You be the judge
The Report Newsmagazine
Signs and wonders
A young B.C. faith healer has gained both international renown
scrutiny of sceptics
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
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
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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