An Evaluation of the Florida Healing Outpouring
by Dr. David R. Reagan
(Note: The original version of this article was written this past summer, before the Florida "revival" came to an end with the disclosure that Todd Bentley's wife had left him because of his involvement with a female staff member. We are printing the evaluation anyway, with the hope that it will help Christians to be more discerning. The Bible tells us that the end times will be a period of great deception - Matthew 24:24, 1 Timothy 4:1, and 2 Timothy 4:1-4. We are living in those times, and we need to test everything carefully by the Word of God.)
Todd Bentley is a 32 year old evangelist from Canada who heads up an independent Charismatic ministry called Fresh Fire Ministries. In April of 2008 he was invited to hold a oneweek revival at the Ignited Church of Lakeland, Florida.1
The "revival" quickly became a religious and media phenomenon. One of the main reasons it rapidly attracted so much attention was because of the flamboyant personality and mannerisms of Todd Bentley. The other reason is because the services were broadcast live each evening over the GodTube website, making them available to all the world.2 The extended meeting grew to the point that it had to be moved to a large tent-type structure that accommodated close to 10,000 people, many of whom were arriving daily from foreign nations.
A Strange "Revival"
This was a "revival" with very little teaching and preaching. In fact, Todd Bentley seldom brought a Bible to the pulpit with him. The services began with an intense and lengthy period of worship. One pastor described the worship as "hypnotic music" that utilized "rhythmic sound" with "repetitious words."3 I checked this description by going to the Fresh Fire Ministries website and watching a service. I found the description to be accurate. Nearly all the songs consisted of chants of short phrases that were repeated over and over and over - phrases like, "Lord set us free," "Fire fall down on me," and "It's raining; it's pouring; Your rivers are flowing." The music seemed designed to whip the audience into a frenzy.
Here's how a Florida pastor named Gary Osborne described a service he attended:4
The phrase, "stir yourselves up" was used repeatedly... A woman led in prayer for the service and... told the people to "roar like a lion!"... People everywhere shouted at the top of their lungs... This same lady was jerking and twitching... There was also much talk of "birthing" and "signs and wonders." There was a very sensual spirit... People seemed to be in a trance all around me... The music had the people mesmerized...
At about 8:30pm... the music leader says, "I'm feeling drunk." He then tells the people to say to God, "Intoxicate me, Lord!"... Now the people are getting truly wild, and the leader says, "Scream!" and the people let out a yell... Finally the worship leader falls to the floor himself...
In this carnival-like atmosphere, people were exhorted to "come and get some of the miracles that are popping like popcorn."5 Bentley would stride about the stage in a frenzy screaming into his microphone, keeping the audience on their feet cheering. He came across as a carnival barker or a Holy Ghost cheerleader.
When Bentley would lay his hands on people seeking healing, he would yell, "Bam! Bam!" They usually fell on the ground and began to contort wildly, like they were having an epileptic seizure. Sometimes Bentley would become violent. He kicked a lady in the face, choked a man, banged on a woman's legs, and hit a man so hard that he knocked out a tooth!
Bentley was so bizarre that it is difficult to describe his behavior in words. To get a real feel for the man, I suggest you go to either YouTube.com or GodTube.com and just type his name in the search engine on these sites. You will find many video clips of his services. I think you will be astonished and repulsed. You might also try Bentley's website at FreshFire.ca. Numerous videos of his services are posted on this site.
Bentley claimed to have healed innumerable people. He also claimed to have raised many people from the dead. In one video clip I watched, he prayed for a man with a glass eye and then proclaimed that the man could see out of the eye!
On another occasion, he called up two women from Holland who claimed that as a result of the anointing they had experienced at his service the night before, they had awakened the next morning with gold teeth in their mouths! Bentley had them open their mouths, and after examining each one, he shouted, "Yes! Yes! Each lady has a big fat gold tooth!" He proclaimed this to be a "miracle."
So, how valid was the "Florida Healing Outpouring," as it came to be called? Was Bentley a true miracle working evangelist under the anointing of the Holy Spirit? Or was he just another shyster selling snake oil?
I cannot judge his motives because I do not know his heart. I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt by assuming that he was very sincere in what he was doing. But if that was the case, I think I can say without doubt that he was sincerely deceived and that he was deceiving many others, and I think I can prove that.
His Appearance and Mannerisms
First, let's consider Bentley's appearance. Now, I am aware of the old saying, "You cannot judge by appearance," and that is correct to a certain extent. Even the Bible says that "Satan can appear as an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14).
But it would be more accurate to say that "You cannot judge by appearance alone." Appearance is not irrelevant. Would you be willing to listen to a sermon from a person wearing a Nazi uniform? Appearance can provide valuable clues as to what a person believes. In this regard, I always think of the 60-year old hippies I see each time I visit Taos, New Mexico. They come down out of the mountains driving beat-up old Volkswagen buses painted with flowers. They wear tie-dyed shirts with garlands around their necks. They seem caught in a time warp. Based on their appearance alone, I can pretty well guess what their value system is.
Todd Bentley is sensational and even bizarre in appearance. His body is plastered with tattoos, and his face bears multiple piercings. Now, it would be one thing if all this bodily disfigurement and mutilation had taken place before he claims to have become a Christian. And it would certainly be forgivable if he had repented of it. But Bentley claims that God told him to get the tattoos and piercings. In fact, he often appears on stage wearing a T-shirt that says, "Jesus Gave Me My Tattoos."
Those are unbiblical claims. The Bible says we are not to disfigure our bodies with tattoos or mutilate them with cuttings (Leviticus 19:28). I have actually had some professing Christians dismiss these prohibitions because "they are Old Testament." Do you really think God changed His mind about bodily disfigurement and mutilation when He gave us the New Testament?
Doesn't the New Testament say that for those of us who are believers, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? (1 Corinthians 3:26-27 and 6:19-20). Don't you think the Holy Spirit would be grieved to reside in the body of an unrepentant self-mutilator like Todd Bentley?
Bentley's mannerisms should also be a cause for concern. Where in the Word of God do you find a representative of the Lord behaving like a carnival barker or a professional wrestler? Where do you find examples of people praying "Bam! Bam!"? Where do you find examples of violent attacks on those seeking healing? Where do you find any exhortation for believers to surrender their mental processes to emotional frenzies?
Bentley and his followers respond to criticism by stating that "miracles and healings are evidence" of his anointing by the Holy Spirit.6 But that is not necessarily true. Satan can deceive through signs and wonders. In 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12 we are told that the activity of Satan can be manifested "with all power and signs and false wonders" and with deception for those who take pleasure in unrighteousness. Further, Jesus specifically warned that in the end times, "false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect" (Matthew 24:24).
As examples of these warnings, I would urge you to take a look at the healing ministries of Marjoe Gortner and Peter Popoff. You can find video clips featuring the ministries of both of these men on YouTube.com. Both were flamboyant faith healers. Both used the same techniques Bentley is using. Both got the same results - people falling to the floor, others going hysterical, and many claiming to be healed.
Yet, Gortner finally revealed that he was a total imposter who didn't even believe in God. And Peter Popoff was exposed as a shyster when it was revealed that his wife was feeding him information about audience members through a wireless radio hookup in one of his ears. It turned out that Popoff's staff was interviewing audience members before the services began, getting personal information that would then be fed to him by radio, but which he claimed to be "a word from the Lord."
The bottom line is that Christians are often very naive and thus willing to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone operating in the name of Jesus, despite Jesus' warning (Matthew 7:21-23):
21) Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.
22) Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?"
23) And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness."
The Validity of the "Miracles"
Another problem with Todd Bentley's miracle defense is the validity of his miracles. He has been challenged repeatedly to provide proof of his healings. He usually promises to do so, but then he either ignores the promise or else he sends vague records that no one can document. When the Associated Press asked for evidence, they were sent a file containing the names of 15 people who had been healed. The file contained medical verification of 12 of the healings:
Yet, two phone numbers given out by the ministry were wrong, six people did not return telephone messages, and only two of the remainder... said they had medical records as proof of their miracle cure. However, one woman would not make her physician available to confirm the findings, and the other's doctor did not return calls despite the patient's authorization.7
I saw a TV special about Bentley recently on the program, Nightline. It was an even-handed investigation. They requested proof of three miracles. He promised it but never delivered. Meanwhile, they followed-up on people who supposedly had been healed, including a boy with cerebral palsy. None had been healed. Some claimed they believed they had been healed, but their healing had "not yet manifested itself."8
Testing Bentley by the Word of God
The most important test of any preacher or evangelist must be the Bible. Are his teachings based on the Word of God and do they line up with it? This is a test that Bentley fails miserably.
First of all, he does very little teaching or preaching. That's because he is basically a showman. But when he does attempt to teach, he seems obsessed with angels and his experiences with them. This is cause for serious concern. Anytime a preacher starts substituting experiences for the Word of God, alarm bells should go off.
Bentley's Obsession with Angels
In a teaching entitled, "Angelic Hosts," Bentley tells story after story about special angels the Lord sends to help him with his ministry.9 The first was the Angel of Healing who came to him in December of 2005. Bentley says this angel suddenly appeared inside the church building where he was speaking and that he had a "body going through the ceiling of the church."10 "Wherever this angel shows up," says Bentley, "the miracles go off the charts!"
Bentley then makes the incredible claim that God revealed to him that this was the same angel who empowered the ministry of William Branham! It is astonishing that Bentley would want to have his ministry associated with this man.
Branham was a healing evangelist of the 1940s and 50s who denied the Trinity and who claimed the Zodiac and the Egyptian pyramids were on equal authority with the Bible. He also taught the "Serpent Seed" heresy that is popular with various neo-Nazi and Christian identity cults - that Cain was produced through a sexual union between Eve and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden.11 Branham also claimed to have been personally present with Moses and John the Baptist during their ministries!12 And Branham believed in the Manifest Sons of God heresy and claimed to be "a god manifested in the flesh."13
Getting back to Bentley's teachings about angels, he claims the second angel sent to him by God was one named Revelation. He says this angel always appears as an innocent little child but is possessed with great power. It is this angel who gives Bentley visions and prophetic experiences.14
Evidently this angel is not all that powerful because there are many video examples on the Internet of Bentley trying to exercise words of knowledge through supernatural revelation, and he usually ends up making a fool of himself through all his wrong guesses about people. One expert on this phenomenon, which is called "cold reading," has said that if Bentley was a parapsychologist doing public readings before a secular audience, he would be laughed off the stage!15
Bentley claims in his teachings that on occasion God sends the Cherubim and Seraphim from His heavenly throne room to energize his meetings. He says they appeared at a meeting he was conducting at a church in Iowa and that they manifested themselves by sending lightening bolts back and forth across the sanctuary for two and a half hours! He says "people began to scream... and the meeting became pandemonium."16
Another angel Bentley claims to have on his ministry team is one called Promise. When he shows up, people experience spiritual breakthroughs in the form of answered prayers.17
And, of course, there are special angels who release finances. Bentley says that when he needs a financial breakthrough, "I don't just pray and ask God." Rather, he petitions the Father to send His money angels to help him. He says he prays:
Father, give me the angels in heaven right now that are assigned to get me money and wealth. Let those angels be released on my behalf. Let them go into the four corners of the earth and gather me money... loose the Devil from the money assigned to me. I call in that money in the name of Jesus.18
A Very Unbiblical Angel
The most troubling angel Bentley describes in his teachings is a female one named Emma. (Keep in mind that the Bible never mentions female angels!) Amazingly, he states that he was introduced to this very special angel by none other than Bob Jones, one of the infamous "prophets" of the Kansas City Movement in the 1980s. I say, "amazingly," because Bob Jones has been thoroughly discredited, not only because of numerous false prophecies he has made, but also for serious moral failures which he has publicly admitted.
Bentley says Jones asked him if he had ever met the angel called Emma. Bentley said he had not and then asked who she was. Jones explained she was the one who empowered him and the other leaders of the Kansas City prophetic movement in the 1980s. He described her as a "mothering-type" angel.19
Bentley states that within a few weeks of this encounter with Jones, Emma suddenly appeared to him during a service in North Dakota. He says she floated into the room a couple of inches off the floor.20 You must read what happened in Bentley's own words lest you think I am exaggerating:
She [Emma] glided into the room, emitting brilliant light and colors. Emma carried these bags and began pulling gold out of them. Then as she walked up and down the aisles of the church, she began putting gold dust on people. "God, what is happening?" I asked. The Lord answered, "She is releasing the gold which is both the revelation and the financial breakthrough that I am bringing into this church... Within three weeks of that visitation, the church had given me the biggest offering I had ever received to that point in my ministry. Thousands of dollars! Thousands!
During this visitation the pastor's wife got totally whacked by the Holy Ghost - she began running around barking like a dog or squawking like a chicken as a powerful prophetic spirit came on her. Also, as this prophetic anointing came on her, she started getting phone numbers of complete strangers and calling them on the telephone and prophesying over them.
In my opinion, this sort of stuff borders on insanity. You have to read it with your own eyes to even believe that someone would say it.
If Bentley saw such a creature at all, it was clearly a demonic apparition. There are no female angels in the Bible. And when angels appear in biblical stories, they appear as normal human beings, not as spirits floating around pell-mell.
Another Bentley Obsession
Bentley speaks very seldom of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. He talks mostly about "the Glory" which he identifies as the Shekinah Glory of God. He says God is manifesting His Shekinah Glory today like a river and is calling Christians to jump in to receive healing, finances, and new revelations.21
There is no biblical basis for this strange teaching. God is present in and among His people today through His Spirit, not His glory. His glory will not be manifested here on earth until Jesus returns to reign in glory and majesty over all the world (Isaiah 24:21-23 and Habakkuk 2:14). Nor is there any need for further revelations from God. The Bible reveals everything we need to know this side of Heaven. As one critic of Bentley has put it so well, "We have no need to grasp after new importations and anointings and visitations because God has already imparted His Spirit and the mystery of His will to His people."22
The "Glory" Bentley talks about constantly is not the Second Coming of Jesus. It is, instead, the return of Christ within men, bringing about the perfection of believers and producing perfect and immortal sons of God who are invincible. It is the old apostate "Manifest Sons of God" doctrine.23
In addition to supernatural tales about angels, Bentley likes to talk about astral travel.24 He claims that he makes visits to Heaven. In one of his stories he tells about meeting the Apostle Paul and says that he looked "very Jewish with a short, trimmed white beard." He had "jolly cheeks" and was "a little pudgy." He says that Paul took him to his heavenly home and told him to climb a ladder that was in his back yard. Bentley says that as he climbed the ladder, a hole opened in the sky and a green liquid started pouring onto his eyes. He says the next thing he knew, he was standing in God's throne room.25
What nonsense! What is even more appalling to me is that there are Christians who are gullible enough to swallow this claptrap - hook, line, and sinker.
Special Revelation vs the Bible
This kind of unbiblical nonsense is what happens when a preacher abandons the Word of God as his source of authority. And that is exactly what Todd Bentley has done. In his teaching entitled "Extreme Living in God's River of Glory," Bentley asserts:
All I teach is by revelation received by God's glory falling upon me. It's a revelation whereby I instantly know certain things.26
Accordingly, Bentley's sermons are peppered with conversations with God - "I said to God." and "The Lord said to me."27 In one of his sermons, Bentley announced the presence of "great authority" in the building and then proceeded to declare, "I speak creation... I speak new hearts, new livers into existence tonight."28
Can you believe such arrogance? It reminds me of the passage from Isaiah about Satan: "You said in your heart, 'I will make myself like the Most High.' Nevertheless, you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit" (Isaiah 14:13-15).
The Basic Problem
The initial success of Bentley's Florida "revival" is a testimony to the famine of God's Word that exists throughout Christendom today, even among those who call themselves Evangelicals. As a result, the average Christian does not know enough about the Word of God to use it in testing what is being taught.
His ministry is also a testimony to the fact that we are living in the end times when "false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect" (Matthew 24:24).
Some Final Points
Let me make it clear that I believe in all the gifts of the Spirit, and I believe all of them are operative today. I also believe in the miracle working power of God. But our God is a God of order and dignity and holiness. It would be incompatible with His character for Him to operate through a sensual carnival sideshow (1 Corinthians 14:33,40).
Finally, what went on in Lakeland, Florida was not a revival. True revival never focuses on healing. The focus, instead, is repentance. When unbelievers start responding to the preaching of the Word by repenting and accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, and when believers start responding in repentance and recommitment, you will know that revival is taking place
Let us all pray for such a true revival to break out in our nation, for the time is short.
And let us also pray for Todd Bentley to come to know the true Gospel, to be brought to repentance, and for his marriage to be healed.