Modalists maintain that there is one God and that he exists in three Persons -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- but not simultaneously. Instead, modalists use language like “God exists in three manifestations,” inferring that God is sometimes Father, sometimes Son, and sometimes Holy Spirit. This view has always been untrue but was officially declared a heresy (twice) by the Church in the fourth century. The “sometimes” of modalism’s manifestation language is at odds with both Scripture and the verbiage of the creeds. Here, as an example, is a taste of the Athanasian Creed’s Trinitarian confession:
And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;When the Athanasian creed speaks of the three Persons of the Trinity having coeternal majesty it denies a God who morphs into one of three persons at a time.
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 Spirit.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.
Now, T.D. Jakes wishes to distance himself from his Oneness Pentecostal background. He desires a wider audience. So he claims that his view has evolved from his heterodox foundations. But the language in his church’s statement of faith on the Trinity still includes the fuzzy, red-flaggy “manifestations,” and when Jakes attempts to differentiate himself from Oneness Pentecostalism he nevertheless neglects to distance himself from it, finding it very difficult to clearly state his personal view of the Trinity out of fear of hurting the feelings of those in his Oneness past.
In 2000, he denied in a statement to Christianity Today that he is a modalist but in fifteen paragraphs nowhere articulates simple orthodox Trinitarianism. He affirms that there is one God and affirms that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct, both of which are good affirmations, but he cannot seem to put the two together to distinguish between Three-in-Oneness and one-at-a-time-ness. Ten years later Jakes is pressed well by Open House interviewer Leigh Hatcher to stake out his perspective but Jakes claims the Trinity is hard to define. But it is not difficult to confess orthodox Trinitarianism, for those who want to do it . . .
Is this important? Should we have just left poor Bishop Jakes alone? No, we should implore him earnestly to come out of the shadows of obfuscation -- or the absolute darkness of heresy, if that’s where he is -- and embrace the light of orthodox Trinitarianism.
Seeing the Trinity is important because if we want a real relationship with God we must make sure it’s really God we’re in a relationship with.
I have watched Jakes preach on television, and while I would trade his special pleading for the gospel any old day, I much admire his energy. He is a dynamic, engaging fellow. Yet he is out of step. Time and time again, given ample opportunity to unequivocally disavow heterodoxy he shows only his theological arrhythmia. For a brother with so much rhythm it is a shame he claps on the 1 and 3 when it comes to orthodoxy.
(This is an altered version of an excerpt from the manuscript for my book Gospel Deeps, forthcoming from Crossway in 2012.)