T.D. JAKES AND THE TRINITY
In the previous post I wrote about why I think it’s important that Christians practice the biblical discipline of discernment.
In this post I want to begin examining T.D. Jakes’ teachings and theology. Here I want to specifically consider whether T.D. Jakes holds to a Trinitarian view of God (the biblical view) or whether he, as many have claimed, holds to Modalism (the unbiblical and heretical view).
Starting with Trinitarianism, Bible teacher and author Kevin De Young, explains the importance of the Trinity when he writes:
If any doctrine makes Christianity Christian, then surely it is the doctrine of the Trinity. The three great ecumenical creeds—the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed—are all structured around our three in one God, underlying the essential importance of Trinitarian theology. Augustine once commented about the Trinity that “in no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.”-
A helpful and brief explanation of the Trinity found in an article published on Theopedia reads:
The Trinity is the Christian doctrine that deals with and describes the nature of God. The doctrine asserts the following:
- There is one and only one God.
- God eternally exists in three distinct persons.
- The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
- The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the Father is not the Spirit, etc.
Wayne Grudem writes: “We may define the Trinity as follows: God eternally exists as three [distinct] persons, Father [who is not the Son], Son (who is not the Father) and Holy Spirit [who is not the Son or the Father], and each [distinct] person is fully God. – (content added in brackets are mine)
On the contrary, Modalism can be defined as:
…a “heretical view that denies the individual persons of the Trinity. [It] views biblical terminology of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as merely modes of existence or manifestations of the one God” –
Furthermore, we can add, “it… held that there is one God who can be designated by three different names—‘Father,’ ‘Son,’ and ‘Holy Spirit’—at different times, but these three are not distinct persons. Instead they are different modes (thus, modalism) of the one God. Thus, God can be called ‘Father’ as the Creator of the world and Lawgiver; he can be called ‘Son’ as God incarnate in Jesus Christ; and he can be called ‘Holy Spirit’ as God in the church age. Accordingly, Jesus Christ is God and the Spirit is God, but they are not distinct persons.” – source
Presently, the Oneness Pentecostal denomination affirms a modalistic view of God. As Nathan Businetz (church history professor at the Master’s Seminary) writes:
From a church history perspective, it is interesting to see how the early heresies have been recycled by modern heretical groups. Whereas Gnosticism shows up in New Age theology and even in Mormonism; and Arianism has been regurgitated by the Jehovah’s Witnesses; modalism has returned in the form of Oneness Pentecostalism.
Thabiti Anyabwile, an African American pastor, has written a book titled: “The Decline of African-American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity,” in which he deals with the doctrine of God within African American theology.
In it he writes: “Bishop T. D. Jakes stands as a contemporary, though reluctant, representative of Oneness theology… Bishop Jakes subscribes to a Oneness Pentecostal doctrine of God. They held that the one God appeared in three distinct “modes” or “manifestations”—as Father in creation, as the Son in redemption, and as Holy Spirit in regeneration and indwelling—but that there was only one real Person in the Godhead, namely Jesus. Also known as “Modalism…”
It is important to know, as de Young writes, “Orthodox Trinitarianism rejects modalism [the view embraced by Oneness Pentecostalism] which believes that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different names for the same God acting in different roles or manifestations (like the well-intentioned but misguided “water, vapor, ice” analogy).”
T.D. Jakes was saved and ordained in a denomination that does not affirm or teach the biblical doctrine of the Trinity (see). In fact, Oneness Pentecostalism, the denomination T.D. Jakes is strongly affiliated with is openly hostile towards the biblical doctrine of the Trinity- they go as far as calling it: pagan polytheistic philosophy. Oneness Pentecostalism or as they’re colloquially known, Jesus Only, subscribe to Modalism, a teaching condemned as heresy by the early church fathers and early church councils.
As explained by one source:
“The “Jesus Only” movement, also known as Oneness Pentecostalism or oneness theology, teaches that there is only one God, but denies the tri-unity of God. In other words, oneness theology does not recognize the distinct persons of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It has various forms—some see Jesus Christ as the one God, who sometimes manifests Himself as the Father or the Holy Spirit. The core doctrine of Oneness Pentecostal / Jesus Only is that Jesus is the Father and Jesus is the Spirit. There is one God who reveals Himself in different “modes.”
Therefore, as a result of T.D. Jakes’ close affiliation with Oneness Pentecostalism and the claims that he subscribes to the Oneness heresy called Modalism; we have to examine his views on the Trinity in his own words and find out whether he is a Modalist or whether he is a Trinitarian. As a matter of interest, many Oneness Pentecostal leaders were forced out of the AOG for their aberrant views.
The more generous reading of the evidence regarding T.D. Jake’s views on the Trinity would suggest that it is inconclusive whether he affirms it. Whereas, a more blunt reading of the evidence would conclude that T.D. Jakes either does not understand what the doctrine of the Trinity is or doesn’t hold to it.
As reported by the Christian Research Institute
“Jakes was interviewed in August 1998 by Living by the Word (LBTW) ministry…During this interview, Jakes said, “We have one God, but He is Father in creation, Son in redemption, and Holy Spirit in regeneration. This wording is identical to the Oneness Pentecostal view as described by David K. Bernard, pastor of New Life United Pentecostal Church (UPC), in his book The Oneness of God: “A popular explanation of Father, Son and Holy Ghost is that there is one God who has revealed [i.e., manifested] Himself as Father in Creation, Son in redemption and Holy Ghost in regeneration.
Interestingly, when Wayne Grudem discusses modalism he explains it using the same language and ideas expressed by T.D. Jakes. Explaining modalism Grudem writes, “For example, in the Old Testament God appeared as “Father”. Throughout the Gospels, this same divine person appeared as “the Son” as seen in the human life and ministry of Jesus. After Pentecost, this same person then revealed himself as the “Spirit” active in the church”.
In an attempt to respond to those who claimed his views on the Trinity were heretical, T.D. Jakes was quoted in a 2011 Christianity Today issue saying “I believe in one God who is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I believe these three have distinct and separate functions—so separate that each has individual attributes, yet are one. I do not believe in three Gods.
On the surface this sounds better than the 1998 articulation, but yet it really doesn’t come close to affirming the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. T.D. Jakes deliberately avoids adopting Trinitarian language and insists on explaining (what he thinks is) the doctrine of the Trinity in the language of Modalism. Trinitarians speak of “distinct and separate persons” not merely “distinct and separate functions”, as the latter still permits the one “God” to manifest himself in different modes and functions.
In that same Christianity Today article Jakes goes on to provide an illustration for what he believes about the “Trinity” (his version of it not the Bible’s). He says, “In spite of all the distinctives, God is one in His essence. Though no human illustration perfectly fits the Divine, it is similar to ice, water and steam: three separate forms, yet all H²O. Each element can co-exist, each has distinguishing characteristics and functions, but all have sameness.” This illustration is very telling, as I already pointed out earlier when quoting De Young, that this is a classic modalistic illustration.
Nathan Businetz, church history professor at the Master’s Seminary, has written an excellent summary of “modalism and T.D Jakes“, in which he makes reference to another Christianity Today article where Jakes’ modalistic leanings are further demonstrated. Businetz writes, “In a 2001 article… Ted Olsen reiterated evangelical concerns. In this section, Olsen begins with a quote from Jakes:
“And God said, ‘Let us. Let usssssss … ‘” says Jakes, and then digresses: ” … One God, but manifest in … three different ways, Father in creation, Son in redemption, Holy Spirit in regeneration. And God said, ‘Let usssssss … ‘”
Problem: That’s not Trinitarianism. That’s a pretty straight-up teaching of modalism. … This view is also that of Oneness Pentecostals, which apparently describes Jakes. He has used these exact words before, but denies he’s a heretic. “My association with Oneness people does not constitute assimilation into their ranks any more than my association with the homeless in our city makes me one of them,” he told CT last year. Maybe his association doesn’t mean he’s a Oneness Pentecostal, but his language describing the Trinity certainly seems to.
The most recent attempt at trying to get clarity from T.D. Jakes on one of the most fundamental tenants of the Christian faith also proved unprofitable. In the widely decried Elephant Room 2 experiment T.D.Jakes was invited by James McDonald and Mark Driscoll to engage in conversation about doctrine.
Christianity Today reported the story and wrote:
“Several key Bible passages, Jakes said, impacted his transition.
“Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, for example, coming up out of the water [and] the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, the Father speaks from heaven – and we see all three of them on one occasion,” he said, “or in Genesis [where God said,] ‘let us make man in our own likeness’ or Elohim – He is the one God who manifests Himself in a plurality of ways. Or what Jesus says, ‘I am with the Father, and the Father is in me.'”
Again though he is closer to trinitarianism, T.D. Jakes still prefers to use the language of modalism to explain the Trinity. For a seasoned minister who is one of the most gifted speakers and who is reasonably educated and ought to be well orientated in basic Christian doctrine, it shouldn’t be that difficult to clearly articulate the doctrine of the Trinity.
The best and most sincere conclusion that I can make about T.D. Jakes’ position on the Trinity is that, while he has only most recently affirmed he is a Trinitarian, he still uses the language of modalism to explain trinitarianism and thus causes great confusion and uncertainty over the genuineness of his Trinitarian position.
A couple of Bible teachers and theologians have tried to draw some conclusions about all of this and I think they sum it up better than I can. Carl Trueman (Church historian and Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary) writes:
“The language of manifestation [which Jakes and his church continue to use] is vulnerable to being seen as modalist; and a modalist God cannot save. The best one could say is that he uses very dangerous terminology at this point.”
Kevin De Young writes:
People can continue to debate whether Jakes is or is not a Modalist, but the fact that we don’t know what he now believes underscores the problem. He was not pressed to make his language and commitments precise. On the one hand, we should not assume the worst about people, even about their theology. On the other hand, surely those of us who rightly care about robust orthodoxy are interested in more than checking off the right boxes. I’m not at all convinced Jakes understands or affirms orthodox Trinitarianism.
Tim Challies writes:
Though he has recently denied being a Modalist, T.D. Jakes continues to use manifestations in place of persons and continues to affirm the faith of those who remain ardent Oneness Pentecostals. This is no minor quibble in theology because it contradicts and confuses the orthodox and accepted view of the Trinity. Until he clearly affirms the orthodox definition of the Trinity and denies the Modalist definition of the Trinity, we must regard him warily as a false teacher. –
I went on to the Potter’s House website on Tuesday evening, the 12 April 2016, to see how T.D. Jakes’ church statement of faith reads on the doctrine of God. This is how it reads:
There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
As of 12 April 2016, The Potter’s House, the church pastored by T.D. Jakes does not affirm a Trinitarian position but affirms the heretical view of Modalism. And as quoted earlier, “Orthodox Trinitarianism rejects modalism which believes that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different names for the same God acting in different roles or manifestations”.
If we do not affirm God as a triune God we are not affirming the God of the Bible. Anything more or less than the biblical doctrine of the Trinity is but an invention of an idol. As Trueman stated: “a modalist God cannot save”!
References and further reading:
- Tim Challies: “The False Teachers: T.D. Jakes”
- Thabiti Anyabwile: COLLATERAL DAMAGE IN THE INVITATION OF T.D. JAKES TO THE ELEPHANT ROOM
- Nathan Busenitz: Modalism, Oneness, and T. D. Jakes
- Kevin DeYoung: THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY: NO CHRISTIANITY WITHOUT IT
- Jerry L. Buckner: Concerns about the Teachings of T.D. Jakes
- Elliot Miller: T.D. Jakes Responds to the Journal
- WATCH James White give a detailed examination of T.D. Jakes’ most recent attempts at articulating the doctrine of the Trinity.
- Quotes from Wayne Grudem was taken from his book: “Systematic Theology” page 242. The insight regarding the Oneness leaders being forced out of the AOG comes from the same page as a footnote in Grudem’s Systematic Theology.
- The wikipedia page on T.D. Jakes also provides helpful insights with references.
- Theopedia: Trinity