The banning of Todd Bentley

Todd Bentley’s first book

“Revivalist preacher Todd Bentley refused entry to UK” -thus states the Guardian headline.  I am no fan of Todd Bentley, but having seen him live, and having friends who are supporters of his, I am more than normally interested in what’s happening here. The story raises a number of important issues.

A few years ago I went with some friends to a meeting in Dudley to hear him preach: he had the reputation of having a radical style but with dramatic healings taking place in his meetings. He was one of a number of celebrity Christian preachers, often with links to God TV, who would tend to draw large crowds whenever they appeared in this country.

I went with a sense of expectancy, but was disappointed to find that he had a highly manipulative style which, before anything else happened, resulted in many of the audience dropping cash at his feet. It was never explained what this money would be used for. Nevertheless, I spoke with a few who’d been at the front, who said they had seen dramatic events which they took to be of supernatural origin.

Shortly afterwards the Florida Outpouring took place(see here for a helpful review). This was taken to be a dramatic example of God’s supernatural action in a particular locality, and it probably received more media coverage than any event since the Toronto Blessing. A number of friends from my church in Cheltenham went out there and came back there deeply impressed by what was happening. I was under-enthused, having seen him in operation in Dudley, but slightly perplexed that I might have missed something important. In the end, after several months, the event came to an untimely close because of Bentley’s marital difficulties which led to his subsequent divorce and rapid second marriage.

In recent times people have spoken of Bentley’s restoration and there has for a while been talk of his returning to the UK. In the end the legal system has intervened. However there are some important issues that must be addressed. One of these is exemplified by a story which tended to follow Todd Bentley, and is reported in the Guardian:

In one typical claim, he is filmed telling an audience: “And the Holy Spirit spoke to me, the gift of faith came on me. He said, ‘kick her in the face with your biker boot’. I inched closer and I went like this – bam! And just as my boot made contact with her nose, she fell under the power of God.”

The story carries with it an important sub-text: I am so in tune with God that even when he tells me to do something bizarre, I know it’s his voice, so I am obedient and amazing things happen in consequence. However, unless such claims can be backed up independently, there is the suspicion that they are no more than self-generated myth. If he has invented the story himself, I suspect many will be glad to have it exposed.

However, Bentley’s claim to be able heal people of cancer (and other major illnesses) is not unusual in charismatic Christian circles. I am a part of these circles and engage in this ministry (see here; albeit not yet with headline results), so I am actively interested when these claims provoke controversy. Whenever serious claims are being made for healing from major illnesses,  it is incredibly important that medical evidence is presented so that these claims can be authenticated. A healing from cancer should be possible to document properly. While it is unlikely that medical doctors would want to positively affirm a supernatural miracle, they should be able to confirm the presence and extent of the cancer before the event, its absence afterwards, and that the rapidity of the change is substantially beyond what could be explained by normal biomedicine. (For a well documented example of healing from a serious illness, see here. See also the story of my friend Jono Smithies.)

My suspicion – and it is no more than that – is that while Bentley may be a highly manipulative individual, genuine supernatural events were occurring at his meetings. There is a tendency to think that miracles authenticate the spiritual power and integrity of the preacher – but this is not a Biblical view (see here). My feeling is that at his meetings, there was a high level of faith in God that there would be healings – and because of that, God acted, in response to the faith present as opposed to the preacher. Bentley may have abused this for his own ends. It would be interesting to know whether Bentley is another example of a depressingly well-known phenomenon – of a genuinely Spirit-empowered preacher who started well but was waylaid by his own corruption.

This leaves an awkward question: why would God use such a man in any way? There may be a painful answer. This is that those of us in more conventional church positions are not prepared for the radicalism that God desires, so that we are unable to be used. Perhaps in God’s economy corrupt vessels are better than unusable vessels.

24 thoughts on “The banning of Todd Bentley

  1. Rich I was present at the same event, I also felt quite disturbed with the events that took place, especially the out pouring of cash that followed as a result of his preaching, I felt this was somehow very wrong.

    I understand that these organisations need to make money, like any of us, we want to be successful, it just felt so gluttonous, I almost felt ashamed to have experienced it. Obviously i am very pleased to hear people are getting healed, we all want that, & seeing Gods miricles is the greatest thing one can experience. My question is, if this was just, true & righteous, why did it have to be paid for with money. Gods love & healing is priceless, though i thought the price God expects for all of us is just believing in him, & spreading the good news…..can you imagine Jesus or any of the disciples suggesting at anytime, a miracle would be forthcoming if you part with your gold, Christianinty would in my opinion have taken a very different turn.

    • Hi Jon, thanks for your comments and I think you’re absolutely right. There was no question of Jesus or any of the disciples doing this for money – and indeed the money element would have been taken as a sign of corruption. Indeed they did the exact opposite – and were persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith. It is a strange version of the gospel which connects the good news with financial prosperity.

  2. Rich, your analysis is more perceptive than most, but you are only half-correct when you write, “My suspicion – and it is no more than that – is that while Bentley may be a highly manipulative individual, genuine supernatural events were occurring at his meetings.”

    Yes, there’s lots of manipulation, but no, but there is no credible evidence that anything supernatural is happening through Todd. All he does is trick people into having false spiritual experiences, using methods which are very apparent to the trained eye.

    Did you see the Derren Brown programme “Miracles for Sale”? I think it was on last year. Todd is an absolute master at the sort of mind trickery that was demonstrated on that programme.

    If we believe in Biblical standards for ministry, we have to say that manipulative techniques are unacceptable. They bring great shame onto Jesus. Combine that with the false teaching that comes from Todd, including a version of the prosperity gospel, and his sins in other areas, and you have to conclude that he is totally disqualified from any form of public ministry. Anyone who supports him is deeply misguided and, sadly, has bought into the deception that is embodied by Todd’s approach.

    I’m sorry to be so strong, but the Bible makes it clear that false teachers and false prophets that will come into the church and lead people astray. Yes, I pray that God will bring Todd to a place of repentance and change, but until that happens our overriding concern must be protecting the flock. I am glad that God has used our government to keep this man out of the UK.

    • Hi Ian,

      Thanks for your comments, that’s most helpful. I didn’t see the Derren Brown episode but will look out for it.

      I totally agree that manipulative techniques are unacceptable, and I may be wrong in my thinking that supernatural events did take place at his meetings – I genuinely don’t know in regard to that. One of my concerns however is that the Government, in choosing to ban him, is setting an unfortunate precedent that could then be stretched to ban other Christian preachers, who don’t have such questionable backgrounds, just because it doesn’t fit into the prevailing political mood of the day. There are other ways to tackle the issues that Bentley’s style presents.

      Thanks again and all the best
      Richarf

      • Rich,

        I’ve found your address on a website (Wichenford Oak…) and would be very happy to send you a DVD of the Derren Brown show and some other resources – all I ask is that you look at them. Please let me know if this is OK.

        The issue of Todd being banned is a separate one. The legal power for the government to do this has been around for years, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable that those we elect to rule us should be able to decide who can come into our country. Yes, there is scope for abuse but I think this is pretty unlikely.

        I agree that it would be far better if people like Todd were ostracised by the Christian community. Sadly, the events of 2008 showed the opposite, with huge numbers endorsing Todd and even flying to Lakeland. Those who said “this is not of God” were fully vindicated when it all fell apart. Whilst I think Todd is now seen as a liability, even an embarassment, by many who previously supported him, there are still a small number who want to promote the unbiblical approach that he embodies. And there are many more like Todd (maybe not quite as extreme or notorious) who have considerable followings amongst Christians in the UK and do immense harm.

        • Hi Ian,

          Yes I’d greatly appreciate receiving the Derren Brown DVD – that’s generous of you -and will certainly look at it as I’ve heard this episode mentioned before. Do send it to that address.

          The Government obviously needs to have such legal powers; that’s the nature of government; but I’m probably less optimistic about those powers being used rightly.

          I suspect we might disagree about which other speakers do the harm! Having said that I’m not an enthusiast for the celebrity Christian circuit and think that it is antithetical to the servant lifestyle that Jesus modelled. Nevertheless it’s an important discussion.

          All the best
          Richard

  3. Consider this question: Why would God, who has made it crystal clear that He is against false teachers and false prophets, use false teachers and false prophets? (Jeremiah chapter 23; Matthew chapter 24; 2 Peter 2:1-2).

    The answer is simple: He doesn’t, except for judgment on people who have rebelled against God. God calls those who teach falsely liars, savage wolves, etc. Unless they repent and are born again, they will suffer eternal separation from God in hell.

    God established His rules and guidelines in His written word, and it is up to Christians to stand strong for Jesus Christ and defend the faith (Jude 3).

    Sincerely in Christ,
    Bud Press

  4. Thanks for this. I also move in these circles in a very limited way here in the North East and I watch GOD TV. I do believe that God is moving in signs and wonders through charismatic (in both senses of that word) individuals in these days. However, as always there are counterfeits, charlatans and those who start out right and then go astray as Satan seeks to discredit and compromise the genuine work of God. We even see that in the New Testament where Simon Magus sought to perform miraculous signs for money. I do not know whether Todd Bentley performed genuine healings at any of his meetings or not but even if he did this is not the only or indeed even the most important measure of his genuineness because as you have pointed out it clearly states in Matthew 7:21-23 that false teachers can perform miracles. The most important measure against which to test Todd or any other person’s work is God’s Word. God’s Word says “You shall not commit adultery”. So, at least from the time Todd started committing adultery, there is a failure against God’s holy measure. Of course, repentance and restoration is possible but only after much mourning and weeping and usually with other consequences as in the case of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and I am not sure that I have seen evidence of such mourning and weeping in Todd’s case. I do believe that God is genuinely working through people such as Heidi Baker and Nathan Morris. Nathan puts up X rays for the healing of brain tumours with X ray before (tumour there) and X ray after (tumour gone). We can trust in God that he will not allow situations like the fall of Todd Bentley to destroy his genuine work.

    • Hi John,

      You’ve put this well and I agree with you. The ‘restoration’ does seem awfully rapid and seems more to serve Todd Bentley than to serve the wider church. I’m not familiar with Nathan Morris but it is really good that he gives the before-and-after pictures.

      All the best
      Richard

  5. There have been preachers like this before and there will be again, but perhaps what all this really shows is how desperate people are for God and the lengths they’ll go to in order to reach him. God will deal with Todd as necessary but the people left behind are still desperate for a miracle.

  6. i watched a lot of the televised coverage of the Lakeland Outpouring and on one evening Bentley was extremely preoccupied with the prspe3ct of live coverage from Fox News almost to the extent that it appeared he was prostituting himself to the promise of US nationwide coverage and notoriety. I think the exhortation in Matt10:16 (Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves) is appropriate for us when considering the voracity of preachers who seem to have a bad whiff of something following them.

  7. Who will God use to do His will? Why, He’ll use a sinner every time. Because there are no other kinds of people in this world. Even a fallen person – a sinner like you and me – but who is prepared to listen to God and act on what He requires, is better than someone who hears and does nothing. All we need to do is read the Bible to discover the people who acted on God’s word and were reviled for it. Start with Jesus.

    • Hey Bob, you’re obviously right here. However, the key issue underlying the Todd Bentley case (at least from a Christian perspective as opposed to a government one) is not whether he is sinner – as you say, we all are – but whether he is a false prophet or one who genuinely speaks from God. There are (oversimplifying a bit) two camps here: (1) Todd Bentley is a false prophet – always has been, always will be, whose motives are corrupt and therefore harm the body of Christ; (2) Todd Bentley is a genuine prophet who genuiney speaks from God, who fell into sin and is in the process of being restored. I’m between the two, but am somewhat closer to (1).

  8. I agree and have come to the same conclusion as yours in your last sentences, Some of the most amazing events in the bible were by God through cracked pots. How much more of Gods glory shines when through a cracked pot.

    • Thanks Kim – and yes, you’re absolutely right, there are plenty of examples in the Bible of people who are used by God but who don’t seem to be ‘the right type’.

  9. I just love your Blogs, not willing to jump on any bandwagon but your spiritual insight and comments are Spot On!
    I to have rejected the prosperity message and find the open ‘use’ of money obscene, however, I feel that God will do things His way through vessels of faith.
    Some of the strangest people and strangest supernatural occurrences happened through vessels that the established Church would not use, in tents, and on the streets and random, wierd and wonderful revivals and breakouts of Gods Holy Spirit-
    From my own observations since I was born again- (totally Un-churched and Un-evangelised), I was led by the Holy Spirit with a ‘hunger’ for knowing God and the Word of God,the Bible- I was so unchurched- I didn’t know that you could buy Bibles!! I thought they were family heirlooms or found in a dark corner of the Library, I did not know there was different versions- so bought one of each !! so no man preached , spoke or prompted me, (apart from an unfortunate experience where a lovely new born again Christian told me I was going to hell !).
    Eventually, Upon visiting a Church (long story) An ordinary Man of God was there, John Wimber was there- I observed immediately no outward appearance of riligiosity, cloaks, dog colars and the like.. I was touched by a tangiable ‘love’ in that Church that shouted volumes – this was something different- do you know what also spoke to me, his words cut to my heart although I cant remember them, only that Gd was here today, I FELT it !! John Wimber was a man like me,! BUT, he HAD something I didn’t !! I am now 57, and have never lost my passion for the Love of God which draws men to repentance- But I have to often witnessed ‘religious’ Christian behavior which has brought death to simple faith, Church Splits, judgement upon sinners, and set up critical appraisals of other ministers (even online) to bring them down, often declaring them heretics- a haughty Pharisaical spirit that hated Jesus and His supernatural ways and His parables, Jesus speaking in a way that His chosen audience could understand, sitting with people the religious would not sit with

    The vessels I have seen the Father use supernaturally have been often those that various Churches have rejected, and exude the love of God and are willing to trust God and pray for people out of love, they are often ‘different’ and not men pleasers

    Recently, I to have been challenged to listen to Justin Abraham and the like who appear to have
    been open to receive God in any way He, God chooses.

    I feel to never criticise but if I have concerns pray for the individual and for the power of The Holy Spirit to fall afresh on them or cnvict them if they are wrong- as God only worked and can work through imperfect vessels. If that person has crazy faith and is willing to look a fool for Christ,it is important we do not Judge. I have heard reports from a variety of sources that healings HAVE happened in TB’s meeting, who are we to be critical unless we are walking under an annointing and seeing things happen like this through us..We can only work out our ‘own’ salvation through fear and trembling..and the discerning of spirits, not filtered through a ‘religious spirit’ which so easily clouds our judgement whe we are ‘Churched!’

    I have no doubt that Tod has some ‘issues’ from his previous life that His Heavenly Father is working on, and probably discipling him, he has some good men of God around him

    As usual, your last words of wisdom did it for me, and hold true to what I have observed-you have a way of putting things which is spot on!
    Your words…
    “This leaves an awkward question: why would God use such a man in any way? There may be a painful answer. This is that those of us in more conventional church positions are not prepared for the radicalism that God desires, so that we are unable to be used. Perhaps in God’s economy corrupt vessels are better than unusable vessels.”

  10. Thank you so much for sharing your story, especially how you have been radically transformed by the love and grace of God. I’m so glad you had such a powerful experience through John Wimber’s ministry. And I think you’re also wisely discerning about how God uses people who don’t necessarily conform to the typical image of church ministers! Thanks again for your contribution.

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