There has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about James MacDonald inviting T.D. Jakes to round 2 of The Elephant Room, to be held on January 25, 2012. Controversy has centered around the widespread belief that Jakes does not hold to an orthodox understanding of the Trinity. Rather, some claim, he is a modalist, a person who believes that Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not refer to distinct persons, but to different modes of existence of the same person. This is no minor point of theology. These minor distinctions in trinitarian theology, a word here, a letter there, represent colossal differences, eternal differences—the difference between heaven and hell (and I say this without a bit of hyperbole). To say it as plainly as I know how, modalism is a damnable heresy; if you believe it in place of the biblical understanding of the Trinity, you are not a Christian. Period.
Hence all of the talk. By way of context, we need to remember that The Elephant Room is a meeting by Christians and for Christians, and even more, by Christian leaders and for Christian leaders. Inherent in inviting T.D. Jakes is the understanding that he is a Christian. Which presents a problem because inherent in modalism is the understanding that such a person is not a Christian.
What all this means is that the controversy largely depends on whether or not Jakes is a modalist. Is he?
I do not know, exactly. What is clear is that whatever Jakes believes about the Trinity, he has shown a continual reluctance to affirm a standard, time-proven creedal statement of trinitarian orthodoxy and that he has often used the language of modalism. This gives us valid cause for concern. This has not happened just once, but repeatedly and over many years. He has been given many opportunities to subscribe to an orthodox understanding of the Trinity and to this point he has not done so. He has not been asked to subscribe to a passing statement created by modern-day theologians, but a statement that Christians have held to for over 1,600 years. Nathan Busentiz documents some of the history of Jakes’ refusal to do so in this blog post (scroll down to point #3). He clearly offers enough evidence that we do well to question what Jakes truly believes and to be suspicious that he willfully holds to heretical theology.
It is important to note that MacDonald has come out and said that he does not believe that Jakes is a modalist. I am not going to comment on his statement except to say that I agree with Carl Trueman’s critiques (even keeping in mind MacDonald’s subsequent clarifications).