I (Richard Barcellos) have invited my friend Jordan Dayoub to answer some questions about the recent Elephant Room 2 discussion between T. D. Jakes, Mark Driscoll, and James MacDonald. There are two reasons why I chose to do this: first, there are some folks in our church-plant with Oneness Pentecostal backgrounds and second, Jordan is a former Oneness pastor. So, here it goes.
RB: Jordan, can you describe your history with Oneness Pentecostalism?
JD: I was born into the movement. My parents were hippies in Los Angeles during the 1960s (my father raised a Roman Catholic and my mother born and raised a Jew), met a Oneness Pentecostal minister, embraced the theology in 1968, and started attending a Oneness congregation in South Los Angeles. The year I was born my father was ordained as a minister in the church we attended. At 18 years old I felt the call to preach and teach, attended Bible College and was later licensed as a minister in the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW). My wife and four children were discipled in the movement as well. We were very involved. My father planted a church and I became his youth pastor and eventually took over as the senior pastor. Like many heterodox groups, we believed we alone had the true gospel.
RB: How and why did you get out of it?
JD: Oneness Pentecostals refer to themselves as Apostolics and teach that the movement is a faithful representation of ante-Nicene apostolic Christianity. I began to study church history and historical theology and it became evident this claim was false. Our view on the godhead, expressed by sects like the Modalists, was roundly condemned by the early church. From that point forward I started earnestly praying for truth. The Holy Spirit led me to books, magazines, and publications by faithful orthodox and reformed theologians.
RB: What was it like believing what you had been taught (and what you taught) for so many years was wrong and what did you do once you came to orthodox convictions about the Trinity and other matters?
JD: Revolting from the Oneness movement and embracing biblical orthodoxy was complex. My initial reaction was a deep feeling of betrayal. On the one hand, I felt I was betrayed by the pastors and leaders who should have known and taught me better, I felt I was lied to. On the other hand, I felt I was betraying all that I had ever known, believed, and loved. There were family, friends, and
close relationships at stake. There was quite a bit of cognitive dissonance going on. I didn’t start with the Trinity. I first dealt with the idea of grace alone and the implications of the five solas. The Oneness understanding of the godhead (that God is not personified but manifest in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and that God really is just one person who takes on different modes) was the sacred cow and I avoided it at first. I dared not remove it without a firm grip on the alternative. It was difficult but once I saw how biblical the doctrine of the Trinity was, I also realized how unbiblical and false Oneness theology was.
RB: Did you hear (or read) the discussion on the doctrine of the Trinity between T. D. Jakes, Mark Driscoll, and James MacDonald and what was your over-all impression of that discussion?
JD: I read the article and even saw a clip on YouTube. Here’s the problem. Driscoll and MacDonald let him expound on his own views and experiences and I know it was in a spirit of love. What they’re unable to detect, because they’re unfamiliar, is the ecumenical smokescreen that big-time prosperity preachers like Jakes put up because he really cares nothing for theology. If you listen closely, his entire discourse is centered on denominational identities and bridging the divide. He says he was Metho-Baptist-Pentecostal because of his upbringing. He sees theology simply as petty divisions among varying tribes of Christian sects. Because he sees himself as a ‘bridge builder’, doctrine is merely semantics among those who profess Christ. He told them he believed in ‘God in three persons’ but never called himself a Trinitarian. His position today is exactly what it was 15 years ago – vague.
RB: Do you think it’s important to contextualize T. D. Jakes’ ER2 statements or should we take him at face-value, infusing meaning acceptable to the orthodox position on the Trinity into what he said? What I’m getting at is this: Do you think knowing what you know about Jakes and Oneness theology helps you understand him better than others might be able to who have no long history in his thought-world?
JD: Coming from the movement myself, I can understand this man’s words in ways most people can’t. There are two types of Oneness Pentecostals. There are the hardcore, doctrinally dogmatic types who care nothing for popularity or mega-church growth. These openly assert Oneness theology and declare the doctrine of the Trinity as heresy (from their viewpoint) and an aberration of
the apostles’ doctrine. They are not out to make friends but win people over to what they see as the true gospel. They are genuine and sincere though totally wrong and if ever converted they would make great Trinitarians. The other type (like Jakes) have adopted the seeker-sensitive approach which really guides all that they do. They are out to be successful, sell books, buy TBN time slots, and gain a national following. They see success as the end-game which justifies any and all means. That model is above all things, including truth or doctrinal purity. They see their small Oneness church pastor colleagues and know that it is precisely Oneness doctrine that keeps their congregations from growing and decide to abandon theology altogether. Anything that divides people they avoid no matter how central a tenet of Christian doctrine it is. They become de facto prosperity preachers because weak Christians enjoy hearing man-centered sermons that speak to their itching ears.
RB: Do you think asking for definitions of words like “manifest” and “person” is important and why in the case of Jakes?
JD: By insisting to use the word “manifest” instead of “person” he was able to save face with his large Oneness following. It was an important distinction made that his interviewers could not appreciate.
RB: What questions would you have liked the ER2 men to ask Jakes on the Trinity?
JD: If you are a Trinitarian, why don’t you teach it to your congregation seeing it is so central to Christian dogma? You said your understanding of the godhead has been in transition, when you finally reach the end of your journey of understanding regarding the Trinity, will you openly teach it and renounce modalism as false like the early church did? Are you willing to risk losing members for that truth? Those are the questions I would have asked.
RB: Do you think they should have asked him questions about the prosperity gospel?
JD: Yes. In the last 20 years, Oneness churches have witnessed the tremendous successes of the prosperity gospel movement and largely adopted their mode of operation. In many scenarios they have effectively merged the two but the latter has swallowed up the former. T. D. Jakes’ unorthodox view on the godhead is just the tip of the iceberg. He is a prosperity preacher through and through. Men like Jakes see theological nuance as labels and baggage. He, along with many other successful mega-church CEO pastors, play both sides of the fence because it’s expedient and he doesn’t want to alienate anyone and that’s what he sees as valuable, not identifying absolute truth and exposing false doctrine.
RB: Assuming the best and that Jakes now affirms the orthodox view of the Trinity, if you were Mark Driscoll would you have asked him if he was going to publically recant for teaching damning heresy for so long?
JD: Yes. If he truly affirms an orthodox view of the Trinity, he must repent of his former teaching. The two views are totally incompatible.
RB: Elaborate on the practical implications of moving from modalism to the orthodox view in terms of Jakes’ church and world-wide impact. In other words, what would you do if you were T. D. Jakes and you now hold to the orthodox view of the Trinity after confusing so many people for such a long time?
JD: If I were Jakes, I would start to teach the Bible. That may sound like an oversimplification but men like Jakes may use the Bible every Sunday but don’t really teach it. I would start there.
RB: Comment on the following tweet I saw the other day: “The way Jakes played MacDonald & Driscoll, you could say Bishop took two pawns.” Why do you think the tweeter said that?
JD: Jakes quickly neutralized their objective questions with a bit of reverse psychology. MacDonald and Driscoll, who came to ER2 thinking the issue was doctrine, were very quickly routed by the Bishop, and before long they were talking about unity. It is always tempting to abandon our pursuit of doctrinal purity for church unity.
RB: On your Face Book page, you said, “Jakes’ chair was certainly no hot seat for he is an expert in vagueness and unfortunately they were charmed by his charisma.” Explain what you mean.
JD: He has capitalized on his cult of personality. His speaking skills, social diplomacy, and celebrity status can be overwhelming. He is a master at saying a lot without saying a lot. He is also a very likable fellow and the 30,000 Texans who make up his congregation are proof that theological ambiguity can fill a church building. I have been to conventions where he was the main speaker and have seen multitudes swoon over him. Driscoll and MacDonald were easy pickings.
RB: What would you say to folks who may be confused about ER2 and the discussion with Jakes?
JD: It may come as a surprise but men like T. D. Jakes are not epistemologically self-conscious. By that I mean that they spend so much time on motivating speech and platitudes that they’ve given very little time or thought to expound why they believe what they believe. They have reduced their doctrinal expressions to harmless sound-bytes intended to offend the least amount of people possible, and this is why he could neither call himself a Trinitarian nor fully renounce Oneness.
RB: Jordan, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. This has been very helpful.
JD: You’re very welcome.
RB: I plan on posting a brief piece on the Trinity tomorrow.