses referenced were out of context. Osteen is the poster child for white prosperity preachers. Even prosperity teachers will “teach” a gospel message, but it is the things they add to the gospel which makes it dangerous and condemnable false teaching, particularly that pertaining to material blessings in this world and the lack of emphasize on sin, which could be equated to adversity. Then there is the money that was literally in the walls at Lakewood Church, Osteen’s reluctance to comment on hot topics, and the statements he has made are heretical at worst or problematic at best. This would include soft-peddling sin and viewing Mormons as Christians.
From here, Winger shifts back towards Bethel where he claims that while they teach the gospel, he has reservations about their additional teachings. Nevertheless, Winger does not argue that Bill Johnson is unsaved despite his anathematized gospel. His thoughts on Bethel are a recurrent theme of his critics.
For the first claim, it is reasonable to conclude that while Winger does not endorse or condone the extrabiblical and heretical teachings of Bethel, he does nuance on the individual salvations of teachers who promote these objectively heretical and false gospels. However, the legitimacy of these criticisms is unfounded by the clip in question, but Winger’s own response to his critics lends credence to the criticism. Moreover, he is not a MacArthur hater despite disagreement on secondary issues. Hurd did concede that the use of the word “trashes” was extreme, though he maintains he was going off an article headline.
Claim 2: Mike Winger supports being “slain in the spirit”
In this clip Winger responds to, he is shown in the clip recounting a story from his youth where he was enthralled in charismatic practices stemming from a church he visited at that time. He describes how a youth group wanted all to speak in tongues and other hyper-charismatic practices. Winger describes how he wanted God and that while ignorant, was genuine with his intentions in his early walk. Winger believes the teachings are abusive and misleading towards those who are genuine. Winger explains his reservations on slain in the spirit, though he believes it is possible for God to work through someone in the moment.
Tim Hurd comments that Bethel is just like the charismatic church he describes as “without a seatbelt” to which Hurd reasons that Mike Winger should be bolder against Bethel.
I believe Hurd’s criticism is accurate, though this is not to conclude that Winger is endorsing this experience or charismatic practice, which he condemns in his response video. The fact that he was a youthful believer and was drawn into these deceptive practices should strengthen his resolve against them. I did not detect that Winger addressed this valid criticism, even if it was a gem amidst a pile of excrement.
Claim 3: Mike Winger believes in the office of prophet (Defends Bethel continued)
This was the most ridiculous claim to which Hurd does issue a correction. Hurd’s video contained a clip from Winger’s Bethel video in which he used an appositive descriptor, a common technique in English prose, in describing a self-proclaimed prophet. This neglects much of the content in the hour long video on Bethel. Winger maintains a standard continuationist position on the spiritual gift of prophecy being active to this day.
In examining Winger’s dissection of Bethel, stemming from a 2018 video with in excess of one million views, there is a trove of concerns pertaining to his discernment capabilities that are more warranting of scrutiny than the clip shown in the video. In his attempt to examine Bethel biblically, Winger appears to split the baby by condemning many of Bethel’s extrabiblical teachings and practices but refusing to call Bill Johnson and Kris Vallotton either false teachers or false brethren, eventually claiming he would fellowship with Johnson and views him as an inspirational revivalist. Winger affirms their salvation despite acknowledging that Johnson functions as an apostle and Vallotton a prophet.
On their healing ministry, Winger claims that while Bethel’s practices have problems and encourage fake and unverifiable healings, he believes some of their healing claims to be legitimate. Winger does not address the monetary aspect of a church that engages in “supernatural ministry” or their new-age occultic practices.
Winger criticizes Vallotton’s practice of prophecy, in which he has people in a room share encouraging words which they believe Jesus would have them say or otherwise revealed to them in that moment. Winger splits the baby in claiming that these events, while prone to false and fake prophecies, have produced real works. Winger defends this by arguing from Jeremiah 23 that there are three sources of prophecy: God, Satan, and the heart—the third of which is the one in contention. While I would not interpret this text to differentiate this third categorization, any such prophecy or revelation should be viewed against Scripture. Continuationist are expected to test the Spirit against Scripture based on their understanding of 1 Corinthians 14. Bethel does not uphold this standard in their supposed prophecies. It is a demonstrable irreverence towards what Scripture says about prophecy, regardless of the Continuation debate. Deuteronomy 18 makes clear what the Old Testament prescribed for those who prophesied falsely, a passage Winger has used on occasions in apologetic content in discussing Joseph Smith, who prophesized a temple that was never built. The Bible demands that any who calls himself a prophet or his words prophecy must bat 1.000; otherwise, he is a fraud. While our modern law does not allow execution of false prophets, it should be sufficient Scripture to claim that any who utter false prophecy are unsaved or dubious at best.
Overall, Winger does not hold to Bethel’s theology, but believes Bethel teaches an authentic gospel. The issue with many cult leaders or heretics is that they are hyper-focused on a particular issue or set of issues. In the case of Bethel, there is an extreme emphasis on the earthly ministry of Jesus as being of greater truth than other truths, and signs and wonders, which would include healing and prophecy. Winger understands the indefensibility of these positions and refutes them accordingly yet does not connect the dots of self-edification in Bethel or their cultic tendencies, because that would require repudiating the leadership. Given that he responded to clips of people criticizing a 2018 video, the only discernable clarification Winger adds is to claim that Vallotton is a false prophet.
Claim 4: Mike Winger does not believe Christians are under the 10 Commandments
This was a complaint Winger addressed late in his video, almost in passing. Generally, when Christians say they are no longer under the commandments, they are referring to that of the Sabbath, not the other 9 commandments. Winger cites John Piper as affirming this shared belief and he does discuss this in greater detail during his appearance on Right Response Ministries. This is a widely held belief within the bounds of Orthodoxy, that is even held by John MacArthur, whose study bible references Colossians 2:16 as prooftext Christians are not bound to the Sabbath.
Claim 5: Mike Winger is soft on Revoice
What started as Doctrinal Watchdog calling our Winger’s alleged agreement with Preston Sprinkle over Sean McDowell has made a more glaring revelation. As with the other claims, Winger’s commentary in response offers more problematic insight than the initial claims. While the context of the video is muddled, it caught the attention of Winger, who placed a comment responding to the YouTube video.
In his response video, Winger states that he is not familiar with Preston Sprinkle, to which for this purpose I will take him at his word. Nevertheless, the issue is that he affirmatively cites Revoice’s belief statement to claim that they do not compromise Christian teachings on homosexuality. Winger’s citation of their website implicates that he is either wholly ignorant to their teachings or gives credence to those who affirm Revoice Theology, which stated the following on the page he linked:
While discussions about terminology can be fruitful, we believe they can also cause unnecessary division within the family of God and needless pain for many non-straight Christians. Whether individuals choose “gay” or “same-sex-attracted” to describe their orientation and experience is a matter of wisdom and liberty, and should not divide believers who otherwise share a commitment to historic Christian teaching about marriage and sexuality.
Their present statement, that he linked to, declares it is a matter of liberty whether one identifies as a “gay Christian.” Back in 2018 Revoice was making headlines in its support for exploring the virtues “queer culture” can offer the church (which is none). This is not a new phenomenon. It has been pervasive for years.
In saying “tempted with homosexual desires” he is conflating external temptation and internal desires as a single force versus living the gay lifestyle, which Revoice also glamorizes. The entire existence of Revoice is designed to soft-peddle homosexuality in the church and subvert God’s calling for believers, which is evident in the lives of their founders and the speakers they platform. They believe that “homosexual Christians” are uniquely cursed and, through their “orientation,” can offer a blessing to the Church out of their perspective and walk—which is postmodernism. They believe in the “born this way” myth and undermine biblical teaching on sanctification. The heresies of Revoice go beyond anything stated on their beliefs page to which Mike Winger would be wise to research, even if the initial video that drew his response was somewhat clickbait.
This is not to say Winger has strayed from the proper understanding of a biblical sexual ethic in his own ministry, as he has extensive work on this subject, but in this instance, he defended the Side B proponents who subvert biblical sexual ethic.
Overall Concerns on Mike Winger
My concerns with Mike Winger fall into three categories: broad “ecumenicalism,” vast degree on secondary issues, and squishiness. All three of these issues build on one another.
On Ecumenicalism, and that is wording it generously, Winger has a tendency to cast a wide net of those he considers within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. Nevertheless, he affirms the faiths of many who are considered low hanging fruit in the realm of false teachers, mainly Johnson and Osteen. Winger will condemn Kenneth Copeland as a false teacher, but not Joel Osteen, who is lampooned for being a materialistic, false teacher by even the Babylon Bee. Moreover, he is shown associating those who are theologically shaky or outright apostates, which would include a marriage conference with Sean McDowell, who soft pedals homosexuality, Michael Brown, and Ruslan KD, who attacked the Texas Abortion law and advocates a third way on abortion. At the same time, Winger has appeared with Joel Webbon, so there is a tendency for him to engage across the political spectrum. Nevertheless, it is unclear where his line in the sand is. Would he associate with Andrew Klavan, who is pro-homosexuality? Would he call Adam Kinzinger a Christian despite his Congressional voting record on social issues? How much new-age syncretism, like that Bethel practices, is permissible before one is officially a heretic in his perspective? Where is the line?
Winger has a tendency to cast a wide net because he seeks unity on the primary issues, that of the gospel, and does not seek divisions over secondary issues. The reasoning then follows, what is a secondary issue? Obviously, he does not want division over Calvinism, but he does not present a strong repudiation of those who add to the gospel, whether it be a material benefits that prosperity teachers emphasize, or the healing ministry that Bethel is notorious for. Addition to the gospel is a primary issue. Promoting Side B theology and subverting biblical teaching on homosexuality is a primary issue. Proper understanding of sin is a primary issue. Being pro-abortion in any capacity is a sin issue that must be confronted. Understandably, the Cessation/Continuation debate is secondary, just like baptism, but refusal to condemn the charlatans in the Continuation camp lends ammunition to those in the Cessation camp who disdain charismatics because they will not call out their own.
I do not contend that Mike Winger is a false believer or teacher, but I do find him to be a squish. If discernment is not his pursuit, that is acceptable, and he is within his prerogative to engage in other ministries. However, it is not just enough to warn believers about false teachings, but there must be an association between false teachings and false teachers. It does no good to warn believers of the prosperity gospel if one does not properly identify prosperity teachers. These teachings are subversive and can be difficult to catch, as they are woven into the gospel or a sermon. Moreover, leaders are held to account by God to a greater standard than those of the laity. Elders are to be above reproach, not just regenerate. It is understandable to extend charity to those who fall prey to the influence of wolves, but the same charity cannot be extended to the wolves themselves. Under his soteriological presuppositions, he should know that these are souls at stake of being falsely discipled by the dangerous teachings of Osteen or Bethel. Under a reformed framework, God uses people to call His sheep, and it is the duty of His servants to defend His sheep from the wolves.
To his credit, Winger has a very thorough and congenial approach, but at times he flirts with being nicer than God.