There is a great amount of buzz right now about T.D. Jakes affirming Trinitarianism (apparently we are supposed to conclude this is a rejection of Jakes’ previous Modalistic position) at this year’s Elephant Room sessions.
If Jakes has indeed left this heretical position and embraced the Bible’s teaching about the triune God who reveals Himself in Scripture then it is certainly time to praise the Lord. However, based on what Jakes actually said, I think it is far from a given that Jakes has actually taken up the Orthodox position. Rather than try to walk you through Jakes’ statements myself I would refer you to Chris Rosebrough for a thorough examination of what Jakes said that has caused many to conclude he is no longer outside of the faith.
In light of the remaining lack of clarity from Jakes I also affirm Rosebrough’s idea that Jakes has some work to do before I can properly identify him as a fellow believer. I particularly look for the 2nd criteria Rosebrough lists – “He publicly repudiates Modalism as a heresy” - as evidence from Jakes that he has really embraced this healthy change. I also think it would be appropriate for Jakes to be honest (in public) about why it has taken him so long to clearly state an orthodox position on the Trinity.
However, even at that point, Jakes still has a long way to go before he should be identified as anything other than a destructive false teacher who true believers should avoid at all costs. Jakes is perhaps the most high profile proponent of the Propserity Gospel, the idea that God can be (or even desires) to be manipulated by the faith of His people in order to shower His followers with blessings of a material nature.
The people at Wretched have done a good job putting Jakes’ vigorous affirmation and propagation of the health-and-wealth gospel in front of viewers, interspersed with clips from those he is fellowshipping with at the Elephant Room session (Driscoll and James MacDonald) ripping the Prosperity Gospel apart (and rightfully so).
Ironically, MacDonald has shown himself inconsistent with his own wording from the Elephant Room session with Jakes. Per Driscoll’s blog MacDonald said:
The issue of the Trinity is not a small thing. It’s central to Christianity. It’s a pillar of orthodoxy. However, when a man confesses Trinitarianism and we begin to ask if he’s Trinitarian enough, step away from me. That’s when we need to tone down the rhetoric and discuss.
6,000 churches close every year. 3,500 people leave the church everyday. Only 15% of churches are growing. We have a massive problem. The church in the US is hemorrhaging. It’s in a free fall.
We need to wake up and figure out that the constant negative rhetoric is not helping the church. It’s hurting it.
They’ll know that your Jesus’ disciples by your love for one another.
While the Prosperity Gospel hasn’t been such a historical thorn in the side of Christianity that Modalism has that fact is largely because the health-and-wealth movement is a particularly American innovation. Simply put, the Prosperity Gospel isn’t old enough to have been rejected in the ecumenical creeds. Surely though we must put the health-and-wealth vision of God into the category of false teachings that warp the self-revelation of God into something that looks nothing like what He actually is.
Macdonald appears to be saying that making a big deal of the finer points of the doctrinal content within the teaching ministries of public figures is “negative rhetoric.” Yet we see him in Wretched’s video doing that very thing toward the very Prosperity Gospel T.D. Jakes so energetically advocates. One is left thinking that MacDonald is bi-polar on this issue. He obviously (as he demonstrated) feels comfortable attacking false teaching publicly yet out of the other side of his mouth says it’s a bad thing to do which hinders the kingdom. Does that rule apply only when people other than James MacDonald make public criticisms? That seems like a possible conclusion based on what we hear from MacDonald in the Wretched video and then read from him in Driscoll’s excerpt from the Elephant Room session.
So what is it James? Can the Prosperity Gospel be eviscerated by you (as we saw in the video) or not? Here’s another possibility: Could it actually be that “negative rhetoric” (i.e. calling a heresy by that name) is better for the faith than simply throwing John 13:35 around? Could it be that whether Jakes’ Modalism or Prosperity teaching is in view the most loving thing we can do for him and those who may hear from him is call it what it is, namely soul corrupting false teaching?
I, obviously, think that it is most loving to expose doctrinal error – loving to the one in error because you are doing what you can to prevent them from staying in it and loving to those around because you are doing your best to prevent them from falling into it. I suppose this would really seem out of line for MacDonald but the truth of the matter is Jakes not only has a long way to go on clarifying his understanding of the Trinity but also in repudiating the Prosperity Gospel.
Jakes has more problems than just being muddy on a cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith. He not only isn’t clear about how God exists but is also willfully and repeatedly wrong about how God relates to the people He created. Praise God for the potential good in Jakes’ coming toward Orthodoxy. We must still pray that God will grant further grace because as good as the move toward Trinitarianism is Jakes still has a long way to go.