Two days ago the chatter coming out of The Elephant Room seemed to indicate that T. D. Jakes had alleviated all concern about his orthodoxy. I counted that as a good report and was certainly eager to hear it for myself. I had a chance last night to watch the session that featured Jakes and the discussion about Trinitarianism. There are some good things in this session (Jakes’ affirmation of one God and three persons), but there are also some not-so-good things. At the end of the day, I thought too much was left undone. Coming into this event, Jakes has been widely known as a modalist, and I saw nothing here that should change that perception.
There were several elephants in the room, but the panel really only acknowledged one of them—the question of Jakes’ orthodoxy regarding the Trinity. And even there, the inspection of the Trinitarian elephant only got a once-over. The other elephants—Jakes’ prosperity teaching, his continued fellowship with modalists, his problem with the term “person”—received no attention at all. These are more than just a few minor red flags. They are gospel issues that separate the wheat from the chaff.
James MacDonald acknowledged on his blog today that there are many other problematic doctrinal issues that he could have pressed with Jakes. He said, however, that he stopped himself from pressing those issues. He aimed instead to cultivate the relationship with Jakes and not to push him away with a flood of criticism. MacDonald’s purpose was to build-bridges over the long-term, not to resolve every error in Jakes’ theology in one meeting. In this, I believe MacDonald to have the best intentions.
Still, I think there will be unintended consequences to this strategy. The panelists embraced Jakes and affirmed his Trinitarian orthodoxy at the close of this event. MacDonald spoke of what the “Holy Spirit” did during this meeting. All of that communicates that Jakes only disagrees with orthodoxy on a few details and that he’s solid on the main things. The warm reception to Jakes may give viewers the impression that there is no real threat to God’s people in Jakes’ teaching. Nothing could be further from the truth. Absent a clear denunciation of modalism and the prosperity gospel, Jakes should not be received as a Christian teacher. As a pastor, I would still give a grave warning to anyone from my congregation who comes under the influence of Jakes’ prosperity gospel.
There’s nothing wrong with public forums that feature believers engaging non-believers. There is a problem, however, when the forum is pitched as a conversation between brothers who all agree with one another on gospel essentials. I am concerned that the warm reception given to Jakes may be a violation of the command in 2 John 1:9-10 concerning false teachers:
Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.
I want to add my “amen” to Trevin Wax’s thoughtful reflections about The Elephant Room. His concerns are my concerns. He highlights two items that stuck out to me as particularly significant. He writes:
It discourages me to think of David Platt at Elephant Room 1 getting drilled for urging radical sacrifice while Jakes’ teaching of health and wealth was never even brought up…
It would have been better to see the major distinctions between these participants brought to the table and discussed. Instead, it seemed as if all arguments and debates fade away in light of one’s fruitfulness in terms of numerical growth of the church. The silent assumption seemed to be: We may be different, but as long as God is blessing you (numerically), we can’t really debate.
Romans 12:9 says, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” Somehow we have to find a way to balance all three of these commands as we think about the Elephant Room. First and foremost, we want to love those with whom we have substantive disagreement. Which means we should pray for them, hope the best for them, and do good to them. We also want to cling to what is good. Which means we want to celebrate their affirmations of truth and to cheer them on toward greater faithfulness.
But we also want to abhor what is evil. That means that we must never cite love as an excuse to ignore what is evil. On the contrary, love ought to be our motivation to confront grave error where we find it. This is a baseline requirement for pastoral ministry (Titus 1:9), and it is the only way to love someone “without hypocrisy.”
P.S. Greg Gilbert did a survey of several of Jakes’ books in 2010, and if you want an overview of Jakes’ work this should be your first stop. Greg concluded,
On the whole, most of T.D. Jakes’s works belong on the psychology shelves at the bookstore. They have little to do with the gospel of the Bible. Stories and truths in the Bible are used as encouragements to think positively and overcome hardship, or to prove that God is waiting to bless us if we’ll only believe more and stop feeling sorry for ourselves. Sin is mostly absent and when it is discussed, it is usually no more insidious than a bad self-esteem. Sometimes Jakes makes it sound as if we are innocent victims of sin, which has evilly placed us in bad circumstances and tries to shackle us to our past. There is no mention of hell or punishment. God’s grace is most often talked about as a way to release us from our past, or heal old wounds, or teach us how to handle difficult relationships…
The health-and-wealth gospel is clear and unapologetic, though he sort of stumbles into it from trying to minister to women. It starts as God’s willingness to heal emotional and psychological trauma and gets progressively worse from there. Psychological healing leads to emotional healing leads to finding your potential or realizing your destiny leads to financial blessing. Jakes tries to separate himself from health-and-wealth teachers. The distinction, though, is that while the health-and-wealthers teach that God will give you riches, Jakes teaches that God gives you power to get riches. Small difference, it seems.