(Photo: The Elephant Room/Alyssa Armour)
Lead pastor and author Bryan Crawford Loritts is asking the Reformed community to "repent" of their harsh criticism and one-sided attacks on Bishop T. D. Jakes in regards to his beliefs about the Godhead.
Having personally attended this year's Elephant Room featuring speakers like Jakes, Mark Driscoll, Steven Furtick and his father Crawford Loritts, the younger Loritts found the assaults directed toward The Potter's House senior pastor unwarranted and unbiblical.
"If you have attacked Bishop Jakes, or James MacDonald over Bishop's perceived modalism, and after hearing what he has to say and how he is not a modalist, then you need to repent, and it needs to be as public as the attacks that you have made," the Fellowship Memphis leader penned on his blog Thursday.
"Anything less than this is unbiblical. I'm anxious to see how truly gospel centered you are," he added.
Controversy surrounded the Elephant Room – a theological roundtable featuring blunt conversations among influential pastors. Prior to Wednesday's event, Pastor James MacDonald – also the moderator of the discussions along with Driscoll – had drawn critics for inviting Jakes to the Elephant Room. MacDonald was hoping to hear the Dallas pastor's views on the Trinity and the prosperity gospel.
Many Reformed Christians accused Jakes of being a "heretic" due to his purported belief in modalism – the insistence that members of the Holy Trinity are not three distinct, eternally co-existing persons, but only forms of God (a singular spirit), a doctrine held by Oneness Apostolic Pentecostals.
For that reason, conservative evangelicals and leaders at The Gospel Coalition allegedly began pressuring MacDonald to "pull the plug" on Bishop Jakes' appearance at the Elephant Room conference, which eventually led MacDonald to resign as a TGC council member.
Despite the tension, MacDonald stuck with his decision and kept Jakes in line as a speaker.
During Round 2 of the Elephant Room, the Jakes finally broke down his view of the Trinity and also addressed him being labeled a "heretic."
Jakes himself admitted that he once clung to a modalist position due to his background – he was converted and raised at an Oneness church. But he believes differently now, embracing the conservative evangelical doctrine of the Trinity: one God, three persons (though he said he's not crazy about the word "persons.")
When asked a series of questions by Driscoll clarifying his doctrine, Jakes affirmed that there was "very little difference" between what he believed and what the Mars Hill pastor believed.
He also acknowledged that though he was considered a "heretic" in many communities, it did not bother him, as he was more focused on the Body of Christ working as one unit in love, despite disagreements.
Amid the discussion, Loritts found Bishop Jakes to be an "incredibly humble" man, "willing to be questioned and opened up for ridicule."
"He didn't have to be there, nor did he have to answer a single question, but he did. I think that many of our brothers can learn from his humility," Loritts said on his blog.
Though he understood that some would respond to Jakes' answers with skepticism, saying that his confessions could not have been authentic, Loritts hoped that believers would read the "great love chapter" in 1 Corinthians 13, which states that love believes and hopes all things.
"Let's believe and hope the absolute best in our brother, Bishop T.D. Jakes," he appealed.
Reflecting further on the whole controversy, Loritts revealed his anger at the Reformed crowd, of which he is a part.
"My anger is at those who have attacked Bishop Jakes and James MacDonald, without even coming to the event, or considering giving Bishop a fair hearing," he wrote. "Some of these 'gospel centered' people strike me as extremely arrogant, and while they preach a good gospel, they, in this incident, don't seem to be living the gospel."
To the adjunct professor at Crichton College, those "gospel centered" people elevated love for doctrine over love for people. His words for them were this: "Your conduct is out of step with the gospel," referring to Apostle Paul's words to Peter in Galatians 2 when he avoided the Gentiles only when he was around the Jews.
Loritts also advised the "middle aged white Reformed guys" to be extremely careful of the messages they sent, both implicit and explicit.
Though he was not accusing anyone of racism, he found that the "Reformed crowd's" actions (refusing to come to the Elephant Room event or having an honest dialogue) sent an implicit message to the public – "theological bigotry."
"You need to repent," the author of God on Paper concluded. "At issue is exactly that your love for issues has trumped your love for people."
MacDonald, who was at the height of the criticism along with Jakes, noted on his website that there was more controversy leading up to the event, but less controversy in the actual topics discussed. "Just a ton of wisdom," he reflected.
"The purpose of The Elephant Room was not to change what Mark Driscoll writes or what Bishop Jakes believes or how Steven Furtick evangelizes or how Crawford Loritts associates," the moderator posted. "The purpose was to talk, and to model grace and truth. That was accomplished, and I praise God for that."