I really love the guy, I really do. I’ve benefited from him and his ministry. But I think he’s dropped the ball here. Here’s why I think James MacDonald should not have invited Bishop T.D. Jakes to the 2012 Elephant Room.
If you’re not familiar with the whole issue here, let me be as succinct as possible:
Jakes is associated with Oneness Pentecostals, who deny the trinity uphold a belief in a modalistic god. Though he has never outrightly denied the trinity, he is a slippery fish when it comes to getting answers. It’s not hard to admit that you belief in the orthodox trinity. He hasn’t earned his reputation as a modalist for nothing.
Oh, and by the way, as that weren’t enough, Jakes preaches the despicable prosperity gospel. Bilking the poor and desperate out of their money by telling them if they give to his ministry they’ll be rewarded materially in this life. He’s cut from the same cloth as his co-health, wealth, and prosperity preacher Joel Osteen. Modalism has been considered a damnable heresy since the 2nd century– those who buy it are not Christian.
Anyway, that’s who James MacDonald invited to his “evangelical” conference.
While many are saying that the event will be a great time to hash out some details and perhaps even straighten out Jakes, it doesn’t seem likely. First of all, MacDonald denies Jakes’ modalism, and his prosperity preaching seems to be a non-issue. As far as MacDonald is concerned, they’re on the same team. What’s especially revealing is the Elephant Room website’s description of TD Jakes. Not a peep about the issues:
We are thrilled to announce that T.D. Jakes will be joining us at Elephant Room 2.
T. D. Jakes is a charismatic leader, visionary, provocative thinker, and entrepreneur who serves as Senior Pastor of The Potter’s House, a global humanitarian organization and 30,000-member church located in Dallas, Texas.
Named “America’s Best Preacher” by Time Magazine, Jakes’ voice reverberates from the world’s most prominent stages. Through a nexus of charitable works, T.D. Jakes extends a hand of help to the needy, heart of compassion to the hurting, and message of empowerment to the oppressed and disenfranchised.
We are looking forward to some candid conversation with Bishop Jakes at The Elephant Room 2
For those holding on to the last threads of hope that the Elephant Room won’t legitimize Jakes’ ministry, thinking that the other guys in the room will be man enough to call out the issues and confront them face-to-face, too late. He has already been legitimized. Just read the above paragraphs. Change a few names and they could be talking about C.J. Mahaney.
But isn’t it right to talk everything out? Talk face-to-face instead of blog-to-blog? Maybe Luther should have had called for a public, sit-down conversation with the pope, a few priests, and the treasurer who handled the indulgences before he nailed those 95 theses to the door. Maybe he should have never condemned them– conversation is more effective that confrontation, right? Maybe, unless Scripture has a better word. And it does:
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” (2 John 10-11).
I think in The Message it reads something like “do not let him speak at your conference” or something like that. How about this one:
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17)
Avoid them. Don’t give them a microphone and an audience. That’s not wise.
Thabiti Anyabwile has a different and very important perspective. In this article he makes the case that Jakes’ should not have been invited even more compelling. In 2007 he published a book titled The Decline of African-American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity (IVP). In the book, he has a section that digs into Jakes’ theology from his own books. What Anyabwile found was disheartening– a modalistic understanding of the Godhead.
Anyabwile writes from the perspective of a faithful African-American who has seen his “brothers according to the flesh” abandon sound doctrine:
That’s why it’s difficult to see larger-than-life heretics given a platform in circles of pastors and leaders we respect and we regard as co-laborers in defense and confirmation of the truth. I’m breaking no stories here. The news of T.D. Jakes’ invitation to the Elephant Room is widespread and rightly lamented by many. I’m just adding a perspective that hasn’t yet been stated: This kind of invitation undermines that long, hard battle many of us have been waging in a community often neglected by many of our peers. And because we’ve often been attempting to introduce African-American Christians to the wider Evangelical and Reformed world as an alternative to the heresy and blasphemy so commonplace in some African-American churches and on popular television outlets, the invitation of Jakes to perform in “our circles” simply feels like a swift tug of the rug from beneath our feet and our efforts to bring health to a sick church. (bold added)
To Anyabwile, this is a big deal. His life work (which is mine, and every of Christian’s too) is being undermined. It’s true that when Christians attack Christians the mission is distracted. But it’s equally true that when Christians affirm heretics that the mission is undermined. I can hear the world saying, wait, what’s a Christian again? Oh yeah– they’re the guys on TV scamming the needy.
At the end of the article, he shares his conflicted heart– what to do with ol’ MacDonald:
Can I really endorse or remain quiet on an event that features a heretic I’m committed to opposing in writing? I don’t think so. That decision is easy for me. More difficult: Can I really endorse or support a brother who willingly associates with such a heretic and extends them a platform? Painful. Sobering. It’s a brother in Christ (MacDonald) making a bad decision affecting a mass of people.
Challies is right, MacDonald has the right to do whatever he wants at his event. I am just baffled that anyone who want to give a platform to a guy who can’t ascribe to a simple trinitarian doctrinal statement.
Having a discussion among Christian leaders is great– even Christian leaders who think differently and believe differently on certain periphery biblical doctrines. This has been done well in the past. But if you market your event as something for brothers in Christ to sharpen each other and then turn around and invite someone outside the bounds of orthodoxy, you’re setting up a fool’s court. The wolf is going to don his wool and answer all the questions with perfect soundness. Of course he is. That’s what wolves do.
All that to say, I am saddened by this misstep. I hope the damage is minimal. And I hope James MacDonald, a brother whom I am grateful for, changes his mind quickly. And I hope that this Elephant Room extravaganza heightens an awareness for the need to protect sound doctrine.