T.D. Jakes and the Elephant in the Room

I know that most readers of my blog don’t keep up with every theological controversy in contemporary evangelicalism. Lord knows we have enough of them! However, there is an important conversation going on right now, with the potential to have far-reaching consequences.

Here’s the CliffsNotes version:

Last year, a Chicago pastor named James McDonald hosted a conference called “The Elephant Room“, intended to model grace in disagreement by arranging a series of moderated discussions between influential pastors. These pastors (James McDonald, Mark Driscoll, David Platt, Matt Chandler, Greg Laurie, Perry Noble, and Steven Furtick) represented a wide spectrum of contemporary evangelicalism; while they largely were united on the essential doctrines of orthodox theology, they differed significantly in their methods and presentation of the Gospel. While there was some controversy involved, this conference was, by and large, seen as positive. Here is a good example of the type of discussions that took place:

The level of controversy was elevated for this year’s Elephant Room. When news broke that T.D. Jakes had been invited to participate, it stirred up a lot of criticism due to his association with Oneness Pentecostalism and his teaching of modalism (a heretical doctrine that denies the Trinity). Mark Dever, who had been announced as a speaker, backed out rather than participate in a conversation in which each man on stage would be assumed to be a brother. Pastors on all sides of the issue have weighed in over the last few months, ultimately leading to James McDonald’s resignation from the Gospel Coalition.

At the conference last week, T.D. Jakes gave at least a token affirmation of the orthodox understanding of the Trinity, but was not challenged on his “Word of Faith” preaching. Though McDonald and Driscoll embraced him as a brother, many were unconvinced.

Rather than adding my own thoughts to the fray (other than to simply concur with those who remain to be convinced that Jakes has repented from his false teaching), allow me to just point you to some of the responses which I feel are most measured, to save you the trouble of wading through much that has been published which is unhelpful. This ongoing discussion will be interesting to watch. Prosperity preaching is rampant in American churches, and I believe that Christians have a responsibility to be aware of the challenges to the Gospel and be able to address those challenges with Truth and grace.

  • Grace and Truth Beyond the Elephant Room — Trevin Wax attended and live-blogged the conference. All of his notes are worth reading, but this is his summary at the conclusion of the event. His conclusion is spot on: “We need charity and clarity. But civility is not a love-fest. We will disagree – strongly at times. Why? Because theology matters. The stakes are high. Bad theology hurts people.”
  • Bishop Jakes, 2nd Decisions, and Coming Home — James McDonald’s own wrap-up.
  • Reflections on James McDonald, TD Jakes, and the Trinity — Some of Mark Driscoll’s thoughts, including a lot of excellent teaching to help understand modalism and the doctrine of the Trinity.
  • The Elephant in the Room — An excellent article from Voddie Baucham, who turned down an invitation to ER2 because of Jakes, but planned to participate in a men’s conference at McDonald’s church scheduled for this past weekend. Because of  comments he made publicly criticizing Jakes and ER2, MacDonald challenged him upon his arrival in Chicago, and they agreed it was not a good idea to speak at the men’s conference.
  • Theological Sleight of Hand at the Elephant Room — Chris Rosebraugh (who was threatened with arrest upon his arrival at the ER2 conference) outlines exactly what Jakes said, and why many consider that an insufficient recantation of his previous positions.
  • The Problem With T.D. Jakes Goes Beyond Modalism — Here’s a local pastor’s take on the controversy. Jeff Wright is pastor of Midway Baptist Church in Cookeville.