Some Thoughts on the Elephant Room

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.


  • Chris Blackstone

    I’m with you Denny. I wonder if, long term, what we’re seeing is an expanding of the tent of “generic evangelicalism” and an understanding that confessional evangelicalism will be a smaller, more doctrincally-focused group.

  • EAJ

    I really don’t get that folks seem to think TD Jakes is now Trinitarian. What I read, influence by what he continued to say and that no one examined the point further, is what he didn’t say when he said yes he believed God and three persons because I think when he says this he is still thinking God in three persons one at a time. Three meaning Tri to him and not three at the same time. He played with the words and Driscoll and McDonald let him. And in doing so they both simply anointed TD Jakes ministry.

    I have heard Mark Driscoll put down Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Joel Olsteen and send them zingers to make his point about their twisted teaching but he let TD Jakes slide. I don’t get that. I really don’t.

    • MBI3030

      I thought the same listening to a podcast of a clipping. TD Jakes was clearly toying with words. He is clearly a Oneness Pentecostal guy that needs correction. Voddie stood for a intergity when he had to turn down the Men’s Conference at Harvest.

  • Reg Schofield

    This was Jake’s doing what he does , sell whatever the audience wants. Driscoll as far as I’m concerned ,jumped the shark a while back , he was lame as was MacDonald in what I thought where really soft ball questions compared to the drilling Platt got , a solid Biblical man of God. Too bad it wasn’t someone like Dr, James White doing the questions , that would have been clear and to the point . Plus they didn’t even go anywhere near the non-gospel he proclaims . Sad to say the least.

  • Adam C

    “No Wavering.
    No Sidestepping.
    No Excuses”

    Copied direct from the Elephant Room website.

    Do you think MacDonald was consistent on this issue from Platt to Jakes? What a shame!
    He basically said he sidestepped MAJOR issues in order to preserve a long-term relationship. That sounds nice in theory (btw, I liked the analogy he made on his blog with his son-in-law), but what is the value of a long-term relationship in this situation? As we have observed, these are no minor issues – the prosperity “gospel”, the remaining Modalism issues. God and the Gospel – are there any bigger issues?! What a shame to drill a Godly, gospel-motivated man of God and pitch softballs to a person who has shaky theology at best. Shame on you MacDonald.

    In closing, I hope nobody leaves this forum thinking – what does Pastor X think about this issue? What would Pastor Y do in this situation? I hope we haven’t given into the celebrity culture to the extent of idolatry. I hope people left thinking, what does JESUS think about this situation in my life? How am I bringing glory to HIM in this situation? I just hope the best for all involved. I hope we served the mission of the church better (thinking of Gilbert and DeYoung’s new book here) and served God’s interest in all this. I hope the best, but fear the worst.

  • Paul

    “…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…”

    Can God’s grace not be used for all of these things?

  • Dan McGhee

    Denny, the damage that ER2 has done in the overall body of Christ is going to be felt in the years to come. Already I am hearing of conversations with younger, impressionable, college-aged men, who are headed for ministry and currently in Bible college studying for ministry, who are now wondering “What’s the big deal? TD Jakes affirmed the trinity.”

    For the life of me I can’t understand how otherwise solid men can’t see how this is going to lead to Jakes’ prosperity-theology being main-streamed into the evangelical church in the years to come. Not to mention, the idea that oneness theology and trinitarian theology “aren’t really that far apart because it’s only a matter of semantics” is now firmly planted into the soil of evangelicalism. Make no mistake, this thinking will sprout, grow, and spread in the days to come.

    All of this is the result of men being ENAMORED with mega-church pastor successes (numerically), which of course, is now being defined as “fruitfulness.” Obedience to 2 John 7-10 could have spared the church of Jesus Christ must damage that will no doubt result, and already is.

  • John Sandeman

    “the damage that ER2 has done in the overall body of Christ is going to be felt in the years to come”

    Now I know that Americans think your country is really important, but for one Meeting in the US to cause damage in the “the overall body of Christ” might be influenced by a theory of exceptionalism grounded in national pride and not the Bible. Just an observation.

    Whether or not the ER proves helpful in your country or “lead to Jakes’ prosperity-theology being main-streamed into the evangelical church” will depend on
    1) Whether the Er deals with the second elephant (can we expet one meeting to deal with all the elephants at one time.
    2) How successful the preachers opposed to prospertity theoogy outline their objections beyond conferences where all the speakers oppose it already.
    Grappling face to face with those with whom we disagree surely has its place.

  • Henry

    To be fair, James MacDonald has publicly acknowledged/repented for being too hard on David Platt. So he is being consistent.

    I too think the prosperity gospel that I have seen on youtube from Jakes’ is appalling.

    I think James MacDonald’s line is that on some issues he wanted to press further he decided not to do so because ‘the relationship was not yet ready’. As long as that is true and not just a cop out then I believe James’ path may ultimately be more likely to bear fruit, though I am not totally sure. I think we all try to be prudent about how much we challenge a person on at any one time.

  • Eric O

    So Mr. MacDonald didn’t want to press the issue, rather wanted to build bridges.
    I wonder what Apostle Paul would say to false teachers? Has God not given his opinion on what should be done with false teachers, how they should be treated, how to build bridges? Do we fear man more than we fear God.

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