Athanasius didn’t think Trinitarian deviation was a case of “all one in Christ”.
Yes, I’m talking about Hillsong Conference 2013 with TD Jakes on the platform. Jakes has come from Oneness Pentecostalism—a modalist trinitarian heresy—and still equivocates about orthodox trinitarian confession.
Here’s John Piper on Anthanasius:
Within two years after taking office as Bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius was embroiled in controversy. Most of the Bishops who had signed the Creed of Nicaea did not like calling people heretics who disagreed. They wanted to get rid of Athanasius and his passion for this cause.
And Piper again on Athanasius’ response to Emperor Constantius’ two councils at Arimium and Seleucia in 359 to settle the conflict between the Arians and the supporters of Nicea.
The aim was a unifying creed for Christianity. The upshot of these councils was a compromise, sometimes called semi-Arian, that says the Son is “like the Father” but does not say how. It basically avoids the issue. For Athanasius this was totally unacceptable. The nature of Christ was too important to obscure with vague language.
Now here’s an extract from Thabiti Anyabwile on the problems for evangelicals in associating on the platform with someone like TD Jakes, given his lack of trinitarian clarity. This was written when he’d heard that James McDonald and Mark Driscoll had invited TD Jakes to a discussion panel known as the Elephant Room 2—leading to the withdrawal of Mark Dever from participation as a result.
This isn’t on the scale of Piper inviting Warren. This is more akin to Augustine inviting Muhammad. This invitation gives a platform to a heretic. It’s imprudent and counter-productive – witness already the Trinity-related confusions and obfuscations happening since announcing Jakes’ involvement.
Can the Lord squeeze lemonade out of this lemon? Absolutely. I pray He does. Is it likely? We’ll see.
Do you think Thabiti is a bit upset, maybe even hyperbolically? Well, you’d understand if you read the link above and see the sort of things Jakes has said about the Trinity.
Here’s Thabiti again, some time afterwards, on why it matters when we implicitly endorse a platform that promotes someone who brings heterodoxy (prosperity) and more than flirts with heresy (modalism). Why does it matter? Because it damages some of those who flock to the platform or person as a result. And,
Recent events have given T.D. Jakes greater credibility in and access to communities that to this point were largely unaware of him. In my opinion, that can’t be a good thing.
Here is another reflection on TD Jakes, including some of Jakes’ actual comments on the Trinity when interviewed by Sheridan Voysey on Open House, during what I think was his last visit to Hillsong in 2010.
And here’s a reaction to what Jakes said at Elephant Room 2 from E Calvin Beisner, Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Social Ethics (2000–2008) at Knox Theological Seminary:
Those words are absolutely consistent with the modalist heresy of Oneness Pentecostalism, and they remind me precisely of the kind of intentionally vague, off-topic language used by Arius and his supporters at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. Jakes will be believable in saying he believes in “One God – Three Persons” when he renounces Oneness Pentecostalism and separates from the officially modalist, anti-Trinitarian United Pentecostal and other Oneness denominations, and enunciated the doctrine of the Trinity with clarity and precision and a clear repudiation of modalism. Jakes’s language above fits perfectly with Oneness Pentecostals’ belief that the only difference between Father and Son is that the Son is the Father manifested in the flesh. The crucial element of the doctrine of the Trinity is that the distinctions of Father, Son, and Spirit are revealed in Scripture to be utterly independent of anything external to God – i.e., they are internal distinctions. Jakes’s god is not the God revealed in the Bible, and his gospel is not the gospel revealed in the Bible.
Carl Trueman has also expressed his concern about Jakes’ Trinitarian views and prosperity gospel.
Now, although Jakes may have shifted from classic Oneness Pentecostalism, he has never unequivocally repudiated the old views, nor endorsed the classic Trinitarian orthodoxy of the Nicene Creed.
To be frank, and I’m sorry to say this since some of them are friends and/or mentors, I’m surprised and disappointed some Sydney Anglicans are so phlegmatic about a conference which gives this man a prominent platform.
I don’t care if other people on the platform are orthodox. On the Trinity, even if it meant it was him against the world (and it cost him 5 exiles from his bishopric in Egypt), Athanasius would not put up with avoidance or obfuscation or ambiguity, and neither should we.
As a postscript, I have similar concerns about the whole prosperity gospel thing, preached by Joel Osteen, as well as Jakes, and ravaging many parts of Africa. It’s not just enough to have a milder, less self-focused version of it in Australia. We need to hear unequivocal repentance from and repudiation of the prosperity gospel, from Hillsong, rather than provision of a platform for its peddlers.
[EDIT: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that James Grant invited TD Jakes to the Elephant Room 2, not James McDonald. My apologies for the error.]