Miracles or Just Snake-oil?
You be the judge

The Report Newsmagazine
Signs and wonders

A young B.C. faith healer has gained both international renown and the
scrutiny of sceptics

Rick Hiebert

As a teen, Todd Bentley knew one thing very well: how to get into trouble.

Growing up in Abbotsford, his life was filled with drug dealing, fighting and robbery. The nadir came when he was sentenced to 18 months in detention for assault and breaking-and-entry.

Mr. Bentley, now 25, was able to put that all behind him seven years ago when he became a Christian. But his transformation was not all at once. Over the past three years, he has gone
from working the green chain in a sawmill to speaking in major Protestant churches throughout the western U.S., Canada and Africa.

Actually, his appearances feature more than just talk. Following what he declares are promptings from God, Mr. Bentley calls up sick audience members and prays for their healing. But as his renown as a faith healer grows, Christians and non-Christians alike are warning that, in the world of faith healing, what you think you see is often not what you get.

Mr. Bentley's fame is especially great among charismatic Christians, those believing the Holy Spirit works today as He did in the apostolic church. The B.C. man was featured in four programs of It's a New Day, the Winnipeg-
based Christian talk show, in January. As well, Charisma, the main U.S. charismatic magazine, is planning to publish an article on the revival he led recently in Albany, Oregon.

All this is quite an accomplishment for someone who, although mentored by his pastor, a charismatic Catholic priest and a charismatic Baptist minister, has little formal theological training. But Mr. Bentley has a simple explanation: "God is good, so he likes to heal."

He says, "Christ healed because he was moved with compassion for those who were sick. If God wants you to be in health, he can use a doctor, he can use prayer or he can use both. The Bible says healing can be instantaneous, or a process."

Interestingly, Mr. Bentley avoids actually pronouncing people healed, and urges those with whom he has come into contact to work with their doctors. He does not keep a tally of his healings, but says about 20% involve
something visible and 80% something internal, including "inner healings" of emotions, guilt and fear. As for proof, his ministry has only a half- dozen or so noncommittal notes from doctors about the disappearance of their
patients' symptoms.

This lack of verification worries skeptics such as Simon Fraser University psychology professor Barry Beyerstein. Aside from the numerous documented frauds among faith healers, the professor says not enough studies have been
conducted by reputable scientists to back up the claims of faith healers.

British psychiatrist Louis Rose spent 20 years trying to find a verifiable miracle healing and failed. During the early 1970s, William Nolen, a Roman Catholic surgeon, interviewed and examined 25 people reportedly healed by
faith healer Kathryn Kuhlman. None had actually become better.

Prof. Beyerstein thinks faith healings can be caused by the natural healing work of the body, or by relief from psychological anxiety. "Lots of people suffer from psycho-somatic problems which mimic real medical problems," he observes. "There would be some cases where there would be real value in being prayed for. If you feel loved and thus deal with guilt and anxiety, that would be all to the good."

Ted Brooks, a Victory Church pastor in Westlock, Alta., is so leery of "signs and wonders," such as faith healing, that he suspects many of them are actually demonic counterfeits. "Christians long for a demonstration of the power of God," Mr. Brooks says. "There's nothing wrong with that, but we're accepting practices that Christ never did, which leads to a wrong image of God. The problem with immediate gratification is that we are spoiled for anything else." He also notes that many people are spiritually wounded when they are not healed at meetings.

Mr. Brooks' congregation, which has also forsaken charismatic Christianity, believes the best "inner healing" comes from the long-term growth promoted by Bible study and prayer. One church member, he notes, is not being healed of his multiple sclerosis but is overcoming his suffering through a new
spiritual maturity. "Our church members don't pursue us any more for signs and wonders," he says. "They have just grown up."

Photo cap: Evangelist Bentley: He does not keep a tally.

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