(Editor’s Note: Todd Littleton was one of the prominent early Baptist bloggers. Like most of the pioneers, he has mostly laid down his keyboard for other pursuits. But he has an interesting perspective to share on the TD Jakes/Jamar Jones conflict that went on last week – to which I contributed. Our desire here is to be “SBC Voices” – which means we will have as many voices chime in as possible!)
Kenneth Scott Latourette noted,
As in the Apostles’ Creed, so in the Nicene Creed, painfully, slowly, and through controversies in which there was often lacking the love which is the major Christian virtue, Christians were working their way through to a clarification of what was presented to the world by the tremendous historical fact of Christ. (A History of Christianity, Vol 1, Beginngins to 1500)
Not much has changed. We are still working to clarify in each new era what is “presented to the world by the tremendous fact of Christ.” And, sadly, we continue to travel our forebears route with as little charity as the late Baptist historian described the era of Nicea.
Evidently there is a dustup in some circles that someone from the Potter’s House was playing the piano at the upcoming SBC Pastor’s Conference. Questions swirl around just what Potter’s House celebrity pastor Bishop T. D. Jakes believes regarding the Trinity. Why the rage? Maybe the reason is similar to what a friend of mine described having been led in worship by a Oneness Pentecostal. My friend now does not see the Trinity in the same way. Something about how they sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” with a different flare. I am thinking it was my Baptist friend’s lack of engagement with the more emotive Pentecostals. An admitted deficiency to be sure. But I digress.
It seems there is nothing that T.D. Jakes can do that will answer his Southern Baptist critics.
Some say he is a modalist, but never find where he clearly articulates modalism. He SEEMS to be a modalist, and since he won’t take the time to respond to critics, he must be. (This is more salient in current matters than when I first conceived this post.)
The Potter’s House doctrinal statement has been a cause for contention. It says, “There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” The word manifestations is the problem, it appears.
Yet, he specifically denies this is modalism terminology in Christianity Today:
The language in the doctrinal statement of our ministry that refers to the Trinity of the Godhead as “manifestations” does not derive from modalism. The Apostle Paul himself used this term referring to the Godhead in 1 Timothy 3:15, 1 Corinthians 12:7, and 1 John 3:5-8. Peter also used the term in 1 Peter 1:20. Can this word now be heresy when it is a direct quote from the Pauline epistles and used elsewhere in the New Testament?
And, FWIW, in that Christianity Today article, he used the word “Trinity.”
So, unless you are wiling to call him a liar, he says he is not using that as code for modalism.
And, ironically, he is not the only one who uses the term “manifestations.” The Baptist Faith and Message commentary by the late Herschel Hobbs says, “The Triune God is clearly seen at Jesus baptism. Furthermore, in all three manifestations he is seen as active in both creation and redemption” (page 38).
Also, Jake’s website says, “eternally existing,” which clearly denies the basic idea of modalism (that he existed as Father, then existed as son, and now exists as the Spirit). He says God is eternally existING.
Now, we have a radio show released where he says “persons.” His exact words:
I believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I believe that they are three persons. I believe that in a way that persons is a limited word for the Godhead and even those that adhere to that say that to be true. But I think the issue is there are distinctives – there are things that can be said about the Father than can’t be said about the Son and the Holy Spirit. I believe that.
I’m not a big fan of T.D. Jakes, but let’s at least be honest when we criticize him. There is nothing that T.D. Jakes can say that will satisfy some. He might be imprecise (probably trying to keep connection with his Oneness past). He might not be theological. But, let’s at least be honest and say those things instead of saying he is a heretic without clear evidence that he is. He is trying (too hard) I think to not offend his Oneness friends, but that does not prove heresy (and, before you call someone a heretic, you better have solid proof). And, it seems to me that the SBC blogosphere has been disappointingly flippant in throwing that word around.
By the way, T.D. Jakes has been clearer on “persons” than the Baptist Faith and Message which says, “He has eternally existed in three personalities: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Maybe there were some heretics on the BFM committee as well?
Heresy is a big accusation and maybe we should give T.D. Jakes a bit more benefit of the doubt. He is imprecise. He is trying too hard to keep friends. But, you need a lot more than that to be called a heretic. Let’s be honest critics.