T.D. Jakes is associated with several troublesome teachings including the prosperity gospel and positive thinking. For our purposes, though, we will look at his teaching on the Trinity. Jakes has long been associated with Oneness Pentecostalism which holds to an unorthodox position on the Trinity. This position is known as Modalism or, historically, as Sabellianism.
Modalism holds that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do not refer to distinct persons in the godhead, but to different modes of existence of a single person. It teaches that in ages past God manifested himself as the Father, during the incarnation of Christ he manifested himself as the Son, and subsequently he manifested himself as the Holy Spirit. As one of its key tenets it states that God cannot exist in more than one mode at a time. So while this teaching does hold to a form of trinitarian theology and while it does proclaim the divinity of Jesus Christ, it denies that there are three distinct persons who together make up the godhead.
Hence the belief statement at the Potter’s House says, “There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (Formerly the statement was even clearer: “We believe in one God who is eternal in His existence, Triune in His manifestation, being both Father, Son and Holy Ghost AND that He is Sovereign and Absolute in His authority.”) The important word here is manifestations. Where historic Christianity affirms persons, modalism demands use of manifestations or modes.
Followers & Adherents
Jakes has wide influence in many circles. Some 17,000 people attend his church on a weekly basis and millions more encounter his teaching through his broadcasts, conferences, movies, and books. He is one of a few Christian figures who has a voice that extends into the broader culture through association with Oprah Winfrey, American presidents, and other leaders.
What the Bible Says
These minor distinctions in trinitarian theology, a word here, a letter there, actually represent colossal differences and even eternal differences—the difference between heaven and hell. Modalism has long been labeled as a heresy meaning that if you believe it in place of the biblical understanding of the Trinity, you are not and cannot be a true Christian (much of this section can be found in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology).
We can define the Trinity, as the church has historically understood it, through a series of seven simple statements: There is one God; The Father is God; The Son is God; The Holy Spirit is God; The Father is not the Son; The Son is not the Spirit; The Spirit is not the Father.
In all that is, in all that exists, there is only one God. No truth was more precious to the Israelites of old. In Isaiah’s prophecy God records:
There is no other god besides me
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides me.
Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:21-22)
It could hardly be clearer. The New Testament is equally explicit. Paul writes, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). James agrees: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19).
There is one God. The other six statements affirm both unity and diversity within the godhead. There is one God who exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet each of these is distinct from the others. There is unity here, but there is also diversity. There is a real sense in which God is one, and there is a real sense in which God is three.
To summarize those seven statements, we might say, “God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.” In all that we believe, in all that we affirm or deny, we must hold these seven statements together. If we take away one, the entire structure collapses. In fact, every time the Trinity comes under attack, or every time the Trinity is denied, it is because one of these statements has been taken away or tampered with.
What words can we use to describe this quality of one-ness and this quality of three-ness? God is one (blank) and three (blank)? Christians came to use the term essence to describe the one-ness of God, and the term person to express the three-ness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is one essence and three persons.
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.