The Florida Revival and Todd Bentley’s teaching


  • Question 140, from Mark, United Kingdom

    Any thoughts on the latest ‘so called’ healing revival in Florida

    I googled Todd Bentley and read and saw some worrying things, some are saying this is a false move as we are warned about in Matthew chapter 24, verse 24.

    For those who don’t know, Todd Bentley is a Florida-based preacher who has recently been attracting much attention amid claims of dramatic spiritual manifestations, healings and angelic visitations. Recently Bentley’s ‘revival meetings’ have been broadcast in the United Kingdom on religious cable channels, and clips are also available on internet sites such as Youtube.

    Naturally, in any situation where things appear to happen outside normal experience, questions are asked. Specifically, in this case, is this a revival? And, if not, is this the kind of deception foretold by Jesus in Matthew chapter 24, verse 24? (“For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.”)

    Some of the concerns raised about Bentley’s actions include, in no particular order:
    ~ The methodology used in ‘healings’, which includes physical impacts, such as punching and kicking
    ~ Association with a number of high-profile ‘prophets’, including some who were integral members of the group called the Kansas City Prophets in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The ministry and theology of some of the Kansas City Prophets has often been questioned, and there have been several accusations relating to “moral failure” (a eupehemism for sexual indiscretions).
    ~ Appeals for money/financial support, often with an attached promise of blessing on those who give money
    ~ An emphasis on angelic visitations, particularly with regard to “financial angels”

    In the United Kingdom, the questions being asked about Todd Bentley’s ministry has provoked a response from the Evangelical Alliance, in the form of an open letter from director Joel Edwards. The solution the EA put forward is for people to ‘wait and see’ what the long-term effects of Bentley’s ministry will be[1].

    The EA invoke the example of Gamaliel, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin in Acts chapter 5. He encourages the Sanhedrin not to persecute the apostles Peter and John, saying: “if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (verses 38-39) [2]

    However, the ‘wait and see’ approach isn’t always possible when people are getting excited about “a potential move of God”. In the New Testament, the newly-formed Christian churches are encouraged to practice “discernment” of prophecies and other supernatural events[3].

    In it’s open letter, the EA actually restates the five litmus tests put forward by the great New England Puritan teacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-58), who was involved in a well-known revival in the eighteenth century. The five criteria Edwards used to determine whether something was truly “of God” were:
    – Does it raise people’s estimation of Jesus Christ?
    – Does it operate against the interests of Satan?
    – Does it lead to a greater regard for Scripture and truth?
    – Does it result in a greater awareness of and seriousness about the things of God?
    – Does it lead to a greater love for God, for other Christians and for the wider world?

    It is perfectly legitimate, and in fact a Biblical imperative, for Christians to question the validity of any claims made of prophecy or supernatural activity. (To use a more Biblical metaphor, to ask: ‘what are the fruits of this?’)

    Violent healing
    In the case of healing, it has been known for those practicing Christian healing to use seemingly violent actions to impart healing. The nineteenth century healer Smith Wigglesworth (1859-1947) is recorded having slapped, and on at least one occasion, punching a person who needed to be healed. However, these incidents were exceptional to his normal practice.

    In the case of modern-day claims of healing, one means of discernment is to ask for medical proof, although a person asking for it may find themselves abused for lacking faith. However, external medical proof for healings is a New Testament principle. For example, in the gospel account of ten lepers being healed, Jesus performs the miracle, then sends the newly-cleansed lepers to show themselves to a neutral authority (the priests), so they can declare that the miracle has happened[4].

    Guilt by association
    The most controversial associate of Todd Bentley’s is Bob Jones, a one-time member of the Kansas City Prophets. Jones was later attached to John Wimber’s Anaheim Vineyard, but was asked to leave after allegations involving sexual misconduct[5]. Of course, there is an issue of criticising someone on the basis of their associates – it is what the Pharisees repeatedly did to Jesus, after all![6]

    However, given the negative publicity surrounding the high profile ‘TV Evangelists’, and ‘prophets’, who Bentley seems to consider important, there is a question of discernment relating to Bentley’s relationships. Specifically, what is he basing his theology, his interpretation of the Bible, and his understanding of God on? If he is simply appropriating questionable theology, and in the case of Bob Jones, many people would say he is, then Bentley’s own discernment is open to question.

    Cultural religion?
    There is certainly a cultural acceptance within North American ‘revivalist’ practice towards appealing for money. Criticisms of the way money is asked for often revolve around ‘blessings’ which are promised in return. Most of the time, these ‘blessings’ are some form of future financial recompense. [Read more about this in the freelance theology article
    Prosperity & Being Blessed]

    This effectively turns Christian giving into a form of investment portfolio, and is quite clearly contrary to the New Testament. Luke chapter 6 includes the following instructions from Jesus to his disciples:
    “And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great,” (verses 34-35)
    However, the promised reward is not financial, or even necessarily to be received in this life.

    A second aspect of cultural conditioning on Bentley’s ministry is the huge emphasis on angels, including a ‘guiding angel’ called “Emma” (who also apparently appeared to Bob Jones), and ‘financial angels’ which gather money to aid Bentley’s ministry. The angelology explored by Bentley has little, if any, root in the Bible, although it does seem to reflect the medieval developed angelologies of Christian and Jewish tradition, particularly in terms of angels (and demons) being in control of certain geographical locations [7].

    Angel visitations are also key aspects of the Latter Day Saints movement (Mormonism), which is based around angelic visitation, previously unknown revelations, and encounters with resurrected Biblical characters. Just like LDS founder and chief prophet Joseph Smith and his compatriots met with characters such as John the Baptist[8], Bentley also claims to have talked with the Apostle Paul[9].

    In terms of the emphasis on angels and meeting long-dead Biblical characters, it would seem the cultural impression made by Mormonism is having an impact on Christian culture. Claims of angels dispensing special revelations are not a new phenomenon in North America, and that perhaps need to be borne in mind when analysing the stories relating to angels which seem to be promoted by Todd Bentley and his colleagues.

    Grace abounding
    Finally, it’s worth noting that while Christians are encouraged to be discerning, there is also a case for being gracious. In his favour, Todd Bentley does try and answer several questions and accusations which are thrown at him[10]. Todd Bentley, and his ministry, may well have a long-lasting effect on people’s lives; those who are less-than-convinced may well want to wait and see.

    [1] The open letter from the EA can be read at http://www.eauk.org/media/florida.cfm
    [2] In Acts chapter 22, verse 3, when Paul is arrested in the Temple, he tells his accusers that he was ‘taught under’ Gamaliel prior to his conversion.
    [3] See, e.g. 1 Corinthians chapter 14, verse 29: “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.”; and 1 John chapter 4, verse 1: “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,”
    [4] Luke chapter 17, verses 11-19
    [5] In John Wimber – The Way it Was [Hodder & Stoughton,1999] John’s widow Carol, comments “Bob Jones’ eccentricities were merely charming to us rather than alarming, as maybe they should have been.” (p.179) and mentions that “[John] tried to discipline Bob Jones” (p.181)
    [6] See, e.g. Matthew chapter 11, verse 19.
    [7] See Bentley’s article ‘Angelic Hosts’, written in 2003. It can be read online at http://www.etpv.org/2003/angho.html The references to geographical angels are in part 1. The financial angels are mentioned in Part 3.
    [8] There’s a statue in Temple Square, Salt Lake City, commemorating this. I saw it when I was over there about a month ago – Jon (FT editor)
    [9] See ‘A Face To Face Encounter – Part 2 of 2’ – By Todd Bentley, cited by Andrew Strom on Charismamag Online Forums, and elsewhere. On Todd’s MySpace page (http://www.myspaceprofiles.org/profiles/78175403.html), he says he’d like “More face to face encounters with Jesus, King David, Paul the Apostle”. Caveat: this might be a joke, remember to be discerning – Jon (FT editor)
    [10] Can be read online at http://www.freshfire.ca/?Id=1059&pid=993

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