A Thought on Lakeland Florida and Todd Bentley

Note: For those joining this post for the first time, I greatly encourage you to read through all the comments – it’s a vibrant and helpful discussion that teases apart the post from many sides.

A discussion is beginning over at the UK Vineyard Facebook site asking about people’s experiences and perspectives on the activity in Lakeland, Florida guided by Todd Bentley.

Here is my post to the site, simple and quick. I thought it may be helpful to some; angering to others. All in all, I’m open to God being quite active in Lakeland, Florida – though I won’t bet everything I have on it all being His activity.

“With great power, comes great responsibility. If great power is coming to, and through people, there should always be regard for the source of the power, the nature of the leaders through whom it is extended to us, and the ever present (Church History 101) possibility that godly activity is blended with psychic power (see Bonhoeffer, or ancient and recurring themes in historic gnosticism – i.e. the elevation of spiritual leaders and power themes in Christian experience).

That’s not skepticism, nor is it over-analysis of a move of God – it’s good form and should be the norm for how we evaluate every experience we have corporately or personally with God and Christian activity.

As one who pastored for years one hour from Toronto, and walked through the center of that holy and hazy storm, I offer this idea.

God is most probably doing some beautiful work there in Lakeland. I’ve had significant encounters with God in the midst of the Toronto experience through the years, as well as in other settings. From the reports, the sick are healed, the dead are raised, and I hear some good, biblical ideas shared there (along with others that have, in my opinion, absolutely nothing to do with biblical Christianity – not uncommon to the whole of the Church). As one who has first hand witnessed cancer disappearing (by doctor’s verification) and blind eyes opened, I will never be quick to dismiss dramatic acts of physical transformation. I cannot, without reinterpreting far too much of my personal experience.

However, people are not then exempt from participating in the process (or the power), and therefore everything is not God’s activity – some of it is that of people. I bristle at the emphasis on “anointing” and “impartation.” This language smacks of extremes in the charismatic world, with which I am both extremely comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. The border is often crossed in shades of gnosticism with this language – certain people have special power, and spread it around.

The New Testament focuses on “obedience.” Plain and simple. I’d rather obey, and see God respond in that moment, than wait to be empowered over and over again in order to be used by God. I just don’t see that pattern in the New Testament. In my estimation, while I admire Todd Bentley’s faith, I am put off by his style – I can’t see Jesus presenting Himself or the gospel the way I hear it presented- at least in some of the GodTV clips I’ve seen.

Then again, I’m not so impressed with myself in that regard as I lead conferences and events, so I may be projecting my own weakness on other models.

However, I will note that some aspects of what I saw were actually very beautiful – the joy in faces, the richness of some of the times of worship (the anthropologist and worship leader in me loves the chant and ecstatic quality of certain moments that are created), and the hope that is kindled afresh in folks.

I say, take the best, let it lead us not to power, or even greater power, but to love, and to the one who emptied Himself of power in order to let His weakness and humility right the world.

High spiritual drama does not equal, has never necessarily equaled, God’s activity, though He may be quite involved. I’m thrilled for what God is doing in the midst of Lakeland, but I expect Him to do the same here in my town of 5000. I also expect Christians to be more educated and thoughtful about these things – I’m getting tired of any reflective analysis of an amazing event being labeled as “unbelief” or “skepticism.” I’m glad Jesus was “skeptical” about the religious patterns of his own day.

For some, I note how “power” is attractive and seems to be at the center of their Christian story. I’ve never understood that. Maybe they want to see the Church come alive, the culture realize we’re right, maybe something else is behind the scenes.

Love is the center of the story I know and love – and am giving my life for.

So, I say, “God, heal the sick through us, raise the dead through us, and deliver the oppressed through us… but also feed the poor through us, do justice through us, show your care and humility through us, and integrate us into the heart of culture as your new humanity – as you help us not to spiral off again into a new brand of Christian subculture.”

Unedited, and a quick reply.

P.S. I also must note that the phrase “God on Demand.” over at the God.TV site where the live feeds are being broadcast sickened me. This is the side of charismania, of which I have been a part for years, that so disturbs me. “God on Demand” is called magic – not biblical faith. Let’s watch our words – no matter what God is doing.