Well, I’ve already written a little about this whole Lakeland Revival mess. But it just wouldn’t go away. Todd Bentley announced he’d be leaving Lakeland later this August, then the date got moved up a couple of times by my count, and still it just won’t go away. Now today there’s more news. I don’t think this is going to go away any time soon. *sigh.* The news isn’t good this time either, as Bentley has filed for separation from his wife Shonnah due to “significant friction in their relationship.”
The board of directors at Bentley’s Fresh Fire Ministries released a statement Tuesday afternoon that praised the “outpouring” in Lakeland led by Bentley, but also acknowledged “an atmosphere of fatigue and stress” that more than 100 daily meetings had created, which “exacerbated existing issues in [Bentley’s marriage].”
Though the “outpouring” came with the “blessing and the burden of exponential increases,” the board of directors stressed in the letter that the meetings were not to blame for the break up of Bentley’s marriage.
Hhhmmm. Well. It does bring to mind one of my first-ever posts here, which I recalled last fall with further developed thoughts on the importance of the ordinary. The power-laden hype-driven type of spirituality doesn’t seem to sustain the everyday challenges of life… for that, one needs the power of ordinary spirituality. The highs — and I speak from experience — really do put you out of touch with the ordinary or “normal” life of everyday people… and after a while, you actually start to believe you’re not one of those ordinary people. Danger, Will Robinson!
All along, there have been a litany of disturbing traits to Bentley’s involvement in this “revival” along with words of caution which don’t come right out against the goings-on, but don’t leave a lot of room for the interpretation of approval in what’s been written. My own posts on the subject had taken a stance along these lines, as do others, where reviewing the characteristics offered by which one might weigh the character and validity of what’s being reported leaves one with a strong cautionary note. Not everyone carried the same tone, but almost all of us opined upon the matter. I understand even my CLB has been cautious… I’m told that they’ve sent people down to the nexus, but that they’ve also got concerns about the whole thing. Good. Steven Strang seems to take this line in columns from May and June, which pointedly asks, “Why do we think that more bodies on the floor equals ‘more anointing’–especially when the evangelist shoves people to the ground or slaps them silly?” In July, Grady talked about a “Charismatic Civil War” and admonished people toward unity. I didn’t even realize Grady is an apostle, but there you go. I guess I’m out of the loop. Dan Edelen says “no”, by the way — we can’t avoid a charismatic civil war.
Whether it’s related or not, sometime between his June and July posts on the matter, a notable event in this drama occurred… and by “sometime,” I mean June 23rd, when a group of apostles laid on hands and commissioned Bentley (video) as the evangelist to this “move” or “outpouring” or whatever they called it. Apparently this was at C. Peter Wagner’s instigation — Wagner hoped to bring Bentley into “alignment” under one of the “recognized” apostles (Che Ahn) so that the doctrinal issues could be dealt with. While I don’t at all fall in with Wagner’s idea of apostolic hierarchy and authority, I have to say that I’m glad he was attempting to deal with some of these issues… or at least starting to. Other than that, the whole picture of apostleship that those guys paint is erroneous to the point of being scary: it’s a disaster waiting to happen. The latest account from Wagner yesterday does sound a bit like he’s distancing himself from Bentley. Maybe they should have heeded the words of an earlier (dare I say “actual”?) apostle and not been so hasty to install the man before sorting out the mess that was going on… Wagner’s supposed attempt to not give the appearance of approval by not laying on hands or praying for Bentley during his “installation” is nothing but naive: “only” instigating and officiating the ceremony and standing on the platform with his wife and overseeing the commissioning is far too subtle a distinction for any thinking person.
As for all the antics in Lakeland, one ought to bear in mind the danger of emotionalism and the distortion of perception that it produces. Bentley’s claims of angelic experience just don’t sound credible — not that this is a sure sign one way or the other, but outlandish claims need to be backed up by fruit. And “fruit” would be that of the Spirit, which are clearly listed, in case we have any doubt. Maybe Bentley didn’t get the memo. Instead, he asks, “How can you be too focused on miracles?”
“Miracles and healings are evidence,” Bentley said. “They are signs of the Kingdom, and if we don’t have signs then all we have is a bunch of theology. How one individual wants to interpret Scripture and how another individual wants to interpret Scripture.”
It would be too easy and too obvious to quote Jesus here, but also somewhat trite and a bit misleading. You see, that’s the kind of thing you hold back on when “all you have” is theology — you tend not to want to do too much scriptural gymnastics for the sake of making your point. But excuse me a moment… “all we have” is theology? The earnest pursuit of the knowledge of God? Well. I don’t trust the perspective of the guy who couldn’t produce verifiable proof of the claimed healings for the AP, nor for Nightline’s investigative report. I mean, the verification offered was not just dubious, but in most cases completely void: “Not a single claim of Bentley’s healing powers could be independently verified.” Ask me if I’m likely to think that anyone has been raised from the dead, let alone the 22 that are claimed. This is what I mean by credibility. It isn’t that the angelic accounts are impossible, just that given the remainder of the evidence I would have to say that on balance, they must also be discounted.
Now, I’m not going to camp out on Bentley’s marital woes and say, “See? I told you so.” Sure, she’s been up on the platform with him (and the kids) during this “outpouring” thing (pictured at the commissioning), but that’s not the point, it’s not an adequate proof of anything, and it would simply be unkind… a marital separation is a painful and regrettable event no matter how you slice it. While it may prove evidence of something to some, I don’t think it necessary to enter into evidence. Without speculating about a private matter, there’s ample public evidence already, as I’ve laid some of it out. And in considering the fruit of the whole affair, I haven’t even said anything about the money, the accounts of which, for the record, just don’t seem entirely kosher to me either.
Is the “revival” or “outpouring” itself of God? I don’t know. I believe God was there, and something happened — at least in the beginning. I do think there are times and places and seasons where it is easier to experience (even “receive” from) God than at others — the Celts referred to them as thin places, particular places where the “veil between heaven and earth” was very thin. That recalled, together with my own experience (and perhaps yours as well, if you think about it) suggest to me that the idea of a geographically-centered revival is not impossible. History tells us of such things, even of strange manifestations and falling down in places where God is felt to be present. I simply can’t write all of this off.
On the other hand, I said before that if such a thing were to happen in my own context, I’d think I’d shut up about it until I figured out why and what to do about it. At least if wisdom prevailed, that’s what I would do. If you try and duplicate it too quickly, it’s a bit like attempting to distribute a half-baked cake… it might look “mostly-alright” on the surface, but it lacks inner substance and only gives the partakers a stomach ache. (I don’t think this is one of my best-ever metaphors, but you know what I mean.) The upshot is that whatever God began, I think it got so messed up in the handling that the only responsible thing now would be to shut it down and make an attempt at going back to square one.
Well, I think this all turned out a lot more gracious than I thought it would. Thanks be to God.
One more thing. I have to say it’s a horrible shame that Robbymac’s book won’t be released in the USA. If there was ever a time when such a wise and balanced treatment of charismatic hype were needed in the USA, it is now. It has been released in the UK and Canada, and I would urge anyone whose mind is in the least bit fuzzy on any of this to order Post-Charismatic? from Amazon.ca. You won’t get free shipping, but other than that it’s a straightforward matter, and Amazon.ca will “know” all of your Amazon.com account details already. You’ll probably even save 50¢ on the exchange.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
Great post, though difficult to read (and, I’m sure, write). We all want to believe the best of people – especially those whose faith-practices are miles from our own (and especially when it’s a tradition we’ve left behind!). But sometimes hard looks need to be given, and you’ve done so admirably. I hope all friends and follower of Jesus can let go of distinctions (and mutual hostilities between) ‘theology’ and ‘power’ – God’s Kingdom needs both.
Oh, and just to set ze record straight…I haven’t really opined much about Lakeland in my blog – just John Crowder. And while there are similarities, there are also major differences in what little I’ve grasped of their respective ministries thus far. While Crowder’s definitely got an outre brand of spirituality, his whole family seems to be into it – and he advocates bringing it into the everyday. F’r instance, on one DVD I watched, he preached on the miraculous and supernatural power. But then instead of having a traditional altar call/ ministry time, he told everyone to go to Taco Bell and have a supernatural time whilst eating burritos. I think they really did!
This was done in a very gracious way. I appreciate the tone of the article. I have not trusted myself to comment on it but you have done it for me. Thanks
This generates a lot of thoughts, Bro. Maynard …
Success just doesn’t mean what it used to in the old paradigms. Whilst we’re trying to figure out the meaning of “missional” from our unique “post-“ contexts (post-evangelical, post-liberal, post-charismatic, etc.) – we’re having to change our definitions and measures of “successful church” to match our new paradigm. In other words, as we change our thinking patterns and methodological models, we also need to adjust our “missionalmetrics.”
It’s been a few decades since my last course in sociological research methods and statistics, but I do seem to recall that two of the key issues are:
1) Validity – does the assessment/method actually measure what it says it does?
2) Reliability – does the assessment/method get basically the same results over time?
Social researchers want ways to measure things that prove both valid and reliable. Have we got that yet for the missional movement? I don’t think so, and since I have some possibility for creating some specialized missionmetrics, I’ve been working on that for the last few years … maybe a few more, and we’ll see what the beta-testing says about their credibility …
Meanwhile, you suggest in this post that the equivalent to “metrics of success” for everyday Christian life have remain unchanged from the beginning. Tying that together with the social research concepts, could we say that valid and reliable discipleship is demonstrated by an ordinary, non-spectacular (but still quite wondrous) manifestation of The Big Nine – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?
And might I be so bold – or crazy – as to suggest that the metrics of success for extraordinary Signs and Wonders have also remained unchanged from the beginning? With a purpose of demonstrating God’s presence and power, shouldn’t genuine miracles always be verifiable, validated, and the demonstrators prove reliable? If these factors don’t all align – bogus performance and/or bogus performer – then don’t we have both the permission and the obligation to label it a counterfeit, even if something quite spectacular has happened? The Scriptures are clear that God is not the only being with power – though His trumps all others – and that not all miraculous events are from Him.
Call these assessment criteria “charismetrics,” if you will. And if the miracles themselves do not prove themselves credible through charismetrics, and their conveyors do not prove themselves credible through some reasonable degree of disciplemetrics, then I’d suggest we’re free not only to wonder about the “signs,” but assume these don’t add up to success in missionalmetrics.
Nothing all that much new here, but if we’re going to talk about contextualization and being countercultural as part of our journey toward missional, I think it makes sense to consider language that might be used by people in our neighborhoods to measure the so-called “success” of our lives and lifestyles as followers of Jesus Christ. And could it be that the better ongoing measure of missional success is the not-so-miraculous Big Nine All The Time than the occasional S&Ws, even if we find ourselves living in a highly occultural society where manifestations of non-human powers are expected?
thanks BM a very helpful post. This side of the Atlantic feels distant from all of this, but we’re not immune from its impact..we’ve had a church in belfast which has been holding revival meetings nightly for months now having been ignited by lakeland. They even claim a resurrection. But by and large it seems to be below the radar, or maybe its just the circles I move in.
Hi Bro M. I haven’t chimed in here in awhile, but I have been following along, and just wanted to say I appreciate your balanced and respectful approach to all this. I think this phenomenon embodies my reasons behind being post-charismatic, but it’s so easy for me to want to bash heads over it, and that’s not the right response.
You know, there was another fellow a while back, a guy who had some of that theology stuff. Seems that this fellow wrote a book about his experiences pastoring a church in the midst of this same kind of crazy revival atmosphere. This very fine book has a very cumbersome title, which is probably why busy charismatics don’t bother much with it. It’s called A Treatise on Religious Affections, written by a thoughtful young pastor named Jonathan Edwards, and reading it would save many a soul from ruin (it did for this Pentecostal boy, at any rate). Is there a reason that we can’t put a copy of that on all of those book tables? Other than that sober discernment isn’t sexy enough?
So, Bro … what you’re apparently saying about the power encounters is that if there’s no relational context for dialogue to process potential transformation, then what happened turns into the equivalent of a “drive-by God-grenade” with no impact for life …?!
Thanks… As I’m not blogging for a couple of weeks (in respect for the oppressed Tibetans) I haven’t been able to post my thoughts of the ongoing Lakeland story… so thanks for this, it very much reflects what I would have posted :)
well i’m glad for one that all my fuck ups aren’t the subject of intense media speculation and blogging grandstanding :)
looks like poor old Bently has taken over where Ted Haggard let off and will continue to be the post church/charismatic bete noir at least until Mark Driscoll opines again and regains the no 1 whipping boy spot ;)