Todd Bentley in April 2008
January 10, 1976 |
Sechelt, British Columbia, Canada
(? – 2009)
Jessa Hasbrook Bentley
(2009 – present)
Todd Bentley (born 10 January 1976) is a Canadian Christian evangelist. He was a key figure of the Lakeland Revival. After a brief period of retirement connected with the breakdown of his marriage and subsequent remarriage, he has returned to ministry.
Bentley is from Gibsons, British Columbia, a small community on the western coast of Canada. As told in his autobiography, his parents divorced while he was a child, and he struggled with drug and alcohol addiction.
Although the criminal records of juvenile offenders in Canada are normally protected from public disclosure, multiple media outlets have reported on Bentley's conviction, at age 15, of sexually assaulting a much-younger boy when Bentley was 13 years old. Bentley later said the original article, which appeared in The Report newsmagazine, was, in substance, true: "'They were sexual crimes,' Bentley admits. 'I was involved in a sexual assault ring. I turned around and did what happened to me. I was assaulted too.'"
At 17, Bentley was hospitalized after an overdose of amphetamines and hallucinogenic pills. At 18, he changed his lifestyle completely, due to his conversion to Christianity. Soon after this, he began his Christian ministry.
Fresh Fire Ministries
In 1998, the Fresh Fire Ministry group asked Bentley to give his testimony at one of their weekly meetings. Soon after, Bentley took over leadership of the group, and it became more of a revival movement. He traveled to India, Africa, and South America taking part in crusades and revivals.
Leadership of Lakeland Revival
Beginning on April 2, 2008, Bentley was invited by Stephen Strader, pastor of Ignited Church, Lakeland, Florida, to lead a one-week revival. The revival quickly attracted up to 10,000 attendees nightly with Bentley as the primary preacher. In addition to showcasing Bentley's evangelism, the revival featured colorful light shows and power-chord Christian rock music. The Ignited Church also took a multimedia approach to publicizing the event, posting webcasts online. The revival streamed live via Ustream and received over 1 million hits in the first five weeks of transmissions. After the initial weeks, GOD TV, a Christian satellite channel, pre-empted its primetime programming and broadcast the Lakeland meetings nightly.
The revival brought in thousands and with that many other revivalists. At one point, Bentley began to pray for and commission many of them to duplicate his model for modern-day revival. Ryan Wyatt was one. Another was Evangelist Hamilton Filmalter, who was commissioned by Bentley to begin the Portland Outpouring.
Faith healing was a major focus of the revivals. Inspired by Biblical New Testament accounts of Jesus healing the sick, the contemporary practice of faith healing is important for Pentecostal and charismatic Christians. Healing testimonies were common at the Lakeland meetings. The hope of supernatural healing explains some of the Lakeland revivals' popularity, as there were many first-person accounts of miracles.
Bentley claimed to not only heal the sick—including through so-called "mass healings"—but also to raise the dead. He has claimed to have raised 35 people from the dead, including 3 people in Pakistan as reported by multiple outlets in September 2015, including Morningstar TV (part of Heritage International Ministries, headed by Rick Joyner).
The lack of medical corroboration of claimed healings and "dead-raisings" led to questioning and investigation by the media and many others. A 2008 Nightline report concluded that "not a single miracle could be verified." Bentley was also criticized for occasional violence done to participants of the Lakeland revivals. He was known to forcefully kick, hit, smack, or knock over participants. In one incident, a man was knocked over and lost a tooth. In another, an elderly woman was intentionally kicked in the face. Bentley held that the Holy Spirit led him to such actions, saying that the incidents were taken out of context and adding that miracles were happening simultaneously.
On 9 July 2008, ABC News' Nightline broadcast an investigative report on Bentley, focusing on his faith healing claims, finances, and criminal past. Following the report, Bentley took time off from the revival, but returned on 18 July 2008. Five days later, Bentley and Strader announced that Bentley would be leaving the revival permanently and that his last day would be 23 August 2008.
Bentley announced his separation from his wife, Shonnah, in August 2008, and resigned from the Board of Fresh Fire. A statement released by the remaining Board members said, "Todd Bentley has entered into an unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff," and that he would "refrain from all public ministry for a season to receive counsel in his personal life."
Some of Bentley's Christian contemporaries called for him to step down in the wake of the scandal, stating that Christian leadership is incompatible with marital unfaithfulness. In response, a committee made up of Rick Joyner, Jack Deere, and Bill Johnson was formed to oversee the process of spiritually restoring Bentley's family. In November 2008, the Board of Fresh Fire announced that Bentley was not submitting to the process. On March 9, 2009, Rick Joyner announced that Bentley had remarried.
A 2009 Charisma magazine interview with Rick Joyner refuted adultery claims while characterizing the relationship as wrong and premature. Joyner told Charisma that the new couple was committed to their marriage and would "continue to serve the Lord in the best way that they can."
Resumption of preaching; UK ban
Around 2010, Rick Joyner declared that Bentley was 'restored,' and Bentley returned to preaching and leading crusades.
Following adverse publicity of an impending visit to the United Kingdom in August 2012, Bentley was made the subject of an exclusion order barring him from entering the country. The UK government's home office stated, "The government makes no apologies for refusing people access to the UK if we believe they are not conducive to the public good. Coming here is a privilege that we refuse to extend to those who might seek to undermine our society."
In December 2012, following the death of Croydon MP Malcolm Wicks, Bentley was criticized in the UK press after remarking that the MP's death was "the Lord's justice" for the role Wicks played in barring Bentley from entering the country.
Bentley highlights scriptural passages in his sermons. He emphasizes that spiritual or supernatural encounters in an individual's life are gifts from the Holy Spirit. He has stated that his priority is to help people experience the presence of God. He wants the "Holy Spirit to manifest His glory in such a way that people can't deny the presence of a living God and they have a true born-again experience." He also says: "Miracles and healings are evidence [...] they are signs of the Kingdom, and if we don't have signs then all we have is a bunch of theology."
Bentley's testimony includes an account of visiting Heaven and meeting with Paul the Apostle.[not in citation given](neither of these sources mentions this account of visiting heaven) He has also preached about an encounter with an angel he called 'Emma' at an Assemblies of God church in 2001. The female angel gave him a vision of gold coins, and Bentley states this was a sign of his future financial stability. In response to criticism about the Biblical inspiration of a female angel, Bentley wrote that it was God's choice, and not his own, that an angel appeared to him in that manner. Bentley explained:
"You know, I told the Lord, 'Why can’t I just move in healing and forget talking about all that other stuff?' He said, 'Because, Todd, you gotta get the people to believe in the angel.' I said, 'God, why do I want people to believe in the angel, isn’t it about getting the people to believe in Jesus?' He said, 'The people already believe in Jesus, but the church doesn’t believe in the supernatural.' The church has no problem believing in Jesus. But what we don’t believe in is the supernatural."
Pastor Strader of Ignited Church who invited Bentley to Lakeland said:
"We watch over everything. Everything that happens on the platform is scriptural [...] The nightly message has been totally 100 percent nothing but Jesus. People are saved, people are healed, and Jesus is being glorified. [...] Even some of my so-called friends are questioning my integrity, but they never come to the services. It's not fair just to watch [them] on TV."
Bentley sponsored an internship program called 'Joel's Army,' in addition to having the words "Joel's Army" tattooed across his sternum with military dog tags, demonstrating a level of commitment to the Latter Rain doctrine of the Manifest Sons of God, (or Man-Child Generation), as preached by William M. Branham. The program's doctrine is associated with an interpretation of Chapter 12 of the New Testament book, Revelation—that in the last age before Jesus returns, there will be a generation of specially endowed Christians who will be able to do many miracles, and will usher in the reign of God. This is in the tradition of Branham and the healing revivals of the 50s, overlapping with Latter Rain Movement theology. Bentley's association with Paul Cain, an associate of Branham and himself a healing evangelist of the 50s, is a further connection to the movement. Joel's Army has been connected to Dominion Theology and Fivefold ministry thinking.
Bentley's physical appearance has been noted as being unconventional for that of an evangelist. He has dozens of tattoos, multiple facial piercings, and a preference for T-shirts over ties. His preaching style is also flamboyant and he is known for mannerisms including shouting 'Bam!' during his delivery.
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