The Discernment Gap: Showing a Lack of Passion for God’s Honor and Glory

I need to be brief, as I have many pressing duties.

Reading the commentary on the Elephant Room 2 events, and in particular, the alleged rehabilitation (repentance?) of TD Jakes has truly been brought me sadness. Sure, I know that very few Evangelicals, even scholars, have much experience with modalists and Oneness advocates, but still, the general ease with which many have been taken in by such a shallow and brief discussion does not speak well of the depth of understanding of many today. It also speaks loudly to the fact that many in Evangelicalism disconnect the honor and glory of God from the truth He has revealed about Himself. That is, they do not see that to worship and honor God demands from us our utmost effort to accurately hear and to follow what He has revealed about Himself, primarily in Jesus Christ, and the holy Scriptures. To take lightly God’s self-revelation is an affront to the divine majesty, and would not be the action of a heart that is consumed with passion for its Lord. The true source of a passion for sound doctrine comes first and foremost from a heart that has singular attention to the glory and honor of the object of its passion. Those who “argue doctrine” simply for the sake of ego or self-gratification do so to their own destruction. Sound doctrine isn’t about personalities or men, it is about truth that transcends our brief time on earth.

Let’s remember some of Jakes’ words from ER2. Keeping in mind his statement of faith, which continues to use the modalistic language of “manifestations,” and keeping in mind that Jakes does not baptize in the Trinitarian formula (he baptizes in Jesus name only—something oddly ignored by the tribunal who seemed to grant to themselves the ability to proclaim Trinitarian orthodoxy at ER2), let’s consider his words. When asked if God manifests Himself in three ways, or exists in three divine Persons, he said that “neither one of them totally get it for me.” Now there is a ringing profession of Trinitarianism if I ever heard it. Please, why are so many quick to pass over this direct statement that the historic profession of faith just doesn’t quite “totally get it” for Bishop Jakes? Does that really sound like someone who has seen the error of their ways and is ready to abjure error for a sound profession of faith in the truth? Or does it sound like someone who really thinks he is in a position to pick and choose what is comfortable for him given his goals and aims?

Ah, but Jakes went on to say, “I’m not crazy about the word ‘person.'” Yes, another ringing word of repentance form his former modalism and a sound profession of his new Trinitarian faith, is it not? Is that why he has not changed his statement of faith for his church, because this new found Trinitarianism is not something he is really all that “crazy about”? Can you imagine talking to someone who had been a Mormon, and professed belief in many gods, and now he is seeking fellowship with you, and when you inquire as to his beliefs, he says, “Oh, I believe mainly like you, but, Trinitarianism just doesn’t fully do it for me, and I’m not really crazy about the term ‘monotheism.'” Will you be inviting that person to fill your pulpit to teach on the nature of God next Sunday, I wonder?

But the most amazing statement that has somehow failed to make it into the pages of Christianity Today and all the blogs celebrating Jakes’ newfound Trinitarianism came right at the heart of the conversation. Driscoll asked him about the use of the term “manifestations” in his church’s statement of faith. And he replied:

My doctrinal statement is no different from yours except the word” [Driscoll interrupts saying, “manifestations”] “Manifest instead of persons, which you describe as modalist and I describe as Pauline. When I read…let me show you what I’m talking about…when I read I Timothy 3:16 – I didn’t create this, Paul did: “And without controversy” which I think we have…we have been bickering about something which Paul describes as a mystery, and I don’t think we should do that. “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness. For God was manifest in the flesh.” Now Paul is not a modalist, but he doesn’t think it is robbery to the divinity of God to think God was manifest in the flesh. And I think maybe it’s semantics, because [garbled], but Paul says this before this fight was started.”

Did you catch that? Can someone explain this to me? A prosperity preacher of a mega church has a statement of faith for years on end that is clearly modalistic in nature that says God eternally exists in “three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” He continues to defend that language in these words. When the key issue is brought forward, the use of manifestations instead of persons, his response is to dispute the identification of “manifestations” as modalistic, but instead say it is “Pauline,” i.e., it is in accordance with Biblical revelation. He then misuses 1 Timothy 3:16, as all modalists do, and as is prevalent in Oneness writings. And yet, despite these words, we are all somehow supposed to applaud Jakes’ new position as a sound, orthodox Trinitarian?

Sadly, there was no follow up. Driscoll and the rest heard what they wanted to hear, fist-bumped and applauded, and all was well. It would have been so painfully simple to bring this entire question to a complete conclusion. I could have done so by pressing a single question until a clear answer was given. But that is why I was not invited to ER2 (and won’t be invited to ER3, or 4, or…Lord help us!).

I’m not shocked that James MacDonald thinks Jakes passed muster. What else would he say? But, seemingly in an effort to make sure everything remains as muddled as possible, he wrote on his blog,

I was initially planning to publish the transcript of session #4 between Mark Driscoll and Bishop Jakes, where Bishop Jakes confirmed his Trinitarian belief and affirmed “God in three persons, eternally existing.” He disavowed modalism, while expressing his great love and appreciation for his spiritual heritage including Baptist, Methodist, and Oneness. I wanted to publish the conversation word-for-word to keep people from distorting it, but on our staff we talk about the importance of the ‘second decision.’ The second decision is where you admit that the first decision was a bad one. I have decided not to publish the transcripts of any conversations from Elephant Room 2. My goals are already accomplished, according to the people I account to:

1) The central importance of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity was emphasized and not treated as a non-essential.
2) The pursuit of grace/truth in relationship across traditional boundaries of silence and distrust was crossed and beautifully reciprocated.
3) The goal of graciousness toward those who believe angry condemnation is justified when every conceivable goal is not accomplished, is underway.

If you have ever been at the mall or in a restaurant and seen some guy melt down on his family…as he flies off in a rage demanding to be heard and demeaning his wife and kids, it’s instructive to watch them. They have learned by experience not to answer or insist he quiet down. They know that saying anything will only pour gas on the flame of his rage. They just hang their heads in silence and shame waiting for him to tire himself out.

Meanwhile, Christianity Today, that beacon of evangelical light and guidance and understanding, ran with the headline,

T.D. Jakes Embraces Doctrine of the Trinity, Moves Away from ‘Oneness’ View

The element of truth is that Jakes has moved away from strict Oneness teaching, to be sure, which has always involved an abusive ad-hominem on the doctrine of the Trinity, and, just as importantly, upon those who believe it. Jakes, like PC&D, wants to build bridges, to co-exist in multiple theological universes. This viewpoint goes over very well in a post-modern age, but it also has an inevitable effect: it says the core truths of the faith, even when touching upon the identity of the God we worship, are unknowable and, in effect, negotiable. The Trinity, the gospel, the authority of Scripture—once you extend the “tent” to fit in all the folks you’d like to bring in who hold unorthodox views on such topics, you discover the tent now covers a huge abyss of nothingness. And the resultant big happy family ends up silent, unable to say anything meaningful to the world for fear of internal division and offense.

One excellent example of a complete lack of discernment about the specifics of the issue at hand should not surprise us, given our past interaction with this leader in the Calvary Chapel movement. Brian Brodersen has chimed in on his blog. Somehow those muddled statements, quoted directly above, are magically translated by Brodersen into “He has also, on several occasions over the past few years, stated that he no longer holds a “Oneness” or “modalistic” view of God and now believes in the doctrine of the Trinity. This he clearly articulates once again at the Elephant Room.” Given his ability to discern the deeper intentions of those words, we are not overly surprised to then read, “but to say that those who hold this (modalistic) view are not Christians is in my opinion going too far. Granted, it is an incorrect view regarding the nature of God, but it is not like other anti-trinitarian views that deny the full deity of Christ. I personally do not think you can put those who hold Oneness doctrine in the same category as a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon. I might be wrong, but that’s the way I see it at this point.” Brodersen goes on to praise ER2, consider those who remain unconvinced by Jakes’ full comments “sad,” and lament, “He did say that he wasn’t all that crazy about the use of the term ‘persons’ when speaking about the distinctions within the divine nature, but others have expressed similar things, feeling that sometimes the term person might be too limiting or give the impression that God is a person just like we are. This seems to me to be the kind of theological ‘hair splitting’ that has been the bane of the church from generation to generation, and something that, God help us, we really need to outgrow.”

Ah yes, we need to outgrow this need for accuracy in what we teach about God…err, I mean, theological hair splitting. Let’s outgrow it so that we can tell the world about…well, just what are we supposed to tell the world about? Oh yes, Jesus! But, what if they ask who Jesus was and is? As soon as we respond we will be engaging in…well, theology, right? Was Jesus two persons, a manifestation of the one God, the Father and the Son? Did Jesus pre-exist? And what did He come to accomplish? Make men savable, or actually save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21)? Oh my, it seems that to have anything to say to the world we need to do this theological hair-splitting, which, of course, is another way of saying “honoring God by carefully handling His Word, testing our traditions, and holding fast to that which is good and just and honorable and true.” It says volumes about what some people think evangelism is that they can so denature the message and still think they are speaking the truth.

Now, thankfully, many others have raised their voices on this topic. I noted earlier that one ER supporter had played the race card, and so I was very pleased to see Voddie Baucham slap that one down with one swing. He likewise found himself with a fast turn-around when he showed up to speak at a men’s conference at MacDonald’s church (see the story here). Great way to pick up frequent flier miles without spending time in hotels, I guess. It says a lot that MacDonald would embrace Jakes, but not Baucham. Ponder that one a moment. But it is encouraging to know that there remains a stalwart core who are not easily taken in by glib phrases and weasel-words when it comes to the central elements of the faith.

As sad as it is to observe these things, they are simply scratches on the surface of the shallow shell that is “evangelicalism” in the United States today. Thankfully, God’s kingdom is not to be identified with such movements of men, with mega/multi-site churches or superstars. God’s kingdom continues to be built in the hearts and minds of His people, whether they attend a 5,000 member fellowship or one of 50. And they remain focused upon His majesty, His truth, His gospel.