Pensacola -- Pensacola's Brownsville Revival not only has drawn more than a million people over the last 2 1/2 years, it also has attracted the scrutiny of many Bible scholars and theologians.
They all say they hoped to find that the Brownsville Revival was a genuine move of God indeed, many people who have attended the revival have said they felt touched by the Holy Spirit there.
A number of theologians who understand and do not denounce the Pentecostal movement have concluded that the revival is not a move of God.
Worse, the revival is actually pulling people away from God, they say.
"Too much emphasis is being placed on the experiences and the positive testimonies, to the point where the negative effects are largely ignored," said Albert James Dager, who heads Media Spotlight, a nondenominational Christian watchdog organization based in Redmond, Wash.
Dager's 20-year-old, nonprofit, independent Media Spotlight analyzes, from a Biblical perspective, the Christian messages that appear in the media. University religion departments, Bible scholars, theologians and some 5,000 pastors of many denominations subscribe to the Media Spotlight newsletter.
The Brownsville Revival, which airs three times a week on regional television and sells thousands of videos, attracted Dager's scrutiny, and he spent months studying the revival's methodology and messages.
The Bible as a guide
Dager measures religious messages and movements against the Bible.
"There are various philosophies out there, so we ask: 'Does it line up with the word of God or not?''' he said. "Our purpose is to help Christians."
Matt Costella, a theologian who is working toward a master's degree at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary in Ankeny, Iowa, has done a study of the revival. He published his findings in an article, "The Brownsville/Pensacola Outpouring: Revival or Pandemonium?" in the March/April 1997 issue of Foundation magazine, which is published by the Fundamental Evangelistic Association in Los Osos, Calif.
"I have completely concluded, as have many people, that the Brownsville Revival is not of God," Costella said.
"Nowhere in the Bible the Bible being our Christian standard of faith and practice does God teach any of these things that are going on at Brownsville as part of what should be happening in today's church."
Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute and author of "Christianity in Crisis" and "Counterfeit Revival: Looking for God in All the Wrong Places," has analyzed many revivals, past and present. CRI is an educational foundation and ministry in Southern California dedicated to monitoring cults, occult activities and Christian movements.
From faith to feelings
Hanegraaff expressed doubts and concerns about the Brownsville Revival on his nationally syndicated radio show "Bible Answer Man"; in "Counterfeit Revival," published this year; and on a CNN "Larry King Live" broadcast in April.
He views the Brownsville Revival as part of a dangerous "paradigm shift of major proportions a shift from faith to feelings, from fact to fantasy, and from reason to esoteric revelation."
Hanegraaff said the Brownsville Revival is "sociopsychological manipulation, peer pressure and exploitation of expectations."
The Rev. Tom Stipe, one of the founders of Promise Keepers and author of the forward to "Counterfeit Revival," has found serious problems scripturally and theologically with evangelist Steve Hill's heavy use of sexual admonitions frequent references to masturbation and pornography and sexual imagery in his references to Jesus Christ.
Often when Hill talks about Christ on the cross, he uses these terms:
"With his genitals hanging out for all to see ..."
"With his sexual organs on display..."
And Hill often speaks about Jesus being tempted by women and sex.
"My experience, in 25 years of ministry, has been that when men bring that strong of a sexual imagery, a sexual agenda into their sermon, it is for a shock effect," said Stipe, pastor of the 6,000-member independent Crossroads Church in Denver.
The analysts fault four aspects of the revival: Sexual content in the messages, misuse of Scripture, manifestations and impartation.
Stipe said to especially take notice, scripturally and theologically, when Hill talks about Jesus being tempted sexually.
"That is getting close to blasphemy," he said.
Stipe refers to Hill's references to a woman washing Jesus' feet and the constant sexual temptations Christ faced.
"Where in Scripture does it say that Jesus had every opportunity to have sex with women? What Steve Hill is doing is putting a sexual twist on a worship event," Stipe said.
"When Mary (sister of Martha and Lazarus of Bethany) washed His feet, it was an act of worship on her part it had nothing to do with sensuality. At this particular point, this was her recognition of understanding that He was Christ, the son of God.
"It is completely inappropriate to superimpose a sexual agenda on Mary's part let alone a sexual response on Jesus' part. That is absurd."
When Hill tells the revival-goers that "Jesus faced every temptation you have" he is again "superimposing a sexual agenda over a text where there is virtually no evidence of that," Stipe said. "Hill is referring to Luke 4 but the devil never offered sexual liberties or sexual power to Christ."
Stipe added: "If I were Steve Hill's leader, I would sit down and ask him some tough private questions.
"I would encourage him to not pursue that pattern. It's unhealthy, and it is ridiculous for him to try to superimpose that kind of daily lust problem or frequent lust problem in the life of Christ."
Misuse of Scripture
There is preaching at Brownsville Revival, but the Word of God is being distorted, the theologians and scholars all said.
"You end up with a lot of faulty interpretations of Scripture and a lot of disjointed and irrational thinking," Hanegraaff said after viewing many videotapes of the revival.
He has noticed that the revival leaders often defend faulty logic and use of Scripture by saying: "God offends the mind to reveal the heart."
That means that the leaders expect people to swallow what they say, uncritically, and that, Hanegraaff said, is the equivalent of saying: "Don't test to see if this is biblically correct, just accept it. It is happening in church so, of course, it must be of God."
Costella said people need to pay closer attention to the revival's messages and messengers and note when they err.
Brownsville Pastor John "Kilpatrick keeps saying 'I don't know ... I think it was the spirit of God.'
"This does not make sense on a logical level, let alone a theological level. Kilpatrick says we have pandemonium in the church, and that it is of God. But God is not the author of confusion."
The danger, Costella said, is that "as long as people are longing to see this, as long as they are being blinded and deceived, Satan is very willing to show them this pandemonium."
Concerned about the Brownsville Revival's leaders and followers, Dager has specific advice:
Dager said many people are making a devastating mistake at the revival because they are putting their trust only in men and organizations.
"We should put our trust in the Lord," he said.
"We need to have a relationship with God and His Word then we will notice error and be able to differentiate between what is right and wrong."
The revival promises an emotional encounter with God, manifested by shaking, screaming, fainting and falling into trances.
The experience is called "being slain in the spirit." The revival leaders tell the audience that this is physical manifestation, or proof, that the Holy Spirit has entered a body, slain the sin within and taken possession.
The manifestations, which some describe as heady and exhilarating, are also called "being drunk in the spirit."
The Brownsville Revival claims to have a franchise from God.
People are being told "the Holy Spirit has landed there and you can go down there and get drunk in the spirit," Hanegraaff said.
"People are going for an experience."
But eventually, many revival enthusiasts become disillusioned, Hanegraaff said.
They begin to suspect that the manifestations are not real, and that makes them suspect that the leaders who promote the manifestations are untrustworthy. It is then a small step from doubting the leaders to doubting God, according to Hanegraaff.
For those who don't know who to trust, Hanegraaff had advice: Return to the Bible.
"John the Apostle warned: 'Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.' This is especially true today.
"The real experience is not found in the works of the flesh, rather it is found in the basic fundamentals," Hanegraaff said.
"We must rediscover the genuine worship of God, we must rededicate ourselves to the oneness we share with Christ, and we must recommit ourselves to witness by the power of the Spirit."
Costella, too, views the extreme manifestations as a diversion away from God.
"People are genuinely hungry spiritually, but people are being fooled because they are looking for outward displays and not turning to God's word for salvation," he said.
"The bottom line is people are saying they are doing all these works in the name of God, but, because it does not square with God's word, God is going to say: 'Depart from me.'
The idea behind impartation is that the Holy Spirit can be transferred through touch or "anointing" from one person to another.
But there is no precedent in Scripture for impartation the laying on of hands indiscriminately for the expressed purpose of transferring power or to receive the Holy Spirit, according to Dager.
The revival leaders call it "a new work of God that is different from baptism in the Holy Spirit," Dager said.
The problem, he said, is "when people say they have a new move of God, it is basically a new revelation that holds the believer to something that they are not held to by Scripture.
"My primary concern is that the Rev. John Kilpatrick and evangelist Steve Hill are trying to take what they say is the move of God and making merchandise of it," Dager said.
"And I don't mean just making money. They are trying to manipulate what they say is the sovereign move of God and you can't do that."
Hill, the revival's chief messenger, wrongly believes God is using him, Dager said.
"With many charismatics, when a thought comes into their head, they assume 'Oh, God just spoke to me.'
But, in fact, it is their own desire, and everyone is supposed to believe them.
"It is foolishness," Dager said. "The Holy Spirit administers to us but not in this way, with a sort of 'live telephone connection.'
Dager said he is not judging revival-goers' hearts or their desire to serve God.
"Some of these people are very sincere."