Thursday, January 26, 2012

What T.D. Jakes is Teaching Us about Orthodoxy, Heresy, and Unity

I really wasn't looking forward to yesterdays Elephant Room discussion. For one thing, my schedule simply did not allow me to dedicate an entire day to the event. Furthermore, I was honestly skeptical of the content, and the outcome.

My primary reason for this skepticism? One of those invited to participate in the discussion yesterday was T.D. Jakes, a texas pastor who founded "The Potter's House" in Dallas. It is well-known among evangelicals that Jakes spent his formative years among those called "Oneness Pentecostals," who deny the historic Christian doctrine of the trinity. Oneness Pentecostals instead confess to something called "modalism" or "Sabelianism," denying inherently the full personhood and separate consciousnesses of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Yet over the past few years, Jakes had been silent about where he stood on this issue. Furthermore, he was joined on stage by the likes of Crawford Loritts, Mark Driscoll, and James MacDonald. I've been listening to all these guys long enough to know that they are not theological lightweights, and are not easily fooled by heresy. That fact alone should have been enough for me to wait--to expect the best in hope as commanded in 1 Corinthians 13. Still, I was skeptical.

I should have known better.

To be sure, the trinity is no small thing. In fact, in many ways, it is everything! One of the first questions one must ask when considering the Gospel is "who is God?" Obviously, if you get that one wrong, it only goes downhill from there. Furthermore, each of us owes our salvation to the trinitarian nature of the Father, who chose us before creation, the Son who paid the penalty for our sin, and the Spirit who seals us and sanctifies us in our new relationship as His adopted children. Though the Scriptures as a whole are pregnant with the concept, Ephesians 1 details in the most succinct terms how the members of the Godhead work together--as separate persons--to bring about the redemption that assures us of "every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies, in Christ."

To put it bluntly, if God is not a trinity, then the Gospel is a myth! No Trinity? No Gospel!

So we are right to see the issues surrounding T.D. Jakes as no small thing. At the same time, the way many evangelicals suspiciously responded to Jakes' statements to Driscoll and MacDonald yesterday betray that while we rightfully excel at sniffing out heresy, we are slow to love, to assume the best, and to celebrate when someone who has erred realizes that error through his or her own examination of the Scripture. The mixed reaction to Jakes' statements in the Elephant Room yesterday reveal that the spirit of Ephesus is still, regrettably, alive and well (Revelation 2:2-5)

I'm grateful that, through the transcripts of Trevin Wax yesterday, I was able to read that T.D. Jakes is now a trinitarian. But more than this, I was thankful to read of his life journey which has brought him to this place. He spoke of how he had embraced modalism because, well, that is the tradition in which he grew up!

According to Wax's account, Jakes elaborated on his background in this way:

They [Oneness Pentecostals] believe in Jesus Christ, he died and raised again. But how they explain the Godhead is how Trinitarians describe the gospel. I was in that church and raised in that church a number of years. I started preaching from that pulpit. But I’m also informed by the infiltration from my Baptist experience. I ended up Metho-Bapti-Costal. I’m a mixed breed. It is easy to throw rocks at people who you do not know, but when you see the work of Christ in their lives, you try to build bridges. So even though I moved away from what that church’s teaching, I didn’t want to throw rocks. Much of what we do today is teach people to take sides. But I believe we are called to reconcile wherever possible. My struggle was that in some passages, the doctrine fits and in other places it doesn’t. I don’t want to force my theology to fit my denomination. . . The Bible made me rethink my ideas and I got quiet about it for a while. There are things that you can say about the Father you cannot say about the Son or the Spirit. There are distinctives. I’m very comfortable with that.

Jakes goes on to then confess an orthodox understanding of trinitarian Christianity, while admittedly pushing back a bit on language choice, for Biblical reasons:

I believe the latter one is where I stand today. One God – Three Persons. I am not crazy about the word persons though. You describe “manifestations” as modalist, but I describe it as Pauline. For God was manifest in the flesh. Paul is not a modalist, but he doesn’t think it’s robbery to say manifest in the flesh. Maybe it’s semantics, but Paul says this. Now, when we start talking about that sort of thing, I think it’s important to realize there are distinctives between the work of the Father and the work of the Son. I’m with you. I have been with you.

So here we have a guy who was raised in a tradition that he, over time and through his study of the Scriptures, realized contained error. He studied and prayed his way through some things that were fuzzy to him, and as they became clear, he landed squarely within the realm of Christian Orthodoxy. What's not to celebrate?

And by the way, this is not the first time this has happened. The early church took three and a half centuries before what we today call "orthodoxy" was established. Are we to believe that no one was orthodox before the Council of Constantinople? Of course not! First, second, and third century followers of Jesus spread His message, organized themselves into churches, submitted to Biblically qualified leaders, observed baptism and the Lord's Supper, and lived the message of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit in front of an unbelieving world.

Throughout those three centuries, much was discussed about the nature of God. During this time the early church had to hunch and feel its way through a myriad of issues, returning time after time to the text of Scripture and thereby avoiding the theological "off-ramps" of Nestorianism, Arianism, Monarchianism, and a host of other heretical streams before finally being able to articulate what we now call an orthodox understanding of the triune God, codified in a revised Nicene Creed in 381 A.D.

My point is that seventeen centuries later, individuals sometimes take this same journey, and its a journey that is often complicated by an error-filled tradition to which they were exposed at a young age.

Does that mean Jakes' earlier error was "no big deal?" Not at all! But ff T.D. Jakes' testimony yesterday teaches us anything, it teaches us that while Christian faith may exist in a personally "pre-Nicean" form, if it is real, eventually it will emerge as a decidedly "post-Nicean" faith. I believe that's what happened to T.D. Jakes, and I rejoice in this.

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be good enough for many in the evangelical church. In some sense, this should be expected. As the heirs of the Protestant Reformers, we can be a cantankerous bunch and we can critique ourselves to death. Its in our family history! The Reformation began as critique. It was neccesary critique. It was purifying critique. It was a critique that led to the recovery of the Gospel, AND the recovery of the church!

Problem is, as the Protestant movement grew and established itself, it tended toward maintaining its posture of critique as opposed to mounting an offensive and aggressive movement forward to accomplish the Great Commission. Possibly the only legitimate criticism that Erasmus of Rotterdam leveled toward Martin Luther was when he contended that the Protestants couldn't possibly represent the "true church" because, in Erasmus' words, "you have no missionaries."

These are our theological ancestors, and we would do well to cling to the faithful teaching they left us while simultaneously realizing--and rejecting--the hyper-critical nature of our history so that the sins of the fathers are not visited on the sons any longer.

So how do we do this? Do we jettison concern for sound doctrine? Anyone paying attention at yesterday's Elephant Room should know that isn't happening. At the same time, when someone formerly in error confesses Christian orthodoxy to me, my response shouldn't be cynicism, suspicion, or on T.D. Jakes' case, the desire to know "how trinitarian" he really is.

To be sure, I differ with Bishop Jakes on quite a bit, and his former modalist views are not the only areas where I would personally have concerns. But yesterday's conversation between Jakes, Driscoll and MacDonald have put my concerns about trinitarian orthodoxy to rest, and in fact, have left me with a renewed confidence in the power of the Scriptures to transform our fallen minds and understandings.

Others may want to continue to critique and find fault. But I love my brother in Christ, and as a result will bear, believe, hope, and endure with him as he continues to walk in a right understanding of God.

As for me, I'm rejoicing that I have a brother in Dallas!


Marty Duren said...

I, too, was glad to hear Jakes speak to this yesterday, but, I had some other thoughts. In 2000 in a CT article, Jakes affirmed an orthodox belief in the Trinity:

He articulated it almost as clearly there as yesterday, only stopping short of using the term "persons." However, he referred to God in "His essence." The use of the personal pronoun, in reference to God, implies personhood. He wrote: "My views on the Godhead are from 1 John 5:7-8, "For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one." (NKJV)

I believe in one God who is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I believe these three have distinct and separate functions—so separate that each has individual attributes, yet are one. I do not believe in three Gods."

You can cross this country and find 1,000's of pastors who could not go beyond those two paragraphs in expounding on the Trinity, yet their orthodoxy is never questioned.

Jakes also appealed to Paul's use of "manifest," which I believe is a strong, not weak, argument. It's as if theologians decided "persons"--a word not used in the Bible--was the right word, and the word "manifest"--a word that is used in the Bible--was the wrong word. Then, we decided to judge him on the word that isn't in the Bible while he defended himself with the word that is, and that isn't enough? It makes me wonder who's steering this ship.

Even on The Potter's House website you can find, "There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit." It isn't possible for the three "manifestations" of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" to be "eternally existing" if they exited one after the other. It seems some of this has been, "We want you to use our language and until you do you're a heretic."

I agree with you that the trinity is important, and crucially so. But, when Jakes' detractors cannot even agree on why they attract, and he confesses in a public forum, "I'm with you. I've been with you," I'm thinking the problem hasn't been with him.

Marty Duren said...

Shoot. Try this link for CT article.

. said...

Well one thing is for sure. The problem certainly isn't with him now.

Marty Duren said...

BTW, nice job on your post.

Adam Pastor said...

Greetings Joel Rainey
"To put it bluntly, if God is not a trinity, then the Gospel is a myth! No Trinity? No Gospel!"

That maybe putting it bluntly, however, your statement is false.

Because although in many ways, Modalism/Oneness doctrine is indeed wrong.

Sadly, the trinity doctrine is also equally wrong in this regard:
that both modalism and trinity doctrines try to make
Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah our Lord,
into Almighty GOD!!

And both doctrines state that you must believe that the Lord Jesus
is Almighty GOD to be saved!

In this regard, both doctrines do err and are scripturally wrong.

Both doctrines appeared hundreds of years after the ascension of Christ.
Both doctrines try to explain how Jesus can be both God and man at the same time!! The Godman!!

The original faith which was once delivered unto the saints [Jude 3] did not suffer from this problem.

The original faith has always been:

That there is solely ONE GOD,
the Father.
And Jesus of Nazareth, is the one man, the one human being, whom Almighty GOD raised from the dead, made him, both Lord and Christ, and exalted him to His own right hand.

Hence, Jesus of Nazareth is
the Lord Jesus Christ,
a man approved of Almighty GOD,
who is currently at the right of the ONE GOD in the heavens. Whom we await for his return.

(1 Cor 8:4) ... there is none other God but one.
(1 Cor 8:6) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him;
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

(1 Tim 2:5) For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

(1 Th 1:9-10) For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; 10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.

Hundreds of years after the pure, true, apostolic faith was propagated;
Greek, Hellenistic and pagan philosophy/doctrines changed the human Jesus into a demigod then into a godman.
And in response, both the doctrines of the trinity and modalism tried to solve this self-inflicted problem.

The Gospel as preached by the early church said nothing about the trinity.
Rather it is the trinity which is the myth!

The solution then, is to return to the pure faith and doctrine as taught in the Scriptures:

That there is solely ONE GOD, the Father.
And there is solely one man, one human, whom the ONE GOD has made
"Lord of all", the man Messiah Jesus.

(1 Tim 2:5) For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus;

And indeed the day is coming where ...
(Phil 2:11) And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

May I suggest that one can prayerfully begin this journey of recovery by viewing a helpful video at

The Human Jesus

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor

. said...

Adam Pastor, I won't take the time to counter you point-by-point as frankly, to do so with the thoroughness necessary would take more time than I'm willing to dedicate to a blog post.

However, I will deal with the central thesis of your post, in which you state that it is error to declare that one must believe Jesus to be God in order to be saved.

Messianic prophecies that speak of Jesus in fact claim the opposite. The prophet Isaiah said of the coming Messiah that He would be "wonderful counselor, Mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Thomas, upon witnessing the resurrected Jesus, cried out "my Lord and my God." Jesus frequently makes use of the "I AM" statements of the Old Testament in John's Gospel--statements reserved for God Himself.
Contrary to your assumption, this in no way contradicts monotheism. Trinitaian doctrine, rightly understood, brings understanding to the teachings that 1. God exists (according to the testimony of Scripture itself) as three persons. 2. EAch person is fully God, and 3. There is but ONE God.
Admittedly the term "trinity" is not found in the Bible, but the concept, far from being the result of some Hegelian progression that sought synthesis between monotheist and polytheist viewpoints in the Greek world, emerged from the systematic study of the words of the prophets and Apostles themselves. In short, the whole counsel of God does present Him in this way, and does present Jesus as Lord and God.
With this in view, my concern is for people like you who deny this on the basis of a non-holistic approach to "proof texts" that are often interpreted without connection to the whole metanarrative of Scripture. I would love to interact more with you on this subject and can do so by email at this point. Simply send me a message at and I'll be glad to begin that conversation.
However, my blog site is not a place where I will allow the continued propagation of what I consider to be false teaching, and so that you will know, future posts that attempt to steer my readers toward your site will be deleted.
God willing, I look forward to a deeper conversation.