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FIRST-PERSON: Neither faith nor healing

Posted on Jul 11, 2008 | by William A. Dembski

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Todd Bentley’s healing ministry has gained national attention. His daily meetings for the past three months in Lakeland, Fla., have attracted hundreds of thousands from all over the world. The press has begun to question Bentley’s legitimacy — Is his financial accounting above board? Are miracles really happening? I want to raise some more personal concerns.

On July 3, my wife, three children and I attended Bentley’s “impartation service” in Denton, Texas, north of Dallas. Why? We have twin 7-year-old boys, one of whom is autistic (largely nonverbal, still not fully toilet trained, serious developmental delays). Friends urged that we attend the meeting for his miraculous healing.

Call us stubborn, but my wife and I are unimpressed with doctors who see our son’s condition as hopeless. We believe that God still heals and that His means of healing include conventional medicine, alternative medicine, prayer, fasting, love and, yes, miracles. In any case, we haven’t given up on our son’s recovery (we still remember the day when he was developmentally on track). So if God wanted to use Todd Bentley, we were open to it.

As faith healers go, Bentley is unconventional. Exhibiting black shirt, baggy jeans, tattoos and piercings, he prefers grunge to Gucci. But his appearance wasn’t a problem for my wife or me. God in the Bible used many unconventional people. The problem for us was the manipulation, hype and agenda that seemed to pervade the meeting.

It was a 130-mile drive for my family to get to the meeting. When we called the organizers, they urged us to get there by 3 p.m. even though the meeting didn’t start till 7 p.m. The venue (a basketball arena) seated 8,500 people, yet the organizers told us to expect 14,000 people to show up. So the only way to be sure of getting a seat was to get there early.

We therefore piled the kids into the minivan early afternoon, arriving around 4:30. At 6:30, after sitting for two hours, the arena was about three-quarters full. One of the organizers then announced that traffic was backed up for miles around Denton and that several thousand were trying to get into the meeting, most of whom would have to be turned away. This was sheer hype. A significant block of seats (at least 20 percent) were cordoned off and never used throughout the whole night. We could have arrived anytime and still gotten seats.

At 7, Keith Miller (the chief organizer, http://www.sfwm.org) started things off. After prompting the audience to perform ritualistic acts of worship (stand up, raise your hands, say after me …), he passed the baton to a young woman singer and her backup band. The sound system was terrible — sounds were loud and distorted. The music was repetitive in the extreme. In almost two hours of this “music ministry,” only a handful of songs were sung, and many of them seemed to consist of only one or two phrases.

Finally, around 9 p.m. Bentley began to speak. He devoted much of his message to the visions he has received and the miracles he claims have happened in his ministry. Then, almost as an afterthought, he spent a few minutes preaching from the Bible (John 5). In fact, he admitted that he was having us open the Bible simply so that it couldn’t be said that he didn’t preach from the Bible. So much for reverencing the Scriptures.

Nowhere in Bentley’s message did I see an emphasis on the love and compassion of God — that healing is an expression of God’s goodness and care for humanity. Rather, the emphasis throughout was on power — the power to heal and be healed.

Bentley told stories of remarkable healings. In fact, he claims that in his ministry 30 people have now been raised from the dead. Are these stories credible? A common pattern in his accounts of healing was an absence of specificity. Bentley claims that one man, unembalmed, had been dead for 48 hours and was in a coffin. When the family gathered around at a funeral home, the man knocked from inside the coffin to be let out.

But what are the specifics? Who was this man? What’s his name? Where’s the death certificate? And why not parade the man at Bentley’s meetings? If I am ever raised from the dead through anyone’s ministry, you can be sure I’ll put in a guest appearance. Bentley claims that he is having a team investigate healings performed under his ministry and will soon go public with the evidence. I look forward to seeing it.

After preaching, Bentley took the offering. During the offering he asked “How much anointing do you want to receive?” Thus he linked the blessing we should receive with the amount of money we gave.

After the offering, Bentley said a general prayer for mass healing. People who thought they were healed then came forward. But I saw no obvious or dramatic evidence of healing. After the general prayer for mass healing, Bentley indicated that he would pray for the severest cases.

At this point, a friend who was with us urged that she and my wife take our son with autism down for prayer (I stayed with our other son and daughter). Over an hour later my son with autism was still not able to get to the main floor for prayer. Ushers twice prevented that from happening. They noted that he was not in a wheelchair. Wheelchair cases clearly had priority — presumably they provided better opportunities for the cameras, which filmed everything. They also invoked the fire marshals, who, they claimed, prohibited too many people on the floor of the arena. But earlier in the service, during the worship time, they had packed the floor with people singing and whooping it up.

After midnight we were told that it would be an hour and a half before our son could get prayer. At that point, we got up and left. Yet the story doesn’t end there. When we got to the minivan, our other son remembered that he had left his Bible in the arena. When my wife went back to retrieve it, everybody, including Bentley, had suddenly cleared out. Staying an hour and a half would not have mattered.

Our son was refused prayer twice because he didn’t look the part, and he was told to wait still longer for a prayer that would never have been offered. And even those who looked the part seemed to look no better after Bentley’s prayer — the exodus from the arena of people bound in wheelchairs was poignant.

My son’s situation was not unique — a man with bone cancer and his wife traveled a long distance, were likewise refused prayer, and left in tears. People with needs were shortchanged. It seemed that power, prestige and money (in that order) were dominating motives behind the meeting. Minimal time was given to healing, though plenty was devoted to assaulting our senses with blaring insipid music and even to Bentley promoting and selling his own products (books and CDs).

Neither my wife nor I regret going. It was an education. Our kids are resilient. But the ride home raised a question. We found ourselves avoiding talking about the event until the children fell asleep. Then, as they drifted off in the early morning, we talked in hushed tones about how easily religion can be abused, in this case to exploit our family. What do we tell our children? I’m still working on that one.
–30–
William A. Dembski is research professor of philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The above article was passed on to me by:

Bud Press from:

http://www.christianresearchservice.com/

Bud also send out this update about a video from ABC. Watch and you will see the actual documents presented to ABC from Fresh Fire Ministries, for proof of the healings. Only three were produced and they were measely indeed. What a sham. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69p-vJfWudo&eurl=http://simplicityinchrist.org/2008/07/10/todd-bentley-on-abcs-nightline/

My visit to the Lakeland Revival – Justin Peters 

 Hello All,

Well, I went to Lakeland, FL to attend the revival services. I was in attendance Monday morning and evening, Tues evening, and Wed. morning. I really did try to go to these services with an open mind, but once there it did not take very long for my mind to begin closing. Todd Bentley does not preach in the morning services. Monday morning the preacher was a 28 year-old lady named Kira Mitchell who is one of Todd’s interns (for lack of a better word). He is apparently mentoring her. She told a great deal of dramatic stories and spoke often about how God speaks to her in dreams, visions, and, on occasion, in an audible voice. Peppered throughout her message were references to the upcoming time where the anointing would begin flowing (to which she referred as “walking in the sauce” which struck me as rather irreverent to say the least) and people would be healed. She called for those with tumors and cysts to come forward because God was telling her that an anointing was there for people such as these. So, many did come forward – particularly women with breast cancer it seemed. She would go person to person down the line and prophesy over him or her (she said to numerous women “You are a daughter of destiny” though she never seemed to elaborate on exactly what that meant) and attempt to slay them in the Spirit. Some went down, some did not. There were people who claimed to be healed of their tumors. Noticeably lacking from those who claimed to be healed, however, were people such as the man who was blind, the woman who was on crutches suffering from crippling arthritis, and the mother with her seven year old little boy who was born without a brain – only a brain stem. None of these poor people were healed.

Then came Monday night. The service began with a solid two hours of “worship.” The music was extremely loud and quite heavy. It was more like a rock concert than worship. People were jumping up and down, speaking in tongues, some were laughing uncontrollably (biblical support for this?), being slain in the Spirit, some lay on the floor twitching and writhing around, some would burst forth in screams. To be fair, the more dramatic manifestations were not the rule but nonetheless did occur with considerable frequency. In short, the worship was highly, highly emotionally charged. Finally, Todd got up to “preach.” Now, I put the word preach in quotes because what I observed of Todd’s messages could not be characterized as preaching by even the loosest definition of the term. He did not read and explain any text of Scripture. He basically performed and told dramatic stories of people being healed. Then came time for the healing to begin. Todd said, ‘If you are sick, I want you to begin doing something that you could not do before. You have to activate your faith by doing something you couldn’t do before. If you’re in a wheelchair, get up out of that wheelchair and start walking. If you couldn’t move your legs, start moving them.’ Well, I’m sitting in the wheelchair section (in my own electric chair) and so people all around me began trying to get out of their wheelchairs. Family members began trying to coax their loved ones out of their chairs and people on crutches stood up trying to walk without them. There was a large man sitting next to me in a wheelchair who was paralyzed from the waist down. He began to try to inch his way to the edge of his seat. His wife and a young lady who I presumed was his daughter encouraged him along. There was another lady standing over him speaking in tongues. Well, this man got to the edge of his seat, slid off, and crumpled to the floor like a rag doll. His wife and daughter kept encouraging him to “just believe.” The other lady kept up her tongues. This went on for a good half hour and the poor man could do nothing. They finally helped him back into his chair. (Probably just didn’t have enough faith, you see.)

A number of people who came in in wheelchairs walked up on stage for Todd to pray over them. Todd would ask them their condition, command them to be healed, and then lay hands on them and yell very loudly into the microphone, “BAM!!” Some would then fall back and lowered to the floor by the ready catchers (one person he even head-butted as he “BAMMED” him). He claimed most, if not all, of these folks healed. Well, these individuals could all walk even though they were in wheelchairs. I watched each one as they came back down the stage and from what I could observe every one of them went back to their wheelchair or stayed on their crutches. I honestly did not see anyone dramatically and unquestionably healed. Some of these individuals I followed and was able to get their names and phone numbers. I will follow up with them in a few weeks to see what if any change in their condition has occurred. There were a few empty chairs that all of the sudden appeared on stage but I did not see anyone actually get out of them.

Larry was another man who made it up on stage but he was not in a wheelchair. Larry, a pastor, has throat cancer with a grim prognosis from his physicians. Larry was very, very weak and feeble. When he spoke his voice was weak and raspy. Bentley claimed his healing and Larry agreed with him. Larry was helped off the stage by a young man and they left the auditorium. I caught up with them out in the hall. There was no discernable change in his condition. I will call Larry in a few weeks to see how he is doing. Please pray for Larry that God would heal him and, if physical healing is not God’s will, that Larry would know sufficient grace and strength made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:7-9).

There were so many people there sick with cancer, in wheelchairs, parents with crippled and sick children, retarded children and the like. I did not witness any miracles that were truly undeniable.

Wednesday morning something interesting happened. The pastor of Ignited Church, Stephen Strader, was preaching. At the end of the service he called for all preachers and evangelists to go into the fellowship hall where he was going to bestow on them “the anointing.” Well, long story short, I found myself in the fellowship hall. Strader came in and said, ‘Ok, I have some instructions for you. I’m about to come to each one of you and lay my hands on you to give you the anointing of this revival so that you can take it to your own church.’ He then admitted that not everything that has been going on at the Lakeland outpouring has been from God. He readily admitted that some people are getting caught up in emotionalism. He said, “I want you to take these next few minutes and pray.Pray, ‘God, if there is anything here You want me to have, give it to me. If there is anything here You do not want me to have, don’t give it to me.’ Now I think that is a fair prayer.” I had to agree with him. It certainly seemed like a fair prayer. But then he said something that really disconcerted me. He said, “Now, when I come up to you to give you the anointing, I want you to stop praying. If you continue to pray while I lay my hands on you, it will hinder the passing of the anointing from me to you. You are not to pray while I’m laying my hands on you and giving you this anointing.” Well, the Scripture that immediately popped into my head was 1 Thess. 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” Why was the pastor of the church telling me to do something clearly against Scripture??

Let’s also look at this logically. When a person prays, he is communicating with the Triune Godhead. This anointing that is about to be given to me is also, supposedly, from the Tiune Godhead. How could these two acts possibly be in contradiction? How could me praying to God hinder me from receiving something from God? Unless, of course, this anointing was not really from God. Needless to say, huge red flags immediately went up with me. Now, I’m not making an accusation against Strader here, I’m just saying that his instruction to stop praying was patently unbiblical at best and, at worst, possibly a doorway to receive something from some kind of spirit but not the Holy Spirit.

Please know that I am not judging the man’s heart, I’m just saying that this was an unwise and potentially exceedingly dangerous directive on his part. Well, Strader went up to each person, layed hands on them, and loudly yelled into the person’s ear “FIF!!,” (this is how I heard it) or, “FIRE!!” Practically everyone fell down, some twitched and jerked, some laughed, some just lay there. Well, when he came up to me, I was steady praying opting to follow the directives of Scripture rather than his. He layed hands on me, yelled “FIF” but I felt nothing other than concern about what was going on around me.

On a positive note, I attended one of their street evangelism training seminars. I was pleasantly surprised that the accompanying handouts were biblically solid – at least in the section that pertained to presenting the Gospel. The attendees were being trained to give people the Good Person Test by going through the 10 commandments. This is good. However, if someone made a ‘decision for Christ,’ then they were also, apparently, asked if they wanted to speak in tongues and so forth. A discussion on tongues is beyond the scope of my purposes here – I’m just telling what I observed.

Bentley struck me as an exceedingly arrogant person. He claims to have regular angelic visitations, was translated to Australia, and has been to Heaven where they actually did surgery on him [Forgive me if I just don’t believe this. Was Paul allowed to tell us what he saw and heard when he was caught up into heaven in 2 Cor. 12:2-4? No. If the man who wrote half of the New Testament was not allowed to speak of what he saw, I seriously doubt anyone else claiming to be able to do so (especially if they have tapes or books to sell)]

Bentley makes Benny Hinn look conservative by comparison (and I wrote my Master’s thesis on Hinn). On Tuesday night, Bentley got up to speak right after the two hours of music and all of the sudden excitedly said, “Is it raining in here? Is it raining in here?” as he held out his arms looking at them as though he was feeling drops of rain. Then the band, without missing a beat, started playing a chorus entitled “Let It Rain” complete with the lyrics against a backdrop of water being projected on the large screens. This was clearly ed. I was amazed that no one seemed to catch on to the obvious stunt. He claims that he has medical proof of these healings and resurrections. Maybe he does, I’m not sure. Friends, may I kindly offer a bit of caution here? Even if all of what Bentley claims is true (and I seriously doubt that it is), that does not in and of itself validate his ministry. The Bible often speaks of false prophets and false teachers who have performed and will perform signs and wonders. In fact, false Christ’s and false prophets will show signs and wonders so compelling that even the elect will almost be deceived (Matt. 24:24 see also Matt. 7:22-23).

Dear friends, after having been to the Lakeland Outpouring in person, I am very concerned about what is going on. Are there people there who are really saved and love the Lord? I have no doubt this is the case. Could some of the healings be real? They could be but I did not personally observe any – and I looked for them. Is Todd Bentley a man of God or a false prophet? Well, all I can say is that I do not believe him to be an honest man, he is a masterful manipulator of people’s emotions, he is actively engaging in activities that are extra-biblical and flat out unbiblical, and he does not preach the Word. What I am about to say is, I freely admit, subjective and by no means in and of itself authoritative in any way, but my spirit was very troubled the entire time I was there – very troubled. I believe that the Lakeland Outpouring is just the latest manifestation of the counterfeit revivals which broke out in Toronto, Brownsville, and Pensacola back in the ’90’s.

Let me conclude by saying that I long to see revival – true revival. I’m just not at all convinced that what we are seeing in Lakeland is. Let us pray for those sick and crippled who are being manipulated. If some are truly being saved, let us rejoice in that but pray that the focus would cease being on signs and wonders. Let us also pray for those who are leading this movement that they would not deceive or be deceived themselves.

Justin Peters

Leaving Lakeland – A Firsthand Account

I found this article written by Mike Kirkland posted on:  http://www.darinhufford.com/article.php?id=19.  Mike went to Lakeland to get a firsthand account of what was going down.  I am posting this article for it’s very humorous, but more importantly I am posting this because it’s also a very sad article, in that it shows us what really happens at Todd Bentley’s revivals – that those who desperately need healing, leave the same way they came!

** Please note that I have edited some of the language. I understand that Mike is angry, but, there are other words we can use to express our anger.

Leaving Lakeland

by Mike Kirkland

The three o’clock traffic in downtown Lakeland wasn’t bad. I decided to ride by Lake Mirror since it was such a beautiful afternoon. The sun warmed the gentle breeze as it blew across the water where Blinky the one eyed alligator once lived and enjoyed celebrity status in the downtown area. Somewhere around here is the site of the old building where my grandmother worked. She was the first female manager in the Kress department store chain and I spent many a day hanging out here, looking for Blinky, and watching the people come and go.

This is my past. This is where I grew up. Though I have fond memories of Lakeland I also carry the scars of bad choices and negative influence. I was kicked out of Jr. High for drug possession and had been enticed into other small-time criminal activity along the way. There was good here and I had plenty of wonderful experiences; but the bad seemed to overshadow the beneficial and my parents had to make a decision for me. Leaving Lakeland changed the course of my life forever and it was difficult for me. I was fifteen and this place helped form my personality, it was my identity and my home. I didn’t like leaving and it felt like I was ripped from the only turf that provided me both trouble and a sense of belonging. Though it was a difficult transition and the pain of the change would take years to fully heal, the end result would prove life changing.

At four o’clock we decided we better hurry to the Lakeland Center so we could sit outside and wait! We wanted to make sure we got good seats and we were sure we’d be there early enough to make that happen. Mandy, the lovely but tenacious (and sometimes smug) voice of our GPS, guided us directly into the parking lot where we were elated to see that there was no charge.

It had only been a few weeks since we’d heard of Todd Bentley, and only then because of a message board post talking up a healing revival. “This guy is the real deal” they said, which made my skeptical skin crawl. I’m no stranger to this stuff having spent nearly 15 years involved in Christian worship ministry at various levels; but my perspective has changed quite a bit and having fallen off a few, I’m not so quick to jump on any wagons. But when the opportunity presented itself for me to actually see this revival first hand I had to take it.

Todd Bentley is a healing evangelist holding revival crusades all over the world. His quick rise to fame is all but miraculous, and the fact that he has garnered the support of heavy hitters like Bob Jones, Bobby Conner, Paul Cain, Rick Joyner and others, tips the scales of his charisma-cred. They’re calling it the “thing” they’ve been waiting for, the next big move of God, “this is it!” Of course, the fact that Bentley has taken full advantage of the internet to “spread the word” of his crusade instantly should be seen as no small factor in the success of the movement. One thing is for sure, whether it’s God or Google, Bentley’s Fresh Fire is catching on like… well, somethings hot.

The Lakeland Center is a fairly large venue with ample parking and open spaces. There were lots of cars in the lot but maybe a hundred or so people outside lined up at the various entrances. I noticed the handicapped spaces were filling up as well. We walked up a ramp and stopped at the first set of glass doors. There were about twenty people positioned strategically and ready to move at the first sign of the unlocking. The people seemed nice and they smiled friendly smiles welcoming us into line as the newbies. We wouldn’t be there long before we too would turn, smile, and try to make the rookies more comfortable.

Earlier in the day I told a friend that I planned on interviewing as many people as possible while waiting in line. But that proved more difficult than I imagined. What would the people think? I refused to lie about my skepticism and I certainly didn’t believe any of the hype about Bentley. But would I come across as a self-righteous ass by admitting it? Would I cause them to lose the happy feeling they seemed to be enjoying right now? I couldn’t do it. Maybe I’m a coward, but I didn’t feel good about it. So we decided to listen in on some conversations instead. We considered it eavesdropping for truth.

To our left were four middle aged ladies discussing the revival. “People have been hungry for God” said the lady with red and gray highlights. “Yes. People will crawl over one another to get to God!” said another woman. We would soon find out that she was the prophet of the group. One of the other women talked about being so overtaken with the “spirit” that she couldn’t stand up and she doesn’t remember how she drove home. I couldn’t help but wonder if God would really put lives in danger that way or was she simply embellishing? Or hell, maybe God has a special angel that helps people when they’re DWS (driving while spiritual).

Todd Bentley certainly believes in angels. In fact, he works with them all the time. One angel in particular is named Emma. She is a “mothering angel” who also made appearances to Bob Jones. Bentley says Emma put gold dust on people during one meeting which subsequently helped him bring in “thousands and thousands” of dollars. But why wouldn’t Bentley see angels? It seems perfectly natural since he also makes trips to heaven to visit the apostle Paul who lives in a cabin there. Oh, and by the way, all of you scholars who are debating over who actually wrote the book of Hebrews, Bentley said Paul claims that he co-authored the book with none other than the patriarch, Abraham. Personally, I think Paul is lying.

Two Hispanic fellows stand at the front of the line, all smiles, talking with the elderly couple and young man behind them. Three younger guys stand to our left talking smack like young guys do. One, with long stringy hair, black-rimmed glasses, shorts and flip-flops, mixed spiritual topics with various quips. His partner, dressed in all black, metrosexual, with what appeared to be fake glasses (which seemed a bit ironic at a healing revival), laughed as if on cue. My wife and I stood patiently looking, listening, but apparently not looking right in front of us because the three young guys decided to squeeze their way into our spot. I mean, they moved in front of us when we weren’t looking… praise Jesus, “on thy feet, lose thy seat”, so to speak.

Up at the front of the line I overheard the Hispanic guy explain to the elderly couple and young man about a gold tooth that appeared in “one guy’s” mouth after one of the meetings. I never understood why God, the creator of the universe would take the time to do that. And then I wondered if God would give me gold fronts like Flavor Flav, cause that would just be cool. They talked of expectations and being ready to receive whatever God had to offer. The vibe outside the venue was definitely that of expectation. I looked over at the other entrances and all over the place people were praying for each other and some were beginning to get what I call “the Cocker Shuffel”. Out of the blue they would break into Joe Cocker like movements; kind of like Tourette’s but with rhythm and the added convenience of being able to turn it off at will.

As I stood in line I began to wax nostalgic about my past. This was the town where I got saved. It was in a little place called Crystal Lake Church of the Nazarene. Sure, it was after watching a movie called “A Thief in the Night” which totally scared the shit out of me, but still, I have fond memories of that place and the people there. That’s also where I discovered I had a talent for singing and first felt “called” to somehow do that for God. I also wondered whether or not the pastor’s daughter remembers me but was jolted back to reality by my wife pointing out the fact that the four ladies had also cut in front of us. I really need to pay more attention.

Just then a hulking security guard, and by hulking I mean if the Hulk were played by Peter Griffin from The Family Guy, opened the door and the crowd surged forward. Only one door was opened. In other words, three lines of people were funneled through one door. I was quickly reminded of the earlier prophesy regarding people crawling over each other to get to God and just then three more people jumped in front of us. When it was finally my turn to breech the opening I noticed an elderly couple standing slightly to the rear and to the right of me. I saw a look of frustration sweep across their faces as they stood not knowing how to approach the situation. Immediately my years of home-training kicked in and I held the door for the old folks. They seemed appreciative and gave a slight smile as the passed by and moved through the doorway. Then another couple slipped in behind them, and another. I counted nearly 15 people rush past me while I held the door. I finally had to put my hand out toward the crowd and say “whoa! I’m not the door man people!” That created a hole just large enough for my wife and I to scoot through and enter. Once we got in we saw people running toward the corridors and we were once again separated by swarms of pushy people. Though we were very early, we weren’t ruthless enough to secure floor seating. That was left to the truly spiritual, the battle-ready, hard chargers for Jesus. We wound up second tier, stage left. But that’s okay.

A nice lady sat beside us. She was middle aged, seemed a bit stern, kind of like a librarian, one that wasn’t afraid to tell you to “shut the hell up!” She asked the typical questions: “where are you from?” and made the standard statements: “this is going to be good” etc. Turns out, she had driven twenty-two hours straight to attend a few days of the revival. She wanted to bring the “FireTM” back home to her church. She told us of how she’d been to previous “outpourings” such as Toronto and Brownsville. She asked how we liked it so far and I couldn’t help but mention our recent adventure traversing the God-Gauntlet in the lobby. She wasn’t amused but decided to relay a story about last night’s prayer time. She said that Bentley asked how many in the service were senior pastors and about a hundred raised their hands. He then said for the senior pastors and ONLY the senior pastors to come down front to receive prayer. But instead, almost a thousand people got up and rushed down front. I felt a bit of indignation come over me and I said: “wait, did Bentley stop everyone and rebuke the spirit of LYING!?!! If he didn’t, WHY NOT?” “Why are Christians such selfish jerks?” “If I would have known that’s how God rolls, I would have brought football pads and numchucks to secure my personal blessing!” I continued. I could tell I made her uncomfortable so I let my lovely and way more tactful wife talk with the nice lady while I decided to go get some food at the concession stand.

During my absence the lady recounted a story Bentley told regarding yet another angelic encounter. The angel came to him in a dream but didn’t give his name. It turns out that Bob Jones already knew about that angel and said that his name was “winds-of-change”, which, obviously suggested that Bentley was a new kind of revivalist or something (further establishing his charisma-cred). My wife said that Bentley must have channeled an Indian angel with a name like that. I said, yeah, well there was demon in the men’s room named “hey-light-a-match”. You couldn’t see him, but you knew he was there, oh yeah, he was definitely there!

I ordered two nachos, two red-bull’s and a snickers. It was $20! I made the lady at the counter tell me she loves me before I paid her. She asked why but then almost as quickly said: “Ohhhh I get it, I love you man”. When I got back I think the librarian lady had decided that we were just going to bring her down so she changed seats. It was just as well, the music was starting.

The band wasn’t bad. By the end of the first song they had most of the technical bugs worked out and even with our bad seats and poor acoustics, I liked them. But then again, I tend to cut worship bands a lot of slack. They played a song that my worship team used to play and my mind began drifting back a few years. I remembered how good it felt to cut loose and express deep seated emotions through music. I remembered the synergy shared between team members each expressing their individual creativity held together by the laws of rhythm, timing and tone. As a worship leader, my style leaned toward the “prophetic” and back then I was known for being spontaneous and spirit led. Today I’m known as a skeptic. I’m not sure when the transition began, but on some level I think I understand this stuff more deeply and better than ever before.

Part II

“I want to change”, “fill me”, “wash me”, “set me on fire.” This was the mantra shouted by the emcee, then repeated by the crowd, over and over, prior to the live feed television broadcast. The people were being hyped up and primed for the cameras. Prayers and more prayers, with lots of shouting preceded the program. This is a healing revival and according to them, it requires activating faith. “You have to expect it” stated the emcee. And the people definitely expected something.

I began my interest in stage magic and hypnotism several years ago after seeing a show in a local bar. Though I never actually engaged in the art, I studied the techniques intently and greatly enjoyed trying to figure out various tricks and illusions. One particular interest was the power of suggestion and how it relates to everyday life, especially in advertising and later in Charismatic meetings. Few people realize that hypnosis is completely voluntary and only works on willing subjects. Trickshop.com put out a book called “Mastering Hypnosis”. In it, they define hypnosis as:

“…an altered state of consciousness characterized by heightened susceptibility to suggestion. Under hypnosis, suggestions bypass the critical faculties of normal consciousness and directly enter the subconscious mind where, if accepted, they are acted upon. The deeper the level of hypnosis, the greater the subject’s suggestibility.”

“This entire process is based upon the fact that while our conscious thought processes produce inductive reasoning, our subconscious uses only deductive reasoning. Once a suggestion is accepted by the subconscious, it is automatically transformed into reality. It does not matter if the suggestion originates from an internal source (i.e. self hypnosis) or an external one (the operator). Indeed, the distinction between autosuggestion and heterosuggestion is considered to be both arbitrary and superficial.”

The speaker approached the stage with a serious look and a nervous twitch that apparently told the audience that he was about to say something important. “Seventy-five percent of what happens here is due to hunger” he said. “Are you hungry tonight?” The crowd responded loud and long; of course they’re hungry, that’s why they’re here! After several minutes and more such comments the band cranked back up.

The music was carefully selected to create an atmosphere of surrender and expectation. I’m no stranger to this sort of manipulation, but I’m not going to say it’s necessarily a bad thing either. Maybe I’m just defending the art since I’m a musician but before you stop reading, at least here me out. I would say that all music is or can be a form of meditation. At least it helps one experience a meditative state. These type worship songs are a merging of music and message which allows one to accept the suggestion and experience it emotionally. What’s wrong with that, as long as the suggestion is positive? All music does that to some degree and that’s why I still listen to Christian radio. At least I am meditating on pleasant things for the most part and not subjecting my subconscious mind to accept the rubbish produced by the various other artists such as Brad Paisley “checking his girl for ticks”, or Juvenile’s infamous “Back that a** up”. No thanks, I’ll stick to the positive message found in Christian music whether or not I describe myself as one or not. In doing so I’m making a logical and informed decision on what I allow to influence my mind. The trick is learning when and how to turn it on and off. For a brief moment, I allowed myself to relax into the music, but that would quickly change.

The speaker once again took the stage and began telling an Old Testament story where Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ arms so that Joshua could defeat the Amalekites. He then told the crowd that they too could be like Aaron and Hur and undergird Todd Bentley by becoming a, you guessed it, “ministry partner” to financially support the revival crusade. This classic bait and switch was a bit too blatant for me. I almost called b**s** but just then they asked for twelve more volunteers to help with the offering. “Meet at the bottom of the platform, stage right” said the emcee. I immediately leapt to my feet and didn’t even have time to tell my wife where I was going; she knew. It was all the way across the arena so I sprinted down the steps, nearly busting my butt on the sticky soda stained floor but I made it to ground level in tact. Others were running too, and they beat me. I showed up at the corner, out of breath and attempting to speak. “I’m… here… to volunteer” I said but was too late. The younger, more agile guys (with football pads and numchucks) made the cut and I was turned away.

On my way back to my seat I decided to get the lay of the land. To check out the people and see if I could get a better feel for the type of crowd that was present. As I made my way around the floor seats I noticed several wheel chaired individuals, people with various infirmities and some with obvious deformities. Some were old; some were young; like this one little girl with dark hair and angelic smile. Her legs had not formed properly and they hung from the wheelchair motionless but most notable thing about her was the way she brightened up the space around her with her presence. I walked by an old man, slumped over in his chair barely moving. It looked as if he’d had a stroke or something, his wife stood behind him dutifully with rays of hope beaming from her eyes as she looked around expectantly. I saw another man walk by and I caught myself do a double-take as I noticed a large tumor protruding from the right side of his face causing his right eye, nose, and part of his mouth to be distorted by the intrusive mass. As I continued to walk, I noticed more and more chairs and people, all in some need of physical healing, all with the same gleam of hope and air of expectancy. By the time I made it back to my seat I was emotionally exhausted. My little comedic adventure of trying to volunteer was overshadowed by the notable suffering of the individuals I passed.

The emcee took the stage and delivered a monologue which I would describe as a Bentley promo. He told a story of how a group of ministers recently said that whenever Bentley came in the room, they could feel the presence of God and that they would often drop to the floor (in typical charismatic type fashion I suppose). My ears perked up at this because I felt he was laying the groundwork for what was to come later. He was literally and blatantly implanting suggestions. I predicted (not prophetically) that Bentley would use these suggestions later to create the desired effect so I quickly jotted down notes. I put myself in Bentley’s shoes and tried to read the crowd. They were not that difficult to read, it was like they were holding up a neon sign that read: “we’ll believe whatever you tell us, but just tell us SOMETHING!” And tell them he did.

A Successful hypnotic induction relies mainly on acceptance by the subconscious mind of the target. “Even under hypnosis this acceptance is not always automatic but rather relies on proper timing, repetition, and delivery. Timing is the single most important element in presenting a suggestion” says the book Mastering Hypnosis. “Always begin by suggesting what will happen, and gradually work up to reinforcing what has happened”. Bentley’s crew did a wonderful job of doing just that. They certainly don’t call it that, they call it activating faith. But the entire evening, prior to Bentley’s first appearance, has been spent on priming the pump and implanting suggestions. “Think of repetition” says the book, “as the glue that binds your timing together. It helps to ensure you maintain proper timing with regard to your suggestions. In addition, the persuasive power of suggestion tends to be cumulative in effect.” The music, the prayers, the cheering, the repetitive and monotonous nature of the songs, growing in intensity, all culminate in one thing; the arrival of the main speaker.

I see Bentley sitting on the sidelines reading a magazine. No doubt it is the Charisma Magazine article which just today published their take on the event. I thought he was about to take center stage but another man walked to the podium and asked the crowd if they were ready for testimonials. It may seem pretty innocuous to ask that question, and the guy probably didn’t mean anything by it, but it is significant nonetheless. They were responding on cue and willing to be led. He began by reading a testimonial he received via email. A man was flying into the Lakeland airport and saw an angel outside the plane. My mind immediately raced to the Twighlight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” where a creature devoured the wing of the plane right in front of a passenger who subsequently went nuts. Even though this guy’s angel didn’t do anything as cool as that, I listened intently. He said the angel looked in the plane at him as if wondering to himself, “why are you in a plane?” I thought that must have been a really dumb angel. Then the man said that he looked ahead and saw thousands and thousands of angels spiraling into the city of Lakeland to attend Bentley’s event. Wow. That sounds pretty cool and the crowd seemed to enjoy it as well. I’m sure there were more skeptics at the event, but everywhere I looked I saw nodding heads. The man read other testimonials claiming various healings and such but what struck me was that there didn’t seem to be any verification process, they simply took their word for it.

As Bentley approached the podium the crowd began cheering. He’s a lot shorter than I imagined and pale, the man is very pale. Tattoos cover most of his arms, hands, and neck and his face is pierced with several metal studs. His appearance is certainly atypical and stands out from his peers. That’s about the only thing that stands apart from them though. His voice, his mannerisms, and his style all seem to mimic those who have gone before and you can definitely detect a Kathryn Kulhman-esque quality in his performance. He didn’t preach, and I’m not sure he even had a message. But he did have a point and it came through loud and clear. Todd Bentley is the next big thing. He droned on for a long time, dropping names of the charismatic superstars like John Wimber, Paul Cain, and Bobby Conner showing how they all approved of Bentley. He spoke of their long-time prophecies that called for a big revival and proceeded to insert himself as the fulfillment of that prophecy. And why shouldn’t he? Bob Jones sat directly behind him nodding in approval.

At first I was confused as to why he was pumping himself up like that but it soon became clear. It wasn’t because of healing, it was because of support. He wanted people to give to his ministry, become a “ministry partner” and help spread the word. He told stories of spreading the FreshFire revival worldwide and that even Arab countries are opening the airwaves to his ministry. He claimed that a group of Arabs attempted to hop a plane and come to Lakeland but that day terrorists shut down the Beirut airport so they called Bentley on his cell phone telling him of their predicament. I wonder how they got his cell phone number? I’m calling b**s** on that one.

Bentley went on and actually made a theological point. He claimed that God was in heaven, and that he couldn’t come down unless we tore open a hole so that he could come through. And if we tore a little hole, we would get a little bit of God, but if we tore a big hole, we would see more of his presence. It doesn’t matter that this statement has absolutely no basis in fact, reality, or even biblical theology; he said it and that’s all that matters. The people responded with cheers; maybe they were attempting to let God out of his cloudy prison, I don’t know. But the wording here is important. Bentley suggested to the crowd that they were responsible for how much of “God” they would receive. The ball was now in their court and he garnered himself a bit of plausible deniability. If nothing significant happened, then he could blame it on the small hole, if something cool happened, then all they would remember is the name Todd Bentley and that cool thing. It’s a win-win for him.

Part III

One thing I noticed about the crowd is that they all seemed to be long-time Christians of the charismatic line. Those I talked to and listened to throughout the evening had all been to several of these type events and seem to speak the same language.

My wife confided in me that when she was sixteen she attended an event with Eastman Curtis as the key-note speaker. It was a camp that lasted several days and during that time they tried their hand at the healing aspect of ministry. Several of the teens were encouraged to receive prayer for all sorts of ailments and sure enough, my wife had one that necessitated urgent and immediate prayer. Some of the girls noticed that her right ankle turned in a bit and they talked her into being the center of a prayer circle where God would be invoked to heal her ankle. She reluctantly agreed and entered the circle. Now her ankle isn’t deformed it simply rolls inward after standing for any length of time, but those folks were desperate for a restorative miracle (one where God actually fixes a physical problem). After several minutes of prayer and touching the affected body part, they asked her to stand. When she stood up her ankle was completely and utterly straight. It looked absolutely perfect. The people shouted hallelujah! Praise God! Their faith immediately went through the roof. All the while my wife never told them that this was completely normal for her and that after a few minutes standing, it would roll inward again. She said that she chickened out and allowed them to feel that they had actually done something. To do otherwise would disappoint them she said. I’m not sure it would have mattered, because people tend to only look for whatever confirms their bias and omit the rest. I can’t be too hard on her though, I had a similar experience when one of my legs was shorter than the other!

One of the elders of my church had us over for lunch after services one day. He told me that God gave him the ability to lengthen shortened limbs! I said, well, that’s cool. So he decided that he would show me. I didn’t even know I had one leg shorter than the other but sure enough, whenever he sat me down and held them up, it was true. Holy smokes! Maybe that’s why I always felt I leaned to one side! At any rate he prayed in tongues for a minute or two then said “watch this, here it comes, look, it’s growing, there it goes”… and sure enough, IT WAS! Right before my eyes I saw it grow. At least I said I did and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings because I really liked the guy. Much later I learned how to do the exact same parlor trick, without the praying and speaking in tongues. It’s a simple illusion, nothing more.

Those events led to my eventual skepticism and rejection of the Charismatic movement as a whole. If you want “success at hypnotic suggestion” states the author of Mastering Hypnosis, “You need to get it early and build slowly. With each failure you diminish the suggestibility of the subject.” I think that’s what happened to me combined with my hard-headed nature and analytical personality. Other factors that increase suggestibility include getting people to respond early to suggestion. Voluntary responses increase susceptibility to involuntary responses later on. Non-verbal suggestions such as certain repeated mannerisms, body movements, and breathing all influence the outcome. Mass suggestion is more powerful than individual. People who are in groups tend to lose inhibitions as long as the entire group is going with the flow. By this time it seemed like the entire arena was in Bentley’s grip. They were ready for what he was about to do.

Bentley began telling a story of a recent crusade in Africa. He spoke of creative miracles which are supposedly where God actually restores a body part such as an amputation. He said that these things actually happened at his crusade in Africa. I wondered to myself; why the hell does this only happen in Africa? What is so special about them that they can get documented, verifiable, bonafide miracles and we get healing of hemorrhoids? Of course, those miracles are NOT verified, documented, or proven; they are simply claimed, halfway across the world, where it is nearly impossible to actually investigate. That’s why it only happens in Africa.

Bentley then claimed that after he prayed for a creative miracle, a woman ran up on stage and ripped open her shirt to expose her breasts. He said that the woman had one of her breasts surgically removed due to cancer and that God had given her, apparently, a new set of chi-chis. I kid you not; Bentley said that this miracle was verified by those who knew her. Bentley also talked about a man who came up on stage and said that he had a creative miracle of his own, and pointed to his nether-regions. So Bentley now claims that God restored a man’s penis, which had been previously amputated. He said it, I’m just reporting it.

What I think offended my intellect most was that here Bentley had a great opportunity to actually document and verify a significant and ministry-altering, life-changing and ultimately faith building event, and he doesn’t do it. Instead he offers a theological explanation of why God did it. This again is a classic bait-and-switch! It takes the crowd’s focus off of the reality of the claim and forces it onto why God would do such a thing. Turns out, as Bentley suggests, God was showing him that it was about reproduction. And reproduction incidentally was what Bentley was all about; reproducing his ministry to as many people and places as he could. God was giving his seal of approval by symbolically, and actually, restoring reproductive organs. What more could you ask for? Well, I would ask for proof, but that’s just me.

Bentley then claimed that some 34,000 people came to his revival in Africa and had become Christians there. I would like to know how he accounts for this number since he doesn’t seem too worried about verifying the most exciting miracle since Jesus walked the earth, I’m not sure he can be trusted to show how he arrives at his numbers.

“Get ready!” said Bentley. Then he began calling out creative miracles that God wanted to perform! He used the typical shotgun approach where he called out so many different types of things, he was bound to get it right with some. He said that God was going to remove tumors, heal sexually transmitted diseases, re-grow body parts, heal erectile dysfunction and even re-grow hair. People literally ran down to the front of the auditorium and the front area filled up quickly with at least a thousand people. As I looked out over the crowd, I was amazed at how many people needed a creative miracle in their reproduction organs.

When it came time for healing testimonies; the part of the show where Bentley calls up people who have been healed throughout the service, several people vied for their spot on stage. One-by-one they sifted through and gave their testimony with Bentley ending each with his signature “BAM!” (which he totally ripped from Emeril) and an open handed push to the forehead which sent ninety-nine percent of them to the floor resulting in a quivering pile of mush. Of course, they fell ever so gingerly, never messing up their hair or sustaining a bruise but always falling in someone else’s way. To that I have some advice… If you’re going to protect your head and elbows, why not take the extra second to make sure you’re clear of the aisle? C’mon people!

A few of the testimonies stood out to me, like the woman who claimed she was healed of Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid arthritis. Or the other woman who said her doctor told her she had cysts in her arms but now they were gone. Another woman insisted that she had a golf ball sized tumor in her neck that disappeared instantly. Still another woman claimed that God healed 18 fibroid cysts in her breasts. The only consistent thing in these testimonies is lack of proof. I mean, the man I saw earlier with the large facial tumor, wasn’t among those giving testimonials. Why would God only heal occult symptoms and not obvious deformity? I’m calling b**s**. It may not be these women’s fault either; they were literally hypnotized from the outset. I am quite sure they actually believe they were healed but I am equally sure that an independent physician would not corroborate their claims. I would love to be proven wrong here. That would make me very happy indeed.

A man in a wheelchair with Multiple Sclerosis approached the stage. The staff helped him up and sat him in his chair after he hobbled up the steps. Bentley told him to get up and walk. The man slowly pushed out of his chair and stood. As the man got up he walked toward Bentley and the crowd cheered. But his gait was unsure and his legs weak, typical of MS. He was obviously struggling under the pressure. Bentley told him to remove his back brace and the man did so. It actually made him more unsteady but Bentley told him to walk nonetheless. Again the crowd cheered and Bentley took the opportunity to claim victory for the miracle. But this wasn’t a miracle, it was more likely a simple case of the crowd seeing only what they wanted to see and not questioning the information to the contrary. If the man was actually healed of MS, it would be a significant find. After that Bentley said that there is an anointing for crippled people in wheelchairs to be healed.

In a bold move Bentley called all those in wheelchairs up to the front of the stage. He said he would pray for them to be healed. Faithfully they came and lined up side by side along the front of the arena. But they never got prayed for and they never got healed. Bentley left the stage.

I noticed the older man in the wheelchair leaning forward, his wife still behind him, not smiling nearly as much now, but still hanging in there like a faithful companion. I was very close to them and wanted so much to reach down and take the man by the hand and just hang out with them but as the worship band played the crowd grew densely packed and the woman wheeled her husband slowly back to her seat.

I saw the angelic little girl, still lighting the path with her smile, head back to her seat along with all the other wheelchair faithful. They’re the ones that need the miracle. No amount of suggestion can heal them. Hypnosis cannot create body parts or even restore life to them and these folks are the evidence of that. They are also evidence that Bentley’s healing revival is merely a revival of hype with no actual substance. All of the physically impaired individuals with very real and evident medical problems were not healed. They’re still in their chairs Todd; they’re still in their chairs and you’re p****** me off.

After the cameras were turned off the real show began. Todd took a break and a guy named David Hertzog gave the offeratory. It was an hour long ridiculously lame infomercial about how people need to give more money to the revival. This guy was blatantly over the top. I can’t say enough how much I don’t like this guy. For instance, he said that if you give, you’ll get that many times in blessing. For instance, if you give three times, you’ll get three years blessing and that whether you give or not, you’ll affect the next seven years of your life, good or bad! In other words, if you don’t give money, it’s worse than breaking a mirror people! Holy smokes. Did I mention that I don’t like this guy? He also mentioned that there are angels of finance. He said that he prays to his angel of finance to bring him money from the four corners of the globe. Huh? Dude, this guy is really, really weird. No wonder they waited till the cameras were turned off to feature him.

The rest of the night was more of the same but as fatigue set in the crowd thinned and the rhetoric stopped being as affective. I was tired at this point and just wanted to leave. I forced myself to stay though, and took the opportunity to wander around the arena again. There were lots of people who seemed genuinely moved by the experience. These were self admitted ministers who were there to bring back the “Fire” to their respective towns and cities. There were those who were less elated but still somewhat pleased to be there. These were the truly crippled and I can only wonder what they must be feeling since they left the arena in exactly the same condition as when they came. Was their faith not strong enough? Does God only wish to heal obscure or hidden conditions that cannot be medically verified? Maybe God is too humble or shy and doesn’t want to call attention to himself.

Then it hit me. This revival isn’t about those who actually need healing. It’s about those who think they can be used by God to heal those who need healing. That’s where the revival is, that’s what is spreading like fire. It’s a big ole steaming pile of ego gratifying and emotional marketing without substance. What it is sure to do is fund a huge ministry to perpetuate the same. I predict (not prophesy) that they will bring in tons of cash and I also predict that not one single verifiable healing will take place; one that passes rational inquiry of a qualified medical professional.

This kind of thing will happen as long as people buy into it, lock, stock, and barrel, without subjecting it to the rational mind. As long as people continue to give their wills over to others without thinking for themselves, they will be duped.

As I walked back to my seat I saw a woman frantically running through the arena with a panicked look on her face. As she came near to me I reached out and grabbed her arm and asked “what’s wrong ma’am?” She kept moving but started crying “my baby I can’t find my baby”. I followed behind her a short ways and then her child popped out from behind a table and the woman collapsed in delight. I didn’t really have to help her but what is significant is that no one else bothered to approach her to ask. That seemed to be the capstone of the event for me. People are too spiritually self-absorbed, trying hard to get a personal and supernatural touch from God while overlooking others who could benefit from real and practical aid.

Walking to the car I noticed a young lady being lifted out of her wheelchair into a van. She’s still in the chair Todd and you’re still p****** me off.

It was around one o’clock in the morning and as we left the Lakeland Center we drove around by Lake Mirror then set out to see the old neighborhood and finally by Crystal Lake Church of the Nazarene where I said hello to the old building. It was just as I had remembered it; in fact I don’t think it changed at all, but I certainly had.

As I left Lakeland for the second time I realized that my life was once again changing. I was leaving behind a belief system that helped form my thought processes and shape my personality. I was leaving behind an identity and moving toward a future which would no doubt be full of uncertainties, hard work, and downfalls. But I knew that where I was moving would be better in the long run.

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