Friday, May 04, 2007

T.D. Jakes: Heresy or Hearsay?

The popular American preacher T.D. Jakes has recently come under fire in a number of "apologetics" sites specialising in sniffing out heresy wherever it can be found. A lot of these are "loony" sites that are finding that every man and his dog is a heretic so we have to be careful about evaluating their claims. Probably the best is this one from the Christian Research Institute (the link is broken but follow the prompt to the homepage and do a search on "T.D. Jakes"). Jakes responded to this article which led to the follow up at this link.

There was an article in Christianity Today about Jakes which also seems balanced though I have only read a fragment of it on their website. Jakes did write in response to it to defend his views here.

Jakes grew up in a Oneness (non-Trinitarian) Pentecostal Church, continues to have links with them and has never disavowed Oneness beliefs. You can read Jake's own church's (The Potter's House) belief statement here. Superficially this may seem OK but note that it says, "There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three Manifestations: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." The idea that God exists in three manifestations is the ancient heresy of "modalism." In the CT article Jakes says, "We have one God, but he is Father in creation, Son in redemption, and Holy Spirit in regeneration." This is classic textbook modalism. The "Doctrinal Statement" (also on the Potter's House website) refers to "Three Dimensions of God" - Under that heading we read the following:

"We believe in one God who is eternal in His existence, Triune in His manifestation, being both [sic] Father, Son and Holy Ghost AND that He is Sovereign and Absolute in His authority."

We believe in the Father who is God Himself, Creator of the universe. (Gen 1:1; John 1:1)

We believe that Jesus is the Son of God. (Col 2:9)"

Again, we see that God is said to be "Triune" but only "in his manifestation." Furthermore the Father "is God himself," while Jesus is only "the Son of God." This seems to be a form of monarchianism, wherein only the Father is fully God and the Son holds some sort of subordinate divinity. So, as Lewis Carroll said, "it gets curiouser and curiouser."

There is a difference of course between outright heresy and sloppy thinking on the Trinity. Jakes may simply be guilty of the latter. The Oneness Pentecostal churches hold what I believe to be clearly heretical views. Because Jakes was raised in this church and has never disavowed its beliefs, the influences of Oneness theology on Jakes is obvious. However, his exposure to the wider church because of his high profile may be helping him to see that the language of "three manifestations" or "three dimensions" of God is theologically problematic and he may be revising his earlier views accordingly. Let's hope so. He does stand as a good example however of an attitude in the church that says "correct theology is not that important, so long as we are getting results."

There is no question that Jakes is a powerful personality. He is something of a black icon, having befriended rappers and other high profile African-American entertainers. He preaches a prosperity Gospel, is filthy rich from book, cd and video sales and yet he has poured millions into ministry to the poor. If you've ever seen him preach you know the sway he has over audiences. Black preachers have always been more animated than us whities but this guy is Pentecostalism on steroids! My advice would be to pray for Jakes that the recent attacks may not cause him to be defensive and remain entrenched in Oneness views, but that he may sincerely examine those beliefs and become more orthodox. Time magazine has asked the question of Jakes, "Is this man the next Billy Graham?" If that turns out to be answered in the affirmative, it would be a bit of a worry if there is not a clear break with "Oneness" beliefs. Or are we now at such a late stage of decadence in Christianity that it will not matter to anyone?


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