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?


Glen O'Brien said...

Moses Khor emailed me the following:

Thanks Glen for your email message on TD Jakes. I assume that there was a bit of consternation from among your class members because he is such an influential and persuasive preacher, who was deemed the top preacher in the USA, and who features in numerous conferences there and also here in Australia. I have a few "reflections" on your email...

1) I suppose that there would be quite a few Christians out there who would "defend" TD Jakes on the basis of his powerful preaching, and believe that he is from God. However, I believe that this is somewhat misguided because a "powerful preacher" could still make mistakes, and just because someone preaches persuasively and moves peoples' hearts does not mean that he is from God. As Paul says, "If any person, no.. even if it's an angel, who preaches a different Gospel to you, let him/her be cursed!"

Now please don't think that I'm suggesting that TD Jakes be cursed!! :-D I'm just making the point that even if the most eloquent, brilliant, and persuasive preacher - yes, even if the great man Billy Graham himself, preaches a different Gospel to what we've received, their messages are to be utterly rejected (but we'd still try to love them into the Kingdom of God! :-) ).

2) I would like to reflect next on how much Jakes's theology of the Trinity "shows up" in his preaching. Although the theology of the Trinity is a cornerstone Christian doctrine, I am of the opinion that Jakes's theology of the Trinity would hardly show up in his preaching at all. And even if it does, its difference to orthodox Trinitarian theology is quite subtle (though significant), and I doubt that it would register with many of his listeners (who are either non-Christians and not knowledgeable about this difference, or Christians who would mostly and very likely assume that he is orthodox and not pick up the subtlety of this difference).

In saying this, I'm NOT saying that this does not matter at all!! There is a significant difference between Modalism and orthodox Trinitarian theology! :-) I'm just remarking that the impact of this wrong view of the Trinity (IF Jakes does actually hold to it at all, and that's a big IF!) in his preaching is likely to be small.

3) What about the people who were converted to Christ through his preaching? What if TD Jakes is a heretic (and again, that is a BIG if)? Is their faith defective then? Will his "unsavedness" compromise their "savedness"? This is a good place to introduce the Donatist controversy, Glen!! ;-) I'll leave it with you to do that, but it suffices for now to point out that the salvation of a person who is converted is not dependent on whether the preacher (under whose preaching that person is converted) is saved or not. After all, a person who is a heretic may still be able to preach a truly orthodox Gospel; and the person who is converted through this message may go on to be discipled, nurtured spiritually, and followed up by another Christian. He or she may even be better instructed in the Christian faith, e.g. by a Kingsley college lecturer!! :-P

Take for example Apollos, who was first converted to John the Baptist's "gospel", and subsequently truly converted by Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18). This is the same for the first Ephesian "believers" in Acts 19.

All the more so, if we consider point #2 above - that the modalist doctrine of the Trinity would not feature much in Gospel preaching at all. Certainly the TD Jakes message I heard did not sound as if Jakes is trying to promote this errant doctrine. In fact, I think he tries his best not to feature this doctrine in his preaching, knowing that he'd be jumped on by Chrisitian leaders, not to mention "loony" critics!! :-D

4) I guess the question would come up at some stage in the discussion: Should we listen to Jakes preach? Should we commend him to other Christians? to non-Christians? As an educator, I'd like to commend Christians to listen to Jakes preach with an open BUT cautious mind, being aware of his modalistic Trinitarian beliefs. He is passionate, persuasive, and powerful. We could learn from his preaching. Sure there are issues to follow up on, but being aware of these issues, it would be a good learning exercise. For non-Christians? I might commend them BUT I'd go along to make sure I could follow up on them - it all depends on their ability to grapple with the issues, hence the "might".

These are just my reflections on your email. I'm just trying to add to the discussion, if you're having one with your students!! You may add this to your blog is you want. I agree with you that the best course to take now is to pray for Jakes, and to be alert (but not alarmed! :-P ) for defective doctrines such as Modalism.

Dr Moses Khor
Director of Student Life
Lecturer in Biblical Studies & Spiritual Formation

Kingsley College

Ross McPhee said...

Glen, and others,

I occasionally look at this website to get background information and impartial analysis on different Christian leaders, as the need arises.

Moses said...

Don't mean to be cynical, Ross, BUT... ;) "internet" and "impartial" don't go together :D

Ross McPhee said...

Moses, I take your point. Perhaps "balanced" might be a better word to use for this particular site. I of all people know all too well how much chaff is on the internet, as opposed to wheat.

K E Alexander said...

It is interesting that what began in obscurity (the Pentecostal movement) has now become mainstream discussion because of its influence! Jakes IS an amazing preacher and though he is a prosperity preacher, I wouldn't categorize him as Word of Faith. His Oneness views are not generally at the forefront of his preaching as it is in many Oneness sermons in the UPC for instance). One of the helpful contributions of Jakes' is his preaching which has "loosed" women, putting their abusive pasts and the bondage of that on the table.

I have the same concerns about the de-valuing of doctrine as a result of popular preaching. Seems people value a ministry based on style and not substance (maybe this explains Arius' popularity and the resulting pub songs! It was a style thing!!) My tradition (Trinitarian Pentecostalism) has the MOST to lose here.

What is NOT often pointed out is the danger in the theology of the 'heresy hunters' who are the attack dogs of orthodoxy. They are classic cessationists where assent to a correct creed is more important than a real relationship with God. A form of godliness (literally a form on paper!) denying the power is, in my mind, as damaging and in my context, more of a danger to the Kingdom.

Fortunately Oneness heresy and Phariseeism are not the only choices!

Steve said...

Moses has said that it is unlikely that Jakes' modalist views would be a feature in "Gospel preaching." However, in preaching the Gospel one has to make sense of the interaction between the Father, Son and Spirit in the Gospels. If indeed Jakes is preaching about our reconciliation with God through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, it seems to me that it is highly likely that trinitarian theology is going to be involved (implicitly, if not explicitly). Jakes' modalism (or manifestationism) will surely colour his preaching on the events of the cross. The modalist (and the manifestationist :P) has to answer the questions "into whose hands did Jesus commend his spirit?" and "with whom was Jesus pleading in Gethsemane?" An answer other than 'God the Father' radically alters our understanding of Calvary.

I think that we shouldn't over look the formative impact that the pulpit has on popular Christian belief. While it may not consciously register for many Christians (as Moses indicates) the language and concepts of Jakes' 'manifestationist' views will be conveyed in his preaching. And for those influenced by his preaching it will colour their own views and reading of the Gospel narratives.

A preacher who does not fully grasp that it is the inherently relational God who desires that our relationship with him be reconciled risks constructing a religion of self (i.e. an individualistic religion). It is not my intent to criticise Jakes' ministry, merely to say that unorthodox trinitarian views in the hands of a high profile preacher (and evangelist!) should be a cause for concern.

Anonymous said...

I've been trying to talk to people from time to time, about Jakes' modalist tendencies for years and the common retort is 'he gets results so does it really matter if he's off theologically a little'.... my usual reply is that modalism isn't little, it's central.

So thanks for this post Glen.

K E Alexander said...

While I agree wholeheartedly with all posters....WHAT we preach is vital and has a REAL effect...And I certainly agree that relationality in God is the ground of our own relationality...I think we all have to admit that many, many preachers cannot even begin to reflect on the Social Trinity. Furthermore, many Orthodox Trinitarians are functionally Monarchian and therefore preach a gospel which in no way lends itself to a relational or transformational soteriology but rather a rationalistic positional one.

Moses said...

All posters make sense so far... why wouldn't I make sense?!? :)

Without casting aspersion on anyone in this post :P, I just want to remark that many (not all!) orthodox Trinitarians I've met who emphasise so much on the relational aspects of the Trinity, have tended not to be very relational at all when interacting with the likes of Jakes!

I like the example of Priscilla and Aquila who took Apollos under their wings (and not to task!) when they encountered his deficient baptismal and sacramental theologies, and soteriology (I've always wanted to put "baptismal", "sacramental", and "soteriology" in the one sentence! :P).

Again, I'd like to point out that Jakes does not seem eager at all to "promote" Modalist theology, certainly not as eager as some seem to promote Calvinism, Pentecostalism, etc!

The more subtle points on modalism, I believe, as I've made clear in my original post, are follow-up issues. If by chance or by design, they pop up in Jakes's preaching, I'd want to be on hand to deal with them there and then!!

SusanPuzio007 said...

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