I don’t know much about the revival in Lakeland. Some Christians like it. Others hate it. Some think it’s crazy, authoritarian, and unorthodox. Others say it’s been accompanied by miraculous healings. In the world of blogdom, Jim West and Peter Kirk have written about Todd Bentley, a key figure in the revival, who looks like a rider from Hell’s Angels. And, whenever someone starts a thread on Todd Bentley on my Christian dating site, you can guarantee it will get tons of replies!
I want to make two points before I quote Michael Brown’s criteria for a true revival. First of all, just because something’s strange, that doesn’t mean it’s not of God. On two occasions, the spirit of God came upon Saul and inspired him to prophesy, and he ripped off his clothes in one of those incidents (I Samuel 10, 19). That prompted people to ask if Saul was one of the prophets. For them, “prophet” and “weird” could go in the same sentence. God instructed Isaiah to walk around naked and barefoot (Isaiah 20:2). I’m sure he got some odd stares when he did that! And, on Pentecost, people thought that the disciples were drunk when they saw them speaking in tongues (Acts 2:13). God doesn’t always work in conventional ways.
Second, critics of the Lakeland revival are not necessarily blaspheming the Holy Spirit (which is a frequent charismatic accusation, within a variety of settings). Criticism holds movements accountable. God actually anointed the kings of Israel and Judah, yet that didn’t stop the prophets from criticizing them. People should take heed not to become hardened to God or the possibility that he might be working in Lakeland. But no one should be insulated from criticism, not even revival leaders. Even Jesus invited critique when he said, “Which of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:47). The people who shun criticism are usually those who have something to hide.
Now, here are Michael Brown’s criteria for true revival, which are based on guidelines established by Jonathan Edwards:
“1) Is it exalting Jesus? Does He have the preeminence and are people being drawn to Him and His centrality?
“2) Is there an increasing hunger for the Word of God and an increasing desire to submit to the Word of God?
“3) Are people repenting of sin and turning to holiness by God’s grace and power?
“4) Is there an increasing burden to touch and save the lost?
“If so, then God is at work, since Satan can’t cast out Satan and the flesh can’t give birth to Spirit.”
Brown doesn’t mention healing, since it may not be an actual criterion for a genuine revival. After all, people can embrace God without miracles. But isn’t healing at least one sign that God is involved in a phenomenon? Brown says that Satan can’t cast out Satan, but the biblical context for that statement is Jesus’ healing of a blind and mute demoniac. Jesus said he was plundering the kingdom of Satan when he did so, and that “if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (Matthew 12:28). I know that Michael Brown wrote a book on Jesus’ healing ministry, which I own but have not yet read. I’m puzzled about why he doesn’t comment on the healings at Lakeland, since healing in the Gospels is one way God delivers people from Satanic oppression.
But Jesus also preached repentance, godliness, and the possibility of a new life. Jesus said that “wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:32, 35). I wonder if Jesus meant that his message was confirmed by the new lives of the sinners who repented through it. The Pharisees were critics of John the Baptist and Jesus, whose ministries brought about dramatic conversions among people who ordinarily wanted nothing to do with religion. Tax collectors were leaving behind their lucrative business to follow Jesus. Prostitutes were turning to God. People were ceasing from their evil ways and learning to do good. This would be like hardened drug dealers experiencing a complete spiritual turn-around. It would be miraculous! And this is a sign that revival is taking place! Notwithstanding the Pharisees’ criticisms, the ministries of John and Jesus were vindicated by those who repented (wisdom’s children).
I don’t have to agree with everything that goes on in Lakeland. But if God is using it to bring people to himself, then praise God!