"Fails To Ask the Right Questions"
LAKELAND is a documentary about the rise and fall of Pentecostal revivalist, evangelist Todd Bentley and allegedly miraculous manifestations in Lakeland, Florida in 2008. Although Bentley has been “restored” to preaching by some other Pentecostal preachers after a divorce and remarriage, this documentary never asks Bentley and his supporters and followers whether their revivals are producing real, certifiable miracles or real good works, as God’s Word tells us to produce.
Documentarian Roy Petersen opens LAKELAND by introducing his goals in attending the 2008 revival in Lakeland, Florida led by controversial tattooed, pierced evangelist Todd Bentley. When he heard about the revival that’s taking place, Mr. Petersen traveled down to document exactly what was happening and see if it was as miraculous as people were saying.
The revival began in April 2008 when Todd Bentley traveled to Ignited Church in Lakeland for a one-week Pentecostal revival. Within days, the revival grew exponentially and had to move to a new location within a few weeks. After the first few weeks, God TV decided to broadcast the revival meetings nightly. Mr. Bentley continued to lead and conduct the healing services, allowing God allegedly to use him to heal people with all kinds of sicknesses including cancer, deafness and different forms of paralysis.
The documentary includes many people’s first-hand stories of healing and changed lives during their time at the revival. There are videos of Ignited church services where people writhe on the ground, scream or laugh uncontrollably. Roy interviews many different people, finding that many of the key players in the revival are not typical churchgoers. Instead, they are people, including many young people, considered to be unimportant to the world, but they have been transformed by some kind of power. The question becomes, is the power from God and the Holy Spirit, or something else?
As the revival continues to grow, the number of skeptics speaking against Todd Bentley and Fresh Fire ministries grows. After several months, Todd decides to leave Lakeland and take the revival on the road nationally to allow more people to come into contact with the healing presence of God. The first stop is the old amusement park in South Carolina abandoned by Jim and Tammy Faye Baker but bought by Rick Joyner of MorningStar Ministries.
Director Roy Petersen follows Todd as he takes the revival to South Carolina. Sadly for Bentley, the crowd he attracts at his first revival service is not very large. Then, rumors begin circulating about Todd’s personal life, including a divorce and a remarriage, during which Todd disappears from the public eye.
Petersen learns that Joyner and the leaders of MorningStar Ministries secretly took Todd into seclusion to minister to him and help restore him to the faith so that he can start preaching again. He catches up with Todd in February 2010 at MorningStar just as Todd is finally starting to lead revival meetings again. At the same time, however, some Christian protestors from groups like Operation Save America and Elijah Ministries show up in South Carolina saying that Todd shouldn’t be placed in a leadership role again and that his revivals are not of God, but just a bunch of chaotic visions, rumors and feelings.
Petersen closes, however, by interviewing other leaders at MorningStar who contend that Todd has begun the restoration process and that God displays Mercy and Grace, not just judgment. They also admit that Todd’s problem was that he and his followers started to focus on Todd, not God, and that the revival meetings took too much time away from his former wife and their children.
Petersen closes his movie by saying, “Revivals are crazy, bizarre and wonderful” and that they actually change people’s lives. During this ending, another person remarks that Pentecostal revivals are always going to have examples of “beautiful chaos.”
Besides videos of Bentley preaching revival, much of LAKELAND appears as raw camera footage of interviews with different members of the Bentley’s Fresh Fire team and people attending the revival meetings. Some of the scenes depict intensely the power of God moving through people and could be confusing and upsetting for children.
Director Roy Petersen shows that something unique clearly was happening at Bentley’s 2008 revival meetings, including repentance, changed lives, alleged miracles, and ecstatic expressions of joy. What he doesn’t do in LAKELAND, however, is provide any real documentation for the miracles. One convert does say that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer but now feels no pain, has renewed energy and has seen a lump on his body disappear, but no visuals accompany the man’s claims.
Perhaps more disturbing is that Petersen doesn’t ask anyone what kind of good works have grown out of the 2008 revival, or what other fruit of the Spirit, besides uncontrolled joy and laughter, was produced. On that note, it’s important to point out the other fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit, which include teaching, self-control, patience, love, kindness, goodness, peace, and gentleness. Also, Paul admonishes Christian believers in Ephesians to put on “the full armor of God,” which includes truth, righteousness, readiness, peace, and faith as well as the “helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (6:17).” As Titus 2:11,12 says, God’s Grace not only brings salvation but also helps us “say, ‘No,’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives.” Shouldn’t true revival display these things too, not just signs and wonders? As former Pentecostal pastor, George O. Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God USA, of which Ignited Church is a member, said in a statement on revival in June 2008 that cautioned against an over emphasis on charismatic manifestations and miracles, “Miraculous manifestations are never the test of a true revival. Fidelity to God’s Word is the test” (“Statement on Revival,” Assemblies of God USA, 2008, p. 3, http://agchurches.org/Sitefiles/Default/RSS/AG.org%20TOP/WoodRevivalStatement.pdf).
On a side note, it should be added that, while some have claimed that Todd Bentley allegedly has made some strange comments denying the Deity of Christ and the Holy Trinity, his current website has a statement of faith that doesn’t do that. Thus, his current ministry’s statement of faith seems fairly orthodox. Of course, what Bentley actually says in the pulpit is something that MOVIEGUIDE® cannot fully document.
(CC, FR, L, V, S, A, D, MM) Strong Christian worldview with overt mentions of Jesus Christ, marred by some apparent aberrant teaching from a possibly false faith healer and his followers, who are never questioned about whether their faith is biblically sound or results in godly good works, the sign of true revival; two profanities; light violence includes people falling down and writhing during charismatic revival meetings; no sex scenes but mention is made of a scandal possibly involving adultery followed by divorce and a second marriage; no nudity; mentioned past use of alcohol and drugs (not shown); and, self-appointed pastor has tattoos and pierced chin, plus discussion of past adultery, divorce and robbing banks.
LAKELAND documents the 2008 revival in Lakeland, Florida led by controversial tattooed, pierced evangelist Todd Bentley. Besides videos of Bentley preaching revival, LAKELAND uses raw camera footage of interviews with different members of the Bentley’s Fresh Fire team and people attending the revival meetings. Filmmaker Roy Petersen follows Bentley to South Carolina, where his revival peters out when it’s revealed Bentley has divorced his wife and re-married. Petersen follows up with Bentley in February 2010, when Bentley has been brought back to preaching after a year of counseling.
Director Roy Petersen definitely shows something unique clearly happened at Bentley’s 2008 revival meetings, including repentance, changed lives, alleged miracles, and ecstatic expressions of joy. What he doesn’t do in LAKELAND, however, is provide any real documentation for the miracles. Perhaps more disturbing is that Petersen doesn’t ask anyone what kind of good works have grown out of the 2008 revival, or what other fruit of the Spirit, besides uncontrolled joy and laughter, was produced. As Pentecostal leader George O. Wood of the Assemblies of God says, “Miraculous manifestations are never the test of a true revival. Fidelity to God's Word is the test.”