James MacDonald, TD Jakes, heresy & what it takes to be a Christian
I’ve been following the lead up to the Elephant Room 2 since it was announced that TD Jakes would be a part of it, & people started calling for James MacDonald’s head for inviting him.
To be honest, I had heard the name TD Jakes & knew he was an African American pastor, but beyond that much, I knew nothing about him. So I read a few blogs posts (here, here, & here) about why this was supposedly a terrible move for MacDonald to make. As I understood it at the time, Jakes was thought to believe in modalism rather than Trinitarianism. This would be a problem because modalism is considered a heresy, and if this is truly Jakes’ stand then inviting him to an inherently Christian event would give credence to his beliefs. As Tim Challies put it:
By way of context, we need to remember that The Elephant Room is a meeting by Christians and for Christians, and even more, by Christian leaders and for Christian leaders. Inherent in inviting T.D. Jakes is the understanding that he is a Christian. Which presents a problem because inherent in modalism is the understanding that such a person is not a Christian.
So, if modalists are not Christians, & if Jakes is a modalist, & if the Elephant Room 2 is strictly a Christian event, then it seems that some of the criticism of MacDonald may have been justified. And I believe that of the blog reactions I read, the writers were genuinely concerned & not just trying to stir up trouble.
Then MacDonald resigned from The Gospel Coalition. The resignation occurred the day before Elephant Room 2 & somewhat understandably sparked some conspiracy theories. Along those lines, I came across this post. In this case, the tone seems to have changed to a dismissing of MacDonald a la Rob Bell. There is an assumption that this series of events means that MacDonald has become a heretic but we just haven’t yet seen the smoking gun proof. I personally think that at this point that’s a big jump especially in light of MacDonald’s full body of work.
I did not have the opportunity to watch Elephant Room 2, but I found Ed Stetzer’s reflection (based on Trevin Wax’s live-blogged transcript) helpful. Jakes essentially stated that he now holds a Trinitarian view, & it seems to me that we should take him at his word. As Stetzer points out:
Think about who participated in the Elephant Room– Driscoll, MacDonald, Jack Graham, and Crawford Loritts among them. It is telling that these men– recognized as orthodox evangelicals– readily received Jakes’ statement, with Graham having been a prayer partner with Bishop Jakes for the last 10 years. Some might say they are all just naïve, but I’ve preached for Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald and do not find them to be theologically unaware or easily fooled on matters of orthodoxy. I think they are simply willing to believe the man at his word.
All of the above, leads me to this–I understand that preachers/teachers are judged more strictly (James 3:1) so it is of grave importance that someone like Jakes (or even a so-called “ordinary pastor”) must be careful that what he is teaching is actually the truth. But this leads me to a couple of related questions.
1. Since Jakes has indicated that he has moved from a non-Trinitarian to a Trinitarian view through the study of Scripture, does this mean that for at least part of his public ministry he was unsaved, or that he was saved but through progressive sanctification he was brought to a more correct understanding of God?
2. How does this apply to the average Joe Schmo Christian who initially has great difficulty understanding exactly how the whole 3-yet-1 thing works (& honestly who doesn’t have trouble comprehending it?) & might in his mind ascribe to a modalist way of thinking early in his Christian life but later sees the truth in a Trinitarian understanding of God?