Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Prosperity Preachers: T. D. Jakes, Part 2

From the September 2009 E-Block.


In accordance with our practice, we now turn in Part 2 of this series on T. D. Jakes to reports based on viewing of his televised sermons, and criticisms of Jakes. On the former matter, I was unfortunately not able to view as much as I would have liked, in terms of quality: Archives for this time period were mostly of a special series Jakes was doing on "manhood," and that afforded little opportunity for evaluation from a theological perspective. But perhaps this is of no matter anyway, for Jakes' books were remarkably free of theology, and even when his televised material was on more theological themes, the sermons more resembled Osteen's pep talks than they did serious sermons. 

In terms of critiques, there is an important point to make to begin. Immediately after the last issue, one of our readers - Tekton Research Assistant Punkish -- brought to my attention a critique of Jakes by the Christian Research Journal, which indicated that Jakes expressed both word-faith and modalist beliefs. I was, indeed, aware of this critique before, but purposely did not look for or at it, so that I could approach this question free of presumption. 

After Punkish wrote me, I went and retrieved the critique - as well as Jakes' response in Christianity Today. Then I looked for more up to date material, and asked Punkish to do the same (on the Trinity). The CRI critique, after all, was issued in 1999, and we would want to know if Jakes had "improved" any in the interim, and indeed whether the CRI critique was valid. We will now use it as a template for the two major criticisms of Jakes. 

The critical question for me - after watching several of Jakes' sermons and reading his books - may not be so much whether Jakes teaches heretical things, but whether he even understands the difference between heresy and orthodoxy. 

I have to conclude, sadly, that no less than Osteen and Meyer, Jakes simply doesn't have the knowledge or good sense to know any better than to distinguish the two, and more than that, simply does not care enough about the difference. Unfortunately, Jakes also appears to step over the doctrinal line in his statements on the Trinity, moreso than Osteen and Meyer do on any issue.

Let's now return to those two primary charges.

Jakes is a member of the Word-Faith movement.

The CRI critique makes these charges:

  • Jakes associates with known Word-Faith teachers like Kenneth Copeland.
  • Jakes is wealthy, and makes sure that it is known that he is wealthy. To justify this, he describes Jesus as being rich.
  • Jakes' ministry includes in its doctrinal statement the following: "We believe that it is God's will to heal and deliver His people today as He did in the days of the first Apostles. It is by the stripes of Jesus that we are healed, delivered and made whole. We have authority over sickness, disease, demons, curses, and every circumstance in life." A similar statement is also cited in one of Jakes' books. None of these three points exhibits the unique attributes of Word-Faith teaching, particularly the ideas of faith as a force, and of getting what one wants via prayer, unconditionally. Associations with persons like Copeland is arguably unwise - but cannot be used to assume that Jakes agrees with all of their teachings. The idea that Jesus was rich is highly imaginative, and is indeed something WF teachers may argue. But this is a single point which need not be unique to WF theology.
    Finally, Jakes speaks of "God's will" to heal, but this must be qualified by statements we noted in the last issue, in which he makes it clear that he does not think "God's will" is always to heal, or solve problems, and so on. (The statement does remain the same to this day on Jakes' church website, 10 years later.)
    One other statement noted by critics of Jakes is as follows:
    It's what you say to yourself that gets you healed. If you say that you won't be healed, you won't be healed. If you say that you are broke, you will stay broke. Oh! But I came to serve notice on the Devil. The Bible says, 'The power of life and death is in the tongue.' Slap somebody and say, 'You better speak to yourself.'
    Is this WF? It is hard to say: As with many statements by Osteen and Meyer, it is not clear what Jakes supposes to be the mechanism whereby words cause (or fail to cause) healing. Is this self-psychologization? Is it "magic words"? There is no specification.
    Another set of statements from Jakes follows this theme:
    When you sow seeds into this kind of anointing it releases the power of God that you can harvest. And I want you to get this scripture and read it and believe God with me Genesis 26:12. As we sow, I believe that we're going to experience a resurrection...Genesis 26:12, it says, 'Then Isaac sowed in that land and received in that same year a 100 fold and the Lord blessed him.' This year is your year to receive. You need to sow it and receive it in this year. This is your year of destiny
    Here, Jakes is certainly attempting to midrashically apply Scripture to his current situation. Is this Word-Faith? No, it is not something uniquely Word-Faith; poor midrashic interpretations like this are found among everyday Christians in every denomination. It is erroneous - unless Jakes is truly a prophet, which needs to be proven - but it is not uniquely Word-Faith.
    I have to conclude that Jakes is not full-blown Word-Faith - or else does not show that he is. The most radical and important elements, such as faith as a force that even God must obey, simply are not there and indeed are contradicted by his few statements on the matter. Indeed, in one program I watched, titled "Radical Faith," Jakes offered the standard view of faith as merely trusting God with your problems - there was no understanding of faith as a force.

    Jakes teaches a heretical view of the Trinity.

    If Jakes' position with regard to Word-Faith is not fully certain, his articulations on the Trinity, regrettably, are somewhat more damning. The CRI critique noted the following:

  • Jakes' ministry statement of faith formerly read, "There is one God, creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and existing in three Manifestations: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." It was later changed from "manifestations" to "dimensions" and remains that way to this day. The second statement said (and still says): "We believe in one God, who is eternal in His existence, Triune in His Manifestations, being both Father, Son and Holy Ghost AND that He is Sovereign and Absolute in His authority." The problem: "Manifestations" is modalistic language.
  • Jakes has used analogies and descriptions identical to those used by modalists. Example:
    Jakes:"We have one God, but He is Father in creation, Son in redemption, and Holy Spirit in regeneration."

    Oneness Pentacostal David Bernard: "A popular explanation of Father, Son and Holy Ghost is that there is one God who has revealed [i.e., manifested] Himself as Father in Creation, Son in redemption and Holy Ghost in regeneration."
  • CRI also reports that in a phone conversation, Pastor Lawrence Robinson, Director of Ministry Affairs at Jakes' church, "affirmed that Jakes denies the biblical position of the Trinity, at one point saying that the Roman Catholic Church introduced the concept of three gods."
  • Finally, Jakes is, and has been for many years, associated with a group called the Higher Ground Always Abounding Assembly, being a "leader and elected bishop" of the group. This group holds to modalism. I assigned "Punkish" the task of digging for any more recent statements. He found none, but what can be found indicates something that is in some ways more disturbing than it would be if Jakes were outrightly preaching modalism. Rather, what Jakes has to offer is after the mold of the emergent church - he deftly dodges the issue as if it were of no concern.

    Even today, the website for Jakes' church, the Potter's House, says this:
    The Potter's House ministry holds these truths and many others to be precious and dear. Our purpose, however, in providing a web page is not for endless doctrinal disputes, but to be a place of ministry and healing for those in need. Christians have always had diversity in their theology and will continue to do so until the great return of the Master teacher himself.
    This theme of "we can't know, let's just go help people" is highly reminiscent of statements by emergent teachers like Brian McLaren, who we find use this sort of distraction as a substitute for answers they cannot provide. This is something I personally find more disturbing than an outright profession of heresy. Does Jakes not see that much of the NT is devoted to the correction of doctrinal disputes? Does he think that providing ministry and healing is mutually exclusive of such correction? Could he at least provide a separate page, or at least direct people somewhere else, for these matters? The expressed indifference and vague resort to "diversity" is not the mark of a responsible teacher.

    Other such statements of indifference can be found as well. This is reported from an audio clip on CRI's radio program in 2005:
    Don't argue with people about foolishness. Don't argue about the Godhead--the Bible says it's a mystery. If it's a mystery that means it's a supernatural thing and everybody who thinks they understand it--really don't. It's impossible to explain how one God can be three persons and three persons be one God. And you're gonna blow your computer and short circuit your p.c. trying to explain something that you don't even understand. You can't even explain how a brown cow eats green grass and produces white milk. So you know you can't explain God. So just shut up arguing about it and say it's a mystery. All we know is that He's Father in creation, Son in redemption, and Holy Ghost in regeneration and it's all good.
    Jakes has erroneously understood "mystery" to mean "something we can't figure out" when, as Raymond Brown has noted, the actual meaning is "something God reveals" - and we have what revelation we need to grasp the Trinity; and it will not take "blowing your computer" to get this.

    Jakes' response to CRI's criticisms, in Christianity Today, further indicate someone wishing to avoid the issue. Why? It is hard not to suppose that it is because Jakes is intellectually ill-equipped to defend his position - whatever it may be. In the response he admits:
    I am not a theologian, and I avoid quoting even theologians who agree with me. To defend my beliefs, I go directly to the Bible.
    Immediately after this, he appeals to 1 John 5:7-8 - a passage that is widely known, even by non-theologians, to not be original to John's text. To appeal to this passage is a mistake of the highest order. Jakes also says:
    I confess that I have remained aloof from the theological controversies.
    But this is an irresponsible position for a teacher, as we have previously noted with Meyer and Osteen: And the more prominent the teacher is, the more irresponsible it is to be aloof. Jakes further pleads that he has been involved in ministries concerned with domestic abuse and other social concerns, and that is all well and good - but if that is the case, then he needs to drop didactic preaching as one of his pursuits and turn it over to someone more qualified.

    Ironically, Jakes, who has told critics to "shut up" when it comes to these issues, has enmeshed himself in controversy precisely because he didn't "shut up" but rather "spoke up".

    In terms of addressing the points made by the critique, Jakes is similarly unsuccessful, ignoring all but one point, concerning the use of the word "manifestations". Of this, Jakes says -
    The language in the doctrinal statement of our ministry that refers to the Trinity of the Godhead as "manifestations" does not derive from modalism. The Apostle Paul himself used this term referring to the Godhead in 1 Timothy 3:15, 1 Corinthians 12:7, and 1 John 3:5-8. Peter also used the term in 1 Peter 1:20. Can this word now be heresy when it is a direct quote from the Pauline epistles and used elsewhere in the New Testament?
    The argument here is misguided; it is like arguing that because the Bible uses the word "damned" to describe the fate of the wicked, it is acceptable to use it as profanity. The critical issue is not the word itself, but how it is used - and none of these uses reflects a context of modalism. The issue here as well is that Jakes is using the word "manifestations" in a linguistic context that is exactly the same as that of modalists. If he does not mean the same thing, he needs to say so clearly. This would be a simple thing to do, but that he rather chooses to insert an illicit justification is not promising.

    In response to Jakes, CRJ editor Elliott Miller made some excellent points upon which we can improve little, but do have some comment.

    First, he asks whether things would be different if Jakes' background were from some group that is more clearly reckoned cultic, like the Jehovah's Witnesses. The poignancy here is that I suspect Jakes, no less than Osteen on Larry King with Mormonism, would be ill-equipped to explain why the Jehovah's Witnesses were teaching heresy either. We are again reminded that as a public, prominent teacher, Jakes is failing to fulfill his responsibility, even if in the end his own beliefs are orthodox.

    Second, regarding the use of the word "manifestations," Miller writes:
    The key tip-off that Jakes is a dyed-in-the-wool modalist is his unwavering insistence - both before our article was published and even in response to our article - on using the word manifestations rather than persons in regard to the Trinity. Sabellius consistently avoided the use of the term "persons" (Greek: hypostasis) in favor of the term "manifestations"...
    Thus again, if indeed Jakes wishes to convince others that he is orthodox, he will need to avoid this term or else engage in some serious qualification in terms of how he is using it. He does neither. Concerning the "proof texts" Jakes used, Miller also says:
    ...all of the passages Jakes cites that use the term "manifestation" refer to the Incarnation of Christ (the "manifestation" of the Second Person of the Trinity in human form), except 1 Corinthians 12:7, which speaks of the "manifestation" of the Spirit; that is, the charismatic gifts. None of them are concerned with the doctrine of the Trinity per se, and therefore they do not use the word "manifestations" in the way that Jakes and Oneness teachers use it.
    Miller indicates that Jakes ought to be truthful one way or the other, and either openly proclaim for modalism or for orthodoxy. I certainly agree with this, but do not see it happening, for two reasons.

    The first is because, as I have said, I do not think Jakes is equipped to know the difference between the two systems of belief. The second is, relatedly, that he does not think it is necessary or even desirable to do so. Clearly, Jakes is very much concerned with the social aspects of his ministry, and to that end, seems more concerned with being unified with other ministers - regardless of theological affiliation - who will help him accomplish the end of his social ministry. It is not so much "why fix what isn't broken" as "why fix what you are not using at all." That he ignored the most damning evidence of all - the statement by his own staff member, Robinson - is the worst of it. (But perhaps Robinson is not equipped to know the difference, either!) 

  • In conclusion: In this series, this is arguably the worst-case example I have found of irresponsibility in teaching. While direct statements from Jakes are not available to confirm that he believes in as well as understands the modalist heresy, it is arguable that the direct statements of indifference are in some ways more troubling.
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