Let me say at the outset that I’m honored and humbled to blog about this event. I realize I’m just a 30-year-old guy who loves Jesus, wants to resource His Bride, and carry His mission forward. And the fact that some of the men involved in the Elephant Room have been serving Christ longer than I’ve been alive gives me tremendous pause. If there’s one thing I learned during my missionary years in Romania, it’s that whenever I was quickest to criticize, it was usually because I lacked a true sense of perspective. I don’t want to make that mistake here.

Instead, I want to lay out a few guidelines for how we go about processing The Elephant Room.

Guidelines

First, we should aim for grace and truth in the way we act toward one another and speak of one another. We need clarity and charity, but too often we choose one at the expense of the other. Either our emphasis on clarity causes us to act uncharitably toward one another or our emphasis on charity leads us to paper over distinctions and leave things muddled rather than clarified. The goal of this post is to push for greater clarity and precision, but with heartfelt charity and good intentions.

Secondly, we should assume the best about people’s motives. That means that we ought to assume the best of motives on the part of James MacDonald in his hosting of this event. Likewise, we ought to assume the best of motives on the part of those who decried the event and the invited guests. Love demands we assume the best of intentions, even if ultimately we disagree with one another.

Third, we ought to consider the effect of this event on the mission of the church. Too often, the conversation about associations and invitations stays in the ivory tower of ideas. Instead, we need to push for more missiological reflection. How does this event equip God’s people to live on mission? How does this event hinder or help the mission?

The missiological dimension allows for the fact that sometimes our best intentions lead to effects we did not anticipate. There have been several times in ministry when when I’ve tried something in order to fix a problem, only to discover down the road that I had created a set of different problems altogether. So, while we might agree with James MacDonald on some of the problems between pastors he has witnessed, it is still beneficial to consider an event’s positive and negative implications.

With those preliminary things out of the way, let’s get on with the conversation about The Elephant Room 2.

1. It is good to celebrate minimal agreement on fundamental doctrines, but even better to pursue a robust affirmation of biblical teaching.

I understand there are multiple issues related to the resignation of James MacDonald from The Gospel Coalition. But at the foundational level, it’s safe to assume that the philosophy of The Elephant Room proposes a different way forward for evangelicalism than The Gospel Coalition does. And the primary differences zero in on the question of minimalism. In other words, what is the minimal number of doctrines and beliefs that must be agreed upon in order for there to be close friendship and fellowship between pastors?

What we have here is two different visions: one contemporary and one confessional.

Contemporary evangelicalism is a big tent that keeps getting bigger. A short list of doctrines must be in place in order for people to cooperate, fellowship, or share a platform together, but there is no consensus regarding how those doctrines should affect one’s ministry philosophy. That’s why contemporary evangelicalism has sometimes been described as encompassing “anyone who likes Billy Graham.”

Confessional evangelicalism seeks to renew the center of the movement by uniting likeminded believers around the gospel and promoting the centrality of the gospel in one’s teaching and preaching. A common theological vision for ministry leads these pastors to take associations very seriously, and even if there are no hard, fast rules in place, they generally refrain from sharing a platform together in a way that leads to a perceived endorsement.

The Elephant Room aligns more with the ethos of contemporary evangelicalism (public platform-sharing with anyone who confesses Christ). The Gospel Coalition aligns more with the ethos of confessional evangelicalism (public platform-sharing with those who share a common theological vision of ministry).

2. It is good to celebrate an affirmation of orthodoxy, but even better to affirm the celebration of orthodoxy.

By far, the session that was most anticipated was the one in which T. D. Jakes was asked to clarify his position on the Trinity. Thankfully, he did so – though perhaps not in a way that would satisfy all of his critics. I believe we should celebrate his affirmation of the truth that there is one God in three Persons.

At the same time we celebrate Jakes’ affirmation of truth, we should also look at what it is that he celebrates in his preaching and teaching. Surely one must ask why we have to discover Jakes’ view of the Trinity in a friendly panel discussion in Chicago instead of in the sermons he delivers to his church in Texas. In other words, the issue is not if Jakes believes in the Trinity, but to what extent Jakes’ belief in the Trinity matters to his ministry? Does the weight of this truth come out in his preaching and teaching?

Here is a question that needs to be asked: Within the realm of orthodoxy, how much does emphasis matter? It is possible to check off the doctrines on a list, and yet not give these truths the weight they deserve, to not let these truths affect what and how we preach. To me at least, the issue at stake here is not the content of one’s theology but the importance of that theology. It’s not merely about what we affirm, but what we celebrate and proclaim.

So yes, we can get a group of pastors in a room and ask them if they affirm the basics of the gospel. Amen and amen! Let’s celebrate those affirmations. But surely we must go beyond mere affirmation of a checklist to a more robust celebration of the gospel and how it affects what we do.

I’ve been listening to Steven Furtick’s preaching recently, and though Furtick assents to the gospel, his preaching ministry lends itself more toward motivational speech than strong celebration of the gospel. Jakes affirms the core message of the gospel too (praise God!), but in watching him preach on television in recent weeks, I’ve seen self-motivation and perseverance celebrated more than the cross. I cannot help but think that if one cannot discern your view of the Godhead from your preaching, perhaps you are not preaching enough about God. (And the disappointing part of the discussions at The Elephant Room 2 was that prosperity teaching went completely under the radar. It discourages me to think of David Platt at Elephant Room 1 getting drilled for urging radical sacrifice while Jakes’ teaching of health and wealth was never even brought up.)

We need to introduce a category related to theological importance that takes us beyond the mere affirmation of a theological point. Jakes believes in the Trinity. Praise God! But now we should ask: Is the Trinity important? How important? How do these truths we affirm affect our view of ministry? Our preaching? Our work in the world? That’s the conversation that still needs to take place.

3. It is good to come together in love, but even better when that love leads us sharpen one another in truth.

The conversation at Elephant Room 2 was much more tame than at the first conference, perhaps because the fireworks took place in the weeks leading up to the event. This one seemed more like a panel discussion with experienced pastors. The tone was quite different. It was refreshing actually to see how warmly all the pastors interacted with one another.

In the first Elephant Room, unity in essentials was assumed and diversity of methods was platformed. In the second Elephant Room, diversity in methods was assumed and unity in essentials was platformed. Because of this difference in tone, there was no substantial debate. What we witnessed was the coming together of several pastors united by their heart for each other and for people.

Several sessions were particularly encouraging – the affirmation of denominations as having value, the admonition to be urgent in our gospel proclamation, the way we ought to restore a minister who has fallen into sin. I thought Wayne Cordeiro’s session on pastoral burn-out was very encouraging. I benefited especially from Cordeiro’s insight that Satan will steal your joy if he can’t destroy you some other way. On these topics, the accumulated wisdom from these pastors was edifying to all who listened in. I highly recommend that pastors read through the notes and glean wisdom from these brothers.

Still, I wish we had seen more sharpening – not in a propped up sense of debating for debate’s sake, but in challenging one another in a way that goes deeper than merely affirming one another’s motives. It is easy to see anyone with a critical view of the Elephant Room as being hopelessly fundamentalist, narrow-minded and uncaring. Certainly some of the critics may fit that description. But there are others who were concerned about this event out of love. Love for people. Love for the organizers. Love for churches that have been damaged by aberrant theology and practice.

It would have been better to see the major distinctions between these participants brought to the table and discussed. Instead, it seemed as if all arguments and debates fade away in light of one’s fruitfulness in terms of numerical growth of the church. The silent assumption seemed to be: We may be different, but as long as God is blessing you (numerically), we can’t really debate. 

4. It is good to recognize that we all have errors that need correcting, but even better to pursue the correction of those errors.

The humility of the participants in the Elephant Room was refreshing. Everyone seemed self-aware and open to correction, even if very little correction took place during the event.

I also appreciated the warning given to conservative evangelicals (particularly the Reformed) who appear to celebrate critique. It’s true that in our circles critics are lifted up as courageous, often undeservedly. (And, trust me, the irony that I am offering a critique of the Elephant Room is not lost on me!)

Furthermore, Driscoll was right to admonish his Reformed friends to have a passion for reaching people that exceeds a passion for reviewing books. Still, I don’t want to drive a wedge between reviewing books and reaching people. Instead, I want to say that whenever anyone reviews a book, it ought to be motivated by reaching people. It’s in service to the mission that we debate theological matters. It’s because we recognize that theology is important and that the missional stakes are high that we engage in sharpening one another in gracious critique.

We need to create an atmosphere where we can challenge one another to not only check off boxes on a doctrinal questionnaire, but also to keep the cross and resurrection central to our proclamation. That was my motivation for writing Counterfeit Gospels - to reorient our lives and ministries around the beauty of the biblical gospel that empowers us for mission. We must avoid not only false gospels, but any proclamation that drifts away from the centrality of the cross. Why? Because drifting away from the cross and resurrection of Christ will leave us impoverished instead of enriched, weakened instead of strengthened. And our passion for mission suffers. The discussion in the Elephant Room seemed to assume that as long as someone’s ministry was numerically fruitful, the question of subtle (or not-so-subtle) drifting away from the cross couldn’t possibly be accurate.

One additional thing needs to be said regarding our humility in addressing theological topics. We mustn’t think that standing firm for certain doctrines and truths is dogmatic and arrogant. Our society chafes against an absolutist approach to virtually anything (except the absolute belief that there are no absolutes). To equate firmness with pride is a deadly error.

In contrast, as Christians, we believe that standing firm can be an act of humility. It is not a stubborn, arrogant dogmatism that leads us to insist on the traditional view of the Trinity. It’s a humble reverence for the Scriptures, interpreted by the church fathers and embraced by Christians for 2000 years. I understand, of course, that God is beyond our full comprehension. (I wrote just this week about the mystery of the Trinity and how we study this doctrine out of love.) But surely we ought to desire to grow mentally into more definite convictions on these matters. As Chesterton said, “The purpose of an open mind, like an open mouth, is to close on something solid.” It is not arrogant to close one’s mind on something as solid as Trinitarian truth.

Conclusion

In the end, I admire James MacDonald’s intention to bring about more civil discourse between believers. We need charity and clarity. But civility is not a love-fest. We will disagree – strongly at times. Why? Because theology matters. The stakes are high. Bad theology hurts people.

Bad conflict in the Christian church is caused by ego and pride. Good conflict ought to flow from love and compassion. We need less “bad conflict” and more “good, sharpening conflict.”

Weak unity in the Christian church is caused by minimizing the importance of theology. Strong unity flows from affirmation and celebration of the essential truths of Christianity and how they impact our lives and ministries. We need less “weak unity” and more “strong unity.”

So when we engage in conflict, let’s make sure it is out of love for the truth, love for Jesus, love for one another, and love for the people we shepherd. Sometimes we may even stand against a brother on a certain issue, but even when we take an adversarial stance, it ought always to be for the good of that brother and the glory of King Jesus. Let’s take the goal of The Elephant Room seriously and be people who are full of grace and truth.

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83 thoughts on “Grace and Truth Beyond the Elephant Room”

  1. Frank! says:

    You have hit the nail on the head Trevin. As a fellow SBCer, I’m proud.

    1. Lindsay says:

      Frank, I’m also SBC and have really enjoyed and gleaned from The Gospel Coalition’s articles, including this one.

      Trevin, I really like what you had to say here. I haven’t seen either round, but a friend has offered to lend me his DVDs of Round 1. I’m excited to watch the discussions, and witness an example of clarity AND charity. Thanks for this insightful article!

  2. Will Robinson says:

    Trevin,

    After reading your summary notes yesterday, I can’t help but agree with you. Especially after watching Matt Chandler’s gracious gospel filled sermon delivered at Elevation church (Where Steven Furtick pastors) and watching a couple of the other sermons in contrast. Agreeing with brothers for the sake of the gospel is a lovely thing, but essentials are important enough to lovingly push everyone beyond their comfort zones. Grace and peace to you.

    1. Calvin says:

      There is nothing more essential in the kingdom of God than love.

      1. Ethan says:

        I’d say the glory of God is more essential …

        1. Calvin says:

          Loving God and men is synonymous with glorifying Him. The problem is that so manythink that theologizing is superior to love when it comes to glorifying God. So did the pharisees.

        2. Taylor says:

          Obviously if we call it theologizing, it sounds unloving, but how does one glorify what he has does not grasp at all? True theology helps us love God better; disdain for knowing God suggests we prefer a God remade in our own image.

  3. Matt Svoboda says:

    Trevin,

    Great blog. This is the best commentary that has been published on this topic over the last few days. I always appreciate your insight and humility.

  4. John Metz says:

    Trevin,
    Thanks for attending and posting on The Elephant Room 2. This is a great service to your readers. I am keenly interested in the event but was not able to attend, so I appreciate your posts.

    Personally, I think the concept of Elephant is great–a friendly, loving, and truthful discussion among those who hold divergent views. Or course, the implementation may be another thing entirely. I do not understand the opposition to this; I want to hear T.D. Jakes and others in such a forum. It is always better to hear the person rather than others’ interpretations of what that person believes.

    Trevin, where do you find preaching that matches the importance of the Trinity? This is a wonderful mystery that applies much to our daily living but is to often neglected. You are right to ask the question about its importance in preaching. For that matter, much preaching today does sound like motivational speaking.

    Thanks for your posts on this subject.

  5. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Dear Trevin,

    An outstanding post! Very well done. Thank you kindly sir.

  6. Daniel F. Wells says:

    Excellent analysis promoting both clarity and charity.

    I wonder how Driscoll and others now view Jakes after hearing his comments on the Trinity?

    1. Calvin says:

      If they are wise they view him as a brother in Christ who understands the mystery of godliness in a different way than they do. If they are audacious enough to believe that only the way theyy understand the mystery of godliness is the right way, then how they view him doesny matter. They probably need to examine their own hearts.

  7. Jason Morrison says:

    Trevin,
    Thank you for live-blogging the event. Thank you even more for your analysis, especially on point 2. I believe you have articulated what many people felt after listening to the Elephant Room 2.

  8. paul says:

    T-dubs,
    thanks my brother. Charity within and throughout must be pursued. Often I feel like what we get with TGC debates are two people standing on either side of the table looking at a glass of water, 1 arguing passionately that pure rain water is only the best and the other arguing pure spring water is best…all the while someone dying of thirst is standing about 10ft away simply content to have SOME water. Let us not forget that striving for the finer points on non-essential issues can’t ever eclipse putting the Gospel into lived out practice.

  9. Mark S says:

    Trevin,

    I appreciate your graciousness in both your commendations and critiques of this event.

  10. Frank Gantz says:

    Trevin, I so appreciate your words. Clarity and charity are great guides for what we do.

  11. Brandon says:

    You can ascent to and even preach a robust, biblically accurate gospel but that doesn’t mean that you live it out. Of course this criticism may just as easily be leveled against the critics of the Elephant Room as the participants. May all of us grow in grace, truth, and love.

  12. Great analysis. This is such a touchy topic and you handled it with great clarity and grace, so thank you for that.

    I wish Christians could disagree more in a way that would lead to repentance, not just tolerance.

    1. Calvin says:

      So long as you and your group are not the ones doing the repenting. Of course

  13. Bob Sutton says:

    Thank you Trevin. Spot on.

  14. Wow. You may be a 30-year-old guy who loves Jesus, but you articulate the issues at hand like someone with the wisdom of years. Thank you for this helpful perspective.

  15. Bill says:

    Super Job… Enjoyed the call to charity and clarity. The four points were well-stated.

    Along with point four, I was struck by the discrepancy between how Jakes and Platt were treated. I was glad to see that inconsistency mentioned. But more than how Platt was drilled and Jakes was given a pass, Jakes was rallied behind as a victim of misrepresentation while Platt was railed against while clearly being misrepresented. Is it easier to disagree of methodology or is methodology more worthy of defense? Even being charitable, I cannot convince myself that that particular inconsistency is a small thing.

  16. Arthur Sido says:

    Well said. The two extremes you describe, one where we trip over ourselves to gloss over false teaching in the name of unity (somethat that is crucial in the church especially among the very divided orthodox) and those who pave around the room waiting for someone to say or do something that they can attack, are both unhealthy for the church. I am thankful for your sober and reasonable and most importantly Biblically faithful treatment of this event.

  17. christopher says:

    “It discourages me to think of David Platt at Elephant Room 1 getting drilled for urging radical sacrifice while Jakes’ teaching of health and wealth was never even brought up.”

    Amen.

    1. Heath lloyd says:

      And . . . AMEN!

  18. Taylor says:

    As I read through your live blogs, I couldn’t help wondering if an Elephant like room of theologians rather than pastors might result in more sharpening by a heavier focus on roots rather than results.

    I’ve been reading heavily in Ephesians 4, mainly 17-24; it’s amazing how Paul connects right knowledge with right action. Doing Christians always begin (and continue) by knowing, so we can’t love if we don’t sharpen.

  19. Matt says:

    This will sound harsh.
    I doubt you will publish it.

    But your article displays that you are a typical towing the line TGC boy.

    The fact that you highlight little to nothing about the absurdity of this event, the narcissism that ABOUNDS. Is testimony to that fact.

    1. Derek says:

      Matt, you comment is ridiculous, disrespectful and immature.

      Trevin, well articulated. I appreciated the post very much (yes, I followed along throughout the day even though, admitted, I had no idea what was going on and never heard of “Elephant Room” before). I was surprised to see TD Jakes in the discussion with the other people involved (remember, I had no idea there was a controversy a-stirring).

      When you talk about going beyond the affirmations of the basic gospel toward a celebration of it, asking the question, “how much does emphasis matter?” I feel that we’ve entered a subjective realm. I knew a pastor who emphasized the cross and substitutionary death week after week after week. He killed his church because week after week he as offering salvation messages to a saved bunch (they started attending other churches).

      Anyways, good stuff. Keep it up.

  20. Mike Daniels says:

    first, Matt, what posible good could come from your comment? Brother, i assume that you feel so strongly because of a reason, none was stated, however several shots were fired. pray, read, think, and then tell us what you know, that can help us see your point.

    second, Trevin, you ask us repeatedly to assume the best possible intentions to these and all matters. OK, but what value does the Bible, and therefore, God, grant to bad behavior with good intentions? especially from the pulpit. it would seem that Paul was particularly firm in Galations, because he understood that being wrong from the pulpit can lead to death eternally.

    i certainly do not wish to see division within the body, but we seem to be more concerned with the good name of men than God, and to mintaning relationships with men almost in disregard to our relationship to a Holy Righteous God.

    third, and last, how mny times do we need to hear men celibrating each others humility in public before is seems that that is the trait least present?

    we must seek God on His terms, in the way that He perscribes, in His word. all the res of our “feeling called to seek unity with men” must come a distant second at best.

    1. Frank says:

      Amen. Well put Mike

  21. Mike Daniels says:

    i would like to clarify,
    i do not mean anything i said as a point aimed directly at Trevin, i speak here in generalities, because “we” those who name the name of Jesus Chist, are all just men, saved by God. none of us bring great value to the kingdom, we are the recipient of every good thing, not the source.

    AFTER we repent of our individual sins, we do though have a responsibility to point out the sliver in anothers eye. and if that sliver has anything whatsoever to do with who God is, and what He does, the only concern is accuracy, but of course never hatefully.

  22. Bob Kellemen says:

    Trevin, Thank you for the clarity and charity you provide both in your commendations and critiques of ER2. Your post models speaking the truth in love. I pray that we all can model a Phil. 2:1-10 Christlike humility as we relate to one another in the Body of Christ for God’s glory.

  23. Is it charitable to not accept someone’s confession of the trinity because you “feel” that their sermons are not trinitarian enough? I think not.

    At leastthe real critics were courageous enough to be honest. This is an intellectual path that leads to the same conclusions as the critics.

    You do not have the right nor the knowledge to determine who’s preaching is informed or impacted by their trinitarian beliefs, and to write as if you do is arrogance.

    1. Calvin, it is adviseable to evaluate whether someone’s profession lines up with the rest of their teaching and life. The Bible is clear that they do not always line up. “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.” (Titus 1:16 ESV) It might be arrogant to do so, but it might also be simple obedience. Perhaps you have a little of your own arrogance assuming Trevin’s motives?

      1. Calvin says:

        Be careful of putting yourself in the place of judging others with such a scrutiny on matters that are higher than you. The mystery of godliness is greater than your coalition or any other coalition can comprehend. Rejecting a brother in Christ because of some doctrine that you all (and historical christians) have agreed upon does n ot make it gospel, it simply makes it your own understanding of God’s operation, and therefore to reject a brother in Christ based upon your own small understanding makes you all appear rather elite. Except that you are not.

  24. Ken Smith says:

    I think there is a place for many different proclaimers of the gospel. It appears that Stephen Furtick has been blessed with getting people to make a profession of faith in Jesus. James MacDonald has been blessed with the ability to teach the Bible. Elevation Church needs to have the humility to tap into the awesome resource that is James MacDonald. We need to be thankful for Stephen Furtick and instead of bashing him, we need to assist him in making sure that those who make profession of faith are exposed to sound Bible teaching.

    Here is another question that should be debated:

    What good is “theoretical” Christianity without “practical” Christianity?

  25. Paul says:

    @ken, amen my bro.

    1. Chris says:

      Dan, it has nothing to do with sharing platforms. That is the language of old fundamentalism. Many of the TGC guys share platforms with much worse. It comes down to an issue of wisdom. Does it honor African American brothers in Christ to make Jakes the first African American ever invited to ER when many of them are working hard to recover from that type of prosperity/the power of the mind preaching that distracts away from preaching about Jesus Christ. Keep in mind two TGC guys were on the panel… Loritts and Driscoll. It’s an issue of wisdom. How does a pastor spend their time? Trying to host a television program to bridge lowest common denominator gaps with controversial big time pastors, or carefully working to faithfully build of those in his small local church. One seems more faithful and helpful than the other to me.

      1. Bridgett says:

        Chris,
        This is only the second Elephant Room. It’s not like African-American preachers have been dissed by Elephant Room for decades. A recent blog post of James MacDonald’s mentions that through this process of ER2, he became aware of his ignorance regarding African-American churchs and culture. Honestly, I don’t think James had a clue how inviting Jakes could be seen as offensive. So it’s not a matter of lack of wisdom, or trying to be hurtful, it’s just being totally unaware.
        And now he’s aware and, according to that blog post, is seeking to understand.

  26. Dan Roseman says:

    I love everything the Gospel Coalition does. The men who have preached at the conferences and write the articles feed my soul more than you will ever know. I also consider myself reformed (although I’m not quite sure where I land with limited/definite atonement) and I find the “prosperity gospel” to be distasteful. I attended the Elephant Room at the Charlotte location, and I agree with 95% of what you said in this article.

    However, part of how you described Confessional Evangelicalism concerns me. When you said, “a common theological vision for ministry leads these pastors to take associations very seriously, and even if there are no hard, fast rules in place, they generally refrain from sharing a platform together in a way that leads to a perceived endorsement” something rubbed me wrong.

    We worship a Man who was not afraid to be seen in public with prostitutes. How can we really consider ourselves to be his followers when we’re reluctant to share a platform with Christians of a different theological persuasion? I can’t help but think that’s a fear of guilt by association that our Savior does not share. I hope this is something the Gospel Coalition will consider, because I really do love what you guys do!

    1. Jeremiah says:

      I’m not sure that is a good comparison.

      You cannot really compare Jesus not being afraid to be seen with prostitutes with the Gospel Coalition’s stance. After all it was Jesus and Paul who taught separation from believers who taught a false gospel, not later unloving men.

      The question is not “do you find the prosperity gospel distasteful,” but rather “do you find the prosperity gospel to be under the anathema of Galatians?”

      There is a difference between refusing to associate with a sinner and refusing to associate with a professing or even genuine Christian that has fallen into serious doctrinal error. The former is explicitly condemned, the later is explicitly taught.

      There is a huge difference between how we treat professing Christians and how we treat non-believers. In one very real sense our position toward professors is far “stricter.”

      It is not about being reluctant to share a platform with Christians of a “different theological persuasion,” as the variety of theological persuasions of the various members of the Gospel Coalition should demonstrate, rather it is a reluctance tho share a platform with Christians who are suspect of denying the gospel in some fundamental way.

      1. Dan Roseman says:

        I actually agree, Jesus’ willingness to be seen with a myriad of sinners was far more bold than hanging out on a stage with someone who preaches the prosperity gospel. He also had dinner with Pharisees in their homes. Talk about guilt by association. He wasn’t afraid to be associated with anyone, He simply did what the Father had sent Him to do.

        On your second point, I think you might be straining a gnat a little. “Distasteful,” “wrong,” “false” … call it what you like. I was making the point that I don’t agree with it. Do I consider it to be equal with the anathema of the Galatians? No. The Galatians believed you weren’t saved until you had Jesus + …, whereas the preachers of the prosperity gospel wrongly believe that wealth and health should be a sign of your salvation. I don’t think one of them would accuse someone of not being regenerate due to financial struggles or coming down with the flu. Although they might accuse them of a lack of faith, which is wrong and hurtful. So in general, I think that’s a poor comparison.

        Again, Jesus also ate with Pharisees. I know we’re called to not even eat with a brother who is in unrepentant sexual sin, but I don’t think that compares to the prosperity gospel.

        Finally, I get your point in the last paragraph. I really do. Doctrinal clarity is crucial. However, I also know that Jesus said people would know we are His disciples by our love for one another. So if the prosperity gospel is wrong, but not damnable, I’ll gladly call one of those men a brother and share any platform that waves the banner of Jesus.

        Thanks for your respectful reply, you’ve sharpened me.

        1. Jeremiah says:

          Agreed, and thank you as well for your reply.

          My second point was taking into account an understanding of the prosperity gospel that we may differ on.

          To clarify my comments,

          No, I would not place everyone who falls under the spectrum that could be called the prosperity gospel to be meriting the condemnation of Galatians. However where I would guess that I differ with you (guessing) is that I would place many if not most.

          Yes, I agree that Paul was arguing against legalism in Galatians, but don’t miss that he was also arguing against nomism. A serious enough misunderstanding of how to live the Christian life merits the same level of denunciation as an error of how to become saved.

          “whereas the preachers of the prosperity gospel wrongly believe that wealth and health should be a sign of your salvation. I don’t think one of them would accuse someone of not being regenerate due to financial struggles or coming down with the flu.”

          My consigning many if not most who teach (not necessarily who have believed or been enticed by) the prosperity gospel results from the fact that many teach exactly what you describe. I would have serious disagreements with someone who taught that health and wealth should be signs of salvation(and would not let him in my pulpit), but the fact is that a great majority of prosperity teachers do in fact teach that serious illness or trouble (maybe not the flu) are evidence of a lack a regeneration.

          However this is not the heart of the issue even (as far as I am concerned), while both of the above errors are serious in my mind (the second being far more serious), I think the area where prosperity gospel teachers truly err is in “their gospel.” This is why we don’t refer to teachers who follow the gospel with prosperity teaching, but to teachers who teach a “prosperity gospel,” which I believe is no gospel at all. In their scheme (again I recognize that this cannot be a blanket statement applying to everyone) prosperity is the gospel. People are exhorted to come to Jesus for health and wealth. Jesus is a means to an end (and the scary thing is that some of the more far out ones will even admit to this). So in this sense I would classify the prosperity gospel as not just wrong, but in fact damnable.

          I also think there is a difference in simply associating with someone (even lovingly so) and giving their message public approval either explicitly or implicitly with your actions (assuming you have some authority, such as if you were a pastor).

          Teachers will be judged much harsher by God, and we need to be all the more discerning concerning men who have a large reach.

          Jesus ate with Pharisees, I would eat with a prosperity teacher. I would take care of him if sick, and I would help him if he needed it. But I would not give him a platform at my church that would mislead anyone into thinking that 1) I in anyway endorsed his teaching, 2) that it is okay to follow this leader.

  27. shaughn lews says:

    I applaud the efforts of the author and Mr Daniels in the commentary section. The idea that good intentions should be assumed as being noble in purpose must only be so if its practice leads to nobility and some goodness. That said, while the discussion is entertaining to a point I wonder if we have made a white elephant of this conference, in other words how useful is this (conference and discussion) for the promotion of the gospel in Muslim lands or the translation of the Bible into all languages or the persecution of believers. I get the distinct feeling that it is rather tribal as opposed to universal in scope. This morning the trajectory of the Christian faith was not altered in any significant way across the world.

  28. Bob in IN says:

    “Furthermore, Driscoll was right to admonish his Reformed friends to have a passion for reaching people that exceeds a passion for reviewing books.”

    Disagree with this assertion. Who is to say that the right books don’t evangelize as much as other methods of evangelization? Personally, I was transformed, or better stated, urged to study the scriptures, through which I was transformed, via various books I read (Josh McDowell, others) over 12 years ago.

    Driscoll showed spiritual pride if he made that comment.
    To say that you write books and I evangelize is a false premise. Both can evangelize, but lousy books surely will not, just like lousy witnesses.

    It is the Holy Spirit who convicts, not our methods.

  29. shaughn lews says:

    In the Nicene declaration there was movement towards the need for clear articulation and biblical thinking. The world was changed as a result, now while we cannot expect change of such magnitude to occur regularly we should not settle for over blown expectation driven by a PR bent. In short I think we should all sit calmly, peer into our Bibles and avoid the temptation of thinking that major change happens as a result of a cultural phenomenon (Christian conferences.

  30. Jared C. Wilson says:

    Thank you, Trevin.

  31. Mike Daniels says:

    Shaughn,
    Thanks for assuming that I did have good intentions:)

    The reason these are issues worth discussing (I think) is the book of Galations for instance.

    Paul addressed the teaching of men who agreed with almost everything he was teaching, with just a few small additions and/ or alterations. Paul seemed to feel (and the Holy Spirit, as He is the inspiration for every word of the Bible) that those alterations (or doctrinal details) made for another gospel altogether, and therefore did not lead to Christ.

    If we allow even nuanced modalism to be slipped into our range of acceptability, do we it risk the same?

    I want desperately to have many profess faith in Christ, I just want to be sure that it is the Christ of scriptures, and some VERY similar emanation of our even well intending imaginations.

  32. Scott says:

    First, thank you for the tireless, live blogging yesterday! I plan on getting the dvds, but it gave me some insight to ponder.

    Second, based on what I was reading, I found the quick run-through of doctrine by Pastor Driscoll to be insufficient. I have listened to him for a long time, and have been blessed by his ministry, but I can also just hear the pace of those questions. He can be too simplistic for his own good on occasion. However, I would tend to err on “the benefit of the doubt” side in regard to TD Jakes.

    Thanks for all the time and energy regarding this whole event. May God bless you and keep you.

  33. A different Matt says:

    One other thing I forgot to mention. We need to understand that disagreeing with someone or even correcting or rebuking someone is not the opposite of charity. If Paul rebuked Peter today, many of us would think he was not charitable. Quite untrue. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to rebuke and correct because salvation is at stake.

    Of course we’re not talking non-essentials here.

    Also, we must not mistake silence or non-correction as humility or charity. Often times that is the fear of the enemy. Sometimes the most hateful thing you can do is to not correct someone. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”

    We need to learn when to fight for the non-negotiable truth and when to charitably disagree. There is a time for both. Let’s not break out our plowshares when we should be armed with our swords.

  34. Martin Salter says:

    Thanks Trevin – as ever, nuanced, helpful, charitable and insightful. many thanks.

  35. Thomas Doidge says:

    Sorry Trevin. All I can say is “You have got to be kidding me!”

  36. Greg Belser says:

    Trevin, I greatly appreciate your work on many fronts. And this ranks high on the list for some of your best work. Thanks for this and thanks for your ongoing ministry to the church. Very well done.

  37. Thank you Trevin! I am among those who also did not understand how David Platt could be challenged as he was in ER1 and yet the Prosperity Gospel Teaching of T.D. was never brought up in ER2. I am still puzzled by that and hopefully Driscoll or others will at some point comment on why they did not do so.

  38. Heath lloyd says:

    When does affirming one another, and expanding the tent of evangelicalism become an unhealthy syncretism?

    How much seeps out of Driscoll’s closed fist until soon it is as empty as the open hand, and we don’t even reaize it has slipped out? (to use his anaolgy)

    I pray all of us will be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

  39. Dallas says:

    “It discourages me to think of David Platt at Elephant Room 1 getting drilled for urging radical sacrifice while Jakes’ teaching of health and wealth was never even brought up.”

    The issue of money was one of the seven topics in the first ER, it wasn’t one of the seven topics in the second one. ER2 wasn’t a forum on all of T.D. Jakes’s views, it was a forum on the seven topics chosen, and one of them was related to a well-known issue with Jakes.

    “Does it honor African American brothers in Christ to make Jakes the first African American ever invited to ER.”

    First of all, how do you know he was the first one “invited”? He in fact was not. Second, why wouldn’t you consider Crawford Loritts as one of the first ones? He was there, too. Third, what does skin color have to do with the topics discussed in either Elephant Room other than the segregation issue in ER2?

    TREVIN, great post, but I take issue with your comments on the fact that you haven’t seen his beliefs in the Trinity focused on in his preaching. I would question how often you’d see that specific issue made clear in most preachers, including some of our reformed brethren in the Coalition. One could probably watch 20 John Piper sermons and not necessarily hear explicitly that he’s a “trinitarian.”

  40. Ken Smith says:

    Would it ever occur to most preachers just to encourage their listeners to read the Bible for himself/herself? Is it because of what would happen if more people read it for himself/herself and let God speack to them? If more of us would consistently read our Bibles, then we would give God an opportunity to speak to us about what we need rather than having man tell us what they think we need to hear. I am not completely discounting the value of preaching but there needs to be a balance here that it lacking. I did the most growing in my walk with God when I was in the Word on a daily basis and asked God to draw me closer to Himself. Where in all of this conversation back and forth are we allowing God to take a prominent role?

    1. danny says:

      ken, most preachers i know tell their hearers consistently to read their Bibles. I am a pastor and know many.

      preaching is God ordained and commanded in Scripture, God speaks through Scripture as authority, but he also uses preachers. both are needed.

  41. Dave Sherrill says:

    Trevin,
    You write, “I believe we should celebrate his affirmation of the truth that there is one God in three Persons.”

    So I went to the account of the discussion.

    “Jakes: I believe the latter one is where I stand today. One God – Three Persons. I am not crazy about the word persons though. You describe “manifestations” as modalist, but I describe it as Pauline. For God was manifest in the flesh. …”

    That is an affirmation to celebrate? It’s not Jakes’ critics who shouldn’t be satisfied with this. No Christian should be satisfied with this. You wrote a book about discernment and yet… celebrate this?

    I disagree with your assessment, based on the all-too-thin facts of Jakes’ ‘affirmation’. As an overseer in a small church, I pray this will be used by God as a teaching moment that bears fruit in due season. Guard your flock, brothers.

    1. Calvin says:

      Are you dissatisfied because he believes that God was manifetded in the flesh? Take it up with scripture.

    2. Bridgett says:

      Dave,
      Did you attend ER2? Or are you quoting a blog that has a note at the bottom of it that says,”These are not direct quotes but rather a play by play intended to give an overview of each conversation at this year’s event. I encourage you to watch this year’s conversations once available for fullest context.”

      1. Bridgett says:

        Or another blog with a disclaimer that said, “This is merely a summary of my notes, taken down live during the event. They may not be word-for-word and will need to be seen on video in order for their context to be fully understood.”

  42. Max says:

    Trevin-

    I am a huge fan of TGC and I love your blogs as well. This site is a go to site for me. Having said that I cannot be more disappointed with this post or TGC over the behavior of the Elephant Room.

    This post was well written, but still seems like a well crafted smear job. I appreciate the first part of the post but as I read I felt like I was getting the pleasantries of how my first boss appreciated me just before he fired me. Is this the back and forth we can expect from the TGC in the future? I feel like this is a dart more than an honest attempt. I am sorry to call into account your character in this. But as you said you value good conflict and the stakes are high.

    TGC has the opportunity to move forward with it’s mission or be seen as a controlling dogmatic theology police or you can be promoters and defenders of the Gospel.

    I am totally ok with the differences between TGC and The Elephant Room. If that is that then I am ok with it. But what you propose as the differences outline cannot be all there is. Here is why. The players in The Gospel Coalition regularly share stages with Pastor’s and ministers that have the same or even more serious issues regarding basic doctrine. I have personally been present on several occasions.

    I am not sure that the confessional evangelicalism you speak of exists or is even biblical. I would not say I am either of these as you have defined them. I certainly associate with Pastors and movements that are Gospel Centered in a unique way. But I will share a platform with someone that isn’t in that camp because I believe the Gospel does not need my help to be seen as truth.

    I do recognize that people may think I am “one of them” but as a minister of the Gospel that is a risk I take in preaching the gospel just as Jesus did, just as the Apostles did, just as all “evangelical” Christians should. I do this every Sunday by associating myself with a community of believers that have varying beliefs from our churches official doctrine.

    If TGC wants this to blow up into a bigger deal than it is then continue to post these kind of smear jobs. The basic premise is flawed. TGC directors share stages with people they do not know as they travel the country and do hundreds of speaking arrangements for all kinds of groups that they do not enjoy the kind of unity that you propose here. (I am not even sure what you mean by “A common theological vision for ministry”)

    One final point, you mention that they celebrated numerical growth. I say they celebrated that Jesus Christ was celebrated as transforming lives. That is not always the same thing but I think they were more concerned that although we differ on some issues the Holy Spirit is not as offended as we are in your church because He is causing sons to be brought to Glory. I think that is what was going on not number counting.

    Having said all that in the first Elephant room their were more sparks that flew. I wish the second would have been a little more like that.I like a robust fight

    1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

      o “This post was well written, but still seems like a well crafted smear job.”

      o “If TGC wants this to blow up into a bigger deal than it is then continue to post these kind of smear jobs.”

      Pastor Max, your comment wasn’t clear. Who got smeared? And who did the smearing?

      1. Max says:

        Trevin,

        Since the subject of the post is why the Elephant Room is an impoverished view of how to relate to others in the evangelical world. And since James MacDonald is the leaders of the Elephant room I thought those things would be clear to the reader. Sorry I will be more clear next time. The smear is The Elephant Room and James MacDonald.

        Since the only one that can possibly be seen as doing anything in a post is the author of the post I suppose that the one smearing would have to be the author. I do not know to the extent others at TGC collaborated in this post. But I am sure it passed many hands of approval before posting.

        My point about the smear is this. James MacDonald was fired, canned and forced out from TGC. I respect very much TGC. But this post is a continuation of the argument of why TGC is justified in that. I guess it may be an honest account form the author. But it also tries to justify (through false or maybe hypocritical reasoning as I already stated) the way they have treated the Elephant Room and James.

        Hope that helps understand my view of this Truth Unites..

        Blessings

        1. Trevin Wax says:

          Max,

          As a point of clarification, I did not send this analysis to anyone before posting. It did not pass through any hands. If I have wronged anyone here, I take full responsibility.

          I have great appreciation and respect for James MacDonald, and even if ultimately I am concerned about some of the unintended consequences of this event, I do not in any way question his heart, motivations, or intentions. Still, I hardly think that honest disagreement necessarily means “smearing” a brother. The entire point of the Elephant Room is that we ought to be able to discuss matters like this in grace and truth.

  43. Observer says:

    Quote:

    “In other words, the issue is not if Jakes believes in the Trinity, but to what extent Jakes’ belief in the Trinity matters to his ministry?…”

    I respectfully disagree with you, Trevin. The issue is still whether Jakes believes in the Trinity or in modalism.

    Jakes did not answer the question. It is not enough to say he affirmed “one God in three Persons” (nor is it enough for us to celebrate). Any modalist could affirm that. That statement does not make you trinitarian. We SHOULD celebrate the statement: one God eternally existing in three Persons. A modalist could not faithfully affirm this statement, therefore, neither would T.D. Jakes (I believe).

    Definitions matter.

    1. Calvin says:

      We should celebraet our brotehrs in Christ and not love our creeds more than we love tem It is not by how much of the creed we all agree upon that will cause men toknow that we are Christ’s disciples, but whether we love one another.

      The issue was whether jakes believed in te trinity, he said that he did, buttakes exception to the term persons. Now we raise the bar and say that believeing is not enough, let us inspect your every sermon!

      That type of scrutiny is not from God, but from men who want to be God. But your creed will not be opened and no one wil be reading from it when Jesus comes back and splits the clouds. Your wordings and your interpretations are not the standard by which anyone will be judged. This is your own arrogance, and I do not believe that God is with yoyuin this matter.

      1. Scott says:

        Calvin,

        We are to keep each other accountable. Scripture DOES say so. Additionally, love does not mean acceptance of everything one does or says. I would say that it is loving to make sure a brother in not in error. If someone is preaching a false Jesus, that is not loving, as the end result is damnation. So, your definition of “love”, I believe, needs some Biblical alignment.

        This was an absolutely loving, well-thought, and gracious analysis. While I tend to believe TD Jakes affirms the Trinity rightly, I do not think that this post was a smear job, or unloving…quite the opposite, really.

        1. Calvin says:

          Where is the scripture thatsays you are to keep anyone accountable? Where is the scripture that says you or I are even capable of keepng anyone accountable. The Bible says we would know one another by the fruit that we bare. What do you know about this man’s fruit.

          You do not even completely know yourself, yet you sit in judgement high above a person whom you DO NOT KNOW.

          And even if we are called to keep one another accountable, I am certain that we are nt called to scrutinize someone the way you all are trying to scrutinize this man. You are going overboard.

          And I say again, none of us understand God’s relationship within Himself completely, so that means that you cannot rightly say that your position is the most or least accurate.

          Judge what you are able to judge. Leave things that are beyond your responsibility to the one who can judge rightly. On the matter of the relationship between the Fatehr and His Son it is wise for all of us to respect that it is a great mystery, and therefore we must be wiling to har other people’s take on the subject.

          Man cannot rightly distinguish between his own body, soul and spirit most of te time. Yet you think that you are able to plummmet the depths of God’s entire internal makeup. That is arrogant.

          Therefore to try and judge someone else’s understanding on the matter is self righteous.

    2. Bridgett says:

      On another blog, yesterday someone asked if anyone has asked Jakes to sign off on the Athanasian Creed.
      Charming.

  44. shaughn lews says:

    For the last few days I have repeatedly heard that “its all about God”, be it the Bible, mission, discipleship, worship, church, even in defending the faith as passed down to us through those who lived before. I risk being considered naive, simple and unsophisticated, but it does seem that what does not glorify God, or create a thirst for God in others that only God himself can satiate, is ultimately idolatrous, fruitless and unprofitable. A student reminded me today about the difference between the “climax” of a story and the “conclusion” of a story. In the Biblical narrative, the climax occurs in the incarnation of Christ, if then the story of God reaches its zenith in the person of Jesus Christ, can we ever, ever, live, move or function without making the climax of all that we do Jesus the Christ. Does this conference, discussion, book, blogging, ranting and raving bring to Christ Glory worthy of Him? If it does not then it, good intentions aside, put on man the spotlight that is reserved for God only.

  45. shaughn lews says:

    we live in a time that demands from us prophetic insight – who was the one who called the game right, who talked about this trade and that trade before it happened, who saw the economic collapse before it happened. The very nature of social media breeds ‘nowness”. And yet the advice of a Jewish theologian may be able to shed light on all this. In short, let us wait. In trusting the God of the all things we depend on Justness, Love and Faithfulness in equal measures. Commit to God the outcome of this event. Let him judge it. While we in trembling hold our tongues less we fight against him or in anger lose the edge of gentleness thus jeopardising the chance to strengthen the weak and win a soul

  46. In Matthew 12:34 Jesus says the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. This applies just as well to preachers…watch what they consistently preach about…it will show what is really in their heart.

  47. Spirit filled lover of Jesus Christ says:

    “Bad theology hurts people”. Not as much as badly behaving christians who bite and devour one another, regardless of how polite and respectfully they do so – and for all the world to see. In reading some of these posts Matthew 22:29 comes to mind. The LORD knows those who are His. His Holy Spirit will reveal His scriptures to those who are TRULY His. I know a lovely old saint in her 70’s who is Spirit filled fabulous and probably would not impress all of you with her theology or be able to define modalism. However, she has been used by the LORD to lead countless people to Christ. Seems He still is pleased by that child like faith on earth. Brother Calvin, you are right, all of this is the flesh and not of the Spirit of God.

  48. Blake says:

    What MacDonald and company have done in the Elephant Room is a beautiful thing at least in this regard: James MacDonald  NEEDS those gifts and perspectives that have been graciously granted by our Father to T.D. Jakes. Jakes NEEDS those gifts and perspectives that have been graciously granted by our Father to MacDonald, and so on. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you'”…

    If we truly celebrate and desire a HUGE view of our majestic God, then in addition to loving and feeding on our Bibles, we should be banging down the doors of our brothers and sisters of different “camps”, begging them: “What do you have that I need?”

    The priests of Israel wore a breastplate with engravings and precious stones representing ALL the tribes. Like the Father, I want to carry on my heart the WHOLE Body, graciously receiving and carefully placing on my own breastplate the precious treasure that each “camp” has.

  49. Jason Woelm says:

    Okay, this is the third time I’ve tried posting this comment. Mr. Wax, I’m not sure why you’re censoring me. I am attempting to bring this concern in grace and truth. It is in God’s grace and truth that I pray that James MacDonald and Mark Driscoll see their error.

    It was stated, “Third, we ought to consider the effect of this event on the mission of the church.”

    I’m afraid one of the effects of ER2 is that Christians, seeing a false teacher of a false gospel (the prosperity gospel) proclaimed orthodox instead of being avoided per the biblical commands of Romans 16:17-19 and 2 John 9-11, will follow ER2′s lead and fall into serious danger.

    As someone who has served in two churches where the lead pastors were given the benefit of the doubt (a.k.a. uncritically accepted) and eventually made lunch out of their sheep, such an approach is unwise.

  50. Bridgett says:

    I do find it sad that all other parts of ER2, all other discussions that took place, all other insights and blessings that we’re passed on, are being overshadowed by this Jakes thing. Sad, sad, sad.

  51. walt says:

    This is one of the problems I have with the way faith is taught today. We do not prepare people for the fact that faith may not get them a job as quickly as they like, even if they do pray. This name-it-and-claim-it idea is dangerous propaganda. It makes people think that success is just a matter of some Easy-Bake recipe—do this, do that, tell God how you’d like it. I get concerned when I hear people teaching that faith in God ensures success or that a certain offering given to the church will guarantee a blessing.

    Reposition Yourself: Living Life without Limits – TD Jakes

    1. Calvin says:

      Well then I guess 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 send you into depression then…

  52. David says:

    Whilst this is a good post, I have to take issue with your comments on confessional evangelicalism and TGC.

    The problem is that this approach excludes numerous evangelicals who don’t share all your particular distinctives. I’m not talking about the likes of Furtick and Jakes, but more biblically-minded people who might have different views on, for example, women in leadership.

    It seems that the unwritten aim of TGC’s confessional evangelicalism is to lay down the law and force uniformity on secondary doctrines over which christians have disagreed for centuries. Those who don’t take TGC’s line are by definition outside of the center and therefore second-rate.

    But, of course, the exception is baptism. What is TGC’s confession about baptism? The answer is that it’s very vague, so as to accommodate baptists and presbyterians. That seems hypocritical to me.

  53. Trevin Wax says:

    I’m a little weary of moderating comments on this post, and I think most of the discussion has been expended. So I am closing comments at this time.

Comments are closed.

Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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