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Bishop T. D. Jakes

I recall that Christianity Today reported on criticism of Jakes’ views on the Trinity.

Especially for evangelical leaders, that is a very important issue. I think it’s unfortunate, because there are so many larger problems. I’ve been in a room and I’ve heard people characterize Oneness people as not Christian, so that is an issue.

I bet that wasn’t something you took kindly to, having grown up in a Oneness denomination.

I am Trinitarian, but I do understand the Oneness issue. Even in my classes at Regent, I’ve had to actually referee that kind of conversation because we’ll talk about the Godhead in class and people will begin to make statements. But there will be people in the class who are Oneness, and so my question is: How do you have this conversation without vilifying a whole group of people who you disagree with?

What’s the answer to that question?

Students tend to say very often, “It’s clear that the Bible says …” and I have to remind them that if it were clear, we wouldn’t be having this conversation or this class. The fact that we’re having the conversation means that at some point it’s not clear, and so we have to take the time to hear other points of view, even if we don’t agree with them. I’m not promoting anything, but I am promoting us hearing the other side at least, and giving some credence to it, and understanding that salvation doesn’t hinge on us figuring out the mystery of the Godhead.

That brings me to a question about the distinctions you cite between Pentecostals, neo-Pentecostals, and charismatics. You say most of us wrongly group them all together. What are the differences?

Classical Pentecostals generally hold to the doctrine of initial evidence. They believe specifically that the initial evidence of Holy Spirit baptism is speaking in tongues. And coming out of the Wesleyan Holiness movement, classical Pentecostals also tend to have a more structured, strongly enforced sense of personal piety that is tied to the experience of sanctification — living set apart from the world.

Do Wesleyans believe that Christians can achieve moral perfection in this life?

Thoughtful Wesleyans don’t, but the doctrine is still there. Is it possible to live a completely sinless life? I would say no. But growing up, that was what one was told to shoot for, that one tried to live this life completely separate from sin. I think that as some of us have matured, we have come to the understanding that that’s not possible and it’s not even required in the same way that we were taught. Part of the reason Pentecostals wanted to be baptized in the Holy Spirit was so that they could live this life of perfection.

How do Pentecostals differ from the other groups?

Charismatics are open to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit as a part of the normal Christian life. There is no specific doctrinal claim for tongues being initial evidence. Tongues is seen as one of the many gifts of the Spirit, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit can be manifested in a number of ways. With the Charismatic movement, you see the Pentecostal experience coming into mainline churches with people pretty much remaining in those churches and incorporating the charismatic experience into their worship.

With neo-Pentecostalism, you have new non-denominational and interdenominational churches from which whole new theologies have grown. Word of Faith would be a good example of neo-Pentecostalism. It’s a redefining of what it means to be Spirit-empowered, because now with the Holy Spirit comes this power to achieve wealth. That’s a whole nuancing of Holy Spirit baptism that you would not hear in a Pentecostal church.

You write about the role of women in the Pentecostal movement. What stands out about it?

It’s been a mixed bag. I wrote a book called Limited Liberty. It’s called that specifically because there’s this promise held out to women within Pentecostalism that they can be totally included in whatever God is doing. Women were drawn to the Pentecostal movement in the early stages because there was this new openness to their involvement, but there were limitations. Women could pastor, they could plant churches, they could preach in a variety of settings, but often they couldn’t be fully ordained and they couldn’t be bishops. There were women who started denominations, which you generally will not have in any other other segment of the church, and where you do have it in other segments of the church, these movements are considered cults. But within 20 years of the movement, again this routinization of charisma begins to set in, and women are sidelined in a number of denominations, even among African American denominations.

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