I am baffled and appalled by anyone who thinks @jamesmacdonald is a heretic. #crazytalk
and I feel compelled to respond.
Two things strike me about this tweet:
1. It is sad when saying a person is not a heretic counts as defending that person.
2. I honestly don’t know anyone who says James MacDonald is an actual heretic—like the kind of heretic that denies the trinity or who preaches a different gospel. You may quibble with his soteriology (would you call that 3 point Calvinism?), his eschatology (prewrath), or his ecclesiology (multi-site), but I haven’t come across anyone who would say he is an actual heretic. Maybe there are people at The Village that say this, but I have yet to meet or read anyone that makes this claim.
Chandler’s quote is bothersome because it presents a novel defense against the criticism MacDonald is rightly under. Obviously, many people warned MacDonald against giving Jakes a larger audience; and when I say “people warned MacDonald,” I’m not talking about bloggers. I’m talking about pastors of some renown. Yet for his own reasons, MacDonald did not heed those warnings.
But that doesn’t make him a heretic.
Did he act in a way that was wise? Well, if a shark has eaten all the fish in one tank, it is unwise to drop him in another tank (unless you want to see fish gobbled, but let’s assume MacDonald actually had good intentions). With the exception of Furtick, not many people have been willing to argue that Jakes is not a shark. So the most charitable thing to do is to grant that MacDonald wanted good to come from this, and just went about it in a really unwise way.
But that doesn’t make him a heretic.
Did his actions actually harm the church? Well, a Word-Faith, prosperity gospel, modalist was just catapulted in front of a whole world of people who otherwise would not have been exposed to him. For a few months, the Gospel Coalition churches got to endure what is a lifetime for black churches; namely, the constant pull from the power of Jakes’ personality toward his doctrine. Undiscerning college students who admire MacDonald and Driscoll just googled modalism, then saw their heroes pronounce it as sort-of-kosher. Fans of Furtick who have long thought his fascination with Jakes was strange, suddenly see it as vindicated. I would call that harmful.
But that does not make MacDonald a heretic.
When all the dust has settled from this affair, the net result will be that Jakes has increased his influence. Mark Driscoll and MacDonald have built empires of influence, and they just used their influence to expose people to Jakes. MacDonald has since stressed that the entire Room ® was a splendid time for brothers to come together and talk about their differences. That tacit endorsement of Jakes represents an almost surreal attempt by MacDonald to cling to the “success” of this event. While it may be surreal, it certainly does not make him a heretic.
There may be some people who think that this whole ER2 thing should be left alone, and that bloggers, writers and pastors who continue to criticize it or comment on it are wasting their time (strangely enough, MacDonald seems to think this). But there really is not a more important contemporary issue for us to talk about. Board members of the Gospel Coalition (ostensibly—by their own title—a group that defines the essentials of the gospel for evangelicals) are affiliating themselves with Jakes. An obvious question arises: can someone preach the prosperity gospel—while simultaneously holding to a leaky form of modalism, mind you—and still be considered a true Christian? That is a legitimate question, and one which even Keller and Carson, apparently the leaders of the coalition, urge us to answer carefully.
On the one hand it is disheartening that leaders in the gospel coalition are openly embracing Jakes as a brother. But on the other hand, it is encouraging that this has not gone unnoticed. People should respond, and they should be fairly outraged. They should feel betrayed by Driscoll, MacDonald, and Lorrits. They should ask hard questions about how the leadership of the gospel coalition got mainstream evangelicalism to this point. And if I may borrow a phrase from Chandler, Christians should be shocked and appalled that decades into its existence, the Word-Faith movement’s leader is being embraced as a brother by evangelical leaders.
The question of the month is how can MacDonald be seen as an evangelical leader while promoting and vindicating Jakes? To answer that question by simply saying that MacDonald is not a heretic is a neat trick, but is also not helpful. Can we grant that you can abuse your leadership, harm the church, and expose people to a renowned false teacher, and not be a heretic? The issue isn’t MacDonald’s orthodoxy, it is his leadership, and I am baffled and appalled by anyone who can’t see the difference.