James MacDonald on TD Jakes:
I do not agree that T.D. Jakes is a Modalist.
I affirm the doctrine of the Trinity as I find it in Scripture. I believe it is clearly presented but not detailed or nuanced. I believe God is very happy with His Word as given to us and does not wish to update or clarify anything that He has purposefully left opaque. Somethings are stark and immensely clear, such as the deity of Jesus Christ; others are taught but shrouded in mystery, such as the Trinity. I do not trace my beliefs to credal statements that seek clarity on things the Bible clouds with mystery. I do not require T.D. Jakes or anyone else to define the details of Trinitarianism the way that I might. His website states clearly that he believes God has existed eternally in three manifestations. I am looking forward to hearing him explain what he means by that.
First, allow me to preface these thoughts by affirming my appreciation for James MacDonald. I have benefited from his blog, his work at The Gospel Coalition, and many of the video excerpts from last year’s Elephant Room. In fact, I was grateful to have the opportunity to thank him in person at this year’s Gospel Coalition National Conference.
But with all of that said, I believe he has run off the rails on this issue.
And while I am not one positing that T.D. Jakes is the anti-Christ, there are certainly some strong points of disagreement in our theologies – not the least of which involves his understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity.
If T.D. Jakes is not a modalist, then it is crucial for his church and ministry to change the language in their statement of faith. Language matters. Words matter. Even in the specific discussion of the Trinity, a major schism in the church (between western Roman Catholicism and the eastern Christianity) occurred over the filioque (and the Son) clause.
By using “manifestation” terminology (rather than describing the personhood of God), Jakes is identifying with a group of quasi-Christians (which are, in fact, non-Christians) who deny the eternal existence of all three members of the Triune God, but rather affirm that one God has revealed himself in different modes at different times. (For example, in the Old Testament, God appears as the “Father,” throughout the Gospels, the same divine person appears as the “Son,” and from Pentecost forward, this same divine being reveals himself as the “Spirit.”
As Wayne Grudem writes:
The fatal shortcoming of modalism is the fact that it must deny the personal relationships within the Trinity that appear in so many places in Scripture (or it must affirm that these were simply an illusion and not real). Thus, it must deny three seperate persons at the baptism of Jesus, where the Father speaks from heaven and the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. And it must say that all those instances where Jesus is praying to the Father are an illusion or a charade. The idea of the Son or the Holy Spirit interceding for us before God the Father is lost. Finally, modalism ultimately loses the heart of the doctrine of the atonement – that is, the idea that God sent his Son as a substitutionary sacrifice, and that the Son bore the wrath of God in our place, and that the Father, representing the interests of the Trinity, saw the suffering of Christ and was satisfied (Isa. 53:11).
Because of its denial of the three distinct persons in God, [those holding to this belief] should not be considered to be evangelical, and it doubtful whether [they] should be considered genuinely Christian at all.
Systematic Theology (emphasis mine)
The great strength of movements such as The Gospel Coalition are their willingness to partner with those who may hold to a different theological nuance as their own for the sake of proclaiming Christ and His Gospel. The great danger of such movements is the discernment of knowing how far those partnerships should extend.
Though we must begin with the admission that God has not given us uniform clarity in regards to all doctrine, we must be willing to cling tightly to those which are clearly revealed and have direct Gospel implications.
I think James MacDonald is wrong in his embrace of T.D. Jakes as a fellow believer (though I hope and pray that Jakes clarifies his theological beliefs, replaces “manifestation” language with “personhood” language, outright affirms the Nicene understanding of the Trinity, and forces an apology and retraction from this blog – but I won’t hold my breath).
I think T.D. Jakes is wrong(er) in his embrace and teaching of a false theology that requires a false Jesus and a false Gospel.
As Grudem writes,
In the doctrine of the Trinity, the heart of the Christian faith is at stake.