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Friday, January 02, 2009

Todd Bentley, Inc.

Todd Bentley, the infamous Canadian faith healer whose Lakeland, Florida revival collapsed last summer, appears to be sticking a toe into the Internet waters, seeing if it is safe for him to swim. I can report, though, that there is evidence that the evangelist may have decided to forsake working though a charity.

I guessed a few weeks ago in a post that Mr. Bentley would instead develop his private company, Sound of Fire Productions, as an outlet for his materials. Well, over the Christmas holidays, his ministry, Fresh Fire Ministries, closed its online bookstore. Also, the only materials that FFM is promoting on its website have nothing to do with Mr. Bentley at all. (Has Mr. Bentley been given his walking papers? I don't know. Perhaps Fresh Fire is delaying the announcement in order not to cause a slump in donations.)

Meanwhile, over at the Sound of Fire Productions website, now Mr. Bentley is offering his later CDs and DVDs for sale, where he wasn't before. Perhaps it is the last of his stock from the book tables at the revival.

I think that Mr. Bentley is setting up going private as a "Plan B", and that he would prefer working through some sort of chairity. However, I do note that Oral Roberts, during his faith healing days in the 1950s and early 1960s, used a private company, Healing Waters, Inc., as a base for his work. Todd Bentley, as a company, would be workable. He could sell everything, as he does now, and demand an "appearance fee" up front for doing his work at a church. Having sat in his audience while Mr. Bentley talked up the blessing of giving to his work, I suspect that he would still receive what he calls "Pentecostal handshakes", and still have people sticking money into his pockets as he talks, to get the particular blessing from God that he is speaking about at that moment. I saw this happen. He could get donations without having to issue receipts. So, perhaps he might prefer not having to answer to tax authorities at all.

Two more quick notes.

1.  There's recent talk amongst Mr. Bentley's Internet critics that the identitity of the "other woman"--the one whose affair with Mr. Bentley was the proximate cause of the end of the Florida revival--has been revealed. I won't link to their commentary, in case they are fingering a wrong woman with the same first name, but it is easy enough to find. I do want to note that the alleged "authoritative source" that they are citing dates the affair from January of last year, well before the start of the revival. Mr. Bentley's friends, however, have stated that it was pressures of the revival that led to the affair.

[Mr. Bentley's decision to relaunch his personal MySpace page allows him to neatly edit his history too, which he has done before. I recall that once he posted about his tattoos on his MySpace page, which led to a back-and-forth debate reagrding whether it was appropriate for a Christian to have tattoos. Mr. Bentley later elminiated all the criticism of his decision to get tattoos by deleting the post and pretending that it had never existed.]

2. There's a new revival flavour-of-the-month, which is being led by Steve Gray out of Kansas City, and yes, has it's own international TV hook-up. Mr. Bentley must be chagrined to see that this latest revival is seemingly being promoted as the "anti-Lakeland". Reading between the lines of the linked article, you hear: "Oh no, we're not flashy, unlike that tattooed guy's revival. We are 'God honouring', unlike, well... connect the dots for yourself".

What may be of interest is that the author of the linked piece, Robert Ricciardelli, was one of the first critics of Mr. Bentley's revival.  He was invited by Gray to come to Kansas City and assess his revival, leading to Mr. Ricciardelli's thumbs-up.

However, I remember that Mr. Gray was the leader of the "Smithton Outpouring", which was briefly of note in charismatic circles in 2001 and 2002, when revival hit a small community church in Smithton, Missouri. After events started to die down, Mr. Gray decided to move most of his church to Kansas City, the nearest big city, launching the World Revival Church there.

Not everyone moved away from Smithton, however. Several of the former members of Mr. Gray's church are critical of the way he did things. Their website has morphed into the Charismatic Reform Journal, and many of their pseudonymous observations about the alleged flaws of the revival have been saved online. It's a bracing critique, including speculations that the Smithton "revival" was "cooked up", and that Mr.  Gray made and did not keep a promise to keep a church in Smithon for those who did not want to move. We do need to keep in mind that we are hearing here from one side in an acrimonious church split, but there's certainly evidence to suspect that Mr. Gray is imperfect and that any "revival" he leads must be tested and weighed carefully.

I do hope and pray that Mr. Gray's work proves to be good. That said, however, "caveat emptor" is clearly the order of the day here. Just because Mr. Gray does not have a shaved head and tattoos, or neglects to knee cancer victims in the stomach, as Mr. Bentley does, does not mean that Christians should not use discernment here as well.         

Posted by Rick Hiebert on January 2, 2009 in Religion | Permalink


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