Elephant Room 2: may we now regard T.D. Jakes as Trinitarian and orthodox?

James MacDonald’s invitation to T.D. Jakes to participate in The Elephant Room 2 has been nothing if not controversial, as I outlined in my previous post. MacDonald’s invitation to Jakes was no doubt well intentioned, and part of the motivation was surely to help break down the racial divide still all too evident in the visible church within the United States. Such intentions are commendable.

Why, then, was MacDonald’s invitation to T.D. Jakes controversial? For two primary reasons:

  1. Since he began his ministry, Jakes has been associated with the heresy of modalism, and has hitherto refused to embrace orthodox Trinitarian creeds or formulas.
  2. Jakes has consistently preached a false prosperity gospel, promising people that God will bless them materially if they give generously to Jakes’ ministry.

The Heresy of modalism vs. the orthodox view of the Trinity

Before we can examine Jakes’ statements at the Elephant Room, it is necessary to understand both the heresy of modalism and the Church’s historic orthodox confession of the Trinity.

In his excellent book, Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church, Harold O.J. Brown (Ph.D. Harvard University, and professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical International University) writes this about modalism (p. 99):

The word “modalism” is unfamiliar to most Christians, yet it is the most common theological error among people who think themselves orthodox. It is the simplest way to explain the Trinity while preserving the oneness of God; unfortunately, it is incorrect. Adoptionism [the heresy that Jesus became God at his baptism] preserved the unity of the godhead by sacrificing the deity of Christ; modalism, by abandoning the personhood of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Modalism frequently reappears as the result of failure to teach the doctrine of the Trinity clearly. An implicit or naive modalism is sometimes found in modern fundamentalistic circles that insist on the deity of Christ but are unwilling to make the theological effort to formulate a clear doctrine of the Trinity.

Modalism upholds the deity of Christ, but does not see him as a distinct Person vis-à-vis the Father. It holds that God reveals himself under different aspects or modes [hence, modalism] in different ages—as the Father in Creation and in the giving of the Law, as the Son in Jesus Christ, and as the Holy Spirit after Christ’s ascension. Modalism stresses the full deity of Christ and thus does justice to the tremendous impact he made upon his age, and it avoids the suggestion that he is a second God alongside the Father. Unfortunately it abandons the diversity of Persons within the godhead, and thus loses the important concept that Christ is our representative or advocate with the Father.

Notice that the error of modalism is not that it denies God’s working distinctively as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – modalism expressly affirms this – but rather, that it denies the existence of three distinct Persons within the Godhead.

In theological language, modalism affirms an economic trinity (three distinctive ways of God’s working), but denies an ontological Trinity (three distinct Persons subsisting in one Godhead). Thus, modalists are able to affirm their belief in a trinity, but what they are confessing by that term is something other than the essential doctrine of the Trinity taught by the historic orthodox Christian Faith and believed by the Christian Church throughout the ages.

With Brown’s explanation of modalism in mind, read the statement of belief concerning God from the website of Jakes’ own congregation, The Potter’s House:

There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is immediately clear that this is the language of classic modalism, not that of Trinitarian orthodoxy.

We need also to understand why modalism is a deadly error condemned by the Church.

Here is Brown, again (Heresies, p. 99):

Logically, modalism makes the events of redemptive history a kind of charade. Not being a distinct person, the Son cannot really represent us to the Father. Modalism must necessarily be docetic [believing that Jesus’ physical body was an illusion] and teach that Christ was human in appearance only; the alternative, on the basis of modalistic presuppositions, is that God himself died on the Cross. Since such an idea is considered absurd—except by death-of-God theologians—the normal consequence is the conclusion that while Christ was fully God, he only appeared to be man.

Brown continues his discussion, explaining why some find modalism attractive (Heresies, p. 100):

Like adoptionism, modalism has a basis in Scripture. The adoptionists emphasize the Synoptic Gospels [Matthew, Mark and Luke] and their portrayal of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism. The modalists emphasize the Gospel of John with its statements stressing the oneness of Christ with the Father, for example, “I and my Father are one,” and, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 10:30, 14:9). Instead of understanding these verses to mean that Christ is a second Person in perfect communion with the Father, they are taken to mean that he and the Father are a single Person, in other words, that he is the Father.

The word “one” in the Greek text of John 10:30 is the neuter hen, which suggests that the meaning is “one deity, one divine essence,” rather than one Person, but this is a rather sophisticated insight. It makes sense only if one can conceive of God as subsisting in distinct Persons, namely, in the Father and the Son (and of course in the Holy Spirit as well). Anyone who has not yet been able to formulate the concept of the Trinity in this explicit way will of course find it simpler and more plausible to understand Christ as saying, “I and the Father are one Person,” in other words, as presenting himself as a mode of the Father.

If the Son is not a real Person who can stand before the Father and address him, then the later Christian concept of substitutionary satisfaction, which holds that Christ takes our place and pays our debt to the Father, becomes at best a symbol, not a reality. Where modalism prevails, the concept of substitutionary satisfaction, or vicarious atonement, will necessarily be absent, and so modalism is sometimes adopted by those who object to the doctrine of vicarious atonement. More commonly, however, it simply arises as an attempt to reduce the mystery of the Trinity to a more understandable concept, even at the cost of the true humanity of Jesus and the doctrine of substitutionary satisfaction.

Modalism is considered heresy because it necessarily means that either Christ did not really become incarnate, or else that the Son is not a distinct Person from the Father who can take our place and pay a ransom to Him (Matt. 20:28). Either the Word did not really become flesh, and thus Jesus did not die with a real physical body or shed His real blood, or else Christ cannot make satisfaction for us to the Father and be our Advocate with Him. In other words, one way or another, modalism necessarily invalidates the central doctrine of the entire Christian faith: that Jesus died bodily for our sins, rose from the dead, and is even now our Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1), making intercession for us with Him (Rom. 8:34).

Modalism thus destroys the basis of the Christian Faith.

One can, of course, mistakenly hold modalistic beliefs out of ignorance. But one cannot understand and confess modalism while simultaneously holding on to the historic orthodox Christian faith. The two are simply incompatible.

By the early fourth century, the Arian heresy was raging. Arianism taught that, although divine, Jesus was nevertheless a created being. (Jehovah’s Witnesses are modern day Arians.) The Church responded to the Arian heresy with the Nicene Creed, adopted in its original form by the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325 and subsequently revised:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets. And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

(Note that the English word ‘catholic’ is derived from the Greek word meaning ‘universal’. When the Nicene Creed uses the word ‘catholic’, it is simply referring to the fact that the true Christian Church is universal, or worldwide.)

The Nicene Creed enabled the Church to distinguish between those teaching and believing the Arian heresy, and those who were believing, teaching and confessing the historic orthodox Christian Faith delivered by the Apostles and recorded in the Scriptures.

Further heresies arose, including modalism. The Church therefore developed language and confessions to refute those heresies. By the early sixth century, the Church was using the Athanasian Creed. The text of this creed is carefully designed to exclude a number of Trinitarian and Christological heresies. It adopts the earlier language of Augustine’s On the Trinity (415 AD), and the confession concerning the Trinity arising from the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD). The Athanasian Creed therefore reflects the historic orthodox Christian Faith as received from the Apostles, recorded in Scripture, and understood by the worldwide Christian Church.

Here is the text of the Athanasian Creed:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic [universal] faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three Eternals, but one Eternal. As there are not three Uncreated nor three Incomprehensibles, but one Uncreated and one Incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.

The Father is made of none: neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before or after other; none is greater or less than another; But the whole three Persons are coeternal together, and coequal: so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped. He, therefore, that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of His mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood; Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ: One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead; He ascended into heaven; He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.

This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.

We have thus seen that modalism is a dangerous heresy, and was condemned as such by the early Church. Modalism is fundamentally antithetical to the Christian Faith and incompatible with any proper understanding of Christ’s bodily death in our place for our sins.

We have also seen the specific language that the early Church carefully crafted to confess Christian truth, and thereby to distinguish heretics from those who believed, taught and confessed ‘the Faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3).

More recent confessions continue to reflect the understanding of the Trinity expressed by Augustine, the Council of Chalcedon, and the Nicene Creed. Here, for example, is the Westminster Confession of Faith’s succinct summary (produced in 1646) of Biblical truth concerning the Trinity (chapter II, article 3):

In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, not proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

What does Jakes confess?

Many people are excited by what Jakes said in The Elephant Room 2 (ER2) in his conversation with Mark Driscoll, with James MacDonald moderating. These people believe that, for the first time, Jakes publicly confessed his belief in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.

Since independent apologists were deliberately excluded from ER2, with one even being threatened with arrest, and because official video and audio of the event has not yet been made available, we have to rely on those who were present to tell us what Jakes said. Trevin Wax, managing Editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay, is a reliable and credible witness. He has posted a summary of the detailed notes that he took during the event. This is Wax’s record of the conversation with Jakes concerning the Trinity:

MacDonald: Apparently (to Jakes), there has been confusion about what you believe.

Jakes: My situation is not that different from his. My father was Methodist. My mother was Baptist. I was raised in a Baptist church. But I was raised in church without a committed experience with Christ when my father died. My conversion to Christ took place in a Oneness church.

Driscoll: By Oneness meaning?

Jakes: It was not a UPC church. It was similar.

Driscoll: Jesus only, modalism?

Jakes: They 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.

(Jakes is going through Jesus’ baptism and the “let us” at creation.) 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. There is very little difference between what I believe and what you believe. But I don’t think anything that any of us believes fully describes what God is. We in our finite minds cannot fully describe what God is.

Driscoll: We all would agree that in the nature of God there is mystery. But within that, for you, Bishop Jakes, the issue is one God manifesting Himself successively in three ways? Or one God existing eternally in three persons? What is your understanding now? Which one?

Jakes: 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. There are many people within and outside denominations labeled Oneness that would be okay with this. We are taught in society that when we disagree with someone in a movement, we leave. But I still have associations with people in Onenness movements. We need to humble both sides and say, “We are trying to describe a God we love.” Why should I fall out and hate and throw names at you when it’s through a glass darkly? None of our books on the Godhead will be on sale in heaven.

Now, we all err to a degree in our beliefs. And, when we discover our error, it is right and proper not only that we unreservedly embrace the truth, but also that we repent of our error and renounce it.

In summary, Jakes stated his position to be this:

  1. He believes that orthodox Trinitarian doctrine fits some passages of Scripture but not others. (If Oneness doctrine fits some passages of Scripture then, by definition, Trinitarianism does not, as the two are mutually exclusive.)
  2. He does not believe that the issue of modalism vs. Trinitarianism is one that should divide what he perceives to be the body of Christ. (This is also exactly what Apprising.org documented in November 2011.) In other words, Jakes’ considers that one’s beliefs concerning the Trinity are not a matter of fundamental import to the Christian Faith.
  3. He affirms that he believes in ‘One God – Three Persons’, but is ‘not crazy about the word persons though’, and prefers to use the term ‘manifestations’, based on a single (misapplied) Bible verse. The statement of belief on his own congregation’s website does not use the word ‘three Persons’, but ‘three manifestations’.

Compare each of these three points with the settled historic orthodox Christian position:

  1. The doctrine of the Trinity is taught by all the relevant Scriptures and, properly understood, none of them contradicts it. (That is, orthodox Trinitarianism fits all the Scriptures and reflects its whole counsel.)
  2. From the time that modalism first arose, the Church has always unreservedly condemned it as a heresy that is fundamentally incompatible with the Gospel and Christian Faith. (Recall the final sentence of the Athanasian Creed: ‘This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.’)
  3. The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity specifically and definitively affirms three Persons of one substance (or subsistence), power, and eternity. The formulas used to express this doctrine have always been intentionally crafted to exclude the possibility of the Godhead being understood as a tri-unity of three manifestations of one Person.

Based on his actual words, is it the case that Jakes clearly and unequivocally affirmed the historic orthodox understanding of the Trinity? Did Jakes show that he understood the word ‘person’ as being resolutely in opposition to the word ‘manifestation’? Did he demonstrate that he understood the centrality of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity to the Gospel – Christ really and bodily crucified for our sins and raised from the dead, now at the right hand of the Father and interceding there as our Advocate with Him? Did Jakes repent of his former error of modalism, plainly repudiating that heresy as a valid Christian belief?

The answers to all these questions should be self evident.

It should also be abundantly clear that, even if Jakes personally believes in the Trinity, his refusal to condemn modalism as a heresy puts him outside the bounds of orthodoxy and places him at odds with the ecumenical creeds of the Christian Church.

Furthermore, ER2 achieved absolutely nothing with respect to clarifying Jakes’ views on the Trinity, because Jakes said nothing in ER2 that he has not said before.

On the 15 November 2011, Dan Phillips explained his objections to MacDonald’s invitation of Jakes. Phillips clearly linked to a September 2011 article on Here I Blog, documenting Jakes’ refusal in 2010 to reject unambiguously the heresy of modalism. The author of that article provides an extensive transcript of an interview with Jakes, conducted in 2010 by Sheridan Voysey on his show, Open House Interviews. The most pertinent extract is this:

Voysey: But what about your personally? [There is some crosstalk and the host points out that Jakes’ church has a doctrinal statement that uses the word “manifestation” which is a term used by Oneness groups.]

Jakes: Yes, but my church is non-denominational. And we embrace people regardless of what denomination they come from. I believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I believe that they are three Persons. I believe that in a way that Persons is a limited word for the Godhead. And even those who adhere to that say that to be true. But I think the issue is that they are distinctive. There are things that can be said about the Father that couldn’t be said about the Son and then the Holy Spirit… I believe that. I’ve grown into that, but I came into a Pentacostal church that happened to be Oneness. They loved me at a time that my father died. I became friends with them and in covenant with them and embraced them. And though I don’t agree with everything, and they don’t agree with everything, they’re evolving as a people.

Jakes here asserted that he believed in ‘three Persons’. He thus said nothing in ER2 that he hadn’t before.

Why did Jakes’ utterance of the phrase ‘three Persons’ not settle the matter? Simply, because the rest of Jakes’ language was ambivalent, and he failed to reject modalism as being incompatible with the Christian Faith.

Indeed, Jakes expressly states that he considers ‘Persons’ to be ‘a limited word for the Godhead’. What, exactly, does that statement mean? Is Jakes saying that the Godhead must subsist in multiple Persons? Or is he saying that, when he uses the word ‘Persons’, he simply means ‘Godhead’, and that his statements – including those he made in ER2 – should be understood accordingly (in which case, he most certainly did not affirm Trinitarian orthodoxy)? Is Jakes affirming orthodoxy, or denying it? The language is ambiguous, and this shows why it is essential that Trinitarian beliefs be tested by whether someone is willing to affirm Trinitarian doctrine using the tried-and-tested language of the historic orthodox Christian creeds and confessions. A first year seminary student knows this – MacDonald and Driscoll can surely not be in ignorance.

The author of the article on Here I Blog explains:

I asked Facebook friend, author and scholar, Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, who has published two books on the Trinity, his thoughts on Jakes’ comments in the above interview. Beisner replied:

Far, far, far too little evidence there to justify reclassifying Jakes as Trinitarian granted all he’s said before and his continuing to consider United Pentecostals his Christian brothers. Nothing quoted there falls outside what any reasonably sly and sophisticated United Pentecostal could say. Let Jakes clearly and explicitly affirm such clear Trinitarian statements as the Nicene Creed, the Symbol of Chalcedon, the Athanasian Creed, or even just Warfield’s summary–There is but one God; the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit each is God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each is a distinct Person–and then let him also repudiate the anti-Trinitarian statements of United Pentecostalism and other modalist sects, and it’ll be time to declare him converted to the true God. My impression is that Jakes is simply out to gain the trust of larger groups than the Oneness and Pentecostal crowd in which he’s been at home.

As I see it, there is cause for concern over giving Jakes a platform with Evangelical Christians. It would be great if Jakes were loving confronted on his positions with Scripture so he can clearly say what he means. Even if it could be shown that Jakes is now Trinitarian it would seem from the few examples listed above that he is not carrying out the pastoral duties of the role which he claims to fill.

When it comes to T.D. Jakes and Elephant Room it seems there is a lack of discernment when it comes to association.

Dr. Beisner is completely correct. For Jakes to be considered orthodox, let him clearly and explicitly affirm a clear, orthodox Trinitarian creed or formula. And let him ‘repudiate the anti-Trinitarian statements of United Pentecostalism and other modalist sects’. Until he does both of these things, the controversy will remain unresolved, and it is unsafe to regard him as orthodox.

MacDonald was duly warned by Dan Phillips what was required from Jakes for him to be considered orthodox. MacDonald was also pressured by the leaders of The Gospel Coalition. And yet, neither MacDonald nor Driscoll showed any awareness of the need to push Jakes to make an unequivocal affirmation of Trinitarian belief in the language of an accepted orthodox formula. Nor did they suggest to Jakes in their conversation that he needed to repudiate the anti-Trinitarian statements of the modalist sects with which he has associated.

Instead, MacDonald and Driscoll have allowed Jakes once again to give the impression of orthodoxy, without requiring him to have demonstrated its substance. Furthermore, they have been responsible, along with Steven Furtick, of introducing him – and commending him as orthodox – to the huge new audience of mainstream evangelicalism. And finally, they have done a disservice to T.D. Jakes himself, by not driving him to clarify his position in unambiguous terms – either to exonerate his name, or to lay bare his error so that he may be lovingly called to repentance.

MacDonald concluded the ER2 session with these words:

The issue of the Trinity is not a small thing. It is central to Christianity and a pillar of orthodoxy. However, when a man confesses his trinitarianism, and people say, “Is he Trinitarian enough?” That’s when we need to turn down the rhetoric and let a man’s confession and fruitfulness speak for itself.

MacDonald is right in this: the issue of the Trinity is no small thing. But MacDonald knew beforehand what was required from Jakes in this conversation, and MacDonald did not deliver. MacDonald has merely inflamed the controversy and sown the seeds of confusion into the wider church.

Having considered the ‘man’s confession’, let us now turn to Jakes’ ‘fruitfulness’.

What does Jakes teach?

In my comprehensive review of Jakes’ Code Orange Revival Sermon, I compared the content of Jakes’ teaching to the Scriptures. MacDonald’s lavish commendation of that sermon was somewhat in contrast to my own assessment.

Who am I to have been so bold as to review Jakes’ sermon? Well, Paul instructs the Thessalonians to ‘Test all things; hold fast what is good’ (1 Thess. 5:21). Luke, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, commends the Jews of Berea for scrutinizing even the teaching of the Apostle Paul:

Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

(Acts 17:10–11)

No one, therefore – not even St. Paul the Apostle – is beyond Biblical scrutiny. It is the privilege of even the most lowly saint to test everything that he or she hears spoken in God’s name with His written word, to find out whether the things spoken are so.

There is, of course, no intrinsic reason why you should accept my assessment of Jakes’ sermon over MacDonald’s. So go to the Scriptures for yourself, be like the Bereans, and ask this: ‘Who has made their case carefully in accordance with the Scriptures?’

Someone might object that it is unfair to judge Jakes’ doctrine on the basis of a single sermon. A sermon, perhaps. But that one?

Still, let us give Jakes the benefit of the doubt and examine more of what he teaches.

Do MacDonald and Driscoll affirm the promises that Jakes makes on behalf of God in this video, and the basis upon which he makes them? (The context for this clip is provided by the final video below.)

And do they affirm what Jakes believes concerning non-Christians and unrepentant sinners going to heaven?

(The two young men in that video show immeasurably greater Biblical discernment than either MacDonald or Driscoll.)

Do MacDonald and Driscoll find the following to be a faithful exegesis and legitimate application of 2 Kings 6:4–6? (You may safely skip the first three or four minutes.)

Has Jakes repudiated and repented of any of this teaching?

Do these videos – and there are many others readily available showing similar teaching – evidence the sort of ‘fruitfulness’ that MacDonald and Driscoll would commend as demonstrating a pastor’s orthodoxy?

Apparently so, as evidenced by this post-ER2 tweet:

What say you, Pastor James and Pastor Mark? Will you now repudiate the teaching of Jakes that is on display here? Will you, out of love for him and for the flock over which the Lord has made you shepherds, call him to repent?

How very far have we have fallen.

Yet even this, our great sin of apostasy, can be forgiven. May the Lord have mercy on his Church, cause us to repent, and to trust in Him for the remission of all our sins, and in His righteousness put to our account.

But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

(2 Tim. 3:14–4:5)

…Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.

(Eph. 5:25–27)

Further reading


A full transcript of the session is now available, courtesy of Tom Chantry. There are minor wording differences from that quoted above, but nothing substantive. Tom also has a link to an unofficial video of the session.

45 thoughts on “Elephant Room 2: may we now regard T.D. Jakes as Trinitarian and orthodox?”

  1. “Elephant Room 2: may we now regard T.D. Jakes as Trinitarian and orthodox?”

    I suppose that even after this post, this question will still be open.

    Some will say yes, some will say no, and some will say that it’s still unclear.

  2. ER2 is not designed to answer any of that. It is designed to blur any distinctions even more and bring about “prosperity” shenanigan scam into broad levenjellycalism and broad day light for one and simple reason: MONEY. Harvest Bible Chapel and many other churches like that are heavily indebted to banks. We are talking about millions of dollars here. The giving went down in US and not only there but those bank loans and projects and massive amounts of money needed for operating costs these churches have every month have to be paid this or that way also every month. Just Harvest Rolling Meadows conservatively has at least 60 people on paid staff. Multiply this amount just by an average $4000 a month salary and we get very close of a quarter of a million dollars just for salaries, just for this one location. This is super conservative estimate as many of main Harvest staff draw far above average salaries. MacDonald and team is seeking new strategy of attracting and receiving money for that is the only way the could go to have a chance and a shot to sustain their salaries and massive church expenses in the future. Of course this is a gamble and a sell out of orthodoxy for the sake more profitable orthodoxy a la Jakes who is a master of spiritual scam and money siphoning from his entranced listeners. Sadly, this is where Harvest and MacDonald is heading unless God will restrain this…

  3. Excellent assessment of the issue and very well put. I agree with you 100%

  4. Jakes’ comment in that second video about Jesus saying He has “other sheep not of this fold” (which, clearly, in context means Gentiles), was used by the Presiding Bishop of the ECUSA Katherine Jefforts Schiori to defend the same “openness” toward those who do not confess Christ.

  5. Sadly there is nothing new or revelutionary about some “evangelicals” seeking “unity” with as many as possible. I have been re-reading Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones on the “Basis of Church Unity”, from 1962, included in his book “knowing the Times” published by Banner of Truth. He highlights the importance “in these days when scarcely any standards are recognized, to observe the detailed instruction which the apostle gives about this.” He goes on to comment on Eph 4:4 “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;”
    So this matter of being cunning in how words is used to disguise error as truth goes right back to the New Testement era. It is right to be very cautious when dealing with a famous leader who has at any time lacked public clarity on a very foundational doctrine of the Church.

    1. Agreed, Les.

      What happened at ER2 is an expression of the belief that clearly defined and defended sound doctrine is harmful to Christian unity. This, of course, contrasts with the Biblical doctrine that true unity of faith arises from a shared understanding of the objective truth taught by Scripture (cf. Eph. 4).

  6. I agree with you Despeville. Another point being that people are trusting thse scam artists like Jakes, Meyers, Hinn et al and not trusting God. A better way would be to give their money to the poor and ask God to add a blessing to their lives, obviosly not for giving to the poor, but just in need from a loving God. Money can’t buy salvation.


  7. Dear Daniel,

    After reading several different perspectives on this issue I am grieved.

    Calling all Machens, Luthers, Spurgeons and the like….

    Godly theologians of scholarship and academic backgrounds certainly should understand how crucial the Trinity is to Orthodox Christianity.

    The generic layperson probably has little to no understanding of the importance of the Council of Nicaea. They can not comprehend the significance of the debate between Arius and Athanasius, which ironically boiled down to contention over one “iota”.
    Praise be to God that Athanasius had the fortitude to win the day (with God’s sovereign hand) and thus secure the doctrine of the Trinity.

    Reginald Heber (1783-1826) felt so strongly about the Trinity that he wrote the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” which we sing to remind us of “God in three persons, blessed Trinity”.

    The doctrine of the Trinity is a “load bearing” wall, and the attempt to knock it out inorder to make the room “bigger” will eventually result in a collapsed house.

    There are so many preeminent theologians of our day, my prayer is that they will move from passive faith to active faith and contend for the faith at this crucial juncture.

    As always, thank you for having the courage to raise the issue:)

    Blessings, charisse

    1. “The doctrine of the Trinity is a “load bearing” wall, and the attempt to knock it out in order to make the room “bigger” will eventually result in a collapsed house.”

      That is an excellent illustration, not only for the issue of the Trinity, but any other foundational doctrines. 🙂

  8. Why all the yelling and screeming, mind tricks, stupid complicated so called sermon why not a simple salvation message as Jesus taught! These preachers are not our leaders nor men of God they just have created a group of people to control with stories of wealth , hipe and lies.
    I was in the prison ministry for years and seen many sincere groups come to minister to the inmates they never yelled told lies or preached that God was going to get them out of the jam they got thenselves into but rather a simple savation message of the cross and how Jesus died for us and to believe in Him and the one that sent Him{GOD} nothing complicatd like TD jakes talks about nonsense stupid nonsense!
    I seen hundreds accept Jesus simple salvation message with hope for the future and many changed lives Oh! that simple salvation message>
    Never did anyone ever fall backwards, act insane, yell in tongues, roll on the floor, laught,make animal noise or act stupid as do the Tv preachers do but they showed remor se and repentance.

  9. I love how McDonald says “he blew us away with his biblical solidity!”
    My question then is why didn’t he use any of this ‘biblical solidity’ in the elephant room?
    If he blew you away with biblical solidity, it must have been before the show or when the cameras weren’t on, because I haven’t heard or seen anything biblically solid from Jakes. Ever.

  10. To the author of this blog:
    I think you should seriously read the book “The oneness of God” by David K. Bernard (son of the founder of the United Pentacostals) Modalism and Oneness slightly different, but as far as I know neither doctrine asserts that Christ’s body was only an illusion. (I read the book because I had to write a paper on “Oneness versus the Trinity” it at my bible college)
    I am not saying Modalism is the perfect answer to the mystery of the Godhead, but before we criticize it and rip it apart, we should at least know what it wants to say.

    1. Thank you for the reference. I appreciate your comments.

      I think part of the problem here is that there is a wide variety of beliefs among Oneness Pentecostals (see here, for example). Note too that Jakes was not UPCI (United Pentecostal), as he pointed out in his ER2 conversation. Since Jakes is rather reticent to spell out exactly what it is that he believes in unambiguous terms, one is left to proceed based on what he has said, and any rebuttal must therefore necessarily be broad-brushed in certain respects. We do have his congregation’s statement of faith, of course, and his words at ER2 and in other interviews he has given. (One might also think to look at the Higher Ground Always Abounding Assemblies, Inc. website, since Jakes is still listed as Vice Prelate of that organization. However, there do not appear to be any doctrinal statements there.)

      Now, no one is arguing that individual modalists necessarily follow their beliefs consistently to their logical conclusions. What Dr. Harold O. J. Brown does in the quotations I cite from him, is to point out the logical consequence of modalistic belief – either docetism, or some form of patripassianism. I was originally following Dr. Brown’s lead in opting for the former as the more likely expression of modalism but, as a result of your comment, I have modified the relevant paragraph in this article to leave open the latter possibility.

      I understand that Dr. Bernard believes that his brand of Oneness theology is effectively the same thing as modalistic monarchianism, provided one is careful to exclude patripassianism. One can of course reject the charge of docetism, and also deny patripassianism by asserting that the being who died was the manifestation of God designated by the appellation ‘Son’. But that is a distinction without a difference if one simultaneously asserts that the Son is the same Person as the Father, and existed as the Father prior to His incarnation.

  11. Thank you for the detailed explanation of modelism, which to be honest, I never heard of before reading these posts on T. D. Jakes. I have been asking folks for more over 20 years to explain Gnosticism, and the more I hear it explained the more confused I become. Could you help me with this? Thank you.

  12. This whole discussion is sad. Either Jakes WHOLE teaching and evidence of his fruit is heritical or not. While we are again giving energy to this the plenteous harvest is not being served because tha laborors are bickering again. Wake up brothers do you think God is pleased with this?

  13. It seems you misrepresent T. D. Jakes comments in one spot of this article. You might want to take a second look at it. You reach the conclusion:

    “He believes that orthodox Trinitarian doctrine fits some passages of Scripture but not others”

    Based on this summary of his comment:

    “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.”

    However, the context is clear in the full transcript of the session that he is not talking about the doctrine of the Trinity, he is talking about Oneness doctrine. Here is the relevant portion:

    “My struggle after I was ordained and consecrated within the Oneness church was in some passages, sometimes the doctrine fits; sometimes it doesn’t. And when the doctrine becomes the primary thing you force it into many places where it really doesn’t fit. I really at this point in my life don’t want to force my theology to fit within my denomination.”

    This was in response to a question to share the background on his moving away from Oneness teaching. This seems a rather substantive difference to me? He goes on to reference some examples in scripture which clearly contradict Oneness doctrine that were helpful in his moving towards a Trinitarian view.

    1. Jonathan,

      I understand the point you are making, and I share your desire for precision. However, having re-read Jakes’ words and my assertions, I do not believe that I am misrepresenting Jakes.

      If Oneness doctrine fits some passages of Scripture then, by definition, Trinitarianism does not, for the two are mutually exclusive. Jakes’ view is clearly still that Oneness doctrine fits some passages and that orthodox Trinitarian doctrine does not – he even gives the example of 1 Timothy 3:16, and uses that in defence of the word ‘manifestations’ and against the word ‘persons’. Of course, that passage does not fit Oneness doctrine at all – it relates to the incarnation of Christ. As Carson and Keller explain:

      That brings us to the second step: his appeal to 1 Timothy 3:16. “God was manifest in the flesh” (KJV): apparently Pastor Jakes, not to mention some of his post-ER2 supporters, thinks this line supports his preference for three manifestations rather than three persons. It does no such thing; this is scandalously bad exegesis. Note: (a) For this verse to support the preference for manifestations terminology, it would have to support the proposition that God was manifest in the Father, God was manifest in the Son, and God was manifest in the Spirit–for that is what the “manifestations” terminology, applied to the Godhead, is all about. (b) In other words, the “manifest” verb in 1 Timothy 3:16 is not a technical expression justifying three “manifestations,” but common language that means God displayed himself in the flesh or expressed himself in the flesh or appeared in the flesh. That is why the NIV renders the passage, “He appeared in the flesh.” Should we conclude that this rendering, perfectly accurate, justifies a theory of three appearances?

      Grace and peace.

      1. Here is scripture you might want to look at.

        Romans 9:5
        New International Version (NIV)

        5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised![a] Amen.

      2. I agree there are still issues in general, no doubt. It’s just this one spot jumped out at me as I read your article that it didn’t match up with what I remembered from the full transcript. Even if someone is criticizing the most extreme prosperity gospel teaching out there (or even outright cults or other religions), it should still be done in context and taking the speakers words as they meant them without extrapolation. Thank you for your response. 🙂

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