The Rise and Fall of Todd Bentley

On Friday, August 15, the Board of Directors of Fresh Fire Ministries issued a press release, announcing:
We wish to acknowledge, however, that since our last statement from the Fresh Fire Board of Directors, we have discovered new information revealing that Todd Bentley has entered into an unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff. In light of this new information and in consultation with his leaders and advisors, Todd Bentley has agreed to step down from his position on the Board of Directors and to refrain from all public ministry for a season to receive counsel in his personal life.
For the past couple weeks, there had been controversy and consternation at a previous announcement that Todd Bentley, a Canadian faith healer who had been on a rocket ride to worldwide fame and acclaim in Pentecostal circles for leading the "Lakeland Revival", was official separating from his wife Shonnah under the guidelines provided for by Canadian Law. With the announcement that "Brother Todd" had been involved in an "unhealthy relationship" with another woman, and was stepping down from public ministry, Bentley's start had crashed to earth even faster than it had risen.

Brother Todd, Revivalist Healer
And risen it had. When Bentley showed up in Lakeland, Florida in the first week of April this year, he had travel plans to return at the end of that same week. As it turned out, Brother Todd would stay in Lakeland for the better part of six months, leading a revival that would draw hundreds of thousands to Florida and spawn satellite revivals in places as far away as England and South Africa. Earlier revivals like the Toronto Blessing and the Pensacola Outpouring of the early-mid 1990s did not exploit the Internet; the Lakeland revival was not just daily services with 10,000 attendees to witness "healings" and the "outpouring of the spirit", it was streamed to the world, with Pentecostals all over the planet logging into watch, chat, and get "healed" right through their cable modems.

After a long session of worship music, Brother Todd would get up, and the "healings" would begin. Bentley's signature move was a shout of "Bam!", as he pushed/hit/kicked the faithful into a state of spiritual ecstasy, leaving the anointed writhing on the floor in convulsions, or simply catatonic, "slain in the spirit", in the language of the Pentecostal (watch this video, for example).

Aching joints were miraculously healed. Intestinal problems disappeared. Wheelchair-bound people were miraculously able to walk, or at least not fall down as they stood on the stage with the assistance of a couple fellow believers on either elbow. Cerebral palsy, ruptured discs, spinal problems, all healed, the Revivalists claimed, through the anointing of Todd Bentley, and the outpouring of the spirit he was presiding over in Lakeland (see example report from CBN here from the height of the revival frenzy).

The miracles accumulated and multiplied, and by late June and July, reports where making their way back to Lakeland that Todd's work had unleashed the ultimate work of the spirit -- the raising of the dead (see, for example, this video, this video, or this video ). Brother Todd eventually claimed more than a dozen cases of people being raised from the dead as part of the revival he led. At its peak, the throng exalted in reports like this from Bentley, reading a letter recounting one such resurrection (from this video ):

"My dear brother died, so the medical world thought yesterday. We requested at our all-night wake that GodTV would be on, the revival would be on. And we declared that our brother would not be embalmed. At 2:19 am my brother began to stir in his coffin. My brother sat up in the coffin, praising God and Reverend Todd Bentley. My dear brother all day has been telling us about his journey to heaven and how he thought he would never come back. He thought he would never come back here on the earth to be with us, but then he heard our beloved Reverend Todd and his voice pulling his spirit out of heaven. All of us at the funeral home began screaming and shouting fro more fire. Thank God for the revival on GodTV."

Brother Todd, False Prophet
For all the heady events in Lakeland, the revival was not without its critics within the church. Christian cessationists like the Calvinist bloggers over at TeamPyro have rejected the legitimacy of Bentley and his revival from the outset. Other mainstream Christian continualists like John Piper have now taken time to speak out against the Lakeland Revival, but as Frank Turk notes at TeamPyro, only after the fact, in light of Bentley's fall from grace due to his marital infidelity. How come frauds like Bentley cannot be identified and decried before they've duped tens of thousands of believers and brought shame, ridicule and cynicism to the faith? With Bentley's revelation of his betrayal of his wife and the impending end of their marriage as a result, even many of the once-fervent revivalists have now concluded that Bentley was a fraud all along (see this thread at the Charisma magazine forums, for example). While Bentley's star was on the rise, the gullible hopped on the bus to Florida and the rest of Christianity just watched, silent for the most part, managing a frustrated frown here and there.

It's no mystery why people like Todd Bentley can manage to rise to prominence and world-wide notoriety, despite the frustrations of Christian cessationist "skeptics" like Frank Turk. It's hard for a man with a glass worldview to throw stones, after all. Some forms of Christianity are much more level-headed, evidence-based and skeptical then others, but fundamentally, the epistemology of even the most skeptical Christian makes that term an oxymoron, useful only for gauging various degrees of credulity in a group that is profoundly credulous at its base.

I was a 'healing skeptic' when I was a Christian. Over the years, at many points where I expressed my skepticism about claims of miraculous healings, proponents of the miracles regularly pointed out that I wasn't in a position to say what God had or had not done in healing Aunt Martha, and moreover, if it was divine healing, by denying the miracle, I was denying the power of the Holy Spirit -- a kind of non sequitur as arguments go, and a rather transparent ploy to bring the fear of blasphemy on the doubter. But despite these problems, the core of their retort was a powerful one: Christianity is a subjective discipline, and one Christian cannot appeal to objective analysis of another without undermining their own claims to faith and knowledge of God. Ultimately, I appealed to revelation and supernatural intervention -- externally unverifiable intervention -- as the justification for my belief. I could point to some historical testimonies in scripture and claims about the lives of Christ and his followers, and some intuitive senses I had about God's existence as a brute fact, but without the appeal to my perception of the Holy Spirit's intervention in my life, my basis for belief could not hold up to scrutiny.

Defenseless Against Frauds
Such are the wages of a worldview based on the primacy of subjective experience. Christians who are skeptical of claims like those made by Todd Bentley and friends have to resort to the same kinds of defense for our own claims as Brother Todd does for his. Despite the differences I, or Frank Turk, or John Piper might have had with Bentley, we all embrace the same worldview, and see reality as subject to the magical, unpredictable, and impassible nature of God. For Christian's this is God's universe, and exegetical quibbles aside, God can do anything he wants and does what he pleases. If God wants to miraculously transform some teeth in a revivalist's mouth into gold (see here ) while just a couple miles away, young children languish in St. Joseph's children's hospital, suffering from brain tumors and all manner of other agonies, well, God can do what he wills, after all. To be a Christian is to give up the right to ask why, for many important questions.

With Bentley's fall from grace, people are disowning him right and left, and making much of the misgivings and doubts they had all along, even if they weren't announced or articulated at the time. Christian critics from the beginning, though, can complain all they'd like, and suppose they are "prophets" themselves of a kind, full of "discernment" regarding Bentley. When pressed, however, their skeptical verdicts ended betraying their debt to the stolen concepts of skepticism and evidence-based analysis, which, if applied consistently, debunk them as thoroughly as they debunk Brother Todd. Cessationism is a way to insulate and isolate their own credulity, to stuff all the magic back into the first century, reducing the footprint of exposure to critical analysis. Of course God doesn't shower God dust, miraculously given, down on the worshippers at Ignited Church! But of course the disciples could heal at will! Brother Todd can't do what the disciples did in the book of Acts, because that was then, and this is now.

All of which is a bit of uncomfortable special pleading. Bentley may be laid low for now, but Benny Hinn carries on, flitting hither and yon across the planet on his private jet working miracles and healing in the name of Jesus, as do many others, even if some of them have to console themselves with a first class seat on a commercial flight rather than the pampered leathers and chrome of Hinn's Gulfstream. The rest of Christianity is powerless to mount any substantial critique of Bentley, Hinn, et al. There can be no "Christian James Randi", that exposes Brother Todd, because Christianity, even the "skeptical" kind, is predicated on credulity and subjectivity. Frank Turk wonders how Brother Todd can get away with being such a hypocrite, and shows his own hypocrisy in doing so. This is why so much BS is always being tolerated and ignored in Christendom. It's an ideology built on credulity toward fantastic, unbelievable claims, even for the most conservative believer.


BahramtheRed said...


How long before he gets saved again, becomes reborn and marries the new woman? 6 months? And then he'll claim it was a heaven sent trial...

Tak said...

Here is what I don't get. God is supposed to be the "great physician." Any doctor worth his salt will do everything in his ability to save someone(whether they like it or not). If God is supposed to be able to heal anyone and doesn't, then God is no physician. God does not keep his promises; ergo God is not who he claims to be.

Unknown said...

Excellent post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the church shoots their own wounded here, what might happen to Bentley? A probability: He's tasted power. He will not want to bow for long under the wings of people who'll tell him what to do. When he thinks he's good to go and they don't, he'll start a rival ministry without their approval, which is what some others have done.

goprairie said...

Interesting that when ABC's Nightline tried to verify a healing, they could not find ONE. This would have been their mainstream media breakthru and they could not hold up to it. But yeah, I think we are gullible enough to let him come back and continue to 'heal'.

zilch said...

Gullibility, and sex, are forever.

Touchstone said...

Takeo Kuroda,

One of the implications of an "involved", immanent God is that when this God does deign to heal someone miraculously, he's demonstrating not just his power to heal that one person, but also validating his refusal to heal everyone else who languishes with whatever ailments they have. When God gives gold teeth to a Pentecostal insurance salesman at Bentley's revival, he's also NOT healing the kid with the brain tumor up the road at the children's hospital.

It is, indeed, a difficult set of choices to reconcile with the idea of a good and just God. Many Christians point to miraculous healings as one of the things that most commends God to them, but when you think about it, those healings are problematic (the healed are overjoyed, but those who got passed over...).


I think you are right. The last six months have been a rocket ride, and Bentley's gotten some "rock star" to match his tattoos, now. One of the reasons Bentley got where he is, risen *and* fallen, is because that part of Christendom is acutely lacking in any kind of accountability. He's got to lay low because of the bad PR on the wife thing for a while, but we've not heard the last of Bentley...


ismellarat said...

Ed Babinski seems to be the best record keeper around here, so I'll ask him (but if anyone else has a clue, please speak up):

Bentley seems to be just as big a fraud as Marjoe Gortner was, but have you collected any testimonies from those audience members from various such shows, who at one time publicly told these tales of having had visions/been healed, who now no longer believe they did?

(Plus maybe some accounts by those who'd been paid to spice things up by shilling with phony stories, like one lady apparently did, who was exorcised SEVERAL TIMES on different Bob Larson shows - after he was confronted with it, I think the explanation went something like the demons had attacked her again, and so she needed several treatments.)

I'd love to see some YouTube accounts of people comparing

1. what had been going through their minds at the time of their testimonies and what they *thought* they had experienced, and

2. how they explain the same supposed event now, when they no longer believe it happened.

If you could find a good number of these people, all debunking their former selves and spotlighting big-name fraudsters, that would be a hell of a subject for another book, and I'd think it would be about as successful as one of those "Magicians' Secrets Revealed" titles.

How can such testimonies not have the pull they do, and who wouldn't love to impress their friends by pointing at the screen and being able to explain how the next big-name scammer pulls it off?

It's time you became a household name, man! :)

ismellarat said...

Along these lines, someone should write a serious how-to book on pulling off such a "ministry". A "how I did it" would be even better. I don't know why Gortner didn't go into much more detail than he did on that.

Who wouldn't be morbidly interested in such a thing?

Don Martin said...

Hey Touchstone...great post. And, in a way, I rejoice to see yet another fraud be exposed, and to know that one more time a possibly fatal wound has been given to some who have built their lives on an illusion. I know - from personal experience - that this will be painful and even soul-shattering to some, but I also know it can lead to deliverance from Christian religion...and that is worth it.

One comment/observation - the issue of God making gold teeth appear in one man's mouth and not healing a child down at the hospital...for most Christians, that is not and cannot be an indictment of God or His failure - but instead an indictment of the Christian's lack of faith. Assholes like Bentley and the smaller people who ape his stuff love to quote this verse..."behold, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain 'be taken up and thrown into the sea' and it shall be done." YOUR FAITH - not God's character - is the dynamic that brings the release of the power of God. His power has been given to all - it is YOUR FAITH that releases it and brings the miracle to pass. AND THAT FAITH IS BEST EXHIBITED WHEN YOU GIVE MONEY TO ME!! (I can do this shit, man! I was good at it, and still am!)
By the way, I wrote a story about a sick perverted serial killer preacher man whose name was Bentley...and I swear I did not know this guy existed. I been out of touch for awhile.

Thanks, Todd, for screwing around!

goprairie said...

"those healings are problematic (the healed are overjoyed, but those who got passed over...)."
I read somewhere online an account of someone who watched the people in the audience wait for their illness or that of their sick child be called so they could go up for healing and when that malady was not called, blaming themselves for not having faith strong enough to deserve to be healed. that kind of sadness and emotional damage is pretty sad. I was intially thnking maybe if some yoohoo had found a way to tap into placebo effect, fine, but then i started to read about the disappointment of the 'not healed' and that seems cruel. far more disappointed each night than healed. but we do so want to believe that something like this might be the proof that there is a god. even if the god seems unfair and arbitrary, we'd rather have that than no god. i have had seemingly sane and rational people tell me this must be real because what about the people coming to life and the xrays proving the healings. massive numbers of regular people believe in this and want to keep believing.

Touchstone said...


Yes, that's the dark side of spiritual healing, accounting for those who aren't healed. It can't be God's fault, unless you are a Calvinist, then the kid with the tumor had it coming just like everyone else, one way or another.

No, pretty much the faith healing proponents just put there hands in their pockets and draw in the sand with their toe, mumbling something between "I don't know" and "keep believing" with maybe some "It's just God's will" mixed in. The discomfort is palpable when the mom who's three year old dies from a tumor cries out in anguish: "How much more could I have prayed? I believed, God knows my heart, my faith, we've been praying without ceasing for months, dozens of us".

Unavoidably, it's just not enough. Should way say instead God isn't in control, or isn't just or compassionate?

Well, that *would* provide some explanatory relief, wouldn't it? Especially if we understand "isn't in control" to be obtain from God's non-existence.

goprairie said...

"there is no god" makes more sense than any other answer to these questions of why some appear to be healed and others are not. "there is no god" makes even more sense when you find out the actual healings are all fakes or mistaken beliefs when the person figures out later that nothing is really different.
and we are back at 'show me the evidence. any evidence at all.'

Steve Page said...

Many Christians do not believe Bentley is a Christian any more than a whale is a fish. There are similarities but they are just not the same.

There is nothing about his behavior that indicates he is a Christian.

As a Christian I applaud ABC for exposing him.

To judge Christianity by a proven fraud like Bentley is unfair to Christianity and yourselves.

Meg said...

Greetings John, I took some time to read this part of the Blog so far -- I found out about this through one of the Charisma forums you seem familiar with. You've raised some excellent points about Christianity being subjective, so intellectually, you're on some strong ground. But what really surprised me was that no one seems to be able to see from the "gold tooth" video that Bentley was lying and he knew he was lying at the time!

My goodness, are most people so gullible that they can't spot such blatant insincerity?!? I never liked Bentley, and never will, but he does serve as a classic example of the necessity of keeping your brain turned on even when you're out to be spiritual! Being spiritual and getting stoned actually are different! Beyond that, just because someone can say Jesus out loud, doesn't mean they represent Him. Knowing someone's name, and actually knowing someone are very different things; this is going to make yiou angry, but it sounds to me like you were depending on canned prayers at best and that you really missed the genuine spiritual intimacy with Jesus Christ that is a hallmark of a genuine relationship with Him...