Lakeland Second-Hand

Yesterday I met a friend who had been to the ‘Florida
Outpouring’. He said there were a lot of hurdles to cross and filters to take
down, but God was at work. He was offended by the emphasis on money, but also
went to the local Episcopalian church’s 8 am Sunday communion, where the same
(to British ears) upfront, blunt attitude to finance persisted. There were many
humanly induced manifestations to discount, and some wobbly theology. But there
was an atmosphere of revival, and much of the remarkable works of God he
witnessed happened in the worship, way before Todd
came on to speak.

A lot of the emphasis was decidedly not cerebral, he said. Two
lines of a worship song repeated over and over again; an emphasis on emotional
engagement with God that would offend those who wanted to use the intellect. To
engage with God required laying aside one’s filters; approaching critically
left him more distant from God.

But his wife asked him who he would have accepted as a
legitimate agent of ‘revival’: what would he have made of John the Baptist?
Would he not have preferred a high priest? Why does God choose such people? To
ensure the glory goes to him, not to clever and competent human beings.

How would I respond to all this? It seems there is a growing
case for separating out the good God is doing at Lakeland (although not as much
as is claimed) from the personalities and styles that are driving it. I think
there remains much to be concerned about regarding the manner and sometimes the
content of Todd Bentley’s approach; however, God is gracious and uses all sorts
of people (even me). Paul in Philippians was glad when the Gospel was preached
for whatever motive. That does not remove the need for discernment. We need to
plot a course that receives what God is doing, while not falling for
questionable stuff. We need to cultivate the tightrope-like art of being open
and discerning, rather than being either gullible or negative. In doing that,
we avoid the aggressive confrontational approaches employed by some supporters
of the for and against camps on this issue. (Some blog comments on both sides
of the debate have been horrendous – less so on this blog, thankfully.) We also
need to do this on grounds of pastoral care for those who might get damaged.

I’m not sure that I want to choose between my emotions and
experience on the one hand and my intellect on the other in my engagement with
God. Just so long as I don’t use my intellect as a defence mechanism, I don’t
see a problem biblically. It can be used to explore the wonder of God, and thus
to worship more. I want to worship God with heart, soul, mind and strength. Having
said that, there is a lot to be said about worship styles and personality types.
But I don’t believe the Holy Spirit excludes people of certain personality

Finally, there is the ‘John the Baptist’ issue above.
However, this illustration is predicated on the assumption that the concern
with Bentley is over weirdness. It is, but it is much more. God does choose
people we wouldn’t expect. That can be shocking. Equally, gifted individuals
can do things that seem godly, but it is by pure talent alone. The old gag is
that if the Holy Spirit were withdrawn from the church, ninety-five per cent of
church life would continue as before. But the concerns about Bentley aren’t
simply about strangeness in opposition to respectable competence: they are
about holiness. And just as ‘conventional’ people can achieve what looks good
by use of personal gifts, it is also possible to achieve or manufacture things
by force of personality. Again, God uses imperfect people; however, some of
Bentley’s methods cannot be defended purely on the grounds of their unusual

I am delighted that my friend and his wife met with God at
Lakeland, whatever reservations I have. The word that remains with me is
‘discernment’, and this is not simply in a sense of discerning between good and
evil spirits. Both may be mixed up in this. We are in the midst of a field full
of wheat and tares, and God is still waiting for the harvest.

(Sorry if this is all a bit jumbled up, I’ve been typing
bits here and there in between various responsibilities over 24 hours.)


  1. Thank you for this post. I grew up in a Pentecostal church. I have seen a lot of things – and not all of them were God. I have been wary of the Lakeland thing. This helps. Again, thank you. 🙂


  2. Katherine,

    Thanks for the encouragement. I always appreciate that. I had a quick look at your blog – it’s beautiful. Congratulations: your honesty will help in others’ healing.


  3. Dave,

    I am now able to access your blog again! If you want to edit names and use anything I e-mailed you earlier, please do!

    I feel compelled to ask what ‘revival’ actually means. I searched the website which led me to a definition as follows:

    “Revival……another definition would be to recover, repair or restore. Then quotes Hosea 10:12” I looked up the the NIV version which says:

    Sow for yourselves righteousness,
    reap the fruit of unfailing love,
    and break up your unploughed
    ground; for it is time to seek
    the LORD, until he comes and
    showers righteousness on you.

    I like that definition because it seems to answer my favourite questions – who, what, when, where and how does God want and ask me to be? If God leads me to heal people in the process then I say Amen, but I will be very surprised if it’s in the same style as Todd Bentley, or anyone else for that matter! Thankfully, I believe God made us all unique and I trust He will use each one of us uniquely to His glory, if we let Him.


  4. Thank you, Dave. The report you pass on sounds familiar.

    I am puzzled by your “concerns … about holiness”. What is it that you are suggesting is not holy? The tattoos? The occasional violence? The appeals for money? The perhaps exaggerated claims of healing? (But who is doing the exaggerating?) Surely not the “wobbly theology”. The alleged self-focus? What is there here which goes beyond “weirdness” and is not just a regular part of the North American church scene?

    I think we have to be very careful, and self-critical, before suggesting that any other Christian is deficient in holiness. And we need evidence and witnesses, as in 1 Timothy 5:19, not just general feelings of unease which are so easily prompted by cultural differences and weirdness.


  5. Mary,

    The understanding of revival is important. I take it to be more than a series of meetings (and I think the way Lakeland is being spoken of has gone beyond that, too). In the Bible, I see both the revival from death to life of God’s people (‘Will you not revive us again?’; ‘Can these dry bones live?’) and also of those who did not previously believe. This involves new or renewed life in Christ, but is about more than conversion and personal blessing, although they are included. Your Hosea text mentions righteousness, and so holiness is a very important part of the understanding of revival in Wesleyan circles. Thus the eighteenth century evangelical revival led to social justice campaigns (e.g., the elderly Wesley encouraged Wilberforce regarding abolition, but he also had his own campaigns).


  6. Peter,

    Thank you. I agree entirely with you that we have to be more than careful before making allegations against Christians (or, indeed, others). That’s why, for all my concerns, I haven’t resorted to the extreme language that severe critics of the Florida Outpouring have. One blogger I respect openly called Bentley a criminal. I’m unhappy with that, unless there is clear and compelling evidence. My ‘concerns about holiness’ passage was merely meant to indicate that the debate about Lakeland is not simply about the strangeness of some of the practices, but as to whether some of them are ethical from a Christian perspective. Going into that debate is another matter, and has of course happened with various degrees of Christian love, in many places.

    Hope that helps to clarify; sorry if I was vague.


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