The Elephant In The Room Is Church History

October 5, 2011 — 3 Comments

Perhaps you’re blissfully unaware that T.D. Jakes was invited to Round 2 of The Elephant Room. Depending on your familiarity with The Elephant Room, this is either cause for concern or a prompt to ask, “what’s the elephant room?” As Tim Challies clarifies:

By way of context, we need to remember that The Elephant Room is a meeting by Christians and for Christians, and even more, by Christian leaders and for Christian leaders. Inherent in inviting T.D. Jakes is the understanding that he is a Christian. Which presents a problem because inherent in modalism is the understanding that such a person is not a Christian.

So there you have it. A pastor who may or may hold a heretical view of the Trinity (modalism), or at best, consistently refuses to affirm an orthodox view has been invited to a meeting of Reformed, evangelical pastors. The problem, as Justin Taylor sees it, is not so much that someone with a substandard orthodox view of God has been invited to dialogue, but rather,

James MacDonald defended the decision under the idea that the Elephant Room is all about “Getting brothers together who believe in salvation by grace alone through faith alone but normally don’t interact.” Further, their site explains that the motivation behind the Elephant Room is “a dual desire to challenge and unite this generation’s pastors.” (Emphasis Taylor’s in both quotes.)

Taylor further points out his cause for dismay, saying that

the most sobering and painful commentary on this controversy has been penned by Thabiti Anyabwile and Anthony Carter, who have both labored winsomely and heroically for a reformation in the black church and see this invitation as a tremendous setback for the cause of grace and truth.

Another voice in the mix is that of Carl Trueman, a professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, who clarifies the importance of Nicene orthodoxy. He elsewhere suggests that it is inconsistent for a group that is comfortable with the likes of Steven Furtick and Perry Noble to have any problem with T. D. Jakes, since “surely it is the same horse, just a different jockey.

Other posts worth looking into on the subject are at the Pyromaniacs blog. One on the evangelical freakshow, and the other an open letter to James MacDonald. Rather than get into those though, I’d like to give you my two cents.

For what it’s worth, I think inviting Jakes was a mistake, but at the same time, I didn’t take The Elephant Room too seriously to begin with and now can see that my original oversight is vindicated. No one is particularly benefited by inviting people who are confused about important issues like the Trinity to join other pastors and have “some honest conversation.” The only defense I can see for inviting Jakes is that maybe they are going to attempt to “reform” him. That however, doesn’t seem to be a good goal for something carried out in public.

At best then, I think we can say the motivation behind The Elephant Room is well intentioned, but ultimately misguided. The invitation previously of Furtick and Noble hint at this, and the new invitation to Jakes confirms it. In the case of Furtick and Noble, it is possible that MacDonald had in mind an attempt to bring them under some wiser pastoral wings, much like Piper did with Driscoll. In the case of Jakes though, who is older and much more established, I’m don’t think we can say the same thing.

The bottom line is that trying to get brothers together who “believe in salvation by grace alone through faith alone but normally don’t interact” is a noble goal, if by that MacDonalds means gathering together different voices committed to the same gospel. But when you invite a voice that doesn’t clearly get the Trinity right, you’re not inviting a brother committed to the same gospel.

Or as Vanhoozer notes in the quote I shared a few days ago:

The doctrine of the Trinity, far from being a peice of abstract speculation, is actually the inevitable conclusion to which the church was driven by the logic of theo-drama. The church fathers soon came to realize that the integrity of the gospel is fatally compromised if either the Son of the Spirit is not fully God. If the Son were not God, he could neither reveal the Father nor atone for our sin. If the Spirit were not God, he could unite us neither the Father and Son nor one another. The gospel, then, requires a triune God. The God of the gospel reveals and redeems precisely as Father, Son, and Spirit. (bold mine)

In this case, the real elephant in the room come January orthodox Trinitarianism as defined throughout church history. It will be interesting to see how things ultimately play out.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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