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
Bentley 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.)