It's not often that miracles make the news, least of all front page news, but yesterday's Newsletter (one of Northern Ireland's dailies) carried the headline: 'Church Claims Teenage Miracle'. The story centres around Andrew Duffin, an 18 year old who was seriously injured in a car accident in May (he was a passenger in a stolen vehicle). Having been taken to hospital with serious injuries, including a ruptured bowel, Andrew 'died' during surgery for sixteen minutes, before coming back to life. Andrew's father sent a message around a prayer network and firmly believes that his son was brought back to life as a result. Andrew, who didn't believe in God, now says that he is going to change his life, having been given a second chance.
Pastor Brian Madden from the Elim Church in Tigers Bay, Belfast, is pastor to Andrew Duffin's father, and was instrumental in the healing which took place. He had recently been to see American healer Todd Bentley, who is gaining renown for his own ministry of healing and supernatural signs. Pastor Madden himself admits to having been shocked by the events he witnessed in Florida which were 'crazy', but that God is at work in this way all over the world. It was Bentley's prayer network which was engaged in seeking God for the miracle which has reportedly ensued.
For a secular newspaper, the Newsletter has managed to take a very balanced tone in their coverage of the story. They have spoken with those involved, and taken opinion from Rev. Stephen Williamson of Ballywillan Presbyterian Church who had been involved in healing ministry himself in previous days. The article ends with an open question to the readership of the paper - 'Do you believe in miracles?'.
For me the question which arises from such an account is not 'do you believe in miracles?', but the much more difficult one of discerning what kind of movement Bentley is spearheading. I have no doubt that our God moves in powerful ways, I have no doubt (and have witnessed for myself) that he does intervene in the lives of his people, turning desperate situations into sources of hope and joy. But what of the individuals surrounding this 'miracle'?
My chief concern is with Bentley himself. The briefest period of research into Todd Bentley on YouTube shows him to be at the farthest reaches of Pentecostalism. He speaks here on a vision he got of Jesus. Obviously not content with John's portrayal of the Saviour in Revelation 1 he goes on to speak of Jesus having brown eyes 'like Bambi' and that the predominant colour surrounding the Saviour is pink - 'the colour of love and emotion'. This pink Bambi-eyed Jesus is a far cry from the glorious vision of Christ which we have in God's inspired Word, a kind of friendly soft-toy Saviour who doesn't mean any harm to anyone: I think I'll stick with John's description. Bentley speaks here of getting a vision during a ministry meeting in Seattle. To cut a long (and rambling) story short Bentley enters a 'pillar of fire portal' and is transported to an 'operating table' in heaven, where angels in white coats (!) tie him down, cut him open and insert little boxes into him. God then speaks to Bentley, informing him that these boxes are 'truth in the inward part', that he doesn't have 40 years to disciple leaders into maturity and that he is going to begin implanting 10 years of Christian maturity into people directly. It is a little like fast-track sanctification I suppose (my words, not Bentley's).
All of this leaves me ice cold. Bentley routinely engages in extra-biblical fantasy, which transforms the transcendent, glorious depiction of Christ in Scripture into a tawdry conglomerate of tired 21st century images, most of them trivialising Jesus to the point of being pathetic.
When it comes to the individual 'miracle' of Andrew Duffin, I'd rather not speak too strongly one way or the other. When it comes to the 'movement' which is growing up around it, to the postulations of Todd Bentley, it seems clear to me that this is not biblical Christianity but a made-over, marked down version of the majestic message of Christ.