The Trinity Matters
Sunday, I preached on the baptism of Jesus from Mark 1 (v9-11), and stated, amongst other things, that the doctrine of the Trinity Matters. I recently taught an E2 class practically applying Al Mohler’s article on Theological Triage, and the Trinity easily classifies as a first tier theological issue, which means denying the Trinity literally classifies one as a non-Christian.
I also mentioned how Modalism also known to some as Sabellianism denies a biblical view of the Trinity. Stephen Nichols explains,
“Modalism is a heretical view that denies the individual person of the Trinity. It views biblical terminology of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as merely modes of existence or manifestations of the one God.”1
By way of example, I warned of popular pastors and musicians who hold to this view including Oneness Pentacostals like T.D. Jakes and Phillips, Craig, and Dean (PC&D hereafter).
Later, I had a couple of gracious brothers share that they thought both had repented of these views. I am very grateful for their input and never want to falsely accuse anyone. Furthermore, defending the faith handed down by the Apostles presents a delicate tension. While we want to protect one another from dangerous doctrine, we also would rather be known for what we are for than what we are against.
So, in that light, let me affirm that in the past few years both parties responded to the charges each faced of holding to Modalism. T.D. Jakes denied modalism in a 2001 article with Christianity Today2 and PC&D published a letter rejecting Modalism and affirming the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message (2000 BFM hereafter).3
Rather than cover the well-documented exchanges with T.D. Jakes let me simply quote Tim Challies who writes:
"Though he has recently denied being a Modalist, T.D. Jakes continues to use manifestations in place of persons and continues to affirm the faith of those who remain ardent Oneness Pentecostals. This is no minor quibble in theology because it contradicts and confuses the orthodox and accepted view of the Trinity. Until he clearly affirms the orthodox definition of the Trinity and denies the Modalist definition of the Trinity, we must regard him warily as a false teacher."4
Here is where I stand on Jakes and PC&D. If someone holds to a heretical doctrine, recanting involves both denials and affirmations. As for Jakes, he has denied Modalism, but seems to have responded by affirming his version of the Trinity utilizing traditional Modalist language of manifestations. The Triune God "manifests" himself as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. PC&D both deny Modalism and affirm the 2000 BF&M, which moves closer to a healthy response.
It states, “The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.”5 However, the problem of heresy often rests in a redefinition of terms. It is possible that one could explain that the triune God reveals (or manifests) himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In other words, both need a clear affirmation in addition to their denials. I believe that affirmation itself would need to include an affirmation of the Athanasian Creed6 along with a denial of manifestation language that is so intrinsic to the Modalist position.
Maybe I am being too particular here, but Christians are a people of faith, and God calls the church to be the pillar and buttress of truth as handed down by the Apostles. So, if someone recants of heretical doctrine, they should go all in with the clarity of their change in doctrine. As a good friend and scholar Toby Jennings said to me, “this very language debate already has been heartily engaged (and resolved) by the Chalcedonian Definition, yet Jakes (and PC&D?) imagines he is theologically superior to the Chalcedonian Divines.
1 For Us and For Our Salvation: The Doctrine of Christ in the Early Church, 153.
3 http://www.themattrix.com/2014/01/phillips-craig- and-deans- statement-rejecting- modalism/
4 http://www.challies.com/articles/the-false- teachers-td- jakes