I’m always surprised when people send me links to articles and documentaries asking for my opinion. Who am I to critique whether current events are theologically sound? But since several people have asked for my opinion regarding the pilot episode of Lisa Ling’s Our America, here are my thoughts [it's a long entry, so if you aren't interested... just skip ahead to my concluding thoughts].
“In each episode of Our America, Lisa takes viewers along for an in-depth look at some of the most controversial and most thought-provoking issues in the United States. In the series premiere, Lisa goes inside a massive faith healing revival to discover people who believe in miracles, and the people who promise them as cures. As more Americans than ever turn to supernatural cures, Lisa is ultimately both challenged and surprised by what she thought she knew about faith.” – from the show’s website.
Not surprisingly, the description of the forty-five minute report is a little misleading. “A massive faith healing revival” turns out to be a three day conference organized by Todd Bentley‘s Fresh Fire ministries. The report includes interviews with Bentley and students of his school of ministry as well as conversations with conference attendees who hope to be healed and some commentary from an often confused Lisa Ling. The report is worth watching in that it raises some interesting questions- a few of which I’ll touch upon here.
Q1) Does Jesus heal today?
Absolutely! Scripture reveals that Jesus spent much of His ministry on Earth healing people physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The Bible also states that God is the same yesterday, today and forever… and that Jesus actually commissioned each of us to release healing in His name and through the power of the Holy Spirit as we share His Gospel with others.
Also, not only does scripture advocate that healing is possible, there are countless testimonies of healing in today’s society. In the interest of keeping this post short, I’ll just say that I personally have seen physical, emotional and spiritual healing both in my own life and in the lives of people I have prayed with to receive healing.
Q2) Are people like Todd Bentley a legitimate vehicle for the healing power of the Gospel?
Good question. Honestly, Todd Bentley makes me a little uneasy. I remember watching reports from the 2008 “Lakeland Revival” and thinking “this guy is crazy!”. Really Todd Bentley, the Holy Spirit told you to boot a grandma in the face so that she could be healed? Really?!?
During all the hype, Bentley had a “moral failure” at the peak of the “revival”- that’s Christianese for his marriage fell apart due to his close relationship with another woman during the time period where he was claiming to heal people. After a few years of repairing his personal life under the guidance of ministry leaders like Bill Johnson, Bentley is back again and holding revival meetings like the one documented by Ling.
Now that we have some back story, the underlying question is Bentley a complete fraud? Hmm, only God knows the answer. My response is I don’t know, but I will say this… From what I can tell from the documentary and the ministry’s website, Bentley is preaching scripture from the pulpit (though I don’t know how sound his hermeneutics are and I am highly skeptical of any extra-biblical material presented by his ministry). His students and the participants who attend his conference seem to know that Bentley is not magical and that healing only comes through God- which eases some of my mind’s concern that he may creating a Christian cult. Secondly, Bentley seems to have repented from his past and has submitted his ministry to the accountability of other ministry leaders. God certainly has redeemed adulterous church leaders before, and I don’t doubt that God is using Todd Bentley’s message to somehow glorify Himself despite the fact that Bentley has made many mistakes and has some significantly questionable theological beliefs (see anything regarding his trips to heaven for an example). I do believe God heals, and I believe that there are legitimate testimonies of healing that have been associated with Bentley’s ministry even if Frontline specials say that there is no proof of them.
Even so, I do think that Bentley’s methods are a bit unconventional (hyper charismatic and flashy) and at times un-biblical, but I’ll touch upon that in the next question. Before I do, a slight digression: I also must say that Bentley’s lifestyle disturbed me- five lazy boy recliners and a custom truck may be a little beyond the simplicity of life that should be embraced by a Christian. And, his over the top personality disturbs me too; he is a little too theatrical in his delivery which leads to deceptive exaggerations which, whether intentional or not, are problematic.
Q3) If Bentley is unconventional, what is the alternative? How should healing be approached in today’s society?
Well, let’s start with the elements of Bentley’s model that make me uneasy. First of all, I think that his meetings are a bit hyper charismatic with all the shaking and falling down. I am the first to admit that there are physical manifestations of the work of the Holy Spirit, but the key is to remember that believers are to seek God not manifestations and that churches should not be a modern day Corinth. In other words, pursue a greater relationship with God and make sure that manifestations are handled in a way that glorifies His name and further promotes the Gospel. Interpret the situation the way that Peter did in Acts where people know what is going on, how it relates to the Gospel and how they can grow in relationship with God as well. While I am hesitant to comment on his method too much without having been at the conference itself, I am not sure that Bentley’s ministry successfully offers enough biblical context. Also, I am cautious of Bentley’s habit of saying “bam. bang. pow.” when praying for someone. I understand that he doesn’t think the words have meaning, but my fear is that observers may attribute “super powers” to him instead of recognizing the healing power of God.
Those are just some of my observations. There are others that I will save for another day (like his theological issues), but let’s discuss how healing should be approached. There is no set model, but here is a simple way of praying. Ask for God’s blessing, lay hands on the individual to pray, pray scriptures of healing over the person while asking for God to move, and then inquire to see if any immediate healing occurred. If not, consider praying again and definitely keep the individual in your prayers. I think the most important thing is to pray the promises of scripture and to listen to the Holy Spirit.
A friend recently reminded me that we have a tendency to do/say “what God says and then one thing more”. We obey the Holy Spirit, but then add a bit of our own twist on things. I believe this may be Todd Bentley’s fault – though I do not know him and cannot say this for sure. Though, I suspect it is true of some of Bentley’s associates who have been known to have some funky “prophecies” that don’t align with scripture. For instance Rick Joyner who pastors the church where the video was filmed has been criticized for saying that he has more power than the apostles; not a biblical stance, since the power of the believer is the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of God never changes. I do believe that pride of man and deception of the enemy twists well intentioned ministries into having some funky theology; such theology needs to be weeded out using scripture. In other words, consider all of Bentley’s statements and actions in comparison to how God works in scripture. If anything seems un-biblical, dismiss it.
While I have never ventured to the extreme of claiming myself to be greater than the apostles, inadvertently adding my own thoughts to God’s guidance certainly is my weakness at times. Sometimes we pray the prayers we should pray and then add our own thoughts as well. Instead: Pray that God heals, but don’t promise healing within a certain time table. Pray the promises of scripture, but don’t add your own interpretation of what that means. Pray hope, but don’t allow your prayers to cast doubt because you went one step short of or beyond what God called you to pray. Simply have faith in Jesus and proclaim that He is who He says He is and does what He says He will do.
Q4) Why are some people who have faith for healing never healed?
I wish I had the answer to this question. I have friends that I have kept in prayer for years that I wish would see healing miracles. They are people that love God, but haven’t seen answers to prayers for healing in some areas of their lives. The thing is that I don’t understand why some healing prayers seem unanswered, but I do have some thoughts. First of all, in the end, all things will be made new. So not healing is never the answer; the answer may just be not yet. I love that the guy awaiting healing in this video reminds Ling that new bodies await us in the future. In time, all things will be healed.
While healing may be prolonged because it isn’t the right time for it, there are times where sin, unbelief, and other issues prevent healing- though I would caution against emphasizing these factors as much as Bentley appears to in these videos. We can ask people if they know of any blocks to healing in their life, but we shouldn’t assume that there is a block because healing isn’t immediate. God heals in His own way in His own timing.
Finally, I think that some times God is better glorified when healing is prolonged. The purpose of healing is to draw people closer to Jesus, and some people draw closer to Jesus because of the affliction in their lives. The aforementioned man in the video was not healed, but states that his affliction has drawn him closer to God and that he has hope for the future. His attitude toward his affliction was a great testimony of his faith and an encouragement to others, as seen by Ling’s response to his story. God’s timing is perfect, and I believe that He heals when the result is lives drawn closer towards Him and His name glorified. For some, that means receiving a “not yet”, and perhaps a “not until heaven” response to their prayers.. This isn’t cruel, but the grace of God drawing us closer to Himself with the hope of the Gospel. For more on this, I would recommend Bob Sorge’s testimony; he writes “Sometimes God Delays to our prayers in order to produce a greater maturity and fruitfulness in us.“
I am not a fan of Todd Bentley nor am I condoning his ministry. I think he is another example of how dysfunctional the church can be, but I am also not one to say that God is not using him despite the dysfunction. I think that the messy fact of ministry is that God uses imperfect people to do his work. Todd is imperfect, but at the very least, he seems willing to be used by God. There are many people who have sound theology and less controversial personalities that are unwilling to be used by God to heal. Which is worse … a crazy Todd Bentley who has a messy ministry that heals some lives or a theologically sound, respectable minister who is unwilling to invite the supernatural power of God into a service? One involves a sin of commission- adding extra-biblical material or disgracing the Gospel with theatrics- while the other involves a sin of omission- failure to invite the Holy Spirit to work in supernatural ways. Both situations can be damaging to the Church, and both situations must be examined through the lens of scripture.
I must be turning into an AG kid because I am concluding this post with quotes from the office of their general superintendent on the situation in Lakeland. I think it’s wise advice, and it’s advice like this that makes me want to continue working with the Assemblies of God.
“Miraculous manifestations are never the test of a true revival – fidelity to God’s Word is the test. Jesus Himself said there would be many who would do miracles in His name and even cast out demons, but He does not know them… “- statement from AG office as quoted in this article.
We need to make sure there is adherence to Scripture in any spiritual movement.”- general superintendent George O. Wood from a CT interview.
Lisa Ling suggests that the healings are supernatural “cures”. That is not a theologically sound stance, and any spiritual movement that suggests otherwise should be heavily scrutinized. Healings are supernatural signs attesting to the fact that Jesus Himself is the cure for all humanity. May we believe in and expect the supernatural when manifested in accordance with the scriptures in conjunction with the Gospel message for the glory of Jesus Christ.