Christianity,  Theology/Bible

Some Thoughts on The Elephant Room Flap

Tim Challies has weighed-in on The Elephant Room flap. He writes:

As I think about round 2 of the Elephant Room, here is what I want to know: Will T.D. Jakes be challenged very specifically on what he believes about the Trinity? Will this be the elephant in the room when he sits there with MacDonald and whoever else? Will these men be willing to ask him very difficult, very nuanced, very penetrating questions? And if he finally says, “Yes, I am a modalist” will they then be willing to tell him, “You are a heretic; you are not a Christian”? If he proves himself to be a modalist, will MacDonald then remove him from the event? Will all of this happen not to burn him at the stake, but for the sake of his own soul and for the sake of those who follow him? Souls are at stake here!

And I don’t mean for the other participants to ask a question that essentially says, “You’re not a modalist, right?” but an honest, searching, penetrating series of questions that will address this concern head-on and will not stop until it is settled. Jakes has given us legitimate cause to be concerned, cause enough to go no further until answers are given. Until that question is settled, nothing else really matters. Does it really matter what he has to say about any other theological matter, essential or otherwise, if the question of his orthodoxy isn’t settled first? On a pragmatic level he may have great things to say on any number of topics. But if he is a modalist he is not a Christian. And that makes all the difference to every word he says.

Challies has the same questions I have. I think it would be wonderful if penetrating questions reveal Jakes not to be a modalist. But what if there is a different outcome? What if the discussion proves that he is? It will be difficult to transition to new topics about theology and church life if one of the pastors at the table confirms that he is not a Christian. Are the other panel members prepared for the awkward moment in which they might have to tell him that they have no fellowship with him in Christ? It just seems kind of strange that either side would risk this kind of confrontation in front of an audience. Maybe they already know where this is going. I hope so.

I would be thrilled if the forthcoming Elephant Room turned in to an Acts 18:26 moment. But it seems to me that what may be called for is a Titus 1:9 or 1 Timothy 1:20 moment. I guess we’ll see.


  • Jules

    They won’t tell him that they have no fellowship with him in Christ. They’ve already demonstrated what they believe by their actions. This is an effort to demonstrate their loving tolerance and that anyl our “differences” can be solved if we would just sit down and chat.

  • Sam

    God forbid anyone on this panel (or Challies!) actually try to convince T.D. Jakes that modalism is false…it seems like we’re talking like metaphysical determinists, in that if Jakes is a modalist that will never change.

  • Barton

    These are some great concerns. I would think that, if James doesn’t sink the question, one of the Marks will find a way to bring it out.

    After that issue, I am hoping for more than last time… But expecting less. Driscoll proved to be more of a bully than honest debater, Platt didn’t defend his position much at all (though doing so would have been easy). I think the biggest problem is that you have two (maybe even three, this time) tiers of thinkers participating in a conversation aimed at being top tier.

  • Denny Burk

    Sam, I would be thrilled if the forthcoming Elephant Room turned in to an Acts 18:26 moment. But it seems to me that what may be called for is a Titus 1:9 or 1 Timothy 1:20 moment. I guess we’ll see.

    • Wes

      I’m with you Barbara – that alone is enough for me to question the wisdom of including Jakes. Where is the outcry over that? Hoping to hear from MacDonald, Driscoll, etc. on that – that’s at least another big elephant in that room.

      This all seems a little too much like buzz-creation for the event.

  • Joseph

    For years Christian bookstores have been filled with Jake’s books and no one has taken seriously his modalism is wrong and heretical. I think again nothing will be said to correct this false doctrine.

  • CMM

    There’s a lot of strong language in the blog posts about this, so I have an honest question. Can we make a solid biblical argument (i.e., one that does not reference a creed) that a modalist who fully affirms Jesus’ deity is not a true believer? I’m not asking if we can prove that their wrong, but can we really prove that being wrong about the nature of the trinity is eternally condemning?

  • Justin F

    This post saddens me. TD Jakes is a popular/famous pastor so there’s that persona to contend with, but I know nothing about his faith, actions, authenticity. But I’m disturbed at the attitude of Tim Challis and Denny with his followup. The whole article is seeking ways to expose and denounce another believer, on a single theological point. The whole article’s tone is seeking every possibility of exclusion. And then apparently we are justified to exclude him and ignore everything else he says. He’s no longer worthy of being engaged even as a human. And after this we have the authority to make judgment on his salvation and walk with God. By what authority? That’s God’s realm.

    Denny, why are you not seeing this? Normally I can understand where you are coming from, even when I disagree. But this turf war mentality around orthodoxy is toxic. Exclusion and separation are nothing special anyone can do it, it’s the human condition. To seek reconciliation despite disagreement, that requires the love and wisdom of God. Please reconsider

    • Sam

      Agreed. The fact that neither Challies nor Burk even entertains the thought of convincing Jakes out of his views, but simply consigns him to his fate, is very alarming. The YRR crowd needs some serious help.

      • Ali

        Sam, if you check out the scripture Denny has in the comments (Acts 18:26) and added to the end of his post, you’ll see that he has in fact thought about Jakes being convinced of the wrongness of his views. Having said that, Jakes is very aware that people are not comfortable with the way he has expressed his view of the Trinity, but in the past said he would prefer to work on what he thinks God is calling him to do rather than spend time working it through this doctrine with others. I’m glad he wrote an article for CT about it, and maybe…maybe the Elephant Room is the opportunity for him to wrestle with this to make his position clear or to be corrected.

      • Ian Hugh Clary

        I think Thabiti’s point is well taken, it would be like Augustine having Mohammed (or maybe Pelagius) up for a chat about his views. I don’t know why not wanting to publish someone’s falsehoods is in need of help. Sounds like wisdom to me.

  • Kamilla

    Jakes has proven himself a heretic – he’s Word of Faith, schills for TBN and is denies the ecumenical creeds.

    Since when do we give false teachers the benefit of the doubt?

    Aren’t they to be taken aside and instructed (as per the biblical example of Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos)?

  • Mark

    Jakes did an interview in 2010 where the host asked him directly about the Trinity including bringing up heresy, Nicea, etc. I quoted and linked to the interview in my recent post which you can find at my site. In the interview Jakes claims his views are evolving on the Trinity. He is still not clear and has not said that he is not a Modalist. He has also not said he believes in the Trinity. He did say that he believes there are three Persons in the Godhead in a way that “persons is a limited word.” He does not explain what he means though.

    He has been questioned for years and is evasive. Just like in the 2010 interview where he does not say what he means by persons being limited in its description. In the interview he states that he strongly defended the tenants of Oneness doctrine so he should be well-versed in the arguments and know the issues. Yet, he won’t clearly admit where he stands and holds Oneness folks to be fellow Christians.

    He also calls those who defend doctrine wolves while himself declining to defend sound doctrine and rebuke false teachers. So Jakes is not, and maybe cannot, fulfilling the duties of his pastoral office. This alone would concern folks.

  • RD

    CMM asked the following sincere question: “There’s a lot of strong language in the blog posts about this, so I have an honest question. Can we make a solid biblical argument (i.e., one that does not reference a creed) that a modalist who fully affirms Jesus’ deity is not a true believer? I’m not asking if we can prove that their wrong, but can we really prove that being wrong about the nature of the trinity is eternally condemning?

    Nobody has stepped up to address his question. Does a person’s understanding of the nature of the trinity have eternal consequences? Does a person have to accept the Credal expression of the trinity in order to be saved? Does the Bible teach that one must believe Jesus to be God in order for Jesus’ death and resurrection to be a salvific agent in their life? And if so, where do we find this in scripture? I think CMM is getting to the true heart of the matter with his question.

    • yankeegospelgirl

      “Does the Bible teach that one must believe Jesus to be God in order for Jesus’ death and resurrection to be a salvific agent in their life?”

      I’m surprised that you can call yourself a Christian and yet raise this as a serious question. Yes, of course one has to believe Jesus to be God. Look at all the places in the gospels where Jesus identifies himself as such. “Before Abraham was, I AM.” That was why they crucified him! They crucified him BECAUSE HE CLAIMED TO BE GOD. It was BLASPHEMY by Jewish law.

      As for the salvation process, there is no other possible way Jesus’ death could bring us salvation. If Jesus was not God Himself incarnate, then it would not be GOD who was taking the punishment for our sins! People will complain about Christianity by saying, “It’s so inhumane to imagine that God would punish just some innocent guy for the sake of the whole world.” The entire message of the gospel is that Jesus himself WAS God, and God’s justice was thereby SATISFIED. He wasn’t just “some innocent guy.”

      If you do not grasp this, then you have not grasped the gospel, and you need to seriously re-examine exactly what you believe and where you stand.

  • Kamilla


    I was assuming no one had answered because they did not take the question seriously.

    A modalist has a false Jesus, one who merely wears a mask and is not the eternal second member of the Trinity. In fact, the modalist has no Trinity, he has a Janus-like three-faced god.

    As for the rest of it, I’m with the Yankee Gospel Girl.


    • Justin F

      (Setting: At the pearly gates)
      Recently dead: Um, I was told to report here by the guy with wings.
      St Peter: Why yes, welcome to the afterlife. Before you will be granted access to heaven, we’ve just got to run through a quick checklist.
      Recenly dead: Oh, okay. I filled out this questionaire while in line.
      St Peter: Yep, that’s the one. Let me take a look. . .
      Jesus is God’s son . . . good
      Jesus lived a sinless life . . . excellent
      Jesus died on the cross as a substitution for for our sins to save us from God’s wrath . . . right-o
      Will return again to judge the world in righteousness . . . looking forward to that one
      Sent the Holy Spirit as counselor, comfort, and guide . . . check and check
      Recenly dead: So everything is in order?
      St Peter: Seems to be. Under extracuriculars you even have “served the poor unconditionally, visited the sick and dying, welcomed the foreigner, fed the orphans, etc.” We love to see that. Yep everything is great, but . . . oh my.
      Recently dead: What’s wrong?
      St Peter: Under the doctrine of the Trinity you have one God appearing to humanity in three personas. Not three distinct persons being in fact one God. That one’s pretty important.
      Recently dead: I found that doctrine awfully confusing, it doesn’t make any logical sense.
      St Peter: Yep, it’s a riddle and an enigma, but I’m sorry you got it wrong.
      Recently dead: So what’s the penalty, do I have to refund a crown?
      St Peter: Nope, it’s eternal damnation within the wrath of God for you, I’m afraid.
      Recently dead: That seems a bit harsh. What about the nearness I felt to God? His love I felt in my life, and that love I conveyed to others? The times of praise and worship, and when He comforted me in my darkest hours?
      St Peter: Tricks of the devil. I’m sorry, I need you to move on. You’re holding up the line. Please take the escalator to the left of the throne, the one marked goats. His left, not yours.

  • CMM

    Kamilla, I’d assume that since you’re so quick to dismiss the question, the answer must be obvious. Can you provide a biblical argument that proves someone with a modalist view of the trinity is not a true believer?

  • Kamilla

    Start with Matthew 3:13-17. There are parallel passages in the other Gospels which clearly show all three persons of the Trinity acting in concert. They do not depict God as an absolute unity who wears three separate masks.

    Then there are other Trinitarian formulations within the Scriptures, such as Paul’s greeting in the opening verses of Romans.

    Historically there are the creeds of the Church such as the Apostle’s creed, the Definition of Chalcedon and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. This latter was frequently used as a baptismal creed as well as in the liturgy of the Eucharist.

    Finally, it would be instructive to read New Advent’s entry for modalism. There you will see that Modalism was rejected as heresy in the third century (I think that is the correct time).

    IOW, it’s a done deal. Unless, of course, you want to embrace a sort of ecclesial
    Deism that says EVERYONE got this wrong until now.

  • RD

    Yankeegospelgirl and Kamilla,

    There’s not enough space hear to really get into a serious discussion about this issue. However, a close, careful, open reading of scripture reveals a couple of ways in which the early Jesus followers viewed the divinity of Jesus. There are certainly instances where Jesus is refered to as divine and as the divine son of God. There are also instances where he is referred to in the more traditional Jewish understanding of Messiah. The Messiah did not have to be divine – in fact, wasn’t even expected to be divine, rather, he was expected to be an annointed special servant. This Jewish understanding of Jesus as Messiah is expressed throughout the book of Acts. The book of Acts does not address Jesus as the son of God. Read Peter’s first recorded sermon at the great event of receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. How does Peter preach who Jesus was?

    “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” -Acts 2:22-24

    Throughout Acts Peter describes Jesus as a man whom God used and worked through. He was the Messiah (annointed one). Peter even describes Jesus as receiving the Holy Spirit – “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” -Acts 2:32-33.

    How does this fact, spoken of by Peter, square with strict trinitarian understanding? How would Jesus, being God, receive the Holy Spirit?

  • RD

    Here are some additional verses from Acts in which Jesus is depicted in the traditional understanding of Jewish Messiah (special annointed servant), and not divine son of God:

    “Men of Israel why does this surprise you?…The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus.” -Acts 3:13

    “You spoke through the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David….Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed….Stretch out your hand and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. -Acts 4:23-31. Note here that Jesus, like David, is described as God’s servant (again, the thoroughly Jewish understanding of Messiah). Also, why would the command not be to perform signs and wonders in the name of the son, as we commonly invoke today, instead of in the name of the holy servant?

    “You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached– how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” -Acts 10: 37-38 Notice the distinction here. God annointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and Jesus did good and healed because God was with him. It did not say because he was God. Another example of Jewish messianic understanding, which was not trinitarian.

    Compare the language of Acts with regard to Jesus as Messiah, with the prophecies in Isaiah regarding the nature of the coming Messiah:

    “After the suffering of his soul [We are told that the Messiah would have a soul. Would a divine Jesus have a soul? Does God have a soul?]….my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” -Isaiah 53:11

    “See, my servant will act wisely, he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” -Isaiah 52:13

  • CMM

    Kamilla, thank you for the response. You provided a scripture that supports the doctrine of the trinity, which I agree are all through the nt. But this doctrine is never systemetized in scripture and, as far as I know, there are no examples of someone being expelled from the body for misunderstanding it. Creeds and councils have their place but they’re not infallible, and we should be careful about judging someone’s soul based on their adherence to a creed. I’m not arguing that modalism is correct, I’m simply saying that I haven’t seen a compelling argument that one’s view of the trinity (as long as they affirm the deity of Jesus) is a salvation issue.

  • Dillon

    ” Nobody has stepped up to address his question. Does a person’s understanding of the nature of the trinity have eternal consequences? Does a person have to accept the Credal expression of the trinity in order to be saved? ”

    I’ve often thought that a true belief in the Trinity is something that’s revealed to us. Does it have eternal consequences? I think to a point we can only speculate, which, well, gets interesting doesn’t it?

    I think you have to look at Jakes, for example, and not just look at his belief in Trinity but what goes along with it. Generally, we could see that groups or various religious sects such as the Mormons, Pentacostals, JW’s, one I ran across quite a while ago, Iglesia ni Cristo, or any such similar false religion and their MO for denying the Trinity is that they must. The must reduce Christ to lift up another prophet or lift up the status of man. I heard a good bit of exposition on Romans 1:25 last night –

    Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

    Any system that doesn’t worship God above all else is false. Amazingly basic and true statement. T.D. Jakes exchanges the truth of God and worships the world and money. So in his case, yes, I do believe it makes an eternal difference.

  • Kamilla

    RD and CMM,

    Honestly, you both need to study Church history a bit before engaging further on this, including the fate of Sabellius. After that, you might want to consider the implications of Ecclesial Deism.

    Then, if you still want to cling to the position you both seem to hold, all. All I can say is that I would tremble to be in your shoes.


    • CMM


      At the risk of beating a dead horse, I’ll add a couple of last things and then I’ll be done.

      First, I never stated what position I hold, but for the record I think the trinitarian view best describes what’s presented in Scripture.

      Second, you never answered my question, and you’ve yet to provide a biblical argument that a person who disagrees with you on the doctrine of the trinity is condemned by this belief.

      Third, I’m not nearly as concerned about what men deem heresy as I am about what the Bible explicity condemns. And if we wanted to get into that, we could name plenty of the things that the modern church is involved in that goes against Scripture.

      Thanks for the conversation.

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