It would seem that my theory about the real James MacDonald being abducted by aliens some time last year is not as far fetched as my doubters first thought. Of the multitude of "weird" things James MacDonald has done over the last year or so, perhaps the most alarming was his invitation to TD Jakes to attend his Elephant Room conference where "brothers" discuss their methodological differences. Rather than back down and receive the biblical counsel from his many orthodox friends, MacDonald decided it would be better to redefine the mission statement of the Elephant Room, then redefine what brother means, then redefine Jakes' slippery modalist language, and then resign from The Gospel Coalition. It has been truly amazing to see the lengths James MacDonald (the alien imposter version) will go to to have TD Jakes at his conference. Before the conference MacDonald had promised us that the Elephant Room is a place where "sparks fly", men face up to each other, and don't shy away from disputes . . .
Well, amidst the disappointment, many of us remained intrigued as to how many sparks would appear in flight in the conversation between James MacDonald, Mark Driscoll, and TD Jakes. Since I'm not willing to shell out the bucks to buy a copy of the video from Pastor MacDonald, we'll have to settle for a transcript. And even though this format is text rather than video, I think even the untrained eyes might be able to spot an elephant or two. And if the following conversation proves too tedious then make sure you scroll down to the bottom of the post to see how Todd Friel earned his "elephant spotting badge"!
Jakes: My father was Methodist. My mother was Baptist. My father's family was Methodist as far back as I can remember. I was raised in a Baptist church. But I was raised in church but I really didn't have a real committed experience with Christ until my father died. When my father died, I had a real experience with Christ -- a real conversion in Christ, and I had it in a Oneness church.
Driscoll: By Oneness meaning [what]? -- for those who do not know all the theological terms.
Jakes: Well it would be like, how do I explain it? It was not a UPC [United Pentecostal] church, in spite of the blogs. It was not a UPC church, but somewhat similar.
Driscoll: Jesus only, modalism?
Jakes: "Jesus only -- modalism" which is still a theological term. ... But Christians and Christians [who] believe in Jesus Christ, believe He died and rose from the dead, coming back again -- all the same things that you do. Pentecostal Christians by its virtue. But how they described and explained the Godhead in a traditional oneness sense is very, very different from how traditional Trinitarians describe the Gospel. And I was in that church and raised in that church for a number of years. My problem with it as I began to go on and as God began to develop my ministry, I started preaching from that church and from that pulpit and that sort of thing. But I'm also informed by the infiltration from my Baptist experience and my Methodist experience, so I ended up Metha-Bapti-Costal in a way. So I'm kind of like a mixed breed sitting up here, OK? And what I began to find out [is that] it is easy to throw rocks at people that you don't know, but the more you really get to know them and see Christ work in their lives, regardless of their belief system, you begin to try to be a bridge-builder. ... When you try to build bridges between people who've been fighting for hundreds of years -- hundreds of years before you ever even got into the discussion. There is an old adage that says 'he who stands in the middle of the road gets hit by both sides.' So as I began to progress, I began to understand that some of the dogma that I was taught in the Oneness movement was very dogmatic and very narrow and really not the best description of how I now understand the Godhead. I still did not want to switch teams and start throwing rocks back across the street, because much of what we do today is teach people to take sides. But I believe we are called as the Body of Christ to reconcile wherever possible.
MacDonald: Alright, but before we even get into -- and I think what you're leading us into is wise and helpful and it reflects why we're here -- how we relate to people who differ is on subject. Before we even go to that, I'd love to give you an opportunity to just -- like there were some particular Scriptures that began to inform you, you began to move and develop in what you personally believe. I'd like to just hear you articulate that.
Jakes: My struggle after I was ordained and consecrated in the Oneness church was in several passages, sometimes the doctrine fits; sometimes it doesn't. And when the doctrine becomes the primary thing you force it into many places where it doesn't fit. I really at this point in my life don't want to force my theology to fit within my denomination. I am open to hear whatever God is saying. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, for example, coming up out of the water the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, the Father speaks from heaven -- and we see all three of them on one occasion, or in Genesis "let us make man in our own likeness" or Elohim -- He is the one God who manifest Himself in a plurality of ways. Or what Jesus says, "I am with the Father, and the Father is in me" and understanding -- or attempting to understand. And that began to make me rethink some of my ideas and some of the things that I was taught. I got kind of quiet about it for a while. Because when you are a leader and you are in a position of authority, sometimes you have to back up and ponder for a minute, and really think things through. I began to realize that there are some things that could be said about the Father that could not be said about the Son. There are distinctives between the working of the Holy Spirit and the moving of the Holy Spirit, and the working of the redemptive work of Christ. I'm very comfortable with that. You and I have talked; [Jack] Graham and I have talked; there is very little difference in what I believe and what you believe. But here is where I find the problem: I don't think anything that any of us believes fully describes who God is. And if we would ever humble down to admit that we in our finite minds cannot fully describe an infinite God.
Driscoll: ... We all would agree in the nature of God there is mystery, and it's like a dimmer switch: how much certainty, how much mystery. But within that, Bishop Jakes, for you the issue between Trinitarianism and Modalism at its essence is one God manifesting Himself successively in three ways? Or one God three persons simultaneously existing eternally. ... And I understand, there is some mystery -- for sure. Would you say it's One God manifesting Himself in three ways, or One God in three persons?
Jakes: I believe that neither one of them totally did it for me, but I think the latter one is where I stand today.
Driscoll: One God, three Persons?
Jakes: One God, three Persons. One God, Three Persons, and here is why -- I am not crazy about the word "persons." ... My doctrinal statement is no different from yours except for the ...
Driscoll: The word "manifestation."
Jakes: Manifest instead of persons. Which you describe as modalist, and I describe it as Pauline. Let me show you what I'm saying. When I read 1 Timothy 3:16, I didn't create this. ... "And without controversy," which I think we have been bickering about something that is what Paul describes as a mystery, and I don't think we should do that. "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness. So God was manifest in the flesh." Now Paul was not a modalist, but he does not think that it is robbery to the divinity of God to say God was manifest in the flesh. And I think maybe it's semantics. But Paul says this before this fight was started. But He also says God "was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached until the Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up into glory." Now, when we start talking about that sort of thing, I think that it is important that we realize that there are distinctives between the Father and the working of the Son. The Father didn't bleed, the Father didn't die -- [that happened] only in the person of Jesus Christ. Coming back for us in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has with us, but only indwells us through the person of the Holy Spirit; we are baptized into the body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. I don't think any of that is objectionable to any of the three of us.
MacDonald: Not at all.
Jakes: So that is consistent with my belief system. I'm with you. I have been with you. I teach/preach that all the time. There are many people within and outside quote unquote denominations that are labeled Oneness that would describe that the same way. There are some that would not. But when we get to know people by their labels, then comes all the baggage of how we define that label. ... it's almost like the stereotypical ideologies we have about races. We have little ideas about denominations and movements. The reason I applauded what you said earlier about people who have dual affiliations: We are taught in society that if we disagree with any movement, we leave. We sever. Oh, you said something I disagree with we fall out and then we walk away. I still have fellowship, associations, relationship, and positions within and without Trinitarian and Onenness movements, because I believe that until we bridge the gap between our thinking and humble both sides and say, "We are both attempting to describe a God we love, that we serve, and that we have not seen. And that we are viewing Him through the context of the Scriptures, but that with a glass darkly." Why should I fall out and hate and throw names at you when all that I know and understand, be it very orthodox, is still through a glass darkly? And then face to face. None of our books about the Godhead or anything else will be on sale in heaven. You know why? Because we're only authorities down here, with our little kingdoms in this world. I think it's so important that we realize that our God is beyond our intellect. And if you can define Him and completely describe Him and say you are the end-all definition of who God is, then He ceases to be God. Because the reason Paul says it is a mystery, is that we deify the fact that God does things that don't fit our formulas.
Driscoll: Let me jump in here. I want to say a couple of things. Thank you for joining us. You don't have to be there. You were on the cover of Time magazine. You have options of where you go.
MacDonald: This isn't your biggest gig ever? [laughter]
Driscoll: It takes a lot of courage and humility to put yourself in an unscripted situation and to be outside of your normal tribe. And the fact that you showed up to dinner last night, I was shocked. I was like, "T.D. Jakes is coming to dinner?" I loved you. I enjoyed you. I really appreciated hearing your story of your family in context and your upbringing. And I walked away going, "I really appreciate getting to meet and know and enjoy that man. So thank-you for being gracious; thank-you for being courageous; and thank-you for being humble. And I think it might be helpful because, You're coming out of a Oneness background and out of a different context than a lot of us are. You've demonstrated humility, saying "I've been studying the Bible and I'm even changing some thinking as I'm studying." A lot of pastors will just defend their first position to death rather than humbly reconsidering it biblically. Maybe to help others understand you, on the flip side, How have you been treated and what has the response been from some who were friends that you don't want to throw rocks at, but because of your transition.
Jakes: That's what's funny about this, that's what's really funny to me.
Driscoll: Are you the heretic to them?
Jakes: Oh, very much so in many circles ... Many of the circles that I came from would never allow me in their pulpit because they consider me a heretic. I have to read the article to see which heretic I am.
MacDonald: We'd be honored if you'd come be with us and let's all grow together.
Jakes: OK, and that'd be great. But I think the time has come for us to be willing to take the heat to have a conversation. Because if we do not do this, and we continue to divide ourselves by ourselves and compare ourselves with ourselves, we do it at the expense of decreasing numbers of new Christians in our country. We have to mobilize. Just for your consideration: This is the only thing that Jesus prayed that we can answer. He only prayed, "Father, I pray that they may be one even as You and I are also one." And this is the one thing that is within our power to answer, and we do not do it.
Driscoll: Can I ask a couple of quick questions, and then we can do whatever you want. Do you believe this is the perfect, inspired, final authority Word of God? [Driscoll holds up a Bible]
Driscoll: So you believe there's one God, Three Persons -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit? You believe Jesus was fully God, fully Man?
Driscoll: You believe He died on the cross in our place for our sins?
Driscoll: You believe He bodily rose from death?
Driscoll: You believe that He is the judge of the living and the dead?
Driscoll: And you believe that Apart from Jesus there is no salvation?
Driscoll: Thank-you. [applause]
MacDonald: That was crazy! I've just want to say this: I am so weary of people thinking they know -- they don't know I think you honor us and you humble us, a man of your stature and commitment to the Gospel and fruitfulness would come and sit in this room, let you and me ask him what he believes? ... I just want to say this, I think you've honored us, and you've shown immense humility, and I want to be in the world where I believe that Jesus Christ stands. And He's told us again and again He stands with the humble. "Get to those people who love my Son, who believe my Word, who express humility." And I'm honored to hear what you said. I want to just say, further, Mark, if I could contribute to this, that I feel deeply in my heart that God is both three and one. Three and one. I believe the Scripture is very clear when we get to heaven, we are going to see Jesus -- the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declare. Jesus is the only God we will ever see. When I was studying Revelation last year I was struck by the number of times that I saw in the book of Revelation that it almost seems in the text like the Father and the Son are on the same throne, and when I start to think about this, I believe in God eternally existing in three persons. But, the more I think about it, the more I feel like my head is going to explode, and I get a little weary of people who feel that they need to erase mystery and replace it with certainty as a test of orthodoxy. If what we have heard today doesn't satisfy, then the person is insatiable, and I'm ready to move on to a new subject. I believe that very strongly.
Jakes: Let me just make one little comment: One of the things that you said at the end, even as we talked about it before, and I've heard Jack Graham say this, too, that there is going to be one throne and there's going to be one God we can see. And I thought the more I hear everybody arguing about this, we're all saying the same thing. And we like fight about it to the death, and I just think that in the world that we're living in today, if we could just connect, and I know that there will always be distracters and there will always be people who define themselves by their differences rather than their connections, who are more comfortable with being known by what they are against than by what they are for. But when I hear you say that there's going to be one throne and one God on that throne, My soul leaps in celebration, and I hear both of us stumbling trying to explain how God does what He does like He does. I think THAT stumbling is worship. I think THAT stumbling is worship. I think the fact that we would humble ourselves and say, "Your thoughts and ways are beyond human comprehension" is what makes worship fill the room.
There you go! Did you spot any elephants? I know Todd Friel earned his elephant spotters badge . . .
Go On To Part 4
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