Shooting An Elephant

Trevin Wax is live-blogging The Elephant Room, hosted by James MacDonald, with Mark Driscoll as a guest host. There has been a swell of controversy over one of their guests, T. D. Jakes, and how his anti-Trinitarianism is understood, especially by MacDonald (see my post about it here). This has recently led to MacDonald resigning from The Gospel Coalition (it’s curious that in his post he mentions nothing about this controversy. What was said to him by TGC leaders to make him leave? Was it not this issue?). Trevin posted his notes from the interview on his blog, and I’ve read them over and wanted to share a couple of initial thoughts.

A brief caveat: these are only Trevin’s notes, not the full-blown, word-for-word interview, so some of my thoughts are subject to change in light of the clearer picture that will come once the video is released. There are other interviews as well that may also give clarity; my thoughts are based primarily on this first one.

1) There is a conciliatory air between those involved. It seems that the interviewers have already decided on Jakes’ orthodoxy before interviewing him. Driscoll promised us, when the controversy first broke, that he would be hard on Jakes on the Trinity–but Driscoll was much harder on Justin Brierly over complimentarianism than he is on Jakes. While he thankfully asked a number of creed-oriented questions, he didn’t push Jakes on his unclear statements.

2) Jakes hasn’t clarified the issues in the way The Elephant Room guys seem to think he has. He begins by explaining his early experience with the Oneness Pentecostals, a modalist group who denies the Trinity. We know that anti-Trinitarianism is the view of his early experience; one only has to read his writings to come to that conclusion. Yet of this group he says: “They believe in Jesus Christ, he died and raised again. But how they explain the Godhead is how Trinitarians describe the gospel.” So a group that is demonstrably anti-Trinitarian believes the gospel the way Trinitarians do. Two thoughts: Do they believe the Trinity the way Trinitarians do? And more importantly, if he says that this early group was Trinitarian, which they are not, does this mean that when he claims Trinitarianism for himself, he is using the term in the same way? Because if he’s as Trinitarian as the early group is, then he’s not saying much that we haven’t heard before. He also says that he was “infiltrated” by Baptist and Methodist teaching. The question is, when did this infiltration take place? He’s been espousing modalism until very recently (I would argue he still does).

3) There is a tone of non-judgmentalism when it comes to how the evangelical world is to observe The Elephant Room and Jakes, yet there are jabs taken by by a number of them against those who disagree on this issue. Jakes talks of people throwing rocks; MacDonald calls criticisms of Jakes’ anti-Trinitarianism “rhetoric.” Genuine theological concerns are not the same as mere stone-throwing, or rhetoric.

4) Jakes attempts to use obfuscating language that is useful for sound-bytes, like “One God–Three Persons,” but continues to affirm the language of manifestation in the Godhead, even claiming it to be Pauline. He says he doesn’t like the word “person.” He mustn’t see Oneness Pentecostalism as a problem or a heresy, because he still associates with it. If he were convinced of it being heretical, why would he still associate with them? It would be like getting Athanasius associating with the Arians; he was contra mundum for a reason. Robert Murray M’Cheyne said that the character of a man is determined by what he is like on his knees; is Jakes a modalist or Trinitarian in his prayer life? When he prays to Jesus, is he also praying to the Father because they are the same person?

5) Why hasn’t anyone addressed Jakes’ prosperity gospel? His anti-Trinitarianism is by far the worst, but health-and-wealth is quite bad too.

After reading through Trevin’s post I haven’t found anything that would change my opinion about Jakes’ orthodoxy, nor do I find anything relieving about James MacDonald and his ability to lead, nor Mark Driscoll, whom I expected much more from. If Driscoll can treat a nice guy like Justin Brierly contemptuously, but welcome an anti-Trinitarian like T. D. Jakes, then he is in pretty rough shape too. And, on that score, TGC counsel member Crawford Lorrits’ comments at the end make me wonder about him too!

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8 Comments

Filed under elephant room, gospel coalition, james macdonald, mark driscoll, t d jakes, trinity

8 responses to “Shooting An Elephant

  1. OK, I’ve been a harsh critic of Jakes. I sternly expressed my displeasure when a member of Jakes’s staff was slated to perform at the SBC Pastors Conference. Whatever anathematization is, I’ve done it regarding Jakes.

    But, today has me wondering whether he has changed. Here’s what I’m looking for:

    1. A clear expression of the Trinitarian doctrine of 1 God; 3 Persons. The words are important, but I want more than the words: I want the substance of the doctrine to be affirmed.

    2. A clear recantation of Oneness theology: A statement that the Oneness movement is non-Trinitarian and that he now no longer espouses that point of view.

    With regard to the first, as I read Driscoll’s notes from the encounter, Jakes affirmed 1 God 3 Persons twice, and one of those times was more than just a “Yes.” He did indeed say that he likes the word “manifestations.” I read him as saying that he affirms “persons” but is not recanting about the use of the word “manifestations.” It is a biblical word and he opposes the suggestion that any use of “manifestations” must necessarily be a modalistic use of that word.

    With regard to the second, he apparently said “It was not a UPC church, but somewhat similar. Jesus-only, modalism. How they describe the godhead is very different than how Trinitarians do…. much of what I learned in oneness is different than how I now understand the godhead…. My struggle is that sometimes oneness fit but sometimes it didn’t. I didn’t want to force the Scriptures to fit my theology.”

    That seems to me to be someone explicitly acknowledging that the UPC/modalistic understanding of the godhead is not the same as the Trinitarian understanding, that he himself has a different understanding from modalism with regard to the godhead, and that he came to that understanding because he couldn’t reconcile modalism with the teachings of the New Testament.

    That reads to me as a recantation.

    I still have this problem: He clearly thinks that, although he is now a Trinitarian, Trinitarians and modalists should get along under one banner. He’s wrong about that. Jakes is still wrong.

    And yet, he’s moved, in my view, from a wrong that is heresy to a wrong that is mere error, serious an error as it may be. Reserving the right to contend against this erroneous view, I am nevertheless ready no longer to anathematize him.

    • Hi Bart! Thanks for posting your thoughts, I really appreciate it. I especially agree with you about his willingness to associate with the Oneness Pentecostals. If they are heretics, then he should distance himself, and not think that there should be a coming together between them and the orthodox. I haven’t seen Driscoll’s notes, so if there’s a clearer picture given in them, I’ll gladly change my perspective. But, as I said in my post, it doesn’t strike me that Jakes’ recantation is as clear as you might hope. If he defines his earlier group as basically Trinitarian, which they are not, and then claims the Trinitarian label for himself in the same manner, it’s hard to believe that he’s changed at all.
      Also, and I didn’t note this in my post, but his use of Paul’s words about Jesus being manifest in the flesh is an incarnational term, not a Trinitarian one. It doesn’t apply to the question at hand. In fact, his use of it further leads me to believe that he is equivocating or obfuscating, and it bothers me that others like Driscoll didn’t push for clarity on it.
      But thanks again. We definitely need to be as open-minded as possible, and not pre-judge the situation. Your words have reminded me of that!

  2. Excellent observations Ian.

  3. Very good insight, Ian. And Bart is level-headed as usual.

    Good stuff.

  4. scott

    Great post Ian. Thanks!
    Do you know if anything is happening with the harvest fellowship as far as those pastors who are concerned with the direction Macdonald is going; or I should say, is already there?

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