50 leaders of the evangelical generation: #23 T.D. Jakes, The Entrepreneur

 [I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

#23.  T.D. Jakes, The Entrepreneur   

 In many ways, Thomas Dexter Jakes looms too large in the evangelical milieu to ignore. Everything about him defies anonymity. The first time I heard him speak was at an annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters convention, where he totally dazzled the crowd with his rhetorical flourishes, spiritual inspiration, and pure theatrics. Jakes pastors one of the largest Pentecostal churches in America, The Potter’s House in Dallas with some 30,000 members, and he’s a dominant player in just about every available media vehicle—enormous book sales (30 books), a large radio and television presence, flabbergasting conference success, his own record label and a theater and movie production company, and even involvement as a songwriter, playwright, and performer.

 In raw influence, he has overwhelmed nearly every other Christian communicator over the last 20 years, especially in the charismatic and African-American communities. 

Jakes church services and evangelistic sermons are broadcast on The Potter’s Touch, which airs on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, Black Entertainment Television, the Daystar Television Network, The Word Network and The Miracle Channel in Canada. Other aspects of Jakes’ ministry include an annual revival called “MegaFest” (which has drawn more than 100,000 people), an annual women’s conference called “Woman Thou Art Loosed”, and gospel music recordings.

Jakes’ Potter’s House conducts drugs and alcohol counseling in the inner city, and assists the elderly, prostitutes and victims of domestic abuse. Jakes also has a special interest in the continent of Africa, and The Potter’s House launched an initiative that brought water wells, medicine, and ministry to thousands of people in and around Nairobi, Kenya.

On the other hand, many clearheaded analysts observe that Jakes’ beliefs and teaching have such doctrinal error that what he is leading is not an evangelical movement, but a cult. The worst of the error is Jakes’ apparent embrace of the Oneness Pentecostal doctrine that dismisses Trinitarianism—the belief that God is One in Three Persons—and instead asserts that God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three manifestations of one God.

Some, including Jakes, calls this a matter of semantics. But most evangelical theologians disagree.

For Trinitarians, a defining feature of the biblical God is a subject-object love relationship eternally existing within His own Being. For Unitarians (of all stripes, not just the sect by that name), until He created the angels and the world, God was one solitary Subject — absolutely alone. Such radically different conceptions of God cannot be harmonized. Whether it is the Arian god of Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Sabellian god of Oneness Pentecostals, a Unitarian god is not the biblical God (e.g., John 17:5; 24).

When asked about this by a radio host, Jakes does nothing to clarify this discrepancy. Jakes said:

“I think it’s very, very significant that we first of all study the Trinity apart from salvation, and first of all that we embrace Christ and come to Him and come to know Who He is. Having come to know Who He is, then we begin to deal with the Trinity, which I believe is a very complex issue. The Trinity, the term Trinity, is not a biblical term, to begin with. It’s a theological description for something that is so beyond human comprehension that I’m not sure that we can totally hold God to a numerical system.  The Lord said, “Behold, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one, and beside Him there is no other.” When God got ready to make a man that looked like Him, He didn’t make three.  He made one man.  However, that one man had three parts. He was body, soul and spirit.  We have one God, but He is Father in creation, Son in redemption, and Holy Spirit in regeneration. It’s very important that we understand that, but I think that the first thing that every believer needs to do is to approach God by faith, and then having approached Him by faith, then they need to sit up under good teaching so that they can begin to understand who the God is that they have believed upon.”[1]

Respected evangelical theological Norman Geisler, asked about Jakes’ denial of the Trinity, said:

“That’s correct. He does. It’s an old, old heresy in the Christian church called modalism. I know T.D. Jakes is very popular, and I know people don’t like his ministry being called a cult, but it is. It would have been condemned by any orthodox church down through the centuries. [When evangelicals just wink at this] it says the evangelical church in America is about 3,000 miles wide and an inch deep. Doctrinally, we are very shallow. In North Carolina we are in what is called the Bible Belt, but our problem is that we don’t have enough Bible under our belts. We have enough religion to makes us susceptible, but not enough doctrine to make us discerning. You can’t recognize error until you can recognize the truth. I’m told that when government experts want to train people to recognize counterfeit currency, they study genuine currency. The same is true with doctrine.” [2]

T.D. Jakes enormous reach and success exposes the soft underbelly of evangelical growth and stability over the last generation. As entrepreneurial figures have gained great wealth and a popular following beyond a local church or single medium, they feel invulnerable, untouchable, and certainly beyond real accountability. The entrepreneurial spirit can present great dangers when it is applied to doctrines of an ancient church. And since Protestants don’t have a central guardian of church doctrine, and some parts of evangelicalism–such as the independent charismatics–have a shaky doctrinal base and even shakier accountability structures, there is almost no ability to reign in giants such as T.D. Jakes, regardless of how far he strays from the straight and narrow.  


[1] “Living by the Word” on KKLA, hosted by John Coleman, Aug. 23, 1998

[2]30 Minutes With Norman Geisler” World Newspaper Publishing. http://www.forgottenword.org/jakes.html

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About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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