James MacDonald, the Elephant Room, and the “Spinning” of the Truth

Earlier this week, Chris Fabry of Moody Bible Radio, hosted an interview with Pastor James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel.  Given all of the controversy that has surrounded MacDonald’s interaction with T.D. Jakes at the Elephant Room, Moody graciously saw fit to offer MacDonald an opportunity to clear the air and really speak into the issues at hand.  Unfortunately, much of what was said further muddied the waters and complicated the situation.  Consider these words spoken on the subject of the Trinity:

“I think that I agree that the Trinity is a non-negotiable.  I believe that the Trinity is a centerpiece – a key pillar that holds up the tent of what biblical orthodoxy and Christianity is.  It’s not a negotiable point.  However, the nuance of how Trinitarian is Trinitarian enough and is he Trinitarian enough – this is where people get a little more exacting and rigorous than I would be comfortable being.  But just because I don’t demand the same level of articulateness about the Trinity from a person to consider them a brother does not mean that I don’t think Trinitarianism is important.  I think it’s very important.  I think it’s essential.  I think it’s central.  I think it’s non-negotiable.  But what I don’t feel the necessity of is holding people to a creedal preciseness about their Trinitarianism in order to see them as a Christian …”

On the one hand, it is very easy to see MacDonald’s statement as a charitable approach to the faith that may even be worthy of emulation.  But the problem is, he’s not talking about a relatively new Christian who has little to no influence over the universal church.  Instead, he had erected a public stage on which he was interviewing a massively influential pastor whose words carry real weight in the broader church community.  By offering Jakes a public stage to discuss his admittedly deviant theological heritage – a heritage that he may or may not have fully left behind – MacDonald is tacitly telling people that Jakes’ questionable theology is “orthodox enough.”

Sadly, this was not the worst part of the interview.  About thirty-four minutes into the discussion, a caller telephoned in and had this to say:

“I’m an African American and I was under the impression that Pastor Jakes was a Prosperity Gospel pastor which is the reason why I wasn’t listening to him.  I would also like to interject that just because he’s African American – that is no reason to defend inerrant scripture.”[1]

MacDonald’s reply could not have been more problematic:

“I don’t think that Bishop Jakes’ ethnicity is a point – I just don’t even think it’s relevant to the subject.  I think that trying to make that part of the subject is very troubling to me.  I don’t think it has anything to do with ethnicity at all.”

Now, this is my question to you: if Pastor James MacDonald doesn’t think that Jakes’ ethnicity is relevant to this conversation, than why did he subsequently post two videos on his personal blog in which he discussed nothing but race and how that played a part in this controversy?  Keep in mind, these videos were not something that MacDonald posted at some distant point in the past.  These highly inflammatory videos were posted on January 30th and February 1st of this year – just five days before this interview. Thus, it would appear that Pastor MacDonald is trying to “spin” the interview in such a way as to make himself look as favorable as he can before the listening audience.  And unfortunately, he was not yet done with the “spinning”:

“I can only say that we didn’t get into the issue of prosperity theology in the Elephant Room in a public way, but many were exhorting us that some of these conversations should be private.  And all I can say is that Bishop Jakes would not currently accept the designation of Prosperity preacher or Word of Faith preacher as an accurate description of what he believes currently.  Now his ministry will have to bear that out.  I’m not here to defend him or to stick up for his various errors.  I don’t want to minimize error that is significant.   All I’m saying is that he, as of two weeks ago, would not accept those terms in private conversation as accurate descriptors of what he believes.”

To be quite honest, it is difficult to know where one should even begin dissecting this comment.  After telling the listening audience that the Elephant Room was all about modeling public conversations about significant differences in theology, MacDonald suddenly wants to be able to say that this conversation was had in private.  But that is not the point of the Elephant Room.  So why wasn’t this difference publicly addressed – particularly when MacDonald himself is on public record referring to the Prosperity Gospel a “false Gospel?”

Secondly, and equally important, is what MacDonald said next:  “All I can say is that Bishop Jakes would not currently accept the designation of Prosperity preacher or Word of Faith preacher as an accurate description of what he believes currently.”  Now stop and think about what MacDonald just said.  He is clearly implying that because Jakes does not “currently” accept the label of “Prosperity Gospel Preacher,” that Jakes may be a teacher that should be embraced by this listener.  But how faulty is that thinking?!  It’s like asking the abusive husband, “Are you a wife beater?”  What do you think he’s going to say?  “Prosperity Gospel” is not a term of endearment for most evangelicals.  It’s a warning that the Gospel is being severely warped and distorted.   If Jakes had really changed, then why would MacDonald not want to give him every opportunity at the Elephant Room to publicly disown his former teaching?  Imagine how powerful that could have been!

But Pastor James MacDonald was not interested in having that conversation in public. If he was, it was his conference and he could have made it happen. Moreover, he does not appear to be willing to take a public stand by warning the Moody listeners away from a presentation of the Gospel that he once branded as dangerous and false.  So once again, one is left with the impression that James MacDonald is more invested in protecting his public image and his decision to host Jakes at the Elephant Room than he is in protecting his own congregation and the larger body of Christ.

[1] The closing statement made by the caller appears confusing when transcribed.  But if you listen to the interview, it is clear that everyone understood what he was saying.  In short, Jakes’ ethnicity should not be allowed to overshadow our willingness to defend the inerrant teachings of Scripture.

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