I remain nervous about this whole phenomenon. Much of my upcoming opinions (and any revisions) may hang on the meeting I hope to have with an acquaintance whose wife has been to Lakeland. And having failed to make the ‘impartation meeting’ at Meadgate Church last Friday night, I shall bat a meeting next Monday lunch-time where my vicar friend from that church will be present. We hope to chat. Readers of my posts on Bentley will have realised I have significant reservations, not least in the areas of verified healings (see especially Bene Diction‘s comment today in my post ‘Healing, Verification and Resurrection‘) and what appears to be a violent adaptation of the laying on of hands.
Nevertheless, I am not ruling out the possibility that God may well be at work in this whole experience, just as he is at work in messy churches all over the world. If God is at work, I do not want to oppose the Holy Spirit, for Scripture, experience and church history all teach me this important lesson: the powerful presence of God is not automatically a sign of the divine imprimatur on particular human beings. In the Bible, one might cite characters such as King Saul. In church history, John Wesley thought at first that when people fell to the floor during his preaching, it was vindication of his Arminian theology over the Calvinists. He had to learn that God had a different agenda. Not that I’m against Wesley, you understand! In personal experience, I have seen remarkable things attached to flaky people (I’m saying no more).
One thing I’d like to float for discussion is the question of Bentley and what in the UK we would call working class culture. North America can protest it doesn’t have a class system, it just doesn’t have anything so ancient as ours. North American friends, you can think in terms of blue collar culture. I raise this, because I have noticed people comment on the number of poorer people who have been attending the Lakeland meetings. Given the inability – at least in this country – to reach such peoples ever since the Industrial Revolution, this fact should make us sit up and take notice. We have seen Catholics and Anglo-Catholics do better in inner city areas; we have heard of Pentecostal fruitfulness in South American favelas; but a white, western evangelical-charismatic movement among poorer people is less common.
I have this in mind, because I grew up in an urban part of north London. This year, it has been badly affected by the epidemic of teenagers being stabbed in London. Three had been stabbed to death in the first three months of 2008. I may have a couple of degrees to my name and be educated into a middle class profession, but I am more like ‘local lad made good’. People like those among whom I grew up need the Gospel.
With this in mind, let’s at least give house room to some of Bentley’s approach. The tattoos are an obvious example: he looks like a biker, and is it really right to read certain prescriptions from the Torah off the page as condemning something equivalent? I’m not sure. I don’t like tattoos, but I put that down to personal taste.
Then there’s the language. ‘Bam!’ as someone is apparently overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit. It sounds like something out of Batman, but I can remember middle-class charismatics twenty or thirty years ago talking about being ‘zapped’ by the Holy Spirit. Batman versus Star Wars/Star Trek: what’s the difference? It’s not my preferred expression, but I have nothing against it. Most people aren’t going to use long theological words like I do.
The same could be said of the regular slogan he has, inviting people for prayer ministry or to visit Lakeland: ‘Come and get some’. It sounds like a football hooligan to me, but again, it could just be cultural. We are good at ‘nice’ invitations in our respectable churches; if someone gives an invitation in the language of the street, we shouldn’t dismiss it. We may well be right to raise questions about an emphasis on getting, because it needs to be accompanied by a consequent movement of giving and serving, and that element is by no means clear in the meetings.
And that point beggars the whole use of the word ‘revival’. I’m aware the word is used differently on each side of the Atlantic – we are, as Winston Churchill said, two nations separated by a common language. (Three, counting Bentley’s native Canada.) To the British Christian, a revival is about the church coming back to her purposes, and many people finding faith in Christ for the first time. It is thus intrinsically linked to repentance. Much criticism of Bentley is around the fact that he rarely seems to mention repentance. In North America, a revival can mean a series of meetings in a church, and this is how the Lakeland story began – with five nights of meetings.
Moreover, I hear Bentley distinctly referring to this as a ‘healing revival’. To my ears, that sounds like a claim that we are seeing a major re-emergence of the healing ministry here. However, even this can’t be completely divorced from other uses of the word ‘revival’, because Bentley clearly has a worldwide, if not almost apocalyptic, vision for what has begun in Florida. All in all, then, I really wish he wouldn’t use the word – especially as it is hard to gauge how big or influential this movement is, given its fast dissemination via TV and the Internet. It’s too soon to speak of a revival as anything more than a lot of meetings.
As I say, none of this is to offset or downplay my concerns. It is to put down a marker about something positive. It would be unfair to criticise Bentley for loose use of words, and if he does have a gift for reaching blue collar workers, then any problems with this ministry take on the level of a tragedy.