Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Art of the non-apologetic apology

(Crossposted at The Shotgun, April 18, 2009)

It's probably only a matter of days before Todd Bentley returns to working as an evangelist, according to a video update released by his friend and mentor Rick Joyner on the latter's website today. In "Todd and Ministry", Mr. Joyner says that he is powerless to stop God from overriding the restoration process which was allegedly necessary to bring the Canadian preacher back to work. And gee whiz if he doesn't see evidence that this may be happening.

One nagging question that readers may have is why are Mr. Bentley's critics still assailing him, when he says that he is sorry? Well, I can make an educated guess. Although I am not in this camp, I do think that it is in the public's interest to bring blatant lying to their attention.

I suspect that those watching the videos below the fold of this post might suspect that Mr. Bentley and Mr. Joyner are either trying to pull a fast one or are really dumb. They will know, however, the the pair are at least insulting towards a group of friends that tried to help Mr. Bentley when his revival in Lakeland, Florida was in trouble last summer.  

Mr. Bentley's series of revival meetings, shown worldwide by satellite and Internet TV, suffered a body blow after a crew from the ABC-TV news program Nightline visited the revival and found that the meetings seemed to be having no impact on the surrounding communiuty. Moreover, Mr. Bentley was unable to provide "just one" example of someone who could prove with medical testimony that they had been healed. The evangelist immediately decided to take the following day off, probably to strategize.

 On July 24, 2008, several charismatic evangelist friends of Bentley's came to Lakeland to "commission" him. Most of the evangelists belong to a group called Revival Alliance led by C. Peter Wagner, an informal but de facto denomination. The intent, Mr. Wagner explained, was to give some leadership and oversight to the Lakeland meetings. (And thereby, it was left unsaid, to attempt to quiet criticism of Mr. Bentley and reassure Christians who might be fearing that Mr. Bentley was going off the deep end.) Mr. Joyner was also there, participating.

It did not work. Attendance dwindled and Mr. Bentley struck his tents a few weeks later when it came out that his marriage was falling apart (due, it was later revealed, to "adultery" with an intern whom he has now married).

Fast forward to quite recently. On April 3, Mr. Bentley and Mr. Joyner issue a video entitled "Apology to the Revival Alliance and the Church." Amazingly, if you carefully parse what is said, it's an apology that winds up being extremely non-apologetic.

Here is the Bentley-Joyner "apology":

"....There's a big misunderstanding [about] what was going on," Mr. Joyner begins, referring to the special July 24 service.

Mr. Bentley then goes on to try to argue that he was still trying to reconcile with his first wife when the Revival Alliance came to Lakeland, so therefore they weren't blessing anything untoward. Shortly after the 5:18 mark of the video, he says, "Shonnah and I were hoping and working at that things were gonna work even when that ordination took place..." He makes a further reference to "ordination" a few seconds later.

Mr. Bentley, however, goes on to say that the Revival Alliance members were, in his opinion, coming to give God a pat on the back for doing good things, and to give him a "buffer" against attacks on the meetings. At the 7;13 mark of the video, he adds, "I saw it as a simple--not that they were responsible, not that I was coming under any government or organization, as if there was a political structure now, but I saw it simply that there was a bunch of guys that loved revival were all getting together to say 'Yay, God'..."

Okay, Mr. Bentley, after apologizing to the Revival Alliance members, is going on to say that there was nothing significant or formal in what was taking place. Unfortunately for him, the Revival Alliance ordinaton has been saved to YouTube in four parts and we can check what the truth of what he now says. (Did Mr. Bentley check the record first to see if what he was about to say was the truth? As you'll see below, that is doubtful.)

The four parts of the "Lakeland commissioning video" are at this YouTube playlist address:

Mr. Bentley's problem is as this was an ordination, this necessarily involves entering a formal arrangement with his friends in the Revival Alliance.

Some examples in the above videos explain what I mean.

C. Peter Wagner, at the 45 second mark of the Part 1 video explains "This is a ceremony celebrating the formal apostolic alignment with Todd Bentley..." In Mr. Wagner's theology, an evangelist such as Mr. Bentley needs to come under the authority of someone to do his work in good order. Mr. Wagner after rattling off his credentials and authority, cites Ephesians 4:11-12 and argues that the phrase translating "aligning" should be understood in the sense of a Greek word meaning when a doctor sets a broken bone. At the 1:58 mark of Part 1, he adds, "This is the responsibility of apostles, such as those you see here on the platform and that is the reason we are present here tonight."

As Mr. Bentley stands on ths stage listening to this, he should understand that a patient who refuses to let a doctor set his broken bone and wrap it in a cast is in dire straights indeed. Therefore, following Mr. Wagner's logic, the Revival Alliance "apostles" are asking Mr. Bentley, as a condition of their coming to support him, to listen and heed when they perceive "broken bones" in the body of his revival. If they spot something wrong, Mr. Bentley must heed and change.

Three members of the Revival Alliance, evangelists Che Ahn, Bill Johnson and John Arnott, all friends of Todd Bentley, are called forward to establish a direct working relationship with Todd Bentley. At the 4:48 mark of the Part 1 video, Todd Bentley, nodding frantically "Yes" in response, is formally asked by Mr. Wagner, "Do you recognize the apostolic authority of these three men in your life and ministry and do you desire to establish an apostolic alignment with them, with Revival Alliance?" Noting Mr. Bentley's nodds, Mr. Wagner then starts to formally commission Todd and offer him the "right hand of fellowship" between Revival Alliance and the evangelist.

The formality continues. At the 9:30 mark of the Part 1 video, Che Ahn anoints Todd Bentley with "special oil".

Over Parts 2 and 3, several ministers pray blessings over Todd Bentley. Rick Joyner makes his presence felt at the end of Part 2, prophesying "increase" and "longevity" for Mr. Bentley's work.

At the beginning of Part 4, Che Ahn gives Todd Bentley a special ring, saying "...we not only seal this commission with this ring..." As the formal part of the ceremony ends, it leads Mr. Bentley to muse on the benefits of partnership. Starting at 3:08 of the Part 4 video, Mr. Bentley muses "Sometimes in the church we get so wounded that there's no room for trust, for friends, for working together with friends. You end up just [saying] 'I'm gonna do it myself...'"

The "tale of the tape" is clear. The Revival Alliance members were making a formal relationship with Todd. And now, after nodding happily at the time and grabbing for their help, Mr. Bentley is saying it never happened. Didn't he realize at the time that with the oaths, anointing and presentation of the ring that something formal was happening? Of course. If he didn't want this to happen, why didn't he make clear to Mr. Wagner that he refused a formal relationship with his group? Why didn't he stop the ceremony as it was happening? Why didn't he formally break the agreement from the pulpit in the days he had left at Lakeland?

This explains why the video "apology" is anything but. Obviously, the formal ceremony parts of the service were important and significant to the Revival Alliance members, but now Mr. Bentley is dismissing their thoughts and feelings (and indeed truthfully the fact that there were taking a risk to their own reputations by standing with him) with a wave of his hand. Is it Christ-like to apologize to someone and then to add "Oh and by the way, something that meant a lot to you has always meant nothing to me"? I'd think that Mr. Wagner would rather forego any "apology" and instead prefer that Mr. Bentley treats his friendship with the Revival Alliance members with respect.

This is troubling. Mr. Bentley's flawed work and ministry has been attributed to burnout and marital problems with his wife. Entering the restoration process, as we have been told over and over again in the many videos released by Mr. Joyner, means that Mr. Bentley should now exhibit good character. Is he burned out now? No. Is he experiencing strife with his wife, now? No, he has a new one. Then what does it mean if he is trying to lie now?

Mr. Joyner is at fault too. Even if Mr. Bentley didn't realize what was formally taking place, Mr. Joyner should have. The fact that Mr. Joyner decided to let Todd Bentley misrepresent what happened with his approval, using his ministry's resources, is dismaying.

What could be really going on? Here's a guess.

After Mr. Bentley left the revival meetings, Mr. Wagner tried, in the capacity of being the head of the Revival Alliance--the group that had aligned with Todd--to offer some public commentary that would offer his ideas on what went wrong and what should happen in the future. (Here's one of his statements.) Mr. Wagner released some details of Mr. Bentley's sins and mistakes and seems to want to give the impression that he would be firm with the lapsed evangelist.

Mr. Joyner, on the contrary, has been very gracious towards Mr. Bentley. His "restoration videos" given lots of evidence of this.

What may be happening is that Mr. Joyner and Mr. Bentley are, politely but firmly, telling Mr. Wagner by way of the video "apology" that he is to have no real role in discipling Mr. Bentley, or deciding how firm to be with him. Mr. Bentley used his video to try and pretend that Mr. Wagner has never had a reason to think that he should have a role. But, as you have seen, there is convincing evidence to the contrary.

It's a turf war. Think of Mr. Joyner and Mr. Wagner as the "Jets" and the "Sharks" with Todd Bentley cast as Maria. ("I feel BAM! Oh, so BAM!")

By the way, whatever made Mr. Joyner think that he was in a position of authority to be a formal mentor to Mr. Bentley?  Stephen Strader, friend of Mr. Bentley and pastor of Ingited Church in Lakeland, Florida--home church of the "revival", might provide a telling clue.

Mr.Strader contributes to a public e-mail list, Apostles Today [Discussion] on charismatic Christian issues. On March 18, replying to a writer who was concerned that Shonnah Bentley, Todd's first wife, was being ignored in the process, he began by reccomending that the other writer watch "the videos done by Rick [Joyner] and Todd."

He continued: "Rick is not (nor any of us) welcoming Todd nor ignoring Shonnah. First, the whole process of the Apostolic Alignment was to bring Todd into proper accountability. Rick was assigned by the Revival Alliance to bring correction & restoration to Todd."

Hmm. If true, Mr. Joyner took the responsibility from the Revival Alliance and then, Todd Bentley in hand, told them to beat it.

One last note. In 2003, Todd Bentley wrote in his self-published autobiography Journey Into the Miraculous, that he was an ordained minister. It reads almost exactly the same in the current mass-market version printed last year, so I will quote the latter printing:

I thank God for my friendship with Patricia [King], and for how God used her as an instrument to ordain me into the ministry--but I always will know that the call came from God. I've since been ordained in Canada by my local church, and through the Christian Minister's Association. In the U.S., I'm recognized as a minister of the Gospel through World Ministry Fellowship in Texas. [Todd Bentley, Journey Into The Miraculous, Destiny Image Publishers, January 2008, p. 162]

Bud Press, the irrepressible boffin of the Christian Research Service, has done some  looking into this and learned something surprising. Which you may read in full at:

It seems that the Christian Minister's Association says that they have never ordained Mr. Bentley. World Ministry Fellowship, following what happened in Lakeland, has "moved in quickly and taken action" pulling his U.S. credentials.

I guess that Mr. Bentley now desperately needs the kind of formal ordination service that he now says never happened at Lakeland. I would advise Mr. Wagner to stay by his phone, just in case.