One of the co-hosts of the second installment of the Elephant Room, a theological roundtable featuring blunt conversations among seven influential pastors, says he purposefully toned down his aggressive line of questioning from his moderation of last year's conference in order to make sure relationships were built.
Church leaders who had watched both events (Rounds 1 and 2) and posted their observations online about the conference said they noticed a more friendly dialogue during the sessions that were simulcast live to 70 host locations throughout North America on Wednesday.
Pastor James MacDonald, who shared moderator duties with Pastor Mark Driscoll, may have helped eliminate the fireworks that took place during Round 1 of the Elephant Room but there were plenty of repercussions before and after the Round 2 discussion.
MacDonald had drawn critics for inviting Bishop T. D. Jakes. 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.
"It has cost me some relationships," said MacDonald during one of the final sessions on Wednesday. "I thought I knew what the Lord wanted me to do, and I had good counsel. Craig Groeschel has a lot of wisdom, and he said to me, 'Just because someone doesn't want you in their circle anymore doesn't mean they can't be in yours.'"
The founding pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago told those in attendance and the viewing audience that the conference was a time for him to pursue relationships and pray for the ability to show grace.
On Friday, MacDonald wrote in his blog post, "Bishop Jakes, 2nd Decisions and Coming Home," that, "The nuance of relationship is sadly lost in the world of those who believe doctrinal accuracy (which they have no corner on) is the pinnacle Christian priority."
He continues, "But if 1 Corinthians 13 is teaching anything, it's that even doctrine that removes all mystery (a facetious impossibility) – apart from love – is worthless. I make no apology for prioritizing relationship in these conversations."
"I remember specific moments with Bishop Jakes and Wayne Cordeiro and Steven Furtick and Jack Graham, where I didn't agree entirely and wanted to press the point further. I stopped because the issue was not as essential, OR because the relationship was not ready, OR I didn't want to be too aggressive, as I felt I was with David Platt and others in the first Elephant Room."
MacDonald wrote, "Every member of our panel was grace-filled, gospel-motivated and God-centered."
"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," he said. "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."
Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, wrote an extensive evaluation of Round 2 the day after the event posted on the Gospel Coalition's Kingdom People website. He wrote that it is "good to celebrate minimal agreement on fundamental doctrines, but even better to pursue a robust affirmation of biblical teaching."
"In the end, I admire James MacDonald's intention to bring about more civil discourse between believers," Wax wrote. "We need charity and clarity. But civility is not a love-fest. We will disagree – strongly at times. Why? Because theology matters. The stakes are high. Bad theology hurts people."
"Weak unity in the Christian church is caused by minimizing the importance of theology," he explained. "Sometimes we may even stand against a brother on a certain issue, but even when we take an adversarial stance, it ought always to be for the good of that brother and the glory of King Jesus. Let's take the goal of The Elephant Room seriously and be people who are full of grace and truth."
Although Jakes has not made any official statements about the Elephant Room Round 2, Pastor Bryan Crawford Loritts asked the Reformed community after the event to "repent" of their harsh criticism and one-sided attacks on Jakes in regards to his beliefs about the Godhead.
Jakes affirmed the Trinity as one God, three persons on Wednesday.
"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.