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It’s Time I Wrote About Todd Bentley Again

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.

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About Dave Faulkner

I'm a British Methodist minister, married with two children. I blog from a moderate evangelical-missional-charismatic perspective, with an interest in the 'missional' approach. My interests include Web 2.0, digital photography, contemporary music and watching football (Tottenham Hotspur) and cricket.

Posted on June 4, 2008, in Religion. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I’m sort of thinking out loud here, but here is where I’ve got to so far.

    1) I believe that God can heal people miraculously and I believe that God can cure people miraculously.

    2) I’m uncomfortable with a theology that suggests that one is either ‘for’ or ‘against’ miraculous healings and that if one is ‘for’ them that one must attend every Pentecostal-style healing service going. (Not saying that you believe this but there does often seem to be an element of ‘He who is not for us is against us’ in these services.)

    3) From personal experience, I still doubt that God heals as many people as Pentecostal healing ministries seem to claim.

    4) I have no way of judging whether Bentley is healing people or not but I do worry about vulnerable people being exploited.

    5) If people are genuinely being healed, then I believe these healings can only come from God. Evil forces do not heal people in order to throw them off God’s trail as a house divided against itself cannot stand.

    6) If people are genuinely being healed, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person doing the healing has good, solid Christian teaching. Healing and teaching are separate gifts at the best of times.

    7) Some of the hitting, slapping and kicking I’ve seen makes me nervous.

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  2. Pam,

    Only time for a quick response now late at night, but basically to say I think I’m with you almost word for word.

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  3. Please see “A Call for Discernment” by going to http://www.justinpeters.org. Justin is an evangelist and in addition to expository preaching, also holds seminars on the “Word of Faith” movement. He has cerebral palsy and concurs with the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”

    You can view his brief overview of the misleading Word of Faith movement given at Southwestern Theological Seminary here:

    http://www.justinpeters.org/demo.htm

    To God be the glory!

    Caron
    Los Angeles

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  4. Thank you, Caron, I hadn’t heard of Justin Peters on this side of the pond. While I’m not sure that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a physical ailment, I nevertheless believe that God’s grace is sufficient in all adversity. The outline of his seminar looks interesting, and I say that despite the fact that I would equally not see eye to eye with John McArthur, who endorses it. But don’t worry, you won’t get me endorsing the Word Of Faith movement. Whether Bentley is strictly part of that is probably a matter for debate, although he has certainly said some foolish things about financial blessing.

    Thank you again, I appreciate your contribution.

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  5. Dave, if you are concerned about verification of claims, you really should verify claims made by your commenters like Bene D. The supposed retraction he mentions in his comment, which is here, is not in fact a retraction at all. See also this comment of mine.

    I commented more than this but the full comment was held for moderation. I am reposting this part because I consider it urgent to rebut this disinformation.

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  6. Peter,

    Thanks, and I don’t mind you essentially posting the same comment on this post and the ‘Healing, Verification and Resurrection’ post. When Bene Diction left his comment, I did try to verify it by Googling, and specifically the Charisma magazine site. I could not find the retraction, but I was searching under the little girl’s name, which (as it turns out) is not mentioned in the article.

    I assumed at the time that the reason was it must have been such a recent print edition of Charisma that it was deliberately not yet available on the web. So thank you for the link, and the URL for your comment on it on your blog.

    I agree it is not a retraction. However, it is a denial on the part of the hospital. Let us suppose the denial takes the form you suggest in your comment on your blog. If that is right, then we don’t have a resurrection here, even if we do have a healing. That would have implications for the way Bentley is claiming a certain number of resurrections. He might be right to claim that God did something, but overstating the case. It may or may not require a retraction, but it certainly calls for a clarification. I’d be interested to know if there is any further follow-up in terms of reaction to the hospital’s denial.

    It would also be useful to have chapter and verse on the pastor with cancer who claimed healing but died. Does anyone know?

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  7. Thanks, Dave. I agree it would be helpful to have further details, and perhaps a more nuanced claim from Todd. But “retraction” is clearly the wrong word for what has been published, and an unsuitable word for what is required. As for the girl’s name, Bene keeps changing it; I think the original was “Jayden”.

    I would suggest that if someone is declared dead, then Christians pray for them, then the person is alive, that can reasonably be called a raising from the dead and a miracle – whatever medical explanation might be given by unbelieving doctors.

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  8. Peter,

    Thank you as always. Bene’s naming of the child may have thrown me off the scent when I tried to Google the story, and yes, we agree that ‘retraction’ is the wrong word. However, ‘denial’ is strong. I’m not clear whether the child was declared dead or not in the light of the terse description of the hospital’s denial. We don’t know whether the doctors were unbelieving, do we?

    Thanks for your advocacy of Bentley’s case. I’m sure it helps in the pursuit of truth.

    I’m still just trying to be careful and cautious in the claims that are made. I’m not accusing anybody on any side of this debate of deliberate lies, although I fear that Christian enthusiasm might inflate claims.

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  9. Thanks, Dave. Fair enough, we don’t know exactly what the hospital said, and we don’t know if the doctors involved are believers or not – although sadly many believers have been taught false doctrines like that miracles cannot happen today. I am just urging caution about assuming that this claim of a raising from the dead has been falsified, to match any caution about taking at face value.

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  10. Fair comment, Peter. I agree with you about wrong teaching regarding the possibility of the miraculous.

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  11. “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,”

    and that’s the rub isn’t it ? God does work in mysterious ways, He can (and does) heal and He often uses the most unsuitable people for His Kingdom’s work doesn’t He.

    We need discernment. We need openness to the spirit’s guidance. We need not to heed the enemy – who when he spoke to eve said something like Did God really say…

    the message from the church in response to this has to be open and honest – and point its people in the direction of God – in prayer and humility. If this move of God is from God – we desperately need to recognise it. if it’s not – we need to recognise that too.

    And it all starts on our knees.

    God, let your kingdom come. Let us not be too proud or too fearful to allow you to show us what’s what. Amen

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  12. Oh and one more thing – a lot of this our reactions are cultural differences. We are not American or Canadian. We think and act differently

    Biblical Revival does require repentence -back on our knees (grin) – and we need that kind of personal and corporate revival in Europe as never before. As in Wesley’s day.

    But let’s not get caught up in semantics. Any genuine meeting with Christ will cause us to repent personally – look at Zacceaus 🙂

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  13. Lorna,

    Thanks for your comments, I think they’re very apposite.

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