Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hogwarts for Christians

On days when outdoor events are potentially imperiled by rain, or snow imperils a carefully planned meeting, I often lament to my wife that I never got around to taking Meteorological Interventions 475 back when I was in seminary. I mean, dang, I know I'm only a level 4 Presbyterian Cleric. But I yearn to muster more efficacious conjurations than Bless, Detect Evil, Remove Fear, Know Alignment and Chant. I needs me some more showy spells.

Evidently, my lack of skill in this area comes because I went to the wrong school. Here I was struggling through Greek and Hebrew and poring deeply through the Bible and the history of the church. Who knew there were more potent options? Instead of Wesley Theological Seminary, I should have gone to the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.

I discovered that interesting little institution yesterday during a meander through the website of a well known charismatic movement. A school that teaches you how to have supernatural powers? Finally, finally, an institution that can help me level up! Flame Strike, here I come! I immediately googled them. I was both surprised and not surprised by what I found.

There were two surprises. The first was just how slickity the school's web presence was. This is not a rinky dink operation. The web page is well constructed, if non-complex. But their iBetheltv subsite is strikingly well done. It's nicely assembled series of HD videos, all of which were professionally and seamlessly edited. It's a heck of a lot more tech savvy than most of the video efforts of the major denominational institutions. Folks clearly have 1) access to a Mac and 2) some skillz.

The second surprise was that the school's leadership did not appear to be visibly insane most of the time. Folks were almost invariably well spoken, well dressed, and in possession of all of their teeth. Speakers were funny and engaging. The musicians and artists who are part of the ministry are all quite gifted, and would be a credit to any congregation's praise/arts ministries.

There were also two not-surprises. For all of my hopes, there was absolutely nothing significantly supernatural going on at the Bethel School for Supernatural Ministry. I watched a video of a healing service, which seemed like the most likely place to see some Jesus Magic. Mostly, it was people talking, singing, chanting and juddering, and then telling us about how they were sure they'd been healed. There was lots and lots of talking and crying and talking some more. But withered legs were not being visibly restored. The blind were not seeing. The deaf were not hearing. Hair loss was not being notably reversed. Cure Critical Wounds is seemingly beyond them. They seem to think they're doing stuff, but the pesky thing about hi def video is that you can actually see what is going on. And it ain't discernably supernatural.

There was also video of a required spiritual training event called "The Fire Tunnel." Yes, thought I! Flame Strike is within my grasp! But...no. All that happens during the Fire Tunnel is that folks work themselves into a shamanic frenzy. I've got nothing against lying on the ground twitching and laughing hysterically in an ecstatic trance. It's good clean pagan fun for the whole family. But it isn't a manifestation of supernatural powers. Though it's a bit of a freakshow, it's not evil, per se. I cast Detect Evil, and I get a blank. But my Know Alignment tells me that this stuff is pure Chaotic Neutral. Just no-thing-ness. It can as easily lead to good as to bad.

The second not-surprise can be gleaned from the first. This school is not meaningfully Christian. It teaches that we can all have power by immersing ourselves in "the prophetic," which is sorta like the Force. A problem: seeking power is not something Christians do. We may receive strange, unexpected, and wonderful gifts. Some are intense. Others are gentle and subtle. But desiring supernatural power over the world is not the path of Christian faith, or the gift we are all to seek.

It is, instead, the heart of our human desire for magic. We want to be able to control our world. Honestly, there's no meaningful difference between what goes on at Bethel School for Supernatural Ministry and what goes on in the Sacred Groves of Oshogbo or on some mountaintop in West Virginia on Samhain. Jes' slappin' a Jesus label on it don't make it any different. Magick is magick. And though it's exciting to get caught up in it, it just isn't the thing we think it is.

Guess I'll have to look elsewhere to level up. Sigh.

27 comments:

  1. This was the most hilariously awesome post ever. I'm a great big D&D geek, so that just tickled my funny bones all over the place.

    I've always thought that the intense search for "Jesus magic" was about finding affirmation. People want to see some great supernatural sign so that they can believe again, because we've been taught by science that if you can't poke it, it isn't real.

    I think that's what the obsession is.

    Besides, if you wanted supernatural powers, play Deadlands. Blessed over there get all sorts of crazy shit, like a spell called Divine Backhand, which is exactly what it says on the tin.

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  2. Honestly, I don't think you know what you're talking about. It's easy to sit back and mock people rather than to really understand what is going on there. It's cowardly to pick apart something that you, and most people don't understand, rather than to seek to know more. As a Christian who is not as supernatural as Bethel, I can appreciate their ministry, and I think it's important as a person of intelligence to try and learn more, and to understand more, if not for believing, affirming what you so adamantly believe. Also, and I'm sure you'll agree with this, that someones website, is not always the full representation of what they really are; you probably aren't as ignorant as you come across in this post.

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  3. @ Elena: So what is going on? It strongly resembles the ecstatic experiences of shamanic religion. Describe how I have misrepresented it. Tell me how the substance of my observations is in error. If you're going to assert that I am ignorant, then indicate why that's true.

    Also...how do you know I haven't had experiences that allow me to assess the validity of such a ministry as an expression of a uniquely Christian faith? Not empirically, mind you. But spiritually. You seem to say this is so. On what basis?

    Present an affirmative witness. What in your own personal experience would validate this ministry as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit of the living God?

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  4. Beloved Spear, you do not have a clue. You have not been to Bethel; you have not immersed yourself in their culture; you have not sat under their teachings or read any of their books; you have not gone out on a "treasure hunt"; you have not been a prayer servant on a Bethel healing line and have not availed yourself of ministry by one of theirs; you have not been ministered Sozo or Shabar; and you have not experienced the naturally supernatural lifestyle they live out day to day in the Father's love. You are an outsider looking in trying to sound like an expert..like the kid looking at the candy store window with only 3 pennies in his pocket convincing himself he did not want the candy in the first place.

    Obviously you do not know everything there is to know. None of us do. Within the realm of what you do not know or understand about Holy Spirit, is it possible that the Bethel model may lie there? Selah,

    With that said, I bid you adieu!

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  5. @ Norman "&amp" Margi: It is true. I have not been ministered Sozo or Shabar, or sat under the teachings of Bethel. I have also never been ridden by an Orisha, nor have I danced the Ghost Dance. I have not ever been on Hajj. I do not wear tefillim. I have never knelt before the Goddess on a hillside in the moonlight.

    Yet it is nonetheless possible to know these things without partaking of them, and discern their meaning and purpose and place relative to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    You are clearly immersed in that community. From that place, I'm sure that authentic Christian faith is possible, to the extent that Bethel remains true to the Most Excellent Way that is the Spirit's highest gift.

    Adieu!

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  6. Blessings All ~ I came across this in my quest to find an appropriate school of the Supernatural. I appreciated what Beloved Spear had to say & the others. It's an interesting snapshot of both sides.

    To the person who initially responded to Beloved Spear, although I can read that you were defending Bethel, you didn't respond to Beloved with love. Instead, you chose to insult with the word "ignorant".

    What's the #1 Royal Supreme law with our Lord? Love One Another. It's fine to defend, friend - just do so in love.



    More and more, I see a lack of love between brothers & sisters in Christ. Saying that one is a Christian these days doesn't really mean anything anymore. Too many false Christians & wolves in sheeps clothing that separates us.

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  7. One of the most ignorant posts I have ever read. Thank you.

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  8. @ Anonymous: One of the most substantive comments I have ever read. You're welcome!

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  9. as someone who is very familiar with bethel, i can assure you that the gospel is preached, the poor are fed and the sick are healed. in fact, bethel is one of the most Christian places i have ever had the joy of being a part of (only been around the place for about 8 weeks) and i have a fairly diverse Christian background spanning almost 40 years. i know that you weren't trying to be mean or nasty, but the truth is, while your post was well-written and fun, it just doesn't even begin to grasp the beauty of what God is doing here. i am a first year student and we have students from 30 countries and i am not sure how many states. it is an incredible place. i know...the name is funny...i am careful who i mention it to! but it really is a profound place and they really are growing in the supernatural in ways you would be surprised to learn about.

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  10. @ Anonymous: A pity you posted anonymously, because the grace you show in that little comment is probably the strongest argument in favor of Bethel's Christian identity that I've yet heard.

    Again, it's not that I reject the idea of an intense faith, or the impact of potent spiritual experiences that leave you shattered and changed. It's just that the measure of their validity is the degree to which they deepen the foothold of God's transforming love in this broken world.

    You're clearly doing that, my friend. Enjoy your journey!

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  11. i would be happy to correspond with you privately...i am considering a future on the mission field so i have been more careful about putting my name all over the internet for radicals to find and use against me! i have no problem letting you know who i am person to person. how should i contact you?

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  12. @ Anonymous: How can you be sure I'm not one of those pesky radicals? ;)

    If you'd like to discuss stuff, check the website of my church (Trinity Presbyterian of Bethesda, findable via google). Email works fine.

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  13. What a fantastic title and so apt. I have heard Bill Johnson speak about healing and though its inspirational its almost devoid of meaningful content. I've also read a Sozo manual and there is nothing biblical in it. I also have friends who have been to Redding looking for a miracle and though greatly inspired they have nothing to report. I've not seen any video though so I'm grateful for your blog.

    I cannot understand how perfectly sane, intelligent and otherwise sensible people can fall for such stuff and nonsense. It would be funny except that Sozo is aimed at healing damaged individuals who could really do without quack amateurs practicing their magic on them.

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  14. When it comes down to it, wat peole "say" matters not, what Jesus says DOES matter. I encourage ALL to read and meditate on these words of Christ, then ask Him to grant you understanding. Matthew 7:22-24

    22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

    23And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

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  15. I know I'm a bit late to be commenting, but thank you so much for putting your opinion out there. I appreciated the humor in your post (I mean, the title alone is hilarious). And I almost completely agree with you. Of course the Lord can heal and perform miracles! But I don't believe you can learn to perform them - that's ridiculous. If you believe that the those kinds of gifts are still active today, then pray for them as Scripture encourages - but to go to a school for it...? I don't know.

    The point that I disagree with you on is the neutrality of such teachings. To take the focus off of Christ and put it on your feelings and desire for power is totally un-biblical and harmful. I hope and pray that no more will be deceived by the heresies smattered in amongst the truth at Bethel and in the whole Word of Faith movement.

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  16. As a Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry student, I just wanted to tell you that this is the funniest and most excellent piece of writing I've had the pleasure of reading in a long time :-)
    I love your unbiased honesty, integrity and openness..

    The truth is most DO come here in search of miracles...
    I, however, came here in search of a deeper relationship with God, a better knowledge of His word, and much needed spiritual community- In BSSM I found all I came here looking for... plus a few experiences that I could either explain away as incredible coincidence or as a miracle, depending on how I chose to look at it.

    My non-Christian friends back home, not quite understanding BSSM, affectionately refer to my school as "Hogwarts School of Supernatural Ministry" ;-)

    While I can from experience say that much of Bethel IS weird and strange, especially to outsiders (even to some of those inside), the good that comes out of Bethel and its school is undeniable.

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  17. As one who grew up next door to Redding (Red Bluff) and attended Bethel after Bill Johnson received the church, after moving down from Weaverville, from his father and while it was still affiliated with Assemblies of God. And then returning in 2008. It has changed a lot.
    Bethel and BSSM, to me, is a modern day Lourdes of France or Santiago of Spain. It has become an attraction to Christians worldwide who subscribe to the new cutting edge revelation and theology that appears to be growing substantially.
    Excuse this native Californian slant, but I wish they would go somewhere else as there are already 30 million people in my Golden state and I am convinced there are moves of God occurring somewhere else in this nation and world. Welcome to California now please go home...
    Please bare with this post if it becomes too lengthy.
    With all that being said. I grew up in a typical Southern Californian post hippy post surfer post vietnam family that experienced a miraculous salvation when Jesus intervened in the midst of a terrible car accident. My father who had been a devout atheist decided to pray in an ambulance and my mother and I went from being at deaths door to suddenly being discharged. That was the start of my supernatural experience of a powerful God. So I grew up listening to Keith Green in non denominational and charismatic churches and Penticostal churches. But we weren't church hoppers, my father worked for the State of California and we got to see the whole state growing up.
    Bethel is an odd duck and deserves some grace yet I have some personal questions. Little things such as the homegrown praise and worship songs that have a growing absence of the name above all names that I grew up to understand as to be Lifting Higher. There is the 7 mountains of influence teaching which is exciting. In my opinion it leans towards a dominionism that could be off and makes me think of an ancient Pope declaring Crusade.
    Personal knowledge of the occult and eastern beliefs make me wonder if their are some at Bethel who haven't left all that baggage behind and are being allowed to leak in, as if its viral. And really there are an Illiad of examples that kinda make me go hmmm.
    Sometimes I think its just too many European descendants looking for lost connection to ancient spirituality that hasn't really existed since Julius Ceasar started clearing out the sacred oaks groves in Gaul. Their spiritual feelers are a bit bred out of them. I say this as I am 1/4 California Native American (welcome to California now please leave). And some in my family have crazy spiritual discernment that is similiar to nationalities that aren't to many generations removed from headhunting. This is a theory I developed while in dialogue with a Christian from Papua New Guinea at a YWAM base in Hawaii. So let em all grow it out.
    I don't know the answers. If they got it right and its from God then it will grow. If its not of God, well I've grown up witnessing a Warring God who likes a fight and deals with it promptly. With all that being said. Nothing is new under the sun. I believe in a simple theology that Paul put forth that I am to "sit" as Jesus sits until God makes His enemies a footstool. Christianity is not a religion of "do" because its allready been "done" by our Lord and Savior. And should there be errors in the theology and worship and school at Bethel, well it might be a typical symptom of many non hebrew speaking Christians or fathers who attempt to put a bicycle together on Christmas eve because they now how a bike is put together and the next morning it looks like a bike when the kid takes it out on the street but it doesn't really work well. Anyhow, "Read The Manual"

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  18. Satan in is the accuser of the brethren.

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  19. As someone extremely familiar with Bethel School of Supernatural Arts, I can give you the skinny. First of all, it feels a little like simony, although I realize that's an unfair comparison.

    What it is is a bunch of middle-upper middle class white kids who want to feel important. Mere Christianity is not enough so they pay 4k a year to feel special (learning how to perform miracles, etc.) Living here in GA, I can tell you, they mainly minister to more middle class kids and try to excite them through their high energy worship. They aren't going into Fulton Co, they aren't performing miracles on the MARTA, the blind aren't seeing and the lame are not walking.

    I say live and let live. If you want a high energy worship where you convince yourself you are spirit drunk (or toking on the spirit) with a glory cloud, so be it. If you want a formal or ritualistic worship style, great. I just resent that these kids are suckered into paying 4k for a non-accredited school without any professors. Hopefully, these kids aren't going into great debt because many of them will still need to get a college education after this.

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  20. Hello, I was looking up more info on the shcool and came across this artical...I then read some of the banters back and forth. To the man that wrote this artical: The gal defending it is right. You have not been there...

    I took a roadtrip this fall with my best friend and a young ladie I coached while in highschool attends there so we thought we would stop by. To our surprise the young ladies entire school was on a retreat- so we went there. The first thing we walked into while walking around the ranch the retreat was at was all the student perofrming healings. I was blown away not from a charasmatic background myself I sat in awestruck wonder as they cried out to the Lord to heal there classmates and litterly watched arms and legs grow before my very eyes. The Holy Spirit was in that place, there is no denying that...

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  21. Funny, fair and well written article. I've lived in Redding for almost a year now. I like your comparison to Shamanism. They have a school of healing also by the way...

    Also, I stayed up last night and watched the you tube videos of a "Glory Cloud" appearing at Bethel. I highly doubt if the actual glory of God appeared we'd all whip out our iPhones so casually? I know someone who saw a "glory cloud" there and they said it just felt indifferent. No strong presence of anything.

    Anywho, nice article.

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  22. http://www.ibethel.org/articles/2011/10/11/bethel-church-god-the-bad-and-the-ugly

    Article from Bethel about this situation.

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  23. I'm an Elder at a local church in Redding and am very aware of Bethel in our area. I've attended the church a few times to see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears what is being taught. I've also read several of the books required for the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry as well as viewed numerous Youtube videos of sermons by pastors and guest speakers. While I've met some very loving Christians who go to this church and who are very dedicated to the Lord, I must also say that there is a lot of teaching that is not based on accurate exegesis of the Holy Scriptures. There is a theological mindset that is geared towards experience that rules over the Word of God. Several key passages are used to justify the doctrines that would be questionable but these passages are interpreted from the basis of their preconceived doctrine. In other words their ideas and doctrine dictates how they interpret the Bible rather than the Bible dictating their beliefs and doctrine. This is dangerous. Much of their material, especially Bill Johnson's "When Heaven Invades Earth" contains many fallacies and misinformation concerning the Christian faith. In it he supports the Kenosis theory of Jesus giving up his divinity and living only as a man while on the earth. He also seems to be very critical at times in this book of those who would carefully interpret scripture which would lead to proper godly behavior and proper doctrinal beliefs. He also rejects any critical thinking concerning his ministry and is not open to requests for proof of healings and avoids reading any critical material of his ministry. Truth can stand examination and to avoid critiques of your beliefs and practices seems to me to be avoiding accountability. I know there are many deeply committed Christians at Bethel and they are accomplishing many things for the Lord in the area, BUT this does not justify their false teaching and demonstrates the fact that God works despite the errors of man at times. I would hope they would be more open to requests for proof of their claims, examination of their doctrine and dialogue on how they interpret scripture. While we must seek to love each other as fellow believers in the Kingdom, we must also hold one another to a high standard of godly living based not on experience, but on the Holy Word of God.

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  24. I appreciate the need to be watchful for false doctrines as Matthew 7 was a focal point of Scripture as I became serious with the Lord over 30 years ago.

    Christianity is all about relationships. John 17:3 - Jesus Himself defines eternal life as knowing Him and the Father.

    I agree with the post that our interactions with believers and unbelievers should be governed by Love.

    Jesus spoke VERY strongly to the religious folks of his day who tried to squash his ministry and that of His followers. Religion is powerless and religious people only have words, negative words to put down anything that threatens their dead life and worldview.

    So, with a sincere desire for Truth, no viral infections of erroneous teaching; how do you deal with John 14:12.
    THAT is the best job description in the history of mankind and is my goal in life.

    I've never been to Redding and have only heard about the church indirectly but was curious about it so I read your critique.

    Larry

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  25. If you aren't 100% sure something is not of God, be careful what you call it. I could cite verses here and get into a huge theological discussion. Honestly, I don't think it's worth it. We are called as Christians to avoid foolish controversies. We need to seek areas of common ground, not areas of difference. Again, if you're not 100% sure something is not of God, be careful what you call it. Recall what Jesus said when his work was challenged and considered evil. I won't judge any words written here, I just ask that you carefully pray about that and this comment before you jump to reply. I won't be back. Not because I don't care, but because I don't want to get sucked into a fight. You are my elder and well educated; it's not my job to judge or condemn you or anything you say.

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  26. @ Anonymous: Is it a fight you don't want to be drawn into, or a conversation? Sometimes those challenging conversations...particularly if approached in the Spirit...can be very worth having.

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  27. I've run across articles like this before and watched some of the videos of "glory clouds" and diamonds and shaking and laughing and all this nonsense... and while it's funny at first, it's actually really sad and infuriating. If you study the bible with any kind of due diligence at all, then you'll know these things are absolutely not true, and as such, are distractions from true worship, actually leading people FROM God, not TO Him. I lost a good friend to this movement some years ago, and it will be by God's grace that she is allowed to flee. At it's core is a desire for holiness via experiences, which is ultimately a form of pride, albeit a very subtle one. This being the case, the defense or reasoning that others don't see or experience or believe in these things because they don't have enough faith, actually works very well for them. Unfortunately, it's virtually impossible to reason with them, because they can immediately dismiss your objections as being the product of a mind not grounded in a strong enough faith. So, while I appreciate the humor used, and agree with your observations, I have to add that ultimately it will mean the loss of many souls, and more importantly, the distortion and perversion of praise to our Father.

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