Further comments on Todd Bentley’s theology

  • In July 2008, an article was posted on freelance theology relating to the popular (and controversial) American preacher Todd Bentley. At the time, ‘revivalist’ meetings in Lakeland, Florida were being televised regularly in the UK on Christian cable channel GodTV, and both the preacher and his message were the subject of much debate in the Christian press.

    However, since then there have been two significant developments. The main one as far as many commentators are concerned is a very public scandal.But from a theological point of view, there have been events as well.

    An unfolding story
    The conclusion of the previous freelance theology article was: “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.Read the rest of the article here >>>>>

    The scandal, as slowly revealed in the Christian press was that Bentley, it appears, developed a relationship with a member of his ministry team. He has subsequently divorced his wife and married the woman he had the affair with. He has been publicly rebuked for adultery by the organisation he headed up, Fresh Fire Ministries, who have ‘severed ties’ with him. He is currently being mentored through a ‘restoration process’, overseen by several high profile American pastors, although exact details of what that process is have not been made clear.

    These sad facts will inevitably colour the views of people when discussing his ministry. Those who were ‘less-than-convinced’ have already found in those events enough ammunition to destroy Todd Bentley’s credibility. Those who hoped his unorthodox teaching style heralded a much wider revival may have had their faith in church leaders shaken.

    RT Kendall’s critical assessment of Lakeland
    In October 2008, before the news about Bentley’s indiscretions broke, noted evangelical preacher and teacher RT Kendall sent an open letter to several high profile Christian newspapers and magazines expressing grave concerns with Bentley’s theology. Kendall’s criticisms were published in Christianity magazine in the UK, without editorial comment, as well as across several other media. His article is also available to read on his website. 1

    Kendall lists three main theological objections to Todd Bentley’s teaching and ministry, namely:

    “First, never once have I heard a clear message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the Lakeland platform – except when a guest speaker did it. Second, when people were being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and ‘Bam – bam’, it both trivialized the Trinity and baptism itself. This is serious, serious trivializing. Third, if you were to ask how much a fear of God and conviction of sin emanated from these services – on a scale of 1 to 100 – I would say zero.”

    Kendall initially condemned the events of 1994-5, often referred to as the ‘Toronto Blessing’, only to publicly change his view and affirm it as genuinely being ‘of God’. Of the events in Lakeland, he says: “I tried very, very hard to support this strange move, especially when some of my closest friends were endorsing it and urging me to do the same.”

    However, Kendall says he felt unable to support it. He represents, quite fairly, a scepticism at the somewhat extravagant claims made by the team in Lakeland. For example, he notes that: “At last count there were 37 resurrections from the dead. If only one of them had a coroner’s death certificate it would be a very serious matter to say that what was going on there was not of God.”

    Lacking evidence
    Although a comment like this may appear facetious, it does represent a problem with a lack of evidence. Kendall is not a cynic, but anyone who is a cynic could reasonably make the demand that if you’re claiming to raise people from the dead, you really ought to have proof that they were dead. Using such claims as evidence of anointing does put the onus on actually having the evidence.

    Kendall goes on to criticise the lack of gospel preaching in Bentley’s ministry, saying:

    “Preaching itself in Lakeland has been minimal, and what preaching there has been calls more attention to angels, miracles and manifestations than to Jesus who died on the cross… When one is reported to have been to the Third Heaven (as the main evangelist of Lakeland has stated) and told not to preach Jesus (because everybody knows about him) but rather angels (which people know little about), I can only call this ‘another gospel’ as in Galatians 1. I would go to the stake for the Gospel of salvation which Paul preached – that emphasizes reliance solely in the precious blood of Christ. I would certainly not go to the stake for the Lakeland message – and would be afraid to face God if I did.”2

    It’s worth remembering that these theological criticisms were made before the news broke of Todd Bentley’s affair and estrangement from his first wife, which does maybe make them more valid than the many critical comments made after Bentley’s behaviour was made public.

    A problem in the Christian culture?
    Bentley is currently undergoing ‘restoration’, presumably with a view to resuming ministry at soem point. One online commentator claims this ‘restoration’ illustrates the “fundamental weakness in our freestyle approach to “restoring” fallen leaders” which shows “we charismatics still seem to have a habit of elevating gifting above character. It’s almost as if the end justifies the means. (So what if a preacher ruins one marriage and makes a hasty decision to marry a younger woman – the important thing is that we get him back in the pulpit to heal the sick!)”3 This criticism is less of Bentley, but rather of a church culture that values ‘manifestations’ and quirky happenings above genuine theological reflection and wisdom.

    Whether Bentley returns to public ministry or not, it appears he will still have profound theological questions to resolve relating to his teaching and ministry. Those who are currently unconvinced by either his theology or his actions may be hard to win over.

    Notes and references
    1 – The article ‘Lakeland’ by RT Kendall can be found at http://www.rtkendallministries.com/ (note no direct hyperlink available)
    2 – The passing reference to Galatians is probably Galatians chapter 1, verses 6-9, particularly verse 8: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!”
    3- These comments were made by J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine, in an article called ‘The Tragic Scandal of Greasy Grace’. It can be read online at http://www.newchristian.org.uk/lakeland.html

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