McDonald’s Elephant Room sets controversy ablaze among pastors

by Isaac Wilson, staff writer

For the second year in a row, James McDonald, senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago, Ill., moderated a one-day pastors’ conference. This year’s conference, referred to as The Elephant Room Round 2 (ER2), featured seven prominent pastors from varying denominations speaking about topics such as the oversimplification of doctrine, the future of denominations and the non-negotiables of the Christian faith.

While many weighty topics were discussed, none sparked a greater controversy than the Trinity. Bishop T. D. Jakes, pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas, was among the speakers. Many in the pastoral realm already knew about Jakes’ contrary Trinitarian views. Jakes stated in a 2001 issue of the Christian Research Journal that he believes God has three “manifestations,” a term that, due to its ambiguity, has caused many to question whether Jakes believes in the Trinity or a form of modalism.

At ER2, McDonald and Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., spoke with Jakes about his view of the Trinity. Bryan Nass, senior youth ministry major who attended ER2, thought McDonald and Driscoll addressed the situation favorably. “Driscoll asked T. D. Jakes about his theological views on the Trinity, and he was able to affirm everything that Driscoll said,” Nass recalled. “At the end of it, Driscoll leaned across the table and gave [Jakes] a fist bump saying, ‘All right, well, you’re my brother in Christ.’”

However, not everyone felt Jakes’ statements represented correct Christian doctrine. Voddie Bauchman, pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, stated on his blog, “I believe T.D. Jakes is wrong on the doctrine of the Trinity, and wrong on the gospel … my mandate to ‘hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it’ (Titus 1:9) obligates me to be on record in the matter.”

In the few days that followed the buzz of the ER2 controversy, McDonald withdrew from his position as a committee member for The Gospel Coalition. Baucham, who still holds his position as a committee member, was scheduled to speak at a men’s conference held at Harvest Bible Chapel under McDonald’s leadership. When Baucham arrived in Chicago, McDonald promptly asked him to return home, not allowing to him to speak due to the tension at hand, according to Baucham’s blog. Baucham added McDonald had a car waiting to take him back to the airport, and McDonald still paid him even though he did not speak.

Ryder Wishart, freshman biblical language major, said, “Much more care needed to be taken to define the terms being used,” agreeing with Bauchman in his opinion that the Trinity is an important enough doctrine to require an exact belief, especially considering Jakes’ history regarding modalism. David Skero, junior urban ministry major, said, “Even if Jakes gets the Trinity right and he has repented of his false view, he still preaches a false gospel that is based on health, wealth and prosperity.”

Despite the controversy, McDonald feels his purpose in conducting ER2 was fulfilled, stating in a recent blog post, “The goal of The Elephant Room was to help pastors around the country open their hearts to the possibility that loving interaction with the pastor down the street would advance the kingdom more than suspicious silence. I believe that was accomplished due to the incredible courage shown by each participant who honored us by risking the disdain of their own constituencies to have grace/truth conversations with the broader body of Christ.”

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