Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Everything old is new again

Canadian evangelist Todd Bentley seems to have a hard time being entirely truthful at all times.

And here's a case in point.

On August 3, his new ministry, Fresh Fire USA, sent out an e-mail promoting some videos that Bentley had had added to his site over the past few days. "New Video Content..." began the e-mail.

Anyone going to the Streaming Video section of the website will see that about three pages worth of videos have been added. But what's this? The fellow in these videos is not the shaved-headed tattooed preacher of the "Lakeland Revival". Rather the gentleman in these videos has more hair, often dyed yellow, with no visible tattoos at all.

Why? These videos are old Fresh Fire Ministries videos from three to seven years ago. While they may be new to the Fresh Fire USA site, they are not really "New Video Content".

What are some other hints? Well, one video is dated 2005, and many of the other videos end with an invitation to find out more about Todd at "www.freshfire.ca". As is noted on the Transform International website
, the old Fresh Fire hands allied with Shonnah Bentley and her mother Val Andres, have taken over the Canadian territory (and perhaps the Pacific Northwest as well) as their area of focus, under a new name. Someone watching the "India Altar Call" video presentation on Mr. Bentley's new site, who then phoned the number at the end of the video would be surprised to have someone answer "Transform International" on the other end.

Fans of Mr. Bentley's work in the Canada Ablaze crusade a few years ago (which he argued at the time was very necessary to build up the church in Canada) may be saddened to know that the above formal agreement might mean that Mr. Bentley never returns to Canada. (Be sure that there will eventually be a drop box in a post office close to the U.S. border for Canadian donations to FreshFireUSA, though.)

What does Mr. Bentley hope to do with the videos? Give the impression that nothing has really changed in his work and that he's not really starting all over again. If you don't watch the videos carefully, and don't know much about Todd Bentley other than he was main figure of that "great revival in Lakeland", that's what a viewer might erroneously think.

This is not "new". This is "old" with a new coat of paint.

Something that might also trouble in these videos is that there are a lot of people seen to be helping Mr. Bentley in his work, saying good things about him and such. (One that jumps right out is famed missionary to Mozambique, Heidi Baker.) One wonders if, after Lakeland, a lot of the anonymous figures in the videos continue to feel the same way about Todd Bentley. Would they be pleased that they are helping him, indirectly, to raise money now because they appeared in one of his promotional videos many years ago?

I would say that this is a little sneaky, but perhaps not a surprise.

I've already noted that Fresh Fire USA has borrowed a graphic style from the original series of Star Trek ("Captain, I have completed the Vulcan Mind Meld and...BAM! BAM! BAM!" "Ouch, Spock!"), but here are some other things that I noticed while looking at Mr. Bentley's new website.

Mr. Joyner's series of videos is reproduced on Mr. Bentley's website, but only up until May 14th (which is probably close to when he filmed his video welcome to Mr. Bentley's website). Mr. Joyner, however, is continuing his series on his own website. Why the discrepancy? Well, Mr. Joyner is slowly edging into commentary which, in a Delphic Oracle sort of way, can be interpreted as critiquing Mr. Bentley's past actions. A possible hindrance to Mr. Bentley's "full speed ahead" approach.

Heeding criticism at the time of Lakeland that he didn't try to convert the unsaved during the crusade, Mr. Bentley posted a "How to accept Jesus into your heart" type of video on his website. In the video ("How to know Jesus?" Why the question mark? Isn't he sure that his advice will work?), Mr. Bentley bowdlerizes his past history, as he customarily does.

Coming up to the 4:04 mark in the video, Mr. Bentley discusses various crises in one's life that might compel you to think about becoming a Christian:

"....I said, Jesus, if you are real, then I need you to make yourself real to me. Maybe that's all you need to do right now, [say] 'Make yourself real to me, Jesus.' And He can help you in whatever situation. You might be facing a divorce or bankruptcy right now. And it may not be an addiction, and you might be at the end of yourself..."

You may recall that the proximate cause of the collapse of the Lakeland revival was Todd Bentley's decision to divorce his wife and marry a younger, prettier intern. (It's certainly perhaps the most significant in the minds of Christians, as Mr. Joyner and Mr. Bentley have felt the need to be perceived as going over the subject in their videos.)

Since Mr. Bentley has himself raised the subject, what is to prevent a viewer of this video, who may know of Mr. Bentley's divorce and remarriage, from talking back to the video and saying "Well, Christianity seems to have been a great help to *you* in this area," and concluding, wrongly, that there are some areas in your life that Christ cannot heal or fix? (This is a reason why leaders in the Christian church are help to a very high Biblical standard, so that they do not have to argue, "Well, do as I say, not as I did.")

Speaking of divorce and remarriage, you may recall that on the old www.freshfire.ca web page, it mentioned Todd's then-wife Shonnah, and his three children. How does the new biography page on his new website approach this? By not mentioning either wife (old model Shonnah or trophy wife Jessa), or his children and just talking about Todd himself.

If you are a church leader who doesn't know much more of Mr. Bentley than he was the "star of Lakeland", such reticence can be very useful for the evangelist. It avoids questions about how his new, young wife could have had children coming into their teens in a few short years. A wife that is younger than he is would not be unusual for any evangelist or minister, and if the welcoming church didn't follow the collapse of Mr. Bentley's first marriage, it would just assume that Bentley's current marriage is uneventful and nothing that calls Mr. Bentley's past actions into question. An occasional pulpit reference to his "wife" would cover either Jessa or, if the church happened to meet Shonnah Bentley many years ago, Shonnah. Let sleeping dogs lie.

Whatever people do not know won't hurt them...or Todd.