You are about to see that not even the non-negotiable cardinal doctrine of the Holy Trinity will be safe from attack, even from within the Reformed sectors of the church visible.
Then in T.D. Jakes And The Trinity I brought together into one piece the evidence, including Jakes’ own admission, that the heretical shill for TBN is indeed associated with Oneness Pentecostalism.
With this as our backdrop we turn now to a very telling tactical error today by Gospel Coalition Council member James MacDonald with his post Association vs. Discernment and Is James MacDonald Changing? Let me state at the outset I’m not interested in a point-by-point rebuttal.
My main concern is to interact most specifically with his statements concerning the doctrine of the Trinity and with what MacDonald has to say about T.D Jakes. With this in mind then, I’ll simply say that the last question is a red herring so we’ll leave that lie and focus on the actual matter.
MacDonald begins by stating the obvious, “The Bible prescribes a body of truth to be believed and an ethic of behavior to be practiced—both are related to our great salvation.” Then an interesting admission, “I am learning a lot these days by listening.” I don’t doubt he is; the problem is, who he’s not listening to.
He then tells us “neither my doctrine nor my practice has changed—NOT ONE BIT!” I’ve always considered MacDonald as part of the New Calvinist camp, which is I see as an oxymoronic postmodern form of Calvinism—marrying some Reformation theology with Counter Spirituality.
So, I wouldn’t say that it has. After this bit of commercial MacDonald next moves into four points he hopes would be “helpful” in some way. First, he tells us, “I do not agree that association is the same as categoric endorsement.” I would concur. That said, it can however, often send mixed signals.
MacDonald then says in language very similar to that used by those in the neoliberal cult within the Emerging Church:
I grew up with this separatist centerpiece of fundamentalist thinking, and I rejected it many years ago. I do not agree that speaking at someone’s church or having them preach in our church is the same as agreeing with everything they have ever said or done. (Online source)
This is actually a bit of a straw man. You see, no one outside of independent blogs by self-appointed critics—who shouldn’t be doing this kind of discernment work anyway—is saying that speaking at someone’s church, or having them speak at yours, is always to be construed as blanket approval.
What we’re addressing here is the wisdom, and effects of, doing so. This next part should be a bit disturbing to you as MacDonald discusses criticism he’s received for some dubious decisions like his promotion, and defense, of dangerous prophet-pastors like Perry Noble and his disciple Steven Furtick:
Interestingly, most opposition comes from outside our own church. Our folks have been taught that love is the fulfillment of the law and the truest expression of biblical fidelity. (Online source)
1) This is curiously close to the cult-like churches of the Seeker Driven prophet-pastor model of e.g. Noble, Furtick and Eric Dykstra, and 2) who’s saying love isn’t the fulfillment and the truest expression of Biblical fidelity? Certainly not me; and one can’t find a Truer expression than Jesus.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
“Woe to you, blind guides,… You blind men!… Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!… Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matthew 23:13-16, 19, 23, 27-30)
You should get the point: James MacDonald has seemingly placed himself in the camp of those who have decided a priori that criticism is unloving, which you now can see from the perfect Example of Christ Jesus, is not true. MacDonald then opines:
Gospel belief without gospel behavior is what I refer to as ‘religious.’ Every minister of the gospel should welcome and learn from criticism, but critics that act like pagans are probably just that and bring little benefit to the hearer. (Online source)
In this particular case, MacDonald’s comments above are now shown to be ad hominem because the criticism has been coming from Christian apologists like Todd Friel and Chris Rosebrough, of Wretched Radio and Pirate Christian Radio respectively, and pastor-teachers like Phil Johnson and myself.
We’re hardly acting like pagans to adhere to Biblical fidelity ala 2 Timothy 4:2 and offer Christian correction. You see, these issues involve more than mere methodology; they involve doctrinal issues, which will now lead us right into James MacDonald’s second point of contention.
As he tells us what it is, in my opinion, MacDonald makes a bad tactical error and actually begins to tip his hand as to something he likely aims to accomplish with ER2. MacDonald now tells us, “I do not agree that T.D. Jakes is a Modalist.” Then he begins what I see as postmodern obfuscation:
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. (Online source)
Having studied postmodernism, let me put its basic tenets as simply as I can: Think of a thirteen-year-old child who sees the world as revolving around his/her ideas. Not quite adult enough to make consistent rational decisions, but who at the same time, still insists that they “know-it-all.”
You try to instruct them they are wrong, only to watch them storm away into their rooms to slam the door and then blast their music in order to drown out the mean ol’ world. Now, James MacDonald seems like a sincere man; and I’d be the first to insist he has every right to believe whatever he wants.
With this out of the way, it matters not one whit what MacDonald—or anyone else including me—affirms or believes when it comes to the Bible; it matters what the text of God’s Word says. Quite obviously the early church saw the doctrine of the Trinity clearly enough in Scripture to reject modalism.
James MacDonald says that the Trinity is clearly presented in Scripture, though not detailed or nuanced; but rather, is shrouded with mystery. Ask yourself: Is McDonald’s view consistent with the Christians who, based upon Biblical texts, put the modalist Sabellius out of Christian fellowship? The answer is: No.
And as Carl Trueman of Reformation 21 said today in his commentary upon this matter:
the language of manifestation is vulnerable to being seen as modalist; and a modalist God cannot save… for an evangelical leader to argue that creedal developments on Trinitarianism are of little importance is a fascinating glimpse into the doctrinal make-up of what constitutes contemporary evangelical leadership in the United States as it connects to catholic Christianity and, indeed, any tradition which regards the insights of Nicene Christianity as of importance in the overall transmission and articulation of the identity of Jesus Christ and thus his gospel. (Online source)
Now the question is: Why would James MacDonald apparently attempt to try and shroud in mystery this non-negotiable cardinal doctrine of the Christian Church? As I see it, here’s where he begins tipping his hand; to open the door for Oneness Pentecostal T.D. Jakes into full fellowship within evangelicalism.
If you think I’m being unfair, then I encourage you to look very carefully at what MacDonald says next:
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.
The way I’m reading all of this, and keeping in mind what I believe to be an unbiblical stress on “community” within postmodern New Calvinism, we’re getting a hint where ER2 is headed: Unity is more important than doctrinal purity. Again, we don’t require anyone to define anything; God’s Word does.
In getting ready to close this, for now, here isn’t the place to argue against Oneness Pentecostalism. So, I’m only going to tell you that if T.D. Jakes is a modalist—and the evidence in T.D. Jakes And The Trinity proves conclusively he’s associated with it—he couldn’t have chosen clearer language to say so.
As noble as it may sound that MacDonald and his fellow Gospel Coalition Council member Mark Driscoll want hear T.D. Jakes explain what is meant by the word manifestations, the fact remains that Jakes has already had years to clear it up; but he has seemingly chosen the route of obfuscation himself.
From my research into Oneness Pentecostalism, as well as into the doctrine of T.D. Jakes, I’ll give you my considered opinion. Oneness Pentecostals have always formed a large part of Jakes’ fan base. So even if he doesn’t personally hold to modalism, there’s little chance he’d ever come out and repudiate it.
If T.D. Jakes ever wants to be accepted as a Christian brother, this is precisely what he will need to do.