Carson and Keller on Jakes and the Elephant Room

Controversy customarily generates its share of purple prose. It is very easy to read everything an opponent says as negatively as possible—in malam partem, as the Latins say, “in a bad sense,” while taking what our friends say in bonam partem, “in a good sense.” Such debate tends to generate polarities—and God knows that sometimes what we most need are clear-sighted polarities. Some of these polarities, however, quickly take on the flavor of party spirit and predictable responses, without any powerful effort to encourage a meeting of minds, even where we end up in disagreement.

But controversy can also provide a teaching moment, not least because the interest of many people is focused on the disputed issues. It is hard to deny that such a moment has arrived. We would like to offer some theological reflections on six conceptual pairings. We have learned over the past few decades that clear thought about the six pairings we are about to comment on is not easy. Others may be able to improve upon our musings, or even correct them. Still, we hope that the following theological reflections will clarify at least a few issues for some people.

1. Persons and Manifestations

What is at stake in the distinction? Toward the end of the second century and right through the third century, a number of thinkers defended a modal Trinity: the one God disclosed in three modes or manifestations. These people were variously called Unitarians, Patripassians (because they believed the Father suffered), or Sabellians (after Sabellius, a presbyter in Ptolemais, c. AD 250). They defended the deity of Christ (and on this one point aligned with historic Christian belief), but they denied personal distinctions in the Godhead. In their view, the one and the same person is simultaneously Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These labels express the different relations that God sustains with the world and the church, just as do other labels (e.g., Creator, King, Sustainer). But one cannot say that God the Creator addresses God the King: there is only one person. So on this view, the one person, God, has revealed himself in various manifestations or modes (hence this view is sometimes called modalism); we are not dealing with one God who has disclosed himself to be three persons, each of whom can and does address the other. It was not long before the church roundly condemned modalism, not least because Scripture is replete with passages in which, for instance, the Father addresses the Son, and the Son the Father.

When orthodox believers sought language to summarize the idea that each person of the Godhead is a self-conscious agent (the Latin category is suppositum intelligens), in the Greek part of the ancient world they first settled on prosōpon (“face”). But the Sabellians understood the same word to mean something like “aspect,” and they defended the view that God revealed himself under a threefold aspect. Eventually the orthodox settled on hypostasis. Among the Latin speakers, Christians settled on substantia or persona—and hence our English word “person.” (See chart below.) Christian thinkers have argued for centuries exactly how we should understand persona in Latin and “person” in English, but the very least that had to be affirmed was the deeply entrenched biblical reality that the “persons” of the Godhead interact with one another, address one another, love one another, in a “personal” way.

Terms Expressing God’s Oneness and Threeness





ousia, physis substantia, essentia being, substance, essence, nature


hypostaseis, prosōpa personae persons, subsistences, modes of subsistence


(This chart is from John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, A Theology of Lordship [Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2002], 697; see pp. 696-705.) Of course, the doctrine of the Trinity is much richer than these few lines suggest. As Christians in the third and fourth century studied the biblical evidence, they insisted that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit express necessary, internal, and eternal relations in the Godhead. Today, of course, we sometimes quickly summarize the doctrine of the Trinity: the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and there is but one God. That is true as far as it goes, but it does not guard very well against modalism. The early church taught “that the Father eternally, necessarily, and incomprehensibly communicates the divine essence to the Son without division or change so that the Son shares an equality of nature with the Father yet is also distinct from the Father” (this is the careful summary of Keith E. Johnson, “Augustine, Eternal Generation, and Evangelical Trinitarianism,” TrinJ 32 [2011]: 141-163). The language of “communication” was judged crucial: the essence is absolute and communicable, and the early church fathers spoke of this communication in terms of the eternal generation of the Son, while the person is incommunicable, i.e., it cannot be shared. So while one joyfully confesses that the Son is God and the Father is God, the church throughout its history has equally insisted that the Son is not the Father and the Father is not the Son. The church needs a robust Trinitarianism to avoid modalism on the one hand and tritheism on the other.

Had we the space and time, it would be delightful to justify this synthesis by providing the exegesis of many passages, and then extend the discussion from Father and Son to the Spirit. Someone might ask, “But what does it matter?” The answer is twofold: (1) If this summary accurately captures at least some of the glorious truth of the nature of the Godhead, to abandon it is to abandon a true understanding of God. If we are to worship God aright, we must worship him as he is, as he has disclosed himself to us. The only alternative is to worship a god who is progressively false as our understanding skews away from the truth. (2) Various truths connected with the gospel itself become incoherent if one abandons robust Trinitarianism. The Father sends the Son; the Son demonstrates his love for the Father by obeying him all the way to the cross; the Son addresses his Father in the anguished cry, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”; the Father gives the elect to the Son; in the plan of God, the Son propitiates the wrath of God and expiates sin; in the wake of his ascension and session at the Father’s right hand, the Son reigns as the Father’s mediatorial king until he has crushed all opponents, when he will turn the entire scope over to his Father; indeed, when the Son “offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death . . . he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Heb 5:7). None of these relational displays—and there are many others in the drama of redemption—is coherent under modalism. These relations are tied up with the nature of the Godhead. It is not surprising that those who adopt modalism habitually slide toward a diminished gospel.

In his Institutes, John Calvin sums it up: “Say that in the one essence of God there is a trinity of persons: you will say in one word what Scripture says, and cut short empty talkativeness.” He then adds that, in his experience, those who “persistently quarrel” over these words “nurse a secret poison” (I.13.5).

2. Biblicism One and Biblicism Two

In the recent Elephant Room (hereafter ER2), T. D. Jakes says that he affirms that God is three persons, but he prefers to speak of three manifestations—and then he provides a text to justify this conclusion: “God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim 3:16 KJV). As Pastor Jakes points out, that is what Paul says, and surely we do not want to write Paul off as a modalist, do we? Isn’t Pastor Jakes making a biblical argument? Don’t Christians want to defend such committed biblicism?

It is important to untangle this argument in two steps.

First, Pastor Jakes says that he affirms that God is three persons. In ER2, he affirms it again, somewhat laconically, when asked the question directly. We are delighted to hear it. Moreover, he states that some Oneness Pentecostals now think him a heretic because of it. Of course, the Oneness Pentecostal movement has various strands. Some think of him as a heretic, while others in the movement think he is acceptable, even heroic, because at the same time he says he prefers to speak of three manifestations. That must be very reassuring to “soft” Oneness Pentecostals. But the response is deeply disturbing. What does Pastor Jakes mean?

He might mean one of several things. We’ll mention three. (a) He may mean, “Words don’t matter very much; I can go with ‘persons’ or ‘manifestations,’ and I prefer the latter.” As one commentator has put it, “It’s just semantics.” But words do matter, because they are used to express truth and falsehood. In our first pairing, we tried to show that our very understanding of God is bound up with these words, and with it the gospel. Historically, the expressions have not meant the same thing. If Pastor Jakes can use either expression, which one does he mean? (b) He might mean that he is a Trinitarian, but that he prefers the language of manifestations. But why does he prefer the latter terminology? Because he is unaware of the historic debates and their doctrinal significance? Because he wants to appeal to the “soft” Oneness folk? And if the latter, how is he weaning them away from false doctrine if he continues to use the terminology that is associated in their minds with Oneness theology? (c) Or is he really a modalist who concedes “person” language now and then, even though he prefers “manifestations,” in order to be acceptable in a wider circle?

The short answer is, we don’t know.

In a much-quoted statement deriving from 2000, Pastor Jakes says he believes that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have “distinct and separate functions. . . . [E]ach has individual attributes.” Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for a moment. It would be good to ask him some other questions, such as, “Do you think the Son existed, as the Son, before he was sent by his Father into the world [John 3:17]?” Just when our sense of charity hopes that Pastor Jakes really is Trinitarian in his thought but sadly untaught, he adds (in that same 2000 interview) that the discussion is guilty of “splitting hairs” and “semantics”: no one is dying for lack of theology—they die for lack of love. Suddenly all our questions surface again. Of course people can die for lack of love; but they can also die for lack of theology. If our theology of God is very wide of the mark, we are believing in a false god. And Paul knows that a “gospel” that is no gospel at all is dangerous, and even dares to pronounce an anathema on those who preach a false gospel (Gal 1:8-9). We no more dare excuse bad or slippery theology in the name of love than we dare excuse brittle lovelessness in the name of orthodoxy.

Meanwhile, we remain uncertain if Pastor Jakes holds to a robust Trinitarianism or not. Sometimes he seems to, as when he observes, quite rightly, that the Father addresses the Son at his baptism. But then again, he prefers to speak of manifestations.

That brings us to the second step: his appeal to 1 Timothy 3:16. “God was manifest in the flesh” (KJV): apparently Pastor Jakes, not to mention some of his post-ER2 supporters, thinks this line supports his preference for three manifestations rather than three persons. It does no such thing; this is scandalously bad exegesis. Note: (a) For this verse to support the preference for manifestations terminology, it would have to support the proposition that God was manifest in the Father, God was manifest in the Son, and God was manifest in the Spirit—for that is what the “manifestations” terminology, applied to the Godhead, is all about. (b) In other words, the “manifest” verb in 1 Timothy 3:16 is not a technical expression justifying three “manifestations,” but common language that means God displayed himself in the flesh or expressed himself in the flesh or appeared in the flesh. That is why the NIV renders the passage, “He appeared in the flesh.” Should we conclude that this rendering, perfectly accurate, justifies a theory of three appearances?

Now we are getting to the nub of the issue in this second pairing. There is a kind of appeal to Scripture, a kind of biblicism—let’s call it Biblicism One—that seems to bow to what Scripture says but does not listen to the text very closely and is almost entirely uninformed by how thoughtful Christians have wrestled with these same texts for centuries. There is another kind of biblicism—let’s call it Biblicism Two—that understands the final authority in divine revelation to lie in Scripture traceable to the God who has given it, but understands also that accurate understanding of that Scripture is never supported by bad exegesis and always enriched by the work of Christian thinkers who have gone before.

Here is where the distinction becomes interesting. Neither the terminology of “manifestations” preferred by Oneness Pentecostals and other modalists nor the terminology of “persons” supported by historic creeds is directly used in Scripture. Where does it come from? It comes from thinkers two or three centuries after the New Testament was written who were doing their best to summarize large tracks of biblical themes and texts in faithful, accurate summaries, even if the terminology was not directly dependent on the terminology of a specific verse or two. History has shown, for the reasons briefly set forth in our first pairing, that the terminology of “manifestations” was soundly trounced and declared heretical: it simply could not be squared with what the Bible says. The “persons” terminology prevailed (along with words like “subsistence”) not because it derived directly from usage in the biblical documents themselves, but because it could be shown that this terminology did a great job of summarizing what the Bible actually says.

If you don’t like this example, it is easy to find others. The doctrine of justification, for example, was not invented in Reformation times. Tom Oden (The Justification Reader [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002]) has amply demonstrated how justification was discussed in the patristic period. Nevertheless, in God’s providence the disputes of sixteenth-century Europe provided much more intense study of these matters than what was undertaken in previous centuries. The result was much more exegetical rigor and theological synthesis. Just as the Christological and Trinitarian disputes of the third and fourth centuries generated syntheses that were actually grounded in the Bible and designed to reject false teaching, so the justification debates did something analogous in the sixteenth century. Just as the Christological debates generated theological terms like “essence” and “person,” belonging to the domain of systematic theology yet actually reflecting faithful biblical synthesis, so the justification debates generated theological terms that analyzed “faith” under rubrics like notitia (the content of faith), assensus (confidence that this faith-content is true), and fiducia (trust in the true content of faith such that it changes how you live).

To attempt theological interpretation without reference to such developments is part and parcel of Biblicism One; to attempt theological interpretation that is self-consciously aware of such developments and takes them into account is part and parcel of Biblicism Two. We hasten to add that both Biblicism One and Biblicism Two insist that final authority rests with the Bible. All the theological syntheses are in principle revisible. Yet the best of these creeds and confessions have been grounded in such widespread study, discussion, debate, and testing against Scripture that to ignore them tends to cut oneself off from the entire history of Christian confessionalism. The Bible remains theoretically authoritative (Biblicism One), but in fact it is being manipulated and pummeled by private interpretations cut off from the common heritage of all Christians.

Some months ago, James MacDonald wrote:

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 [sic] 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 creedal statements that seek clarity on things the Bible clouds with mystery. I do not require T. D. Jakes or anyone else to define the details of Trinitarianism the way that I might. His [Jakes’s] website states clearly that he believes God has existed eternally in three manifestations.

This, of course, is Biblicism One. As a statement about the location of final authority, it is as admirable as Biblicism Two. The thing to note is that it uses the language of “three manifestations,” which is not found in Scripture, so while claiming the authority of Biblicism One it is nevertheless sanctioning post-biblical categories. We simply cannot escape the fact that our linguistic labels are shaped by prior discussion. But if the statement had taken into account the detailed discussions about “manifestations” that have informed Christian reflection since the fourth century, the author would have insisted that “manifestations” is not an acceptable way to talk about the Godhead, and that there are detailed reasons for preferring “persons”—reasons that are grounded not in arbitrary or personal semantic preference, but in words that have been used to summarize large swaths of Christian teaching about God and which are faithful to this synthesis.

Several Christians challenged James on these matters, and James accepted the correction with humility and grace, and soon came down off that ledge. We want to give him full credit for that. Not all Christian leaders could have accepted the correction as well, and we are only bringing it up as an instructive example. Yet that is the ledge on which T. D. Jakes seems currently to be perched. His commitment to Biblicism One does not mean that he is, in the best sense, “biblical,” and his handling of 1 Timothy 3:16 on a topic of this importance is not reassuring.

3. Prosperity Gospel and Empowerment

ER2 addressed many pastorally interesting and useful topics. Quite a number of commentators, however, have expressed disappointment that no one pushed T. D. Jakes on his apparent support for the prosperity gospel.

Pastor Jakes prefers to think that what he is preaching is a kind of empowerment to oppressed people rather than a prosperity gospel. The distinction is an important one. The Bible supports a certain kind of empowerment; indeed, one and the same gospel tends to build up the oppressed and slap down the haughty. On the one hand, James 1:9 says, “Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.” Believers who are dirt poor, ill, dismissed as nothing in society, are nevertheless already children of the King of kings, and will, with Lazarus, one day lie on Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:19-37). On the other hand, James 1:10-11 says, “But the rich should take pride in their humiliation [Isn’t that a delightful phrase, worthy of much reflection?]—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.” At least some applications of the gospel will be a little different where there is a congregation of broken, indigent people as compared with where there is a congregation of wealthy, successful people.

Yet it is easy to hide a prosperity gospel under the much more acceptable banner of merely empowering the broken. There are two ways to tell. First, discover whether the eternal and universal realities of the gospel “once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3)—not just some of them—lie at the center of what is being preached. Second, find out how much of the “empowerment” focuses on material health and prosperity in this life. Since his breakthrough book, Woman, Thou Art Loosed, Pastor Jakes has left an impressive trail of books and downloads to enable you to assess such matters for yourself. Moreover, the 9Marks website offers penetrating and careful reviews of most the books that Pastor Jakes has written. As far as the evidence goes, we do not see how it is unfair to characterize the burden of much of his ministry as a combination of prosperity gospel and moralizing personal improvement.

4. Love and Truth

A fair bit has been posted on the lovelessness of TGC in general and of some of its members in particular. We cannot help but notice that there are two categories of charges that contradict each other somewhat. On the one hand, we love issues more than people; we should be reconcilers, not haters; we are called to love one another, and we are failing in this regard. On the other hand, quite a few bloggers have criticized TGC for being too silent: in a word, we are cowards instead of standing up for the truth, caving in to megachurch pastors instead of speaking the truth.

We are not above reproach in either direction. All of us will answer to God on the last day; on a much shorter scale, the Council of the Coalition will certainly weigh very carefully at our May meeting what we have and have not done. What we are quite certain of, however, is that the apostle who so movingly writes 1 Corinthians 13 also writes many things about the non-negotiability of the truth of the gospel. He can be surprisingly patient with preachers with bad motives provided that what they preach is the gospel (Phil 1), but when the Jesus who is being preached is “a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached,” Paul can label the preachers “false apostles” who are “masquerading as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor 11) and insist that the Corinthians expel them.

What that means, of course, is that Christian leaders are charged with discerning when and how the tough line must be taken. Even when discipline is demanded, it should never be vituperative. But to appeal to the many passages that exhort us to love without simultaneously thinking through the many passages that bind us to uphold the truth is not only one-sided, it is in danger of being manipulative: if you do not agree with me, you are unloving. Of course, the manipulation can run the other way: if you do not reject this person or this position, you do not care for the truth.

The most recent biography Iain Murray has written is the life of Archibald Brown, one of the successors of Charles Spurgeon. Murray gives us a thumb-nail sketch of the Downgrade controversy (something he filled out in more detail in his earlier volume, The Forgotten Spurgeon). Spurgeon, Brown, and others were increasingly concerned by the effect of German rationalism on Baptist churches in England. What is so striking is how often their opponents charged Spurgeon and his friends with lovelessness, arrogance, old-fashioned small-mindedness—often in a singularly unloving way—without ever engaging the matters of substance. Here, for example, is the Nonconformist and Independent for 17 November, 1887: “Mr Spurgeon and those who follow him seem to be intent upon accentuating the differences of Nonconformists, instead of seeking to draw nearer to each other by unity with their Lord.” So the issue Spurgeon thought important is not taken up, but Spurgeon himself is divisive. It is easy to multiply historical examples of this sort.

Those who take up important theological issues must do so in love, examining their own hearts, avoiding snarkiness and oneupmanship; those who appeal to love and unity need to actually engage with the issues, refusing to duck them.

5. Racism and Playing the Race Card

Doubtless this is the most delicate, sensitive, and complicated of the issues that have arisen, and we do not want to add to the confusion by saying too much or too little, or by writing with the wrong tone. But it would be irresponsible if we said nothing.

About three weeks ago the majority of the African American Council members of TGC made it clear that they felt the white members, not least the leadership, were more sensitive to white theological issues than to black theological issues. After all, TGC had mounted an informed, careful, and bold response to Rob Bell when the incipient universalism of his latest book started to receive national attention and threaten the truth of Scripture and the nature of the gospel. Our African American brothers pointed out, however, that Rob Bell is not perceived to be a great threat in African American circles. But these brothers felt pretty strongly that T. D. Jakes is a huge issue in their circles. On this issue, they thought, TGC was insensitive to what they thought of as a much greater threat.

There were about ten of us involved in those discussions. As soon as matters were articulated like that, the white men among us could not help but see that the charge was justified. Insensitivity on matters of race can be such a subtle thing. By and large, white Christian leaders tend to think that racism is no longer a huge issue, while black Christian leaders tend to think it remains a huge issue: even our perceptions of the significance of the problem are not on the same page. But in this case we caught a glimpse of something that we knew theoretically, but were now seeing up front: there is still a lot of hidden culpable insensitivity around until we are no less eager to engage the “other’s” concerns than our own.

Of course, the issue was complicated by at least two other factors. First, not all African American members saw things the same way. But why should that surprise us? Not all white Christians see things the same way, either. Still, the clear majority of our African American brothers on the Council let us know, rightly, that they were upset. And we judged we had clearly been in the wrong. Second, in one way, of course, this issue was different from Rob Bell’s book, in that there had been no member of the Council who was committed to exploring how acceptable Rob Bell’s theology might be within historic confessionalism, but there were some members of the Council who were committed to exploring T. D. Jakes in this way. But that meant, of course, that the racial insensitivity issue that the majority of our African American brothers on the Council brought up was linked with Jakes’s modalist heritage and his prosperity gospel, which in the words of a couple of them, was “ravaging” the black churches. From their perspective, some of them had paid considerable cost for publicly standing against Pastor Jakes. They had done so precisely because their minds and hearts had been captured by the glorious gospel of the blessed God—and when they needed the most support, the white brothers were letting them down. Suddenly all the theological “pairings” we have articulated in this blogpost were linked together.

Subtleties and ironies surfaced everywhere in the subsequent developments. Some wanted to give T. D. Jakes a pass on the ground that African American churches are more interested in redemption than creeds. That’s a bit like giving Jonathan Edwards a pass on slavery because he was a man of his own time and class. All of us must hold one another to the standard of God’s most holy Word. In fact, it is a kind of insult to Pastor Jakes to give him a pass because of his ethnicity.

It will serve no good purpose to provide a detailed step-by-step account of all that unfolded from that point on. But we must insist in the strongest terms that the white Council members acted not only out of doctrinal and pastoral concerns, but newly aware that we had flubbed the racism test and were trying to make things right. Equally, the African American Council members, far from kowtowing to white concerns, were themselves acting out of their deepest doctrinal and pastoral commitments—commitments for which some of them had already paid a considerable price. It does them—not to say historic Christian confessionalism—an enormous disservice to charge them with betraying their ethnicity. Historic Christian confessionalism is not the private playground of middle-aged white guys. Have we forgotten that the most brilliant and influential thinker in the fourth century when many of the Trinitarian controversies came to resolution was a North African by the name of Augustine?

6. Private and Public

For our purposes, this topic has at least three dimensions.

First, talking with T. D. Jakes in ER2 has been cast as listening to someone first before we say anything critical of him. Relationships precede evaluation. Anyone who ventures a critical evaluation of Pastor Jakes before ER2 is simply being judgmental. With respect, this argument does not hold up to either Scripture or reason. Pastor Jakes is not a private individual about whom some people might have heard a few negative things. If that were the case, it would be imperative to uncover the truth before passing on what would in that case be nothing more than gossip. Pastor Jakes, however, is a public individual. He himself publishes his views in various media; they circulate widely. He is read and heard around the world. Not long ago in a Christian bookshop in South Africa, one of the writers of this article discovered that the author with the greatest number of books on the shelf was T. D. Jakes. It is the responsibility of Christian pastors to become aware of such a preacher and teacher if his works are significantly influencing their own flocks. To imagine that no fair evaluation is possible before an ER2-type public event does not square with apostolic practice. When in 2 Corinthians 10-13 Paul learns of interlopers who are preaching another Jesus, he does not begin by arranging a fireside chat. The content and direction of the interlopers’ ministry is already public, and Paul confronts it.

Second, one might well ask, “But isn’t it different when someone seems to be leaving the camp of a demonstrably false theology, and becoming more orthodox? Isn’t this sort of public discussion in that case very helpful?” Perhaps. In our view, however, there is a better way. A quarter of a century ago, one of us was involved, with other Christian leaders, in several intense, probing discussions with leaders of a major cult. Neither side wanted these discussions to be public; they took place behind closed doors, without cameras or reporters. The cultists were wanting serious discussions with us because their own reading of Scripture was gradually bringing them around to historic confessional orthodoxy. In due course they went public on their own terms, and brought out many of their followers into evangelicalism. That development would not have taken place had the discussions been held in the open.

It is surely a wise and strategic thing to engage in probing conversations with many people with views very dissimilar to our own—not only Christians, but non-Christians, too. And many of our Council members are involved in such discussions, partly in function of normal human friendships, partly in function of Christian witness. Sometimes discussions take place with gifted orators whose theology is still a bit wonky: there is always a place for a Priscilla and an Aquila to teach an Apollos to understand the way of God a little better than he has understood it so far, and there is always a place for a Paul to reason with pagan philosophers in the Areopagus. Many of us are so involved. But that is a bit different from trying to reform another’s theology in a public setting where the trappings and attitudes largely suggest everyone is already on the same side.

Third, as useful as it is on so many fronts, the internet is not notable for fostering discretion in this arena. Bloggers who have no idea of how many hours have been spent in private conversation to win someone to a better way often write with instantaneous public appraisals and unfettered language. They invariably think they write with prophetic insight; sometimes, at least, the contempt displayed is simply sinful. A colleague recently reminded one of us how Calvin set up four organizations in Geneva: the Company of Preachers, the Congregation, the Ordinary Censure, and the Consistory, each with its own responsibilities and assignments. It is the third that is of interest here: the Ordinary Censure brought together the area pastors four times a year, behind closed doors, where they addressed one another with their perceptions of another’s false teaching, dealt with personality conflicts, and the like. The aim was to work things out, hold one another accountable, and bring correction and healing. Each of those four meetings was scheduled one week before the quarterly celebration of the Lord’s Table. The accountability was remarkable—and it was possible, at least in part, because of the regularity and privacy of the Ordinary Censure. This was not designed to skirt the biblical instruction that where there is public accusation against an elder that is found to be justified, the elder is to be reproved before everyone (1 Tim 5:19-20), but it was designed to be a mutually correcting and restorative venue before matters had progressed that far.

We conclude by reiterating what we said in the opening lines. The purpose of this post is not to provide a re-hash of recent events, still less to assign blame. It is to provide some theological and pastoral reflection on the interlocking issues with which we have been wrestling.

  • Jon Bennett

    Thank you for speaking out on this issue. I appreciate your ability to articulate the different nuances concerned. I hope there can be greater clarity and we can grow in maturity of faith, without false accusations but grace covered words. Thanks again.

  • Mike Sung Im

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom in this well reasoned post. The reading of it was extremely thought-provoking, humbling, and profitable to me.

    May we grow in our zealous love for God, His truth and for His people.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Ditto the thanks given above for speaking out on the ER2 issue/controversy.

    “Some wanted to give T. D. Jakes a pass on the ground that African American churches are more interested in redemption than creeds. That’s a bit like giving Jonathan Edwards a pass on slavery because he was a man of his own time and class.”

    Wow. Never saw that one coming. What an analogy!

    Lastly, on a side note I thought Pastor Kevin DeYoung’s post on ER2 and his suggested Theology of Criticism was quite a good TGC article.

    • Dan

      Hey haven’t I seen your comments on Cranach blog?

      • Henry

        Our dear brother TUAD is probably the most prolific commenter in the reformed blogosphere. He is everywhere!

  • Aaron Snell

    Several Christians challenged James on these matters, and James accepted the correction with humility and grace, and soon came down off that ledge.

    When? Where? Can someone help me out here with a link? Or was this only in private conversations?

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    “Jakes’s modalist heritage and his prosperity gospel, which in the words of a couple of them, was “ravaging” the black churches. From their perspective, some of them had paid considerable cost for publicly standing against Pastor Jakes.”

    Out of curiosity, what is the considerable cost borne by Pastor Voddie and Pastor Thabiti and others for publicly standing against Pastor Jakes?

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  • Tom Chantry

    Thank you very much for your defense of those of your council members who saw this clearly. That very much needed to be said, and you have done the church a service by saying it.

    Two questions, which perhaps are not to be answered here, but which might be worth your consideration as you look back:

    First, in light of Dr. Truman’s abrupt departure from Themelios, the perception has grown that those associated with TCG have been strongly discouraged from comment on this issue. Does that perception concern you, and if it is correct, is it something you would reconsider?

    Second, only a week and a half ago you wrote, “We acknowledge that James feels called of God into these spheres, and we wish him well in his far-reaching endeavors, and many years of ministry both faithful and fruitful.” Given the trajectory of Pastor MacDonald in these ten days, is that a statement you regret? Did you have the requisite knowledge to see that it might prove regrettable?

    Again, I would not expect these questions to be answered in this forum. Thank you for beginning the process of reexamining the Coalition’s conduct in this matter.

  • Steve Bradley

    I appreciated this a great deal and hope this encourages others in the right path. Thanks for sticking your necks out and staying true to the Word.

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  • Andrew Stravitz

    “And faith is produced by the truth; for faith rests on things that truly are. For in things that are, as they are, we believe; and believing in things that are, as they ever are, we keep firm our confidence in them.”
    Irenaeus, from the preface of On the Apostolic Preaching

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  • Sean Nelson

    A couple quick thoughts…First, you guys write:

    “But if the statement had taken into account the detailed discussions about “manifestations” that have informed Christian reflection since the fourth century, the author would have insisted that “manifestations” is not an acceptable way to talk about the Godhead, and that there are detailed reasons for preferring “persons”—reasons that are grounded not in arbitrary or personal semantic preference, but in words that have been used to summarize large swaths of Christian teaching about God and which are faithful to this synthesis.

    Several Christians challenged James on these matters, and James accepted the correction with humility and grace, and soon came down off that ledge.”

    Maybe I’m being a bit dense, but how can it be said that MacDonald “came down off that ledge,” since he, when the spotlight was on and the opportunity to affirm that “manifestations” is not an acceptable way to talk about the Godhead presented itself, he ended up affirming Jakes’ statements about manifestations as sufficiently Trinitarian? That really doesn’t sound like he backed down in any publicly discernible sense.

    Honestly, I think that it will be those “publicly discernible” actions which will determine the lasting impact of the ER2. I agree that much of what needed to be said to James MacDonald and Mark Driscoll (I certainly hope he was included in those conversations), needed to be said privately. But when the end result of those private conversations was the public affirmation by a Coalition member and former founding member of T.D. Jakes as a Christian teacher, the softballing of his trinitarian issues, and a complete whiff on his prosperity teachings, I think it’s time for someone in the Coalition to realize their good name has been publicly associated with this mess, stand up, point the finger straight at the ER and say:

    “That should not have happened, and we do not approve of how it was handled.”

  • Doug

    I am appreciative of these reflections but there is yet one “elephant” in the room- Mark Driscoll. For the life of me I cannot understand the constant propping up of this guy by the likes of TGC.

    • Ken

      You can never get rid of Driscoll. He excels at starting or getting in the middle of controversy everywhere. We’re only one month into 2012, and he’s already (1) been in the national & global media for his sex book with his wife; (2) insulted all the preachers throughout the UK, calling them guys who wear dresses while preaching to grandmas; (3) had one of his church member’s video on Jesus vs. religion go viral, reaching a viewcount into the tens of millions; and (4) this whole mess with the Elephant Room in which he stuck up for his fellow megachurchy pastor buddy James MacD, and exonerated T. D. Jakes through his inconclusive theological examination – and that’s all in 2012 (I’m breathless after writing all that). He never goes away, he never stops. My guess is that down the road Jakes will teach Modalism again, and Driscoll will fly into a rage (‘he lied to us’). Maybe not, but I always respected Driscoll’s willingness to speak up for and stand by what he saw as biblical truth, no matter how strong the backlash of criticism. So his not proactively championing Trinitarian doctrine in this matter both surprised and saddened me. Actually, I wish he wouldn’t go away, but just mature and exercise wisdom.

      • Doug

        I agree with most of what you say here. However, I am still puzzled why Driscoll, of all people, gets the status of “friend” by guys like D.A. Carson, Danny Akin, John Piper, etc., all men who are solid and put the Word forth in a manner “worthy of the Gospel” while Driscoll does what you have listed plus he laces his sermons with sexual innuendo (and not just his series on the Song of Solomon- Genesis had moments that just left me befuddled), claims that God puts images in his head of his parishioners having sexual tromps, jokes about things that ought not to be joked about, and we could go on. His negative influence on the younger generation in my congregation is tangible- the use of profanity and a less-than-cautious handling of alcohol is defended by pointing to his example. Of all the solid guys out there, again I ask, why him? Why are these men of reknown quick to flock to his side and prop him up by calling him their friend and giving him platforms from which to promote himself?

        • James Pruch

          Doug, first of all, Keller and Carson did not write about Mark Driscoll. Secondly, can you actually point to specific places where he uses profanity in sermons or books and talks about “less-than-cautious handling of alcohol”?

          I’m not a Driscoll apologist, but arguments need to be backed up with evidence, so that’s why I ask.

          • HLJ3RD


            I say this with brotherly love and respect: Google is your friend. Don’t saddle others with your burden for evidence on matters that have been out in the open for years already.


        • Chris Poblete

          Brother, regardless of Driscoll’s ministry, do you truly think that the status of “friend” should only be limited to men who minister in a like manner, or even in what we would consider a worthy manner?

  • MMA

    I must say I find it interesting that there is such slight appeal to Scripture in the above Trinitarian discussion. Keller and Carson acknowledge this, and state they wish they had the space to fill their exposition out with exegesis. Nonetheless, Jakes and others are ambiguous on this issue precisely because of what they perceive to be a lack of biblical clarity in support of the classical position. In light of this fact, it seems somewhat out of place to argue with them on the basis of patristic theology. The sad truth is that many modern evangelical Trinitarians argue their position on the basis of tradition (and a very superficial understanding of that, even).

    Matthew Anderson
    Washington, DC

    • Henry

      Amen to that.

      Given that the primary thing Jakes needs is some help with what the bible teaches about the trinity and prosperity gospel, is it not paramount to first bring some more texts to bear? It doesn’t have to be exhaustively sophisticated.

      • Hughuenot

        Thank you, Matthew & Henry.

        Jesus said, “I and my Father are one,” &
        “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” &
        “I am in the Father, and the Father in me.”
        As well as, “My Father is greater than I.”

        From above: Christian thinkers have argued for centuries exactly how we should understand persona in Latin and “person” in English, but the very least that had to be affirmed was the deeply entrenched biblical reality that the “persons” of the Godhead interact with one another, address one another, love one another, in a “personal” way.

        And, The language of “communication” was judged crucial: the essence is absolute and communicable, and the early church fathers spoke of this communication in terms of the eternal generation of the Son, while the person is incommunicable, i.e., it cannot be shared. So while one joyfully confesses that the Son is God and the Father is God, the church throughout its history has equally insisted that the Son is not the Father and the Father is not the Son.

        For the record: What is a “person”?

  • Theology Samurai

    This post was excellent.

    However, for there to be some closure on this whole episode, James MacDonald and the 3 pastors who made the very odious insinuations about Voddie and Thabiti, et al need to issue a real apology. Secondly, Mark Driscoll needs to follow James MacDonald and resign. Unless those two things happen, the worse for TGC.

    Thanks for the thoughtful analysis and comments.

    • mel

      I think if you are going to say things like that then you should post under your name.

      • PawellP

        “I think if you are going to say things like that then you should post under your name.”

        Why? So you can engage in an ad hominem rebuke instead of addressing the real issues raised? I don’t get this idea that if a person speaks anonymously their arguments are invalid. History is full of examples where men spoke anonymously against corruption and injustice, who later spoke publicly, and today we revere them as saints and patriots.

  • Mike

    This is pretty heady stuff a bit out of my league and I might suggest many common folks as well, and I know you’re addressing pastors and theologians here. But, I have to ask the question, though politically correct question, is there wisdom in attacking or criticizing an African American leader to millions in the black community; a bunch of white guys address issues that only the African American community really understands,i.e, Hope,Faith, Healing of abuse for both men and women. Yes I know you are challenging wrong theology, but I know they would completely agree in the fundamental truths of the Gospel for salvation. So I guess I would also ask the question do you believe they are unsaved because of wrong theology on the trinity. I’m not into the prosperity gospel and am reformed but I get a little uneasy at some of the tactics. For example I heard one prominent reformed leader say that Joel Osteen is of his father the devil, is their wisdom in that. These are just some things I see and question. Thanks Mike

    • Chessie

      ” is there wisdom in attacking or criticizing an African American leader to millions in the black community; ”

      1. What does the black community or Jakes being African american have to do with the Trinity? Know one “attacked” or criticized” His ethnicity or the black community so how are these two things relevant?
      2. Wouldn’t it be a bigger insult to allow someone to get away with teaching bad doctrine to African American’s just because they are also African american?
      3.Who decided T.D Jakes was a African american leader..who told you that? Based on what? I am of American African decent and knowone notified me Jakes was my “leader”.

      ” a bunch of white guys address issues that only the African American community really understands,i.e, Hope,Faith, Healing of abuse for both men and women. ”
      1.Let me get this straight ONLY African Americans know about hope, faith, and healing of abuse? What does that statement even mean?
      2. And again what does it have to do with the Trinity exactly?
      3. And what of the African american’s who have critiqued Jakes now and long before the ER?

      “Yes I know you are challenging wrong theology, but I know they would completely agree in the fundamental truths of the Gospel for salvation.”

      1. It’s not fundamental to the Gospel that the Son whom the Father sent offered Himself as a sacrifice and the Father accepted it?
      2. What Gospel did the god of Modalism supply for our salvation?

      by the way I am Black if your are wondering.

      • David

        Great job! I like your style.

  • Scott Bashoor

    Thank you for taking the time to address these concerns publically. I am prayerful for the Coalition in the days ahead that more thoughtful and prayerful discussion will result in greater clarity for the truth while retaining charity of spirit.

  • Javier

    I see prosperity written and promised all over the Bible, I also see warnings against trusting in riches. So it appears to me that rather than criticizing “prosperity” preachers, you may want to just teach not to trust in riches which is the problem. I’ve heard numerous preachers from a wide variety of angles on this subject, and it seems that those who oppose the prosperity message are always attacking those who preach it but never base those criticisms in the word of God. I’d think that God is big enough to take care of his preachers, and at the same time I believe christians shouldn’t be criticizing one another on subjects like healing, prosperity, etc. I see nothing wrong with preaching prosperity, provided it’s based in the word of God and such prosperity is acknowledged from God based on his promises, of which there are many.

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  • Douglas

    And all the while the poor uneducated Christian in the pew continues to be deceived. The ones who keep handing over their hard earned cash, week after week.

    • Javier

      I’d like to have more than just opinion to criticize or even just to disagree with the true prosperity message. Opinions after all are a dime a dozen. Where is the Bible verses that teach that God wants us poor, sick and struggling?
      In the 10th chapter of Mark, Jesus was teaching against trusting in riches not against having riches. It’s a matter of where do you put your trust,in your money, in your job, in your stocks, or in Jesus. I really don’t understand what the fuzz is, and what’s really sad is to see Christians attacking other Christians on theology that they don’t seem to understand. The criticism seems to be based on opinion rather than on the Word of God, and that’s wrong!
      As for the “poor uneducated Christian in the pew”, why is he uneducated?, the Bible is easy read and it means what it says. God says in Hosea 4 that “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge” and puts the responsibility of getting that knowledge on the people. Well, there’s no excuse not to know the word these days, is there?. If a Christian attends a church where there is no word being preached, no salvations occurring, no healings being performed by the Lord, and no life in it, then he’d be throwing his “hard earned cash” away. But he doesn’t have to stay in that type of church, does he?

      • Bryan C.

        Sure Javier, Here are a few:
        Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
        Luke 12:33-34.

        “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
        Matthew 6:19-21.

        2Co 4:18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
        But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

        But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
        1 Timothy 6:8-11.

        Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5.

        Hopefully these Scriptures will help you. I could post many more. I would like to tell you that I once thought like you but my problem was that I did not want to hear. I only believed those parts about the Bible that told me what I wanted to hear. I could not hear because I was blinded by my desires. Please don’t waste your life thinking that someone like T.D. Jakes has your best interest at heart. He is preaching that way because it makes him a lot of money. Yes, some will say, “Well, so are all of these other well-known preachers!” Really. But what is the Bible’s message? If all the other people in the world were jumping off of a cliff would that make it ok for you to follow them?

  • Douglas

    Oh the “Theology of Criticism” is such a heavy cross to carry, especially when one is bombarded with Scrirpture twisting heretical false teachings every day. Don’t you dare criticise God’s anointed, that’s “The Theology of Criticism” don’t you know. There are some very skilled pens out there who know how to rip apart those who have a degeree in “The Theology of Criticism” and make them look real loveless, uncaring, critical indivividuals I can tell you. All done in genuine love of course, eh? How come the Church of Jesus Christ is overrun by LEADERS??? One would think the only Christians in the Church are leaders???

  • lander

    Thank you. That was mighty fine theology and writing. And because it is not in the abstract (like a textbook) but reflecting on and in the living Church, it is doubly instructive. Thank you again.

  • Henry

    Whilst I am thankful that TGC has opened its mouth, I’d like to offer a few criticisms:

    (1) I would be very grateful if you would write something simpler that the common non-seminarian could better understand. This will go right over the head of people like T.D. Jakes and Steven Furtick (that is not intended as an insult to them. We all have differing gifts). Please do theology for the common man, especially when a number of common men were involved in ER2. Grudem is a good example in this regard. Kevin DeYoung’s post was very good in that regard to.

    (2) It seems you are calling T.D. Jakes to ascend to the sophisticated theological perch that you are able to live on. This seems unreasonable and a little prideful. The scriptures have a place for the common fisherman in church leadership. I think many would be grateful if you would try harder to bear that in mind, and ‘stoop to his level’ a bit.

    (3) Despite his errors, James Macdonald is to be commended for his attempt at building bridges with those in other camps. If you haven’t already, would you at least consider inviting Jakes out for dinner some time for a bit of iron-sharpening? It is still remarkably unclear (as you seem to concede) whether he even fully understands the issues here, and this complicated blog post will not help him. Many thanks.

    • Wayne Roberts

      Furtick if I’m not mistaken is a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary grad (MDiv). Will he not be able to understand what was in the blog…not likely. Disregarding it is something else.

  • Ricky

    Thanks for the article and its expressed purposes. Do you as authors and fellow pastors care to tell us how you’ve also pursued face to face conversation with Bishop Jakes in efforts to correct the theological missteps you’ve so carefully outlined? In other words, I applaud your efforts to stand for truth. But what steps are you all taking to pursue an opportunity to ‘win over’ theologically one who has such potential to reach the masses in a fully positive (biblical) way?

    • Henry

      Amen indeed Ricky. I hope that is what they are hinting is going on in the last few paragraphs.

    • Robert Briggs

      Did you not quite understand the article ?

      • Henry

        Robert, may God remember your kindness to those less intelligent than yourself.

        The issue is not ‘theology 101 all the time’. The issue is making the truth of God’s word understandable to men like Jakes and Furtick. Grudem and Spurgeon manage(d) it, why not others?

        • Robert Briggs

          Not quite sure what you mean Henry, but it is also important to remember that understanding truth is not just about simply explaining theology, there is a spiritual component to it that none of us control. The finer issues of the Trinity do require applying our minds at a level too many in the modern world cannot be bothered with. Sadly because Christianity is more about hype and excitement than the fruit of the Spirit they are indeed those who fall into biblicism 1. What is worse? Saying Jakes is not intelligent? Or saying Jakes is not spiritual ? I do not think the man is unintelligent, but i do think his spiritual understanding is indeed questionable at best in the light of what has come out.

  • Robert Briggs

    Glad to see this article, it is interesting how many people want theology 101 all the time. Some things are not that simple and this issue of the Trinity is one that has been battled over down through the centuries. I think you did a good job breaking it down. I guess you cannot please everyone, but I think we knew that.

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  • graham and nicola

    As two non-seminarians we are grateful for a post that was heavy on substance and light on style. We are, once more, grateful for the ministry and leadership of Pastor Anyabwile.
    We were a little concerned at the final appeal to the privacy of the Ordinary Censure. This could be read as an appeal to professional privilege – a “don’t criticise the experts”. Pastors have always had to persuade the laity; or at least this has been the case where Church/State relations were not those of 16th Century Geneva.
    But the comments are getting very harsh on this thread, and we are now beginning to see Dr Carson and Pastor Keller’s point. We’re all for open critique (as we have just demonstrated) but is it time to close this thread to comments?


  • Ben K

    This was a thoroughly stimulating read.
    I wanted to encourage the members of the Gospel Coalition to continue writing such open, honest and insightful posts. I can’t say that I follow and read everything on this site and yet the commitment you show to Biblical Truth and Brotherly Love are inspiring. I know that some will think that you have manipulated your readers with such a post and that I have been fooled into thinking that you are more genuine than you seem. I’d implore such readers to read this article again without presuppositions and bias. I am not suggesting that it is ever possible for us to approach a text without our preconceived ideas but I do believe that a sober-minded man or woman under the direction of the Holy Spirit can only be encouraged by the content and the style with which this post has been published.
    Based on point 4, it is apparent that the contributers to the Gospel Coalition as leaders of the Evangelical Church in the 21st century need much prayer and support as they are continually called upon to offer Truthful and Loving responses to the issues of our time. As a seminarian, I find this task difficult in my small context, I can only imagine the challenges this would present on a larger scale and in the public eye.

    Please guard your lives and doctrine closely. The race is not over, you have not yet attained the prize and we could all do without another public disgrace, you are in our prayers.


  • Steve Cornell

    A few responses:

    Part of the goal of the Elephant Room is stated as follows: “To advance Christ’s call to unity we must do what men have always done, we must push and prod and challenge and sharpen each other’s beliefs and methods.”

    Push, prod, challenge and sharpen? — Goal achieved. Overall, this achievement (as above) has been done with honorable doses of authentic humility. “What good,” asked Thomas á Kempis, “does it do you if you dispute loftily about the Trinity, but lack humility and therefore displease the Trinity?”

    Evidently, (for some readers) there has been a reaffirmation of the Church father’s observation: “He who would seek to understand the Trinity is in danger of losing his mind; yet he would deny the Trinity is in danger of losing his soul.”

    In good company: “… if there has ever been a genuine ‘problem’ in Christian doctrine, then surely it is how the eternal God can be both One and yet Three at the same time” (God the Holy Trinity: Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice, p. 9, Timothy George).

    Is this a Gospel issue? Consider: “The gospel of salvation through a divine-human mediator and a divine Spirit cannot be true if trinitarianism is false, nor can there then be such a thing as communion with the three persons of the Godhead distinctly” (J. I. Packer).

    Want to dig deeper? (You won’t agree with everything in each resource)

    1. God in Three Persons: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity and Making Sense of the Trinity, by Millard J. Erickson.
    2. God the Holy Trinity: Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice, Timothy George (editor)
    3. The Beauty Of The Infinite: The Aesthetics Of Christian Truth, David Bentley Hart
    4. God’s Life in Trinity, Miroslav Volf and Michael Welker (editors)
    5. The God Who Is Triune: Revisioning the Christian Doctrine of God, Allan Coppedge

    Finally, the God revealed in Scripture infinitely transcends finite comprehension. What we know about God, we know because He has condescended to reveal Himself to us. Yet we should expect that some of His majestic existence will simply be beyond the realm of finite minds (Is. 55:8-9; Job 11:7; Rom. 11:33).

  • Andrew Arndt

    Appreciated this. And agree with those who are asking what steps TGC has taken to engage/correct/sharpen Jakes. I do feel that MacDonald is to be commended for starting a conversation that will (likely? hopefully? probably?) lead to more conversations with Jakes.

    Thanks guys.

    Grace and peace…


  • Caleb

    Thanks for this analysis men. Many of us were waiting to hear from you.

    I don’t care for the distinction you made between white council members and black council members. I understand the point you were trying to make but as Christians who cares what skin color someone is? Blessings to you-

  • Robert

    The Church is better because of this conversation. This post is an example of reasoned, Gospel driven thought. Thanks.

  • Douglas

    Despite his errors, James Macdonald is to be commended for his attempt at building bridges with those in other camps.”

    All theological errors are sin. Some more grievous than others I think. Theological errors can be and are damnable. No light matter. Building Bridges is the new cool, how to build bridges with Scripture twisting, heretical, false teachers is all fine and dandy these days. T. D. Jakes is not the only one. Perry Noble and Stephen Furtick twist the Scriptures constantly as well and us little people in the pews have to sit back and say nothing, we just have to take it all in, if we don’t like it we can lump it? Don’t question the “anointed” leader/s. We who have been, are being deceived, have had too much “Theology of Criticism.” Makes me sick. Makes me wonder if Christianity really is true??? Must be true though for sure, what with all the falsehood going down in these dark days.

    “Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California, recently suggested that I write a book about “the myth of influence.” I was startled by the suggestion because I did not know what he meant. He explained that this phrase refers to the modern evangelical penchant to “build bridges” to secular thought or to groups within the larger church that espouse defective theologies. The mythical element is the naive assumption that one can build bridges that move in one direction only. Bridges are usually built to allow traffic to move in two directions. What often happens when we relate to others is that we become the influencees rather than the influencers. In an effort to win people to Christ and be “winsome,” we may easily slip into the trap of emptying the gospel of its content, accommodating our hearers, and removing the offense inherent in the gospel. To be sure, our own insensitive behavior can add an offense to the gospel that is not properly part of it. We should labor hard to avoid such behavior. But to strip the gospel of those elements that unbelievers find repugnant is not an option.

    Martin Luther once remarked that wherever the gospel is preached in its purity, it engenders conflict and controversy. We live in an age that abhors controversy, and we are prone to avoid conflict. How dissimilar this atmosphere is from that which marked the labor of Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles. The prophets were immersed in conflict and controversy precisely because they would not accommodate the Word of God to the demands of a nation caught up in syncretism. The apostles were engaged in conflict continuously. As much as Paul sought to live peaceably with all men, he found rare moments of peace and little respite from controversy.

    That we enjoy relative safety from violent attacks against us may indicate a maturing of modern civilization with respect to religious toleration. Or it may indicate that we have so compromised the gospel that we no longer provoke the conflict that true faith engenders.” pages 19-20 Willing to Believe –R. C. Sproul

    Unity over sound teaching at all costs? We must have unity even with lying spirits and doctrines of demons, with myths, traditions and commands of men? Truth is divisive, it divides the error form the truth and it unifies the truth.

    Isaiah 59:13In transgressing and lying against the LORD, and departing away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. 14And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. 15Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment.

    • lander

      Thank you for your incisive post and illustration: a bridge has two-way traffic, and we are warned to not build one to doctrines of demons. Your post is very helpful.

      How then DOES one interact with professing believers outside one’s confessional circle?

      Would you agree that an island is a lonely place to live? Island-bound tribes develop peculiar customs, like cannibalism (see, Machen’s Warrior Children, John Frame).

      Does Horton’s “village green” not work for TGC/Themelios where so many shared core essentials are championed?

      A poster purported Trueman resigned from Themelios. If so, and if it was a tiny bit related to the handling of ER2, has it now come to “double separation”?

      The broader evangelical church needs a sturdy bridge from confessional Reformed influence. Please don’t abandon those of us who labor on the mainland!

      Reformed theology has been sometimes overconfident of it’s ability to be a leavening, restraining influence on the broader culture. But a Reformed monasticism of little OPC or RP churches with 35 attendees is no influence at all.

      Despite their sins and weaknesses (which we share), God is using Loritts, MacDonald and Driscoll to make disciples of Jesus on the mainland. They are open to the Reformed confessional bridge, but find themselves, like Patrick, sent from the Abbey among the pagan hordes.

      Please don’t pull up the drawbridge when your missionary-warriors need fresh supply.

      Build the bridge, if for no other reason, than to supply those on the frontlines with medical treatment for the body of Christ and food for the soul.

      • http://n/a Another Mike

        I must concur with Douglas on his statements of “(a) Building Bridges is the new cool, how to build bridges with Scripture twisting, heretical, false teachers is all fine and dandy these days…and (b) refers to the modern evangelical penchant to “build bridges” to secular thought or to groups within the larger church that espouse defective theologies. The mythical element is the naive assumption that one can build bridges that move in one direction only. Bridges are usually built to allow traffic to move in two directions. What often happens when we relate to others is that we become the influences rather than the influencers. In an effort to win people to Christ and be “winsome,” we may easily slip into the trap of emptying the gospel of its content, accommodating our hearers, and removing the offense inherent in the gospel.”
        In any conflict (and what we have here is a conflict with several fronts) you build a bridge to cross over and then guard it or dismantle it to prevent the enemy from using it once you use it. You could also use the image of a “zip-line” if it helps.
        Following C. S. Lewis’ wonderful analogy with “we live in enemy occupied territory” (Mere Christianity), we live in pockets or islands of Christ-centered Christianity where we must protect the flocks we watch over by fighting off false gospels.
        Unfortunately, (I see) the invitation of Mr. Jakes to the ER as being a poor decision as we had a forum with a great many shepherds inviting a wolf(?) and then using verbal pillows and rather than verbal spears, swords, or arrows to disarm/defeat him.
        Why give the invitation if there was fear of a backlash from a direct confrontation? When facing a dangerous animal/adversary you take it down. To do less is to leave you open to injury or worse. What we have looks like the latter.
        Again, Douglas brought up a significant point with his statement of “The prophets were immersed in conflict and controversy precisely because they would not accommodate the Word of God to the demands of a nation caught up in syncretism. The apostles were engaged in conflict continuously.”
        The prophets and apostles knew they lived in enemy occupied territory. Today, in the US, we in live in the same enemy occupied territory. As such, we should only go out into the middle of their public flocks and guard against the enemy trying the same against us.

        • lander

          Yes, Jakes likely is still a heretic. I agree with Douglas’s main point that a bridge to the doctrine of demons is two-way and dumb.

          So I ask again, not to dispute, but in genuine wonder: “How then DOES one interact with professing believers outside one’s confessional circle?”

          A certian amount of two-traffic is part of living on a shared planet. So how does one interact (not partner, but talk to) people outside one’s confessional stance.

          This is a huge issue that maybe someone will right an 800 page treatise on.

          You quote Lewis, an Anglo-Catholic who smoked, drank and may have been an annihilationist (as least in his fiction). Yet he is widely considered an outstanding example for fundamentalist, conservative evangelicals and totally Reformed Christians.

          Some groups of fundamentalism or totally Reformed narrow down to ever smaller bounded sets and over time become cannibalistic.

  • Wesley

    Appreciate this analysis so much you guys! It gives me lots to chew on and work through without overwhelming me. It saddens my heart to see this discord among gospel believing brothers, but i also believe it is a necessary separation. I did not agree with Jakes being on ER2 and felt that a “Rodney King gospel” was championed instead of the only gospel there is. Driscoll has recently on his blog offered what “seems” like an apology stating something about being a “guest” and wanting to be faithful while respecting his friend. I get that pressure and i think he knows he “biffed” it. Let’s offer the same grace offered to us to these two guys too (MacDonald and Driscoll) while pressing for theological accuracy.
    Soli Deo Gloria –

  • Matthew B.

    “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”

    The Trinity is hard to teach, hard to understand, and exciting to learn and I am thankful for those that try to explain it.

    My hope is that God will not critique my application of all His words that I teach as much as I critique others’ attempt at teaching them.

  • graham and nicola

    Nice to see that the discussion is becoming more constructive.

    Is there a page of book recommendations on the Trinity on TGC?
    Moving through beginner to advanced? And avoiding “waffle” – some of the tosh written in recent years is intolerable. Most of it means absolutely nothing.


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  • Anonymous

    wow, what a series of discussions…now may we sincerely submit to our Lord in prayer with all soberness and fervency, that He would allow all His people to distinguish between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error,through the Spirit of truth who guides us into all truth, glorifying Jesus.AMEN.(John 16:13-14;1 John 4:6b)

  • Joel Griffith

    I get concerned whenever the race card gets played. Not saying that to sweep legitimate issues under the rug, but I am disappointed that it got brought up in the context of this discussion. I expect it from people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, but not on our side of the theological spectrum, and not on an issue like modalism. I honestly do not believe race has anything to do with this issue. I think to bring it up poisons the well from the true matters that need to be resolved.

    I was told once when taking up the subject of Liberation Theology that “You don’t understand the black church, so you’re not qualified to comment.” To which I replied, “Poppycock. Doctrine has no skin color, nor does truth.

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  • Kendall Harris

    Gracious, humble, wise, and truthful. As a young man who has grown up and ministers in the fundamentalist heritage I rejoice that God has granted TGC such articulate and wise men. Dealing with controversy is never easy and rarely gets such thoughtful treatment (have I mentioned that I minister in fundamentalist circles?). Thank you Carson and Keller for this instructive and kind article.

  • Andy Barlow

    “the African American Council members, far from kowtowing to white concerns, were themselves acting out of their deepest doctrinal and pastoral commitments—commitments for which some of them had already paid a considerable price. It does them—not to say historic Christian confessionalism—an enormous disservice to charge them with betraying their ethnicity.”

    Amen and Amen!!!

  • John White

    Isaiah says that the Son is the Father and Counselor (Isaiah 9:6) and Paul tells the Colossians that the Godhead is in Christ, not the other way around (2:9). I come from a trinitarian background (Regular Baptist) and it was there that I learned that Jesus and Jehovah were the same guy. For the past 17 years I’ve attended a Oneness Pentecostal church and accepted what they say about the oneness of God, since it’s biblical. What I don’t accept is what they say about trinitarians. They teach that trinitarians believe in 3 gods. As I’m sure most readers of this article will attest, that is not the case. But when you use terms such as “persons” and ignore verses where Jehovah says He’s the only Savior and where Isaiah says that Jesus is the Father, it gives credence to the charge of tritheism.

    So just as I disagree with my Oneness brothers and sisters about what trinitarians believe (since I was raised trinitarian and know the charges to be false), I also must disagree with “trinitarians” who deny that Fatherhood of Holy Ghosthood of Jesus, because if you do, then you cease to be trinitarian, and become at the worst tritheist, and at best, an odd hybrid of tritheist and trinitarian (one-and-a-halfarian? haha).

    Some may say I’m straddling the fence, but I find no difference in what my former Baptist and current Pentecostal churches believe concerning nature of God. What I do find is that Oneness Pentecostals misrepresent what trinitarians believe, and trinitarians misrepresent what Oneness believers believe. Whether the misrepresentations stem from ignorance or intolerance (I’ve seen both instances on both sides), both sides need to realize that they are both saying the same thing, but using different words, just as the four Gospels may appear to be contradictory, but are in fact 4 valid, yet different perspectives of the same events.

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  • Church Chair Guy

    The posts of this last week from several on the GC site have been greatly appreciated and so helpful.

  • David

    After my initial reading from the ER2 and then more about the ER2 I was left a bit wobbly concerning the men of ER2 and their association with T4G/TGC. (You know who they are.) I was also beginning to wonder concerning others who are their friends and have been either co-laborers or ministereal partners. These are men whose names and teachings, conferences messages and ministries are known for ‘good stuff.’

    I’m not so much concerned with Mister Jakes due to the length of his very influential record and … history. That’s a pretty solid record that he has; though plenty to be disagreed with. My take on his performance at ER2 was no less enchanting that the ‘Artful Dodger’, a role he played well.

    I have now been refreshed by Drs. Carson & Keller. Thank you to both of you for your fair-but-strong mindedness and Biblicism 2. And kudos also for re-stating the ‘importance of words’–they do have meanings after all.

    Thank you for also being quite honest and candid regarding the white brothers’ insensitivities to the black brothers’ concerns. It is an area for constant reflection and correction; and I say this with the ‘Bloodlines’ issue clearly in context.

    Praying for your meeting in May, but for the conference in April even before that.


  • Faith Haynes

    Greetings Brothers Carson & Keller!

    Thank you for this much-needed concerted effort in refuting T.D. Jakes. I also appreciate your humility in not only recognizing some missteps that the TGC council made in not meeting the needs of the black community, but also your humility to make amends. God bless you!

    As I am bi-racial, I know what it means to live in America as both black and white. Is there a contact address so I could write you both, privately, to share some observations I made of some of your wording in the section on racism? Thankfully, there was no racism I perceived, but just some room for improvement in some wording.

    Mrs. Faith Haynes

  • Chris Julien

    In the second paragraph above Point 2., “Biblicism One and Biblicism Two,” was anyone else unsettled by the lack of emphasis on the Holy Spirit?

    In that paragraph, they write “Various truths connected with the gospel itself become incoherent if one abandons robust Trinitarianism,” yet the Holy Spirit is not once mentioned; only the Father and the Son are mentioned as evidence of this point. This is distressing to me, and doesn’t quite seem to be what I’d call “robust Trinitarianism.” I know they were trying to emphasize “relational displays,” but surely, something of the Spirit could have been mentioned?

    Perhaps, if nothing else, it potentially shows a lack of proper emphasis on the Holy Spirit and his work as well as relation to the Father and the Son?

    God bless.

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  • Sam Rico

    Good insight on HS

  • Randy Alcorn

    Many thanks, Don & Tim, for addressing this with clarity, grace and humility.

  • Mike Gantt

    This is like listening to an argument between Pharisees and Sadducees. Modalism and Trinitarianism are flip sides of the same coin – and a man-made coin at that. Both doctrines impose human conceptions which obscure the revelation of God.

    The message of the New Testament was that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. The message of all subsequent generations should be that the Christ is God.

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  • Ray Ortlund

    A clear example of Philippians 4:5: “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.”. Well done, Don and Tim.

  • Jason Johansen

    (1 Tim 3:16 KJV) This is one of the main text that Oneness people use to prove there point! by even referencing this in his talk, he’s aligning himself with Oneness theology. T.D. Jake knows this and used it as a halfway point between Trinity and Oneness so he can remain on the Oneness side yet open himself up to the broader Evangelical Church along with his “other gospel” the prosperity gospel! With along with his Oneness teaching this is a heresy.

    Why are Evangelicals siding with people who hold to unorthodox of which has been historically condemned throughout Church history?

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  • Church Chair Guy

    I do appreciate the civility and grace of this discussion.

  • Lamar Carnes

    Thank all of you for providing to us a very clear, concise evaluation of this entire matter and event. I attended this Elephant Room simulcast and was so thankful to learn the Gospel Coalition has presented such a insightful and correct evaluation of the entire event. God bless all of you!

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  • Matthew Fleming

    Thank you for your well thought out and clearly articulated thoughts on the issues that have arisen out of ER2. I am always somewhat distressed by much of the interaction that I see in the comments, so I rarely read them. However, it always gives me a greater appreciation for God’s abounding grace to the motley group of people He has chosen.

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  • Walter Sotelo

    As I read the article, I was humbled by the love and intelligence by which truth was expressed. I pray that as pastor we would embrace the method of the Ordinary Censure in our own cities and demostrate the power of the Gospel in us.

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  • Wilfred Jaboh

    To Carson and Keller, thank you so much for staying true to the Bible. Keep up the excellent work. People like me, in far flung Borneo, have been greatly blessed by your theological insights. The ensuing comments have made the doctrine even more clear. As the hymn goes, God in three persons, Blessed Trinity. Your love for God is indeed matched by your fervor in defending his truth. And we know that often leads to hard and unpopular decisions. Press on, brothers, press on.

  • Jon G

    I respect both Dr. Keller and Carson, but it seems to me that they are not actually addressing the problem brought out in 1 Timothy. I’m not familiar with Jakes, so I’m not going to address his contention other than to say what’s reported hear may not be all that should be considered.

    Before looking at 1 Timothy 3:16, a little context must be established:

    In 1:2 as in all of Paul’s letters, Paul draws a distinction between the term “God”, who he always refers to as “Father”, and Christ Jesus. OK…first step “God”=”Father”

    In 2:5 we see further evidence of some separation of the terms when Paul writes “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” So Step 2 is “Jesus”=”mediator” also “God”=something different than “Christ Jesus” (this difference does not necessarily support Trinity by the way. It can also be explained within a Temple framework in which The Father is indwelling the temple who is Jesus, the body). Anyway, the point being that God is the term Paul uses for Father.

    Then we come to 3:15 where the subject of verse 16 is given – “God”, who we already establishe means “The Father”, and then 3:16 says that “He” (“God” – aka “the Father”) was manifested in the flesh.

    Keller and Carson are addressing Jakes use of the term “manifestations” instead of the point that Paul says that God, the Father, was the one manifested. This is very troubling to Trinitarian theology that claims the Son was the one manifested!

    • Rich

      While is it true that Paul most often uses the term “God” (theos) to refer to the Father, he also does us it to refer to Jesus in Titus 2:13 and Peter does in 2 Peter 1.

      Secondly, God often refers to Trinity, not merely one person of the Godhead. In 1 Tim 1 he refers to the “glorious gospel of the blessed God”, a term which is uses interchangeably with “gospel of Christ”.

      Thirdly, the pronoun “he” is introduced by the strange word meaning “by common confession” indicating again the use of a confessional formula.

      Lastly, if the “he” refers to the Father, as you claim, then the following phrases must also refer to the Father, which makes no sense in either view – “vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” These seem to be clearly referring to Jesus, who was taken up (passive…by whom).

      Just more thoughts. :)

  • Mike Gantt

    @Jon G,

    Although there is much I like about your comment, is it not possible that 3:16 is quoting a creed widely-known at the time, and, if so, that it therefore does not depend on 3:15 for its antecedent noun? That is, couldn’t 3:16 be referring to the pre-existent Son and not the Father? Even in this case, it would not prove the Trinity…but we want to be fair to the text.

    Your thoughts?

    • Jon G

      I totally agree. It is possible. And if that were the only reason why I find Trinity shakey, I would say it might even be probable. But there are a number of reasons why I find Trinity to not accurately explain the text and so when I come to this passage I have to say that what you’re suggesting is reaching a bit in order to square the text with a Trinitarian hermaneutic. It is not the natural meaning of the text or context. So, while it may be right that Paul inserts a creed into 3:16, the context leading up to that creed clearly (I hate when people say “clearly” so I’ll add “to me”) places the passage around the Father.

      I know this isn’t the best forum to discuss my other reasons for doubting the Trinity but just to give a short list, I have trouble reconciling it with:

      -The way the OT authors described God
      -The complete exclusion of anything explicit in the NT when it surely would have been an important/new idea
      -there is a history of the church getting things wrong, and why couldn’t this be one of those things?
      -Temple is a theme throughout the Bible and it seems to adequately address most of the problems the Trinity can’t.

      There are more, but I really want to ask this: Is the MOST natural way of reading 3:16 to say that Paul wasn’t thinking about “God” the Father but rather the Son? I’ll grant you that it is possible, but not probable.

      Thanks for discussing this…

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  • Eric Davis

    Dr. Carson-

    Thank you for this clear, thoughtful post. I was one of those who, perhaps not w/ the best of attitudes, concluded that TGC was not doing enough in the wake of this. This helps clear that up.

  • Mike Gantt

    @Jon G,


    I do not subscribe to Trinitarianism or Modalism as I can’t find sufficient scriptural warrant for either.

    I do subscribe to the deity of Christ.

    I am interested in your “temple” concept and how you think it addresses “most of the problems that the Trinity can’t.”

  • http://n/a Another Mike

    Great posting. Thank you Dr. Keller and Carson.

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  • Jon G

    Thanks Mike…I’m looking at it now. Maybe I’ll contact you and we can talk more?

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  • Micah

    I just cannot bring myself to see that this issue of how we express our understanding of the Godhead, which itself is a mystery, is important enough to hurl about all this vitriol and division. There are bigger issues and to me the expression of the Godhead Jakes offers, though I would not fully subscribe to, has no variance significant enough from my own to feel it harms the depiction of God’s nature and so falsely represents His glory. Idolatry as described in Deuteronomy 4:15 would at its root come from trying to too closely imagine a representation of the Godhead and fit it too securely in our own understanding or language. The Godhead will be a mystery to us until we enter eternity and perhaps even beyond and our every idea of what that Godhead is and how it is will only ever be an approximation formed out of the inadequacies of human language and the accomodations to that language that God himself makes in an endeavour to convey some semblance of His infinite majesty to finite minds. Words like Father, Son & Spirit – These motifs are either truths of which our understanding and experience are but shadows, or anthropomorphic expressions used of God to explain to us realities we would never be able to properly grasp otherwise. I know that God is One, but that in this oneness is three. Three what, I cannot tell – I, as would most reformed evangelicals, use the word persons. Jakes and others use the word ‘manifestations’. But I am not of a mind to believe that any term is accurate enough to warrant the esteem of being called a definition. I feel it is beyond us to ‘define’ God. He is illimitable and thus cannot be defined to the extent that one means of articulating his singular plurality, his simultaneous oneness and threeness, is better than another. Let us know He is holy and pure and let us call Him divine and understand He is love and truth, beyond that, we can only tread carefully and hope our steps are not too laden as to leave a mark we insist all others follow. As God himself said to the israelites ‘take heed to yourselves; for of me you saw no form or similitude’. He is God. We see Him but through a glass darkly, let a man not think the obscure shape he observes to be so clear as to discount all others. Though it is not beyond our hearts to know His nature, it is beyond our minds to understand his form. Because of this the bible remains the final authority, not a creed or any other formulation arrived at by the intellects of men. God, His form such as it is, cannot be apprehended by the careful study of men no matter how wise, it can only be revealed by His Spirit. For this reason I do not imagine the Archangel Gabriel interrogating Mary as to her understanding of the trinity before conferring upon her the news of the messiah’s birth, or Peter querying Cornelius of the same before entering his house. And as such I cannot help but suspect that these ‘doubtful disputations’ are of more interest to us than they are to God himself. He is a mystery.

    • Lyle

      Jakes is a modalist. Read what Dr James White has to say on the issue and how Jakes at EF2 used classic modalist language. Modalism has been addressed by the church and condemned without exception as a heresy. That being said Jakes modalism is not the only issue. The false prosperity gospel he brings is another. Either of these exclude him from being anything other than a heretic. I know it sounds harsh but it’s true. TD Jakes is heretical on both the points I’ve listed. He should be called to renounce both positions above and if he does renounce them and affirm true doctrine, he can then be welcomed and embraced as a brother. Until then he is excluded and should be marked as as one who teaches false doctrine. This is not about getting along. This is about the gospel.

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  • Art Morris

    I’ve done a bit of preaching and a lot of “Sunday School” teaching but most of my ministry is one on one in the glancing blows I try to land for the cause of Christ (when appropriate, of course) as a family doc. The article (which was, to my ear, the most balanced in tone and content I could imagine) and the comments that followed have been very interesting to me — specifically, this concept of how to engage, how much to engage, how and whether to build bridges (and, this is funny to me) how strong they should be, etc.

    It made me think of an issue that I face occasionally: Every so often I’ll encounter a young parent who doesn’t want to immunize their infant. What to do? Some colleagues (including many pediatricians) will simply dismiss them from their practice. Really (about 21% acc to 11-14-11 USA Today article). Other docs hang on to these patients in the hopes that time, trust and the weight of the ensuing relationship will bring about a change of heart.

    The “dismissers” feel that they can’t “in good conscience” be party to such “irrationality” and feel that to continue the relationship would be tacit endorsement. The “keepers” feel that it would be better to do the best you can because you can only influence those you’re connected to.

    My closest colleague is in the first group. I’m in the second. It’s messier and I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it.

    Here’s to all of you that wrestle with these issues on behalf of those of us that aren’t on the front lines.

  • Mike Gantt

    Art Morris,

    A very interesting contribution. Thank you.

  • Lyle

    I wish John Knox was still around to give a good thrashing to those with heretical theology, those who embrace those with heretical theology, and those who’s soft petal their reaction to both of the former. In the words of Steve Lawson ” give us some men who know the truth! And who will speak the truth” !

    Funny. Paul confronted Peter on error and railed against heretics. Our leaders today confront no one and embrace false teachers. I wish our so called great thinkers would stop making nice and stand for the gospel of Jesus Christ. It starts with calling heresy what it is. Thanks to Voddie B. for his truthfulness.

  • Lyle

    Just a note. I was in a hotel on business last night and caught TD Jakes while flipping thru the channels. He blasphemed God’s name no less than 3 times in the 60 seconds I could stand to watch it. Maybe it’s good, although misguided, that those at the EF2 conference embraced Jakes, so that now as he gets more exposure we can all see his real character. Blaspheming God’s name is what I said. No way to miss understand blasphemy when you hear it.

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