Thursday, July 16, 2009

Read Your Bible, Todd

(Crossposted at The Shotgun Jan. 10, 2009)

<p>Canadian evangelist Todd Bentley once told an audience a few years ago that even before he became a born-again Christian he had the gift of gab—that he was “always good at speaking”. He put on a display last week, trying to explain away the collapse of his world-famous revival this past summer and his affair with a former intern. Those who understand Mr. Bentley’s history and theology, however, will likely find his explanations wanting.</p><form class="at-page-break"></form><p>Mr. Bentley fielded questions from Paul Steven Ghiringhelli, a writer for Charisma magazine. The reporter wanted some comments on a statement issued by the governing board of Fresh Fire Ministries, Mr. Bentley’s ministry, criticizing his affair as “adultery” and condemning his planned divorce from his wife Shonnah. Mr. Ghiringhelli deserves praise for getting Mr. Bentley to comment to the press for the first time in months, but his editors, posting the story on their website. were definitely trying to downplay Mr. Bentley’s remarks by implying that they were only reporting on the FFM statement (“Leaders of Todd Bentley’s Ministry Break Silence”) and by dropping his quotes to the second half of the story.</p>

<p>If we parse what Mr. Bentley has to say, it’s pretty scary. I’ll reproduce it here, and then offer what I hope is some useful background.</p>

<p>The relevant section of the article runs as follows:

<p>On Tuesday, Bentley said there had been no sexual immorality between him and the former nanny. He claimed that for two years no “spark or interest” in the former staff member existed, and that the two developed only an emotional relationship several weeks after July 1, when Bentley filed for divorce.</p>

<p><em>He admitted, however, that the budding relationship was “absolutely” bad timing.</em></p>

<p><em>“I would call it an inappropriate relationship, in the sense that it was too soon, too quick, and should’ve never happened the way that it happened,” Bentley said. “Emotionally, she had stepped in to comfort me as a friend would.</em></p>

<p><em>“But I never left my wife to be with another woman,” he said. “There was nothing premeditated or inappropriate in my heart. I had never even entertained the idea that I liked this girl. It never went there.”</em></p>

<p><em>Claiming to have gone through years of counseling with his wife, Bentley said he is divorcing her over “irreconcilable differences.”</em></p>

<p><em>He denied disconnecting from his children and told Charisma he is in constant phone contact with them and plans to see them as soon as he sorts out issues with his visa.</em></p>

<p><em>Bentley said FFM let him review the letter before they made it public and that he was unhappy with portions of it. He said he felt the letter implied that the breakup of his marriage could be blamed on his relationship with his former nanny and the pressures of leading daily nonstop revival meetings in Lakeland.</em></p>

<p><em>“I have the utmost respect for my team in Canada and we have had a lot of years together,” he said. “[But] I’m not in agreement with my board on this. The point is, [the former nanny] wasn’t the cause. And I don’t want to blame Lakeland. I want to blame a bad marriage.”</em></p>

<p><em>Bentley said he is willing to take 100 percent responsibility for his actions and that he readily admits he’s guilty of doing a lot of things wrong over the years. “In a lot of ways, the ministry has been my mistress,” he said. “That did destroy my marriage. That I have to take responsibility for.”</em></p>

<p><em>….Bentley said he is still involved at an emotional level with his former nanny and soon plans to move to Joyner’s headquarters in Fort Mill, S.C., to “fully embrace a healing and restoration process.”</em></p>

<p>To begin, not only the board, but also Mr. Bentley’s friend, Ignited Church pastor<em>&nbsp;</em>Stephen Strader has said that the Mr. Bentley’s affair is apparently sexual. Before Mr. Bentley spoke to Charisma, he spoke to Strader. Pastor Strader, based on what Bentley told him, told his local paper that he agreed with the FFM board that what Bentley was doing was basically adultery.</p>

<p>People who have been following the evangelist will recall that three years ago he pulled himself off the road on the grounds that he had suffered a breakdown due to nervous exhaustion. He went into this in a full sermon-length message, which he sent to his contributors, describing his “dark night of the soul”. Left unmentioned in his message, however, was this was directly after a sexual affair with another staffer than the one we are mentioning now. Mr. Bentley was no doubt coming off the road in an attempt to save his marriage.</p>

<p>This has been remarked on twice. Once by Stephen Strader, immediately after Bentley left the revival, in the local newspaper.</p>

<p>Perhaps Pastor Strader was a source of information for C. Peter Wagner, a charismatic leader in the United States who wants Mr. Bentley to become one of his disciples. Mr. Wagner noted in a report on the revival in August that this first affair, during Mr, Bentley’s emotional “breakdown”, was sexual: “<em>Their marriage has been torn for years by his emotional attachment with at least one other female whose physical contact went beyond hugging and kissing and holding hands. Enough said-maybe more details will be revealed later-but it was clearly immoral. All of this was skillfully concealed by lying and by swearing close associates who had observed his behavior to secrecy</em>.”</p>

<p>It’s interesting that Bentley says that there was no “spark or interest” on his part for the intern. Really? Did he put safeguards in place, as many do, to ensure that nothing could come up that could threaten his marriage? If not, why not?</p>

<p>(One hopes that the lady in question does not take offense at the implication that Mr. Bentley was basically seduced, It takes two to tango.)</p>

<p>He couldn’t talk to the intern and another lady friend of his at the same time, so that they could both comfort him in a purely sisterly way ? (Someone who had fallen into an affair in the past would particularly want to be careful here.)</p>

<p>As I have noted, there is nothing preventing Mr. Bentley, a Canadian citizen, born in Canada, from being in Canada right now to be near his kids. The visa “issues” relate to re-entry into the United States, a big source of revenue for the evangelist. Does he have personal assets in the United States that he must access in person, such as, perhaps, safety deposit boxes in a bank stuffed with cash (that his wife may not know about)?</p>

<p>Mr. Bentley’s remarks, however, are troubling to someone who is a charismatic Christian, as he professes to be. Citing years of counseling, and a bad marriage as a reason to divorce, does not jibe with the account of the marriage in Mr. Bentley’s autobiography, Journey Into The Miraculous.</p>

<p>Mr. Bentley writes that his wife-to-be, Shonnah Andres, initially saw him as just a friend. Furthermore, she was interested in another fellow, and thought, after prayer, that she would marry this other man.</p>

<p>Then, Todd had a “vision from God”:</p>

<blockquote><p>“…the Lord had actually shown me an open vision of Shonnah. It was my first open-eyed vision. I was in my living room and my fireplace opened up, kind of like a TV screen, and I saw us embracing in a wheat field that was ready for harvest. We were both weeping and I was wearing a tux and she was wearing a wedding dress. As the vision unfolded, her friend Roswetta (who was now my friend) was talking with me in the living room about Shonnah. I described the open vision to her as it happened. The presence of the Lord fell and we both wept. Roswetta said, ‘I can’t see it but I can feel goose bumps.’ During this vision, I also received an anointing of creativity, poetry and writing. In fact, I even received a three-page prophetic poem that I read at our wedding. I still write prophetic poems for my wife to this day.”</p></blockquote>

<p>Shonnah’s friend then went off to tell her about the vision. Shonnah gradually fell in love with Bentley and they married.</p>

<p>Charismatics sometimes make decisions partly based on what they think the Lord is telling them. Ladies in charismatic churches sometimes need to tell ardent suitors who say, “The Lord has shown me that you are to be my wife!” something like “Well, I’m sure that he will ‘tell’ me too and he hasn’t said anything yet!”</p>

<p>What disturbs me about the account in the book is this. Mr. Bentley is alleging that he received special direction from the Lord to marry his wife, moreover, that he received special help from God to enable him to show love to her. If I were Bentley, I would be frightened to fly in the face of this alleged vision by pursuing a divorce. Would he not be going against the revealed will of God in what he is said to have seen…if we assume this vision actually took place?</p>

<p>Mr. Bentley is acting like this vision never took place, or is wrong. This poses a serious logical problem for the evangelist.</p>

<p>If the vision never took place, what other visions has he made up? He's had some doozies, which I won't get into here.</p>

<p>If the vision never took place, did he use his fib to prevent Shonnah from having God’s best for her life? What kind of selfish person would you have to be to do something like that?</p>

<p>This poses a problem for how he does his ministry as well. Many times, Mr. Bentley has explained how he often does ministry. Supposedly, he prays and tries to foresee what God will do at his upcoming meeting. In a vision, God will show him the faces of people, or tell him their names, or show him where they will be sitting in the meeting and then reveal extra information such as what their sickness is, or a special message from God for them.</p>

<p>If Mr. Bentley misread what he thought God was saying, this implies that in a “big question” that he can be horribly misled in hearing from God. Someone with terminal cancer, wanting healing prayer from Mr. Bentley, would certainly want to be able to put confidence in him being able to hear from God, especially if they were going to make medical decisions partly based on what he said.</p>

<p>If Mr. Bentley makes up what he says that God shows him, or uses the technique of “cold reading” to give those who come forward for prayer what they want to hear, that would certainly reflect on his character in a bad way.</p>

<p>If Mr. Bentley is to return to ministry, those counseling him will need to make sure that he has the character to be honest, and not to spin tales out of whole cloth. Alas, he has developed a demonstrated tendency of playing fast and loose with the truth and this must be addressed if he is to do good works.</p>

What has bothered me about the Internet discussions of Mr. Bentley and his affair with his intern is that people seem to be confusing the cause and the effect. As I have mentioned, I first learned that the evangelist was not all that he seemed to be over seven years ago. My editors at The Report magazine allowed me to catch the evangelist in a grave lie, which he then repeated the following year. The sequence was clear. A character failing on Mr. Bentley's part led to lying. So, I was dismayed, but not surprised, to see Mr. Bentley lie and lie again. (Several of my posts here go into his most recent fibs.) What I hope that Mr. Joyner sees is that there is a basic issue of character that needs to be fixed when he counsels Mr. Bentley, lest a lack of honour or integrity threatens what he does in the future. You don't want to just fix the "affair" and then have the evangelist do other woeful public sins or expound faulty theology or use the wrong methods in his evangelism. You want a change of heart and mind, so that these things don't happen again.

You may recall that I noted that Todd Bentley claims in his autobiography that he received a special message from the Lord that he was to marry Shonnah Andres...which he did. He wrote:

“…the Lord had actually shown me an open vision of Shonnah. It was my first open-eyed vision. I was in my living room and my fireplace opened up, kind of like a TV screen, and I saw us embracing in a wheat field that was ready for harvest. We were both weeping and I was wearing a tux and she was wearing a wedding dress. As the vision unfolded, her friend Roswetta (who was now my friend) was talking with me in the living room about Shonnah. I described the open vision to her as it happened. The presence of the Lord fell and we both wept. Roswetta said, ‘I can’t see it but I can feel goose bumps.’ During this vision, I also received an anointing of creativity, poetry and writing. In fact, I even received a three-page prophetic poem that I read at our wedding. I still write prophetic poems for my wife to this day.” 

If I had received such a direction from the Lord, I would be very apprehensive about going against His will. But if you listen to Mr. Bentley now, he will tell you that his marriage has been troubled for many years and that his wife Shonnah Bentley is a shrew. Shonnah, in particular in her remarks at Ignited Church last spring, has often said that she felt most comfortable being a stay-at-home mom with a husband and family. Perhaps, if this was a valid vision, what God intended was that Todd Bentley hold back somewhat on his desire to be another Billy Graham who also happened to knee cancer victims in the stomach and boot old ladies in the head. Rather, instead he would be well grounded emotionally and have a travelling ministry closer to home, good friends that he could depend on to give him good counsel and a home church. With this sort of partnership, Mr. Bentley could have avoided his well publicized burnout of a few years ago, and lapsing into excessive drinking and an extra-marital affair. Two halves of a team.

Then again, he could have made the vision up to fool Shonnah Bentley into marrying him. He's acting like he never saw anything, at any rate. 

Which brings me to the Open Heavens Bible. It's not unusual for evangelists to commission a special edition of the Bible. In 2006, that's what Todd Bentley's ministry did, working with Thomas Nelson to bring out a very limited special edition of the New King James Version, with special study notes by Todd Bentley based on his very charismatic theology. It never made the bookstores and I would be very surprised if more than two or three thousand copies were printed. It is now out of print.

It is Todd Bentley's Bible, in a very personal sense.

Mr. Bentley in his Bible, is eager that his readers avoid spiritual pitfalls, such as the 'Curses" that believers can bring on themselves. "Often when I speak of curses, people become afraid that they're going to get one or that they already have one. You can't pick up a curse at the supermarket or Wal-Mart," Mr. Bentley writes. "Curses don't have an effect without a cause (Prov. 26: 2)....The widest open door for curses in our life is disobedience."

The evangelist has a full page (page 778) on curses due to sexual sins. I quote it in full:

Curses: Open Doors of Lust and Adultery

Different kinds of sickness are sometimes rooted in lust. "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt 5:28). Looking at a woman's beauty isn't necessarily lust; lust is more than an appreciative glance--it is accompanied with the thought: I want her, or involves fantasy. Soon lust takes root and we become bound by it.

While men struggle most with lust of the eyes, women struggle more with the emotional aspects of lust. Romance novels or soap operas captuire the imagination and create unrealistic expectations. Some woman long for romance and satisfy their emotional need for it by feeding on the fairy-tale love lives of others.

In such instances, the doors of resentment, bitterness, and disappinment with her own life and partner grows. She begins to vet what she doesn't have. Single women also develop unrealistic expectatiosn for their "Prince Charming". Every fairy-tale idea about love, marriage, life and relationships that's allowed to settle in the mind--Hollywood glamour, movies, romance, sex and beauty--takes root in the imagination and becomes a form of lust.

Proverbs 2: 16-19 describes the dire consequences of falling into lust. It says that those who are ensnared by lust do not regain the paths of life.

The spirit of lust and adultery saps strength and life. It pulls its victims down paths that lead to the place of death. "Remove your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others, and your years to the cruel one" (Prov. 5:8,9). Our honour is our strength and vigor, but when we fall into lust and adultery, we give our years to the cruel one.

Lust can actually cut life short, or cause sickness. 'Now therefore lisetn to me, my children; pay attention to the words of my mouth: Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, do not stray into her paths; for she has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men. Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of death." (Prov 7:24-27)

The Proverbs writer continued to warn his reader abut the dangers of lust: "But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of hell." (Prov. 9:18). It's amazing what kind of demonic powers and demonic spirits work with the spirit of lust--adultery, sexual sin, perversion, and pornography. Don't give your strength, your years, and your vigour over to the crual one or to the spirits of death that are released in the midst of sexual sin. Flee from lust and the curse of sexual sin--choose to live a life of purity, as a vessel of honor, fully consecrated to God. 

Can you imagine what Todd Bentley, the author of these words, would have to say to the Todd Bentley, who fell into an affair with a younger woman--an employee--because he didn't fell like being married to his wife any longer?

Readers who appreciate irony would also note that the first two full verses on the facing page to the above note are Matthew 6, verses 31 and 32. The headline given these verses: "Marriage Is Sacred and Binding".

What is sad about all this is that there are some useful insights in these notes, but will anyone pay attention to them now if Mr. Bentley doesn't apply them to his own life? "Do as I wrote, not as I did," is hardly the advice that any religious leader should be offering.

This is why Mr. Bentley must be forced to have a change in his character before resuming any public ministry. "Preach the gospel always; if necessary use words", Francis of Assisi once said. Without a life to back up what he writes in his Bible, or speaks from the pulpit, Mr. Bentley risks letting his words fall to the ground, empty of purpose and devoid of any real value to anyone.