There is a semi-public conversation occurring right now. I say “semi-public” because the only individuals privy to this conversation at this time are those who were willing to pay the registration fee to watch it. It’s taking place at the Elephant Room 2 (ER2), between Pastor James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel, and Steven Furtick of Elevation Church. This conversation is entitled, We Can Work It Out and according to the website for the ER2, these two popular pastors are to discuss the following:
WE CAN WORK IT OUT What responsibilities do we have to local pastors who exist outside our theological boundaries, but within the body of Christ? How do you confront a brother in error while showing fidelity to truth, and to the truth about biblical relationship? Given the freedom to preach your conscience, is there anywhere you wouldn’t preach? Does a pastor’s association really communicate endorsement, or is that just a carryover from fundamentalism? How can pastors practically encourage/challenge those who are different than they are? How do the benefits of broader community weigh against the dangers of confusing people about your own convictions? STEVEN FURTICK & JAMES MACDONALD | Moderated by Mark Driscoll (Online Source)
These leading questions offer the appearance of genuine concern for Christian brotherhood, a desire to maintain a Godly focus during difficult confrontations, and a hope that a gentle, Spirit-led demeanor will be maintained throughout such an encounter. In light of recent events, this seems like a conversation worth having and worth hearing. What seems odd, however, are the two individuals who are having it.
Conservative Bible teacher and now former Gospel Coalition member James MacDonald lit the match for much controversy several months ago when he invited known Word-Faith heretic and presumed Sabellian modalist T.D. Jakes to participate in the Elephant Room 2, this very conference. Amid the swirling storm of questions and controversy from many sound, concerned Christian leaders, James MacDonald further compounded the confusion when he declared that he did not believe that T.D. Jakes was a modalist.He then caused an even greater stir when he posted a video that not only slammed his critics, but also spoke to the Elephant Room as gathering “brothers” together to have a conversation. Well, this of course raises questions. Until today, T.D. Jakes has remained relatively silent on the issue of modalism, but never once repudiated or refuted the accusation that he adheres to modalist doctrine. Today, in the session entitled, “Ticket to Ride,” the following conversation took place between Mark Driscoll and T.D. Jakes:Driscoll: We all would agree that in the nature of God there is mystery. But within that, for you, Bishop Jakes, the issue is one God manifesting Himself successively in three ways? Or one God existing eternally in three persons? What is your understanding now? Which one?Jakes: I believe the latter one is where I stand today. One God – Three Persons. I am not crazy about the word persons though. You describe “manifestations” as modalist, but I describe it as Pauline. For God was manifest in the flesh. Paul is not a modalist, but he doesn’t think it’s robbery to say manifest in the flesh. Maybe it’s semantics, but Paul says this. (Online Source)
If Jakes does indeed affirm the Trinity (and if he does, then that is good news), then why has he waited until now to declare this? And why didn’t Driscoll push him and ask him why he is not “crazy about the word persons?” Simply pointing to a mention by Paul of the incarnation of Christ is not exactly a strong case for use of the term “manifestations,” especially considering that the term has long been associated with the Oneness heresy. But, a further and even more important message remains. Even if T.D. Jakes fully affirms Trinitarian doctrine, even if he could stand and affirm the Athanasian Creed in all its truth, one of the biggest elephants in the room was still ignored: T.D. Jakes’ ministry is defined by Word-Faith doctrine. So, even if we wanted to widen our embrace, we still could not include Jakes within it until he has outwardly renounced his propagation of these Word-Faith doctrines. Jakes is by far one of TBN’s most lucrative, talented, prosperous, and blatant teachers of the Word-Faith heresy. So by James MacDonald collectively referring to the ER2 participants as “brothers,” we are posed with a great problem indeed.
It is this very controversy surrounding the invitation of T.D. Jakes that led to the resignation of James MacDonald earlier this week from The Gospel Coalition. That resignation is not the point of this post, so I will simply point you to the “official” statement here. I would also point you to an excellent post written by Dan Phillips, examining some of the more, shall we say audacious, points of MacDonald’s statement. Finally, the reader would do well to visit this post in order to read some of the inside communication- and instructions – that were sent out to members of the leadership of Harvest Bible Fellowship.
In returning to the true point of this post, however, the question still lingers: are James MacDonald and Steven Furtick really the two best pastors to be discussing the finer points of “working it out” when there are disagreements and issues within the body of Christ?
I referred earlier to a video that James MacDonald had posted in which he took on a rather….um, annoyed, demeanor toward his critics. To my knowledge, that video was removed from MacDonald’s own blog quite awhile ago, but Phil Johnson of Pyromaniacs was astute enough to make a copy of it:
Hm, methinks somebody doesn’t take too well to criticism. Of course, we were already made aware of this fact months ago when MacDonald had the nerve to compare his “reformed” critics with the Nazis; a comparison that, in this writer’s estimation, was not only far-fetched, but revealed an unquestionable display of ignorance and callousness from this man who supposedly has been called to lead and feed the sheep of Christ’s flock.It seems that, when faced with criticism – even Biblical, concerned criticism, James MacDonald quickly resorts to ad hominem attacks. In a blog post dated September 27, 2011, the same blog post in which he declared that he did not believe T.D. Jakes to be a modalist, MacDonald stated the following:
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)
The problem is, as Ken Silva points out in his post James MacDonald and His Pagan Critics, much of the criticism that has been leveled toward MacDonald has not originated from mere “discernment bloggers,” but rather from trusted Christian leaders such as Thabiti Anywabile, Carl Trueman, Phil Johnson and James White. Are we to assume, then, that these men are “pagans” simply because they have chosen to question some rather disconcerting decisions made by James MacDonald?
Ultimately, it seems we have seen that James MacDonald has chosen to ignore Godly criticism in favor of “unity” with those who have thus far not offered much evidence of their adherence to the historic Christian faith, i.e. “Bishop” T.D. Jakes. Jakes also does not take well to criticism, as is evidenced well in the post T.D. Jakes Says Ken Silva is Being Obnoxious. When pressed by Silva regarding his Trinitarian beliefs, Jakes responded by calling Silva “obnoxious” and then proceeded to block him on Twitter. Very mature indeed, Bishop.
Let us remind ourselves, then, that this is the man who has so enraptured MacDonald that MacDonald has opted to resign from The Gospel Coalition so that he might continue to widely embrace Jakes as a participant in ER2. In fact, we saw in the post A Preview to the Elephant Room 2?, that MacDonald positively gushed over Jakes publicly on Twitter this past weekend. It seems he further strengthened these bonds today. The reader may recall the post A Biblical Critique of T.D. Jakes’ Code Orange Revival Sermon, wherein was linked a rather lengthy, comprehensive, and quite honestly, outstanding biblical examination of T.D. Jakes’ COR message written by Daniel Neades at his blog, Better Than Sacrifice. Suffice it to say that said critique received quite a bit of publicity. It was even sent via Twitter to both T.D. Jakes and James MacDonald:It seems that someone using the Twitter handle “MarcRJeffrey” intercepted this message and chimed in with the following:As you can see, this message was actually “retweeted” by Bishop Jakes, an action which, in the Twitter realm, typically means that one agrees with what was said in the original message. Jakes did offer his own input on Neades’ post, however:
(Online Source)Well, apparently this finally caught the eye of James MacDonald and he must have “retweeted” the above message by “MarcRJeffrey.” The retweet has since been removed from MacDonald’s Twitter stream before this writer had a chance to capture the image, but the following tweets by some of MacDonald’s followers offer good evidence that this message was indeed favorably retweeted by MacDonald (click on the images to enlarge):As you can see from this final tweet by “jallman64,” when James MacDonald retweeted the above ad hominem attack toward Daniel Neades and his well-written critique, MacDonald also made a point of announcing that he had “blocked” Neades on Twitter. Really? And this is the pastor who is going to be discussing how to “work out” differences among fellow believers?Until recently, James MacDonald was not often the recipient of public criticism. Faced with such situations, it is obvious that his first method of defense is to level immature counter-attacks against the character of individuals whom he does not even know. And yet, today here he sits at The Elephant Room 2, discussing how to resolve and “work out” differences in beliefs, how to “confront a brother in error,” and how to “practically encourage/challenge those who are different” than oneself. At the risk of repeating myself too often, again I ask: Really? Based upon the evidence before us, it seems that James MacDonald may actually be more than a little disqualified from participating in and leading such a conversation.