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Sabbatical, Day 80: Rebuilding Trust; Todd Bentley’s Second Coming

A Christian businessman friend of mine, Dan Collins (his company is Fresh Tracks), twittered an article this morning that he had written for the website Financial World. Basically, he argues that if companies want to do well today, they should build a culture of trust, especially with their customers. He contrasts this to the woeful track record of banks, who have introduced cost-cutting policies at the expense of customer contact. Here is one striking story from the article. It appeals to me, because it refers to my native North London!

The example that first triggered this thought in my mind was a little restaurant in North London that was always full, predominantly with repeat customers.  Despite being quite a trek from the centre of town it was renowned around the world.  The reason being, there were no prices on the menu because there was never a bill at the end of the evening.  Vasos Michael the 4’10” diminutive proprietor didn’t ever give his customers bills for their meal, he simply presented a list of what had been served, including drinks and asked that the customers paid what they felt the meal was worth.  On the whole people rewarded his trusting nature by paying more than a comparable meal would have cost elsewhere and if someone abused the relationship by paying too little, Vasos wouldn’t hesitate to ask why, gaining either valuable feedback or the satisfaction of publicly embarrassing a miser.

I found it refreshing to read Dan’s piece today, not only because it was great to see a Christian friend writing something in the commercial world that is based on implicit Christian values, but because it made me connect with other thoughts.

For one thing, I’d put the breakdown in business trust earlier than Dan does. My father worked in the City for NatWest at the time of the financial ‘Big Bang’ of 1987, when regulatory practices were ‘reformed’. (Deformed, more like.) He always said that was the time when the old City ethic that a man’s (and it was generally a man, in the past) word was his bond. He saw time-honoured practices discarded recklessly by young bucks. That predates Dan – he’s too young to have been in the business world then, I think. But I’m glad to see him voicing these convictions, especially at a difficult time when businesses might be tempted to cut even more ethical corners to survive and prosper. Great stuff, Dan. 

But it connects with church issues, too. Only last night I was reading that Todd Bentley may be back in public ministry sooner than expected. There is a large piece in the Canadian Western Standard, which I found via Bene Diction and Richard Hall. Now while there is a certain cynical tone to the Western Standard article that I might find uncomfortable, it isn’t surprising when you consider what it has turned up. Two points in particular stood out for me:

Firstly, Rick Joyner, who is supposed to be overseeing Bentley’s restoration process, now claims that God is overriding that process in order to bring Bentley back into ministry sooner. Secondly, the Standard provides evidence that in its opinion shows Bentley denying the formal relationship they believe was undoubtedly established between him and the Revival Alliance. 

With regard to the second, I don’t doubt what the Standard are saying, but I think there was also an issue about what Peter Wagner and the others claimed was happening at Lakeland. It was a matter of considerable debate last summer whether Wagner said he knew Bentley well or not. (Here is what I wrote at the time.) 

But the first point raises big issues of trust for me, not dissimilar from what Dan Collins was writing about in terms of business practice. Sin, repentance and restoration to ministry are serious matters. When people have suffered brokenness for a long time (and it seems to be that Bentley has honestly admitted that), then my experience suggests that the quick fix is rarely right or healthy. There is good reason for the process to take a long time. Some will be cynical about the motives behind any attempts to rush Bentley back into the spotlight. I can understand that. We like the crash-bang-wallop approach to spirituality in charismatic circles (or should I say, ‘Bam’?), because we have been seduced by an instant can’t-wait culture.

I can’t help thinking it would be much more merciful to keep Bentley out of the public eye. No videos, no nothing. It would be kinder to him. Remember how Jimmy Swaggart tried to wriggle out of the discipline imposed by the Assemblies of God when he fell? It didn’t look good, did it? Neither does this. I am so not convinced that it is God who is accelerating Todd Bentley’s return, unless others can provide some strong evidence to make me rethink.

In fact, to me there seem to be particular reasons in Bentley’s case why the restoration process needs to be long and slow. (And, I should add, ‘restoration’ is not primarily about a return to public ministry. It is first and foremost about a return to good fellowship in the Body of Christ. Public ministry may or may not follow, but it cannot be a priority.)

The particular reasons revolve around the nature of what brought an end to his ministry at Lakeland, and his personal history. The issue appears to be one of deceit, and that suggests a lot of learned habits to cover things up over a long period of time. There was deceit over the relationship with the woman who is now his second wife, even if there was nothing physically inappropriate. That deceit must have been towards Shonnah, his first wife, towards the now-renamed Fresh Fire ministry, towards the local leadership at Lakeland, and potentially others.

Furthermore, Bentley had a conviction aged fifteen for sexually assaulting a seven-year-old boy, along with other crimes based on his membership of a sexual assault gang. I don’t want to use the facts of those convictions in the way some of his opponents in blog posts have, to smear him, as if there were no such thing as forgiveness. I believe there is forgiveness for the worst of sins through the Cross of Christ. However, I would draw attention to the widespread experience of those who counsel sex crime offenders, especially those whose crimes are against children. Their regular testimony is that these people are astonishingly practiced in the art of deceit. Granted, Bentley clearly hasn’t reached the depths of many such people who so deceive themselves that they justify their behaviour, but they have to engage in serious deceit in order to cover up their deeds. It becomes ingrained.

That is why my own denomination will not anyone hold office who has been convicted of sexual offences against minors. Were Bentley to have been a British Methodist and not an independent, he would not have been allowed to minister in the first place.

Given, then, the likely history of deceit, it’s little surprise it came into play at Lakeland with the inappropriate relationship. This constitutes on the personal level the major breach of trust which Dan Collins laments in much of the business world.

There has to be a long journey back from such places. Real apologies. Deep repentance. New patterns of behaviour, tried and tested over a period of time. Attempts to make amends or restitution, if appropriate. And so on. Pastoral care is not a TV show. It is quiet and long term. That doesn’t seem to be happening here.

Perhaps, if I pursue this theme of trust, Rick Joyner and his colleagues would ask me to trust them. But I would struggle on this evidence. At best, I am concerned about the wisdom being shown in the ‘restoration process’. At worst, others will doubtless make more serious allegations about potential motives. I do not believe that what is being shown publicly presents the Body of Christ in a good light.

As on other occasions, I truly hope I am wrong. But to my mind so far, the evidence is pointing in a worrying direction.

Todd Bentley

I wrote several posts a few months ago about Todd Bentley. We arrived home from holiday to discover he was leaving the Lakeland ‘Revival’ and separating from his wife. Three days later his ministry admitted he was in an unhealthy relationship with another woman. Many bloggers have waded in. Dan Edelen has a lot of wisdom borne of pain in several posts. Bill Kinnon is more fiery, especially on the backtracking by C Peter Wagner. There are numerous others.

Whatever my criticisms of Bentley, I take no pleasure in these events. Here are some thoughts.

Losers According to Bill Kinnon, C Peter Wagner has described Todd Bentley as a loser. Crudely, that seems to mean Wagner didn’t back a winner, so he inflicts this description on Bentley. Whatever I think of Bentley’s ministry, especially the violence, if you write people off as losers you dismiss the Gospel. In the words of an old Steve Taylor song, ‘Jesus is for losers’. Watch the video for the song here:

No, if Wagner talks like this, what Gospel does he believe and preach? Where does the Cross fit in? Dan Edelen talks much about charismatics needing to recover the Cross: here is a prime reason why.

This isn’t a time for casting stones, it’s a time for prayer and grace as well as church discipline (which after all according to Jesus was meant to be restorative).

Accountability Bill Kinnon links to Phoenix Preacher, who said on August 26th,

Scott and I knew about Bentley’s immorality two months ago, but couldn’t find anyone willing to go on the record.

It’s in the nature of wrongly relating to someone other than yourself that there will be deceit, but this implies that appropriate accountability structures were abused. Yes, it’s good that Bentley stepped down, but that seems to have been for the sin of having been found out. Why were others culpable in the cover-up? Was it conspiracy or fear? We may never know.

But there is not only the accountability to his organisation Fresh Fire and the wider church, there is also the question of accountability in marriage. In what I am about to write I am aware that ‘there but for the grace of God go I’, but – it seems one of the problems seemed to be Bentley’s protracted absence in Lakeland. Like many ministry marriages, Debbie and I have it built into our relationship that if a question arises of my being absent overnight or longer, we discuss it before agreeing. We have done so with respect to my forthcoming sabbatical early next year.

It must have been very tempting (and yes, I probably do mean ‘tempting’) for Bentley to stay in Florida rather than Canada, given what was happening. It must have been exciting for him. The emotional pressure on Shonnah to agree must have been huge. But the fatal flaw in the logic is the idea that the revival depended on him. I suspect that when I take my sabbatical next year, my churches (which have never had a minister on study leave before) will discover just how unnecessary I am! It is a salutary lesson.

Prophecy Clearly, Wagner’s ‘prophecy’ in June that Bentley would increase in this, that and everything looks pretty sorry now. While I am not one of those who believes modern-day prophecies have to be 100% accurate (as per Old Testament standards) because they’re not adding to Scripture, it does strike me that the prophecy concerned is just altogether too typical of the prophetic drivel that sometimes infects charismatic Christianity. It is the sort once characterised by a friend of mine as ‘Thus says the Lord, I love you O my children’. It’s all about how wonderful the recipient is. While I’m neither for the sort of word that reduces everyone to worm status, I thought the only person we were meant to big up like this was Christ. This stuff needs serious questioning. It’s linked to my next observation.

Personality Whatever happened to all those prophecies around the 1990s that ‘the coming revival’ would be ‘a nameless, faceless’ one? Rather than that, we still promote our personalities, and then (like the secular press) exclaim with horror when they fall. The personality cult is one of the most insidiously worldly aspects of evangelical and charismatic Christianity. Bentley often said on the stage at Lakeland that it wasn’t about him but Jesus. Nevertheless, others promoted him and he allowed it. He could have stepped out of the way more for his associates or others. He rarely did. This may have been a tactical error rather than malicious, but any of us called to a public rôle in Christianity need to learn and accept the hard lesson that it’s not about us, it’s about Christ, and our actions need to match up. That’s not easy, and it requires some holy ruthlessness on our part. Often we’re not willing. The attention or acclaim is too attractive.

So may God have mercy on Todd and Shonnah Bentley and the anonymous female staff member. May God have mercy on C Peter Wagner. May God have mercy on us all. We who are without exception sinners need grace – the kindness of God that leads us to repentance.