The Elephant Room features blunt conversations between seven influential pastors who take differing approaches to ministry. No keynotes. No canned messages. These are “the conversations you never thought you’d hear.” All conversations are moderated by James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel and Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church
I attended last year’s session, and I was impressed overall with some reservations. I have to admit that I hesitated about going to this year’s. Let me describe why I’m concerned before I describe why I’m going.
Why I’m Concerned
This year James MacDonald has invited T.D. Jakes as one of the guests. This ignited a firestorm. At best, Jakes has been unclear about the doctrine of the Trinity, which is a key part of orthodox Christianity. If you deny the Trinity, you can’t really call yourself a Christian.
I am open to debates and discussions between people who differ in doctrine and practice, but I’m wary about calling someone a fellow Christian when the person is an influential leader who is murky on a key doctrinal area. The Elephant Room website says, “We must insist on the biblical Gospel, right doctrine and practice but not isolate ourselves from relationship even with those who believe much differently.” Can it be said that we’re insisting on right doctrine when one of the guests is at best unclear on the issue?
Thabiti Anyabwile has a good rundown on the issues:
MacDonald and Driscoll can moderate discussions with anyone they wish. But we kid ourselves if we think inviting someone so recalcitrant about fundamental biblical teaching as Jakes can result in anything positive. MacDonald, Driscoll and others will not be the first to privately and publicly exhort, admonish, instruct and challenge Jakes on this vital issue–to no avail thus far. And we kid ourselves if we think the Elephant Room invitation itself isn’t an endorsement of sorts.
Anyabwile also has posted a section of some of Jake’s teaching on God. Scroll down to the end of this post.
That’s why I’m concerned.
Why I’m Going
So why am I going? A few reasons.
First, I want to see what happens. I like what Challies has written here:
Will these men be willing to ask him very difficult, very nuanced, very penetrating questions? And if he finally says, “Yes, I am a modalist” will they then be willing to tell him, “You are a heretic; you are not a Christian”? If he proves himself to be a modalist, will MacDonald then remove him from the event? Will all of this happen not to burn him at the stake, but for the sake of his own soul and for the sake of those who follow him? Souls are at stake here!
And I don’t mean for the other participants to ask a question that essentially says, “You’re not a modalist, right?” but an honest, searching, penetrating series of questions that will address this concern head-on and will not stop until it is settled.
This is what could happen. I’d like to see clarity about what Jake believes, and I would like to see the issue pressed even when it gets uncomfortable. I’m praying this will happen.
Second, I think it’s a good opportunity for me to grow and learn. This has caused me to sharpen my thinking as I think about how I relate to others in ministry around key doctrinal differences. I want to continue to grow and think as I work through this issue, and the others that will come up that day.
Finally, I’m going because there’s more to the day than this controversy — although this controversy is important! For instance, this segment has caught my interest:
How can a pastor effectively manage the pressures of ministry? What are the warning signs for burnout? What do you see pastors doing today that is most detrimental to their marriage and children? What about pastors who are unmarried? What single action is most healing to your emotional health in ministry—and what action is most damaging? How does the care of your own soul affect the relationships that matter most?
I’m going to go with a good attitude and as sharp a brain as I can muster, and try to think things through that day.
Stay tuned. I’ll be blogging about my reflections after The Elephant Room is over.