Monday, November 7, 2011

TD Jakes and Theological Arrhythmia

Popular religious spokesperson T.D. Jakes, overseer of The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas, was all over my blog subscription feed a few weeks back because of his invitation to the Elephant Room. Jakes has a background in Oneness Pentecostalism which is traditionally known for its view of the Trinity, commonly classified as modalism.

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;
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.
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.

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.)


ClosetCalvinist said...

Unfortunately, if T.D. Jakes would repent and adopt a Trinitarian view he would still be very far from preaching orthodox truth. It would just mean he is wrong in one less area. Though, at least he might not be going directly against the creeds anymore. It would be encouraging, for certain, but only if he was ready to abandon the word of faith prosperity non-sense as well.

Brian said...

For a brother with so much rhythm??? Wowza. I hope your book editors talk you out of that racially insensitive line.

Opportunity to unequivocally disavow heterodoxy...
Theological arrhythmia...

I think you're showing off.

Jared said...

That line isn't in the manuscript, just this blog post Neither is the stuff about arrythmia.

I am unclear how this is racially insensitive? Have you seen him preach? He practically dances. They play an organ as he preaches. The brother has rhythm. That is racist?

I didn't say "Because he's black, he has rhythm." I said "He is a person with rhythm." :-)

I am sorry for using big words. I wasn't trying to show off, honest. It's jest how I jabber.

Brian said...

On the West coast, anyway, that's how it reads. The brother would be a reference to him being black. Not good coming from a white guy who isn't his friend. West coast perspective.

Jared said...

I could understand that. But to be clear: "The brother has rhythm" = racist?

Are personal compliments racially insensitive?

I know plenty of black folks who don't have rhythm, too many to believe they *all* do. ;-)

theron said...

It's racist for the person to assume that when you say brother you mean black man. you are all racist and i pray for your souls on this. lol

Brian said...

Insensitive yes. Compliment or not. Didn't say racist.

Jared said...

Theron, thanks. I think. :-)

Brian, I'm a bit unclear on the distinction between "racially insensitive" and "racist," but I appreciate the clarification. Would one be inadvertent and the other intentional?

As I re-read that line for the umpteenth time, I can see how it could be read problematically. I certainly didn't mean "brother" in the Christian sense. (But perhaps that offends some more than reading it as a racial thing.) In my tweet linking to this post I said "dude," and I use the word "brother" all the time to refer to male subjects of all races. My intent was simply to use it as I would "dude" or "guy", to create a rhythm of my own in the sentence, but I won't deny I can see how it could read insensitively.

I would change it but would fear that would strike some as trying to cover myself. I'll leave it, take my lumps, and rest easy knowing that I didn't mean it racially.

I appreciate the sharpening.

Brian said...

I appreciate that Jared. Not trying to be a jerk here... I am on the west coast & attempting to build a racially diverse church. Doing this has me relearning & rethinking things that have always seemed perfectly acceptable or normal to me - but leave a different impression on the other side.

Brandon Smith said...

I might argue that the racially insensitive comment is on Brian for stereotyping blacks as all having rhythm and assuming that because Jared is white that he is automatically an insensitive honky.

I could easily say that Jared is a "brother with rhythm" if he were one (though I don't anticipate as much ;) ).

I know racism is alive and well, but hopefully in the 21st century we can get past playing the race card unless something is overtly racist. Jared didn't exactly pull an Imus, here.

Gospel Driven said...

What is a gospel driven church? And how do you know a bible believing church? Can someone help?

Jared said...

Gospel Driven (?), good questions. I just did a post to answer your questions that I hope will be a good refresher resource for the rest of us:

J. Wesley Bush said...

Even here in Kenya TD Jakes is huge. I don't know how many people I've seen lugging around his books. I imagine he's on the TV as well, but I avoid television here. Too many Spanish soaps and Nigerian melodramas. :)

Jared said...

Brian, not approving your last comment with the link b/c I don't usually host off-topic criticism. But the blogger is wrong to suggest that TGC wouldn't say historically white churches aren't gospel-centered. They say about as much all the time -- it's a direct implication of the corrective focus of the movement.

Ali said...

Hi Jared. Just a quick correction. The interviewer for Open House was Sheridan Voisey, not Leigh Hatcher. It probably has Leigh Hatcher's name because he's the new host and the podcasts are all under his name.

savedbygrace said...

i've wathch this guy on a tv channel. my comment is

I rarely hear him preach about Jesus.

I have nothing against him.

it's just that Jesus has been taken out of the picture.

I think the issue today is far more the trinity. rather, Is Jesus the center of the message? Is Jesus being preached 100%?