This article is a review of T.D. Jakes’ Code Orange Revival sermon, preached on 20 January 2012 at Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.
T.D. Jakes is the leader of The Potter’s House, a 30,000 member congregation located in southern Dallas, Texas. I had never heard a T.D. Jakes sermon before, though I knew of his reputation. I was curious to see – if only via an Internet video stream – the man that Elevation Church reminded us was named ‘America’s Best Preacher’ by Time Magazine. Would I be able to uncover the secret of his mystique? And would he preach the Biblical Gospel?
After 40 minutes or so of emotionally intense praise and worship, Steven Furtick, founder and lead pastor of Elevation Church, introduces Jakes to the manifestly ecstatic, cheering crowd. Furtick promises that God is about to speak to us, that our lives will never be the same:
God’s gonna honour your faith. He’s going to shake you, and He’s gonna remake you. And He’s gonna do things in your life that will blow your mind. And we’re believing that for you tonight.
We’re in revival. If you’re joining us from all over the world, you need to know that this is night 10 of Code Orange Revival. We’re coming to you live from Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, reaching over a 100 countries all over the world. And God has made an appointment with you tonight. He’s about to speak something to you. Your life will never be the same. In His presence is fullness of joy.
These things are not being done in a corner.
Furtick is on a roll:
If you’ve never heard T.D. Jakes preach, listen, you have heard Bishop T.D. Jakes preach. Let me explain that. Every preacher who has anything to say rips off Bishop T.D. Jakes. Bishop T.D. Jakes is the preacher, if you attend this church, who feeds your soul every single week. And you didn’t even ever know to write him a thank you note. Most of us quit apologising for how much we ripped-off Bishop T.D. Jakes a long time ago, because we were taking more time in our sermons attributing the credit to him for the way he fed our souls than we were actually preaching. So when Bishop Jakes said that he would be with us at Code Orange Revival, I just made up my mind that we would sing just enough to get you ready, and not show any videos or anything like that, and that I would sit down on my orange chair on the stage, and I would have the best night of my life listening to my favourite preacher in the world.
That’s some build-up. But Furtick has not yet finished:
When someone has touched your soul and been an instrument of God that speaks so deeply to you, and then, he agrees to come and share with your church, and help build your church, that’s gotta be one of the most meaningful moments of your life.
I want you to know, Bishop Jakes, that there’s a whole generation of younger pastors who, because you’ve been a pioneer to stay faithful to God’s word, and to preach with such power, that we’re now charging forward in the name of Jesus. And I want to let you know personally, that I’m gonna do my best to make you proud.
Furtick concludes his panegyric:
I appreciate the fact that you would come and be with us tonight. But, more importantly, I appreciate the fact that you’ve got a bunch of hungry people in here, who are about to lose their minds. Elevation Church, at every location, I want you to stand up on your feet right now, and let’s welcome to the stage the Greatest Preacher of Our Time – Bishop T.D. Jakes. Come on, let’s show him some embarrassing love.
Jakes takes the stage. He acknowledges the crowd’s standing ovation.
His charisma is immediately apparent.
He courts the crowd with some gentle banter. He is approachable. He is humorous. He is the embodiment of the idealized kindly grandfather.
He is your grandfather.
The audience cheer and offer their applause. This is the one whom those camping outside on the streets came to see.
Jakes praises Steven Furtick and Elevation Church. The Elevators love him. And Jakes makes sure that they know their love is reciprocated.
Jakes impresses with his modesty. With a suddenly faltering vulnerability, he declares:
I’m gonna spend most of my time just going right, er, er, to, to the word of God. I’m, er, um, honoured and appreciative of all of His goodness in my life. And, er, [I’m] trying to seek Him, trying to serve Him, trying to learn more of His grace and power. I, I think that I am more fascinated with Him now than I have ever been in my life.
Jakes carefully modulates his speech.
He starts softly, then builds to a minor crescendo, as he demonstrates that he is steeped in the knowledge and language of the Scriptures, the result of 33 years of ministry. With a rhythmic cadence, Jakes proclaims the praises of a majestic God:
It will never grow old. It will never grow weary. You will never reach the end of Him. From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God. His, His riches are unsearchable. His love incomprehensible. His ways past finding out. You will grow old and wither away, and still be searching the newness of God. His mercies are new every morning. Aren’t you glad you’re washed in the blood of the Lamb?
The cheering audience is enraptured. Surely, this is how a man of God must speak.
Little wonder that Furtick is captured by his spell.
Barely a few minutes in and Jakes, the master communicator who overcame his childhood lisp, has already won this crowd.
They trust him.
He is the humble, faithful servant who loves his God.
Abruptly, the tone changes. Everyone relaxes. Jakes turns to Hebrews chapter 4. We’re going to start in the Scriptures, as befits the preaching of the man from God.
Unexpectedly, there’s a problem. Jakes has lost one of his notes.
Temporarily disoriented, he looks around.
Someone hands him the missing note, just in time to prevent the enchantment from being shattered.
Jakes changes tempo – he’s back in control. He has everyone stand for the reading of God’s word. Jakes reads from the King James Version – he is reassuringly and self-deprecatingly old school.
We begin with the eighth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, verse forty-six:
And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.
He elaborates a little on the text, then moves quickly to Hebrews 4:15–16. He wants to ‘play with these two texts and see whether we can get them to cohabitate [sic] together.’
Jakes jokes with the crowd as he waits for them to find the book of Hebrews. They laugh adoringly with him.
Jakes begins to read:
For we have not an high priest which cannot be…
He pauses for a fraction of a second.
He enunciates the next word – ‘touched’ – with explosive emphasis.
He continues his recitation:
…with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come [‘How?’, Jakes interjects] boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Jakes reads with passion and feeling. You could listen to him read Scripture all day and still be eager for more.
He explains that he read all of that to get one word: ‘Touched, touched’.
Touch is the theme of tonight’s sermon.
Jakes changes pace. The crowd needs their release, a moment to reflect upon the word ‘touched’. The background music, which had stopped unnoticed minutes before, now resumes as Jakes prays, beseeching the Holy Spirit for His glory. Jakes’ humility is again on display:
There really is no preacher but You. There is no glory but Yours. There is no word but that word which proceedeth out of Your mouth. And we come before You like sparrows with our mouths open, waiting for, for bread to fall into our mouths. Feed us O God, until we want no more.
As Jakes finishes his prayer, he builds up to another carefully crafted crescendo – higher than the last, but nevertheless merely anticipatory of those yet to come. He truly is lord of the rhetorical arts and master of his own voice, consciously aware of the effect of his intonation’s every nuance.
Jakes begins his sermon proper. He talks at length about the importance and power of human touch. Words are insufficient – some meaning can be conveyed only through touch.
His discussion moves back to the book of Hebrews. He outlines with an infectious enthusiasm his understanding of the book: it is a comparative analysis of the Old and New covenants, ‘so that we might understand that what we have in our contemporary society – through the blood of Jesus Christ – is a better thing.’
This is the evening’s second mention of the blood of Christ. Surely, we must be hearing Gospel?
Jakes holds forth on why the New Covenant is better than the Old:
[God] always takes you to something better, never lesser. God is always in the business of taking you forwards, never backwards. He’s not in the business of diminishing you, he’s in the business of increasing you. He doesn’t want to divide you, he wants to multiply you. He doesn’t want to subtact from you, he wants to add on to you. And wherever God is, He will take you from faith to faith, and from glory to glory.
The crowd laps up the rhetoric. This is what they have yearned to hear. Jakes waits for the applause to quiet.
A niggling doubt begins to surface.
Is this the Gospel? That God is in the business of ‘increasing us’? Is that why the blood of Christ was shed?
What of John the Baptist, who said ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’ (John 3:30)? Has not the Lord ‘made all things for himself’, ‘even the wicked for the day of doom’ (Prov. 16:4)? Are not all things made for His benefit and His glory? Paul said – did he not? – ‘For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.’ (Rom. 11:36)
But perhaps Jakes is speaking of a spiritual increase, whereby, in the language of Luther’s Small Catechism, our old nature is drowned by daily sorrow and repentance, put to death, ‘that the new man should come forth daily and rise up, cleansed and righteous, to live forever in God’s presence’. For twice already Jakes has invoked the blood of Christ – surely he will bring us the Gospel.
Jakes tests his sway over his audience. He tells them, ‘Look at someone and say it’s getting better’.
He has them utterly in thrall.
The crowd offers the appropriate liturgical response: ‘It’s getting better.’
Is this the Good News, then? That my life is continually getting better?
Was this the experience and hope of Stephen, calling upon the Lord to receive his spirit as he succumbed to the stones being hurled at him for the sake of the Gospel (Acts 7)? And what of Paul and his chains (Phil. 1)? Or the other apostles – all martyred, save John, as history recounts.
You have to know that. And you have to know that by faith, because sometimes, when He takes something or someone out of your life, the enemy will tempt you to think that your life is on a decline. But there is no way your life can be on a decline and you serve the Lord. Because He’s ever increasing brighter and brighter and brighter, to a perfect day. So if He pulled it out, if He took it away, if He moved it, it is only a sign that something is coming that is better than the thing before.
Something surely is coming that is better than what went before: ‘He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 1:6). ‘For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.’ (1 Cor. 13:12)
Could that be what Jakes means?
Jakes is right in this: the New Covenant is better than the Old. And this is indeed a major theme of the book of Hebrews.
But, for the writer to the Hebrews, the ‘better’ of the New Covenant is the perfect once-for-all sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross, contrasted with the Old Covenant, which:
…having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.(Heb. 10:1)
According to Hebrews, then, the superiority of the New Covenant in Christ’s blood is the once-for-all washing away of our sins 2,000 years ago at Calvary. The inferiority of the Old Covenant was demonstrated by the need for its continual sacrifices. These were a constant reminder of Israel’s ever present sins. The sacrifices had to be repeated, for it was impossible that sins could ever be taken away by the blood of bulls and goats (Heb. 10:4). Yet, what the sacrifices of the Old Covenant could not do, Christ accomplished once and for all on the cross.
Jakes, however, though he gives the impression of having expounded the book of Hebrews, does not mention sin or the need for propitiatory sacrifice.
Jakes, for the moment, leaves the ‘better’ of the New Covenant unexplained, except that, somehow, God is now in the business of increasing us. The New Covenant is better, because, well, it just is. And thus, for us, Jakes says, ‘It’s getting better’.
The ‘It’ in Jakes’ affirmation is left undefined, leaving us free to substitute whatever happens to appeal to our carnal desires. His message is universal, appealing to fallen human natures everywhere.
Not once does Jakes carefully delineate between the earthly blessings of this life and the spiritual riches that are surely ours in Christ. When Jakes says, ‘It’s getting better’, everyone implicitly understands that he is talking about this life. The spirit of Joel Osteen’s Best Life Now speaks to us.
When Paul asks ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’, he makes plain the ever present probability in the life of the believer of tribulation, distress, physical want, and yes, even death:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Christ’s love does not spare us from these troubles, but rather overcomes them. Christ’s love and grace supply our every need, causing us to endure all things to His glory. Thus, Paul asserts:
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Rom. 8:37–39)
Similarly, James tells us to ‘count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.’ (James 1:2–3).
Jesus does not promise us freedom from trouble and distress. Rather, he pronounces blessed ‘those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’. (Matt. 5:10)
‘Blessed’, Jesus says, ‘are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.’ He bids us ‘Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’ (Matt. 5:11–12)
The Christian’s hope and reward is not in this life. Our hope is Christ; our reward – and what reward! – is to be with Him in heaven forever.
When Jakes talks of ‘It’s getting better’, he leaves us free to understand that he means this life, here and now. He commits the error of all word-faith teachers, claiming for this temporal life the blessings that belong to the eternal glory to come. He omits to mention the present tribulations and persecutions that Jesus indicates are in store for the faithful.
Jakes uses Biblical language. He even speaks of ‘the blood of Christ’. But in this sermon, that phrase can be no more than a magic incantation, for he tells usnothing of why our sin required that blood to be shed.
Christ commissioned His Church to preach ‘repentance and remission of sins’ (Luke 24:44–48), yet Jakes speaks neither of repentance nor of forgiveness.
Jakes returns to his text:
The thing, then, for the book of Hebrews, is the book of better things. And so what he is saying in the text, he says ‘We have not a high priest who cannot be touched’. The implication is almost, is almost a slur to that which is former, compared to that which exists now. Because up under the former administration through the Old Testament and the Old Covenant, there were high priests as well. But they could not be touched. They could not be touched. It almost reminds of a comparative analysis between religion and relationships.
Jakes here quotes only the first few words of Hebrews 4:15: ‘We have not a high priest who cannot be touched’. He builds on these words to make the point that the crucial difference between the Old and New Covenants is that we have a High Priest who can be touched, whereas the laws of the Old Covenant made the high priests untouchable. The Old Covenant was cold and religious. The New Covenant is warm and relational. We can touch our High Priest.
Jakes has played a verbal sleight of hand, a conjuring trick with words. Hebrews 4:15 does not teach that we can reach out and touch our High Priest. This is clear if the whole verse is quoted, even in Jakes’ King James Version:
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
The problem becomes glaring if a modern translation is compared. Here is the same verse from the New King James Version:
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
This verse teaches not that we can reach out and touch Jesus, but that Christ can sympathize with our weakness – and specifically, our weakness in the face of temptation – because, like us, He was tempted in every way.
The incarnate Christ is fully human. He knows our weakness, and sympathizes with it. Unlike the high priests of the Old Testament, though, and unlike us, He never succumbed to temptation and remains without sin. Our High Priest’s sacrifice of Himself is pleasing to God because He is sinless.
But can Jakes really be intending to preach an entire sermon based upon a basic misreading of Hebrews 4:15?
As we continue to listen, it becomes clear that yes, yes he is.
Jakes introduces us to some more of his innovative theology:
[God] paid the ultimate price, that He might express the value of you by dying on the cross to give you eternal life. Never let any devil in hell make you think that you’re not valuable. Not based on the mistakes you made, or the things you did, or the circumstances of your birth. Not based on your economy, not based on your intellect, your education, or anything like that. Any time you doubt your worth, you tell the enemy ‘I must be valuable because Jesus died for me’. He died for me. I must be somebody, or He wouldn’t have died for me. No matter what I did, no matter what I’ve been through, no matter what mistakes I’ve made, I’ve got to be valuable because He’s shed His blood for me.Touch your neighbour and say, ‘I am somebody’.(The cheering audience, now on their feet and well conditioned, obeys.)I am somebody only because Jesus paid a price to recognize my worth. I will never doubt my worth again.
Did Jesus die for us to recognize our intrinsic worth?
Is that the Gospel?
Or is the grace of God so overwhelming, His love so great that, even though we had no worth, even while we were rebels and at war with God, even though we hadnothing whatsoever to offer Him, God nevertheless sent His only begotten Son to die in our place and purchase us as His pearl of great price?
In thesis 28 of his Heidelberg Disputation, Luther explains the Biblical teaching:
The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.
We love the things that we find loveable. In Christ, God’s love takes we who are unloveable and makes us lovely.
Those who are in Christ by faith, those who are trusting in His work for them and not their work for Him, have truly been made into something beautiful and glorifying to God. Christ did not die for us because we were acceptable to God, but rather ‘He made us accepted in the beloved’. (Eph. 1:6) We, having been given the gift of trusting in Christ, are now to the praise of His glory. (Eph. 1:12) We have worth, then, because we are in Christ. We are not in Christ because we have worth.
If we had something to offer God, our salvation would not be by grace. Yet the grace of God bestowed upon us is unmerited favour:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.(Eph. 2:8–10)
Jakes’ gospel glorifies us. It ascribes to us an intrinsic worth even outside of Christ. The true Gospel glorifies Christ, proclaiming His love and tender mercy even towards those who were utterly without merit.
Jakes’ gospel has no need to speak of sin, only ‘mistakes’, for his god looks upon sinners and sees their worth. The true Gospel has Jesus crucified in the place of sinners and for their sin, for without Christ’s appeasing sacrifice we should be consumed by the eternal wrath of a perfectly Holy and terrifyingly righteous God.
Jakes’ gospel speaks of the blood of the Lamb, but merely as a token of our intrinsic worth. The true Gospel speaks of the blood of the Lamb as that which cleanses us from sin, that which justifies, that which sanctifies, and that which glorifies. The true Gospel speaks of the perfect sacrifice for sins, once made forever:
By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.(Heb. 10:10–18)
Jakes returns again to his theme of touch:
We have a High Priest who can be touched…He’s accessible. You can reach Him. You don’t need special people in the Church to reach Him. You don’t have to reach me and ask me to reach Him.
The definition of ‘touch’ has shifted. It now means ‘accessible’.
And what Jakes says here is true. But it is still not the meaning of the text he is expounding. He makes a valid point using invalid means. His is not a faithful handling of God’s word.
Jakes continues, demonstrating that he does understand on a certain level what Hebrews 4:15 actually says, that it’s not about us touching Jesus, but Jesus sympathizing with our weaknesses:
You cannot stop me from reaching God. He can be touched by the feeling of our infirmity. And sometimes He is the only one who knows how you feel.
Jakes makes a seamless transition, moving from touch being our reaching out to God, to Christ being touched by the feeling our infirmity, sympathizing with our weakness.
Even here, though, we have a subtle twist. Christ’s sympathy for our plight in the face of temptation is made into a general sympathy for how we feel. This is not what the text says.
Jakes clearly knows what Hebrews 4:15 teaches, but that does not stop him from preaching at length from that text ideas not found within it. This is not how to handle God’s word. This is not according it due respect. This is not a model of preaching to be emulated.
Jakes picks a verse because it contains a word – one word, as he stated – that he wants to use to make his point. He then uses that verse to lend a veneer of Biblical authority to whatever he has already decided to say. This is not the behaviour of a great preacher.
Jakes continues with his cavalier attitude towards the text.
In context, the word ‘infirmities’ in Hebrews 4:15 is speaking of our sin:
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses [‘infirmities’, KJV], but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.(Heb. 4:14–16, NKJV)
These verses contrast our sin with Christ’s sinlessness. Yet Jakes now takes the word ‘infirmities’ out of its context, and through wordplay almost imperceptibly changes the topic to that of our physical sicknesses. Speaking on behalf of God, he says:
It is the feeling of your infirmity that touches me. Your humility touches me. Your tears touch me. Your needs touch me.This is shocking truth at the time that it is heralded in the word of God, because the ideology previously is that anybody who had infirmities couldn’t touch God. But now He has been wounded for our transgressions. He has been bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace is upon Him. And with his stripes we are healed.
Hebrews 14:15 does not teach that our humility touches God, nor our tears. It teaches that Christ understands our temptation, because He Himself was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.
Jakes’ quoting of Isaiah 53:5 ought to be pure, comforting Gospel. But Jakes has not told us of our sin, and so we do not know our need of the Gospel. Jakes instead uses Isaiah to shift the topic, because he wants to talk about physical healing. And thus he moves to the subject of the Luke 8:46 verse that he read earlier: the woman with the issue of blood.
As he promised, Jakes has indeed played with the texts. He has forced them to cohabit.
There is much that could be discussed concerning Jakes’ extended handling of this text, but the pattern has been established. He handles this verse in a similarly cavalier way to his treatment of Hebrews 4:15. He emphasizes the word ‘touched’ in Luke 8:46. He makes the verse about us, about how we can reach out and touch Christ. Jakes again plays with words:
You must understand this woman has an issue that has engrossed her and overwhelemed her. And sometimes when we’re praying we have an issue, all we talk about is the issue. Oh Lord…do something about my issue, do something about my situation. And after a while…the only thing that’s big to you is your problem.
The woman’s issue of blood becomes our ‘issue’ – our situation, our problem. Jakes builds upon his new textual victim, teaching that we can reach out and touch Jesus, and that, when we do, He will fix our issues, our problems.
But Luke 8:46 is not about us. It is a historical record of one woman’s encounter with Jesus. It is not normative for our faith and practice. It does not teach that we can reach out and touch Jesus, and that He will then fix our problems in this life.
The woman’s issue of blood is not representative of our issues, our problems. Rather, the miracles that Jesus did in fulfilment of prophecy authenticated His ministry, demonstrating that He was the promised Messiah, God made flesh.
This is clear from Luke’s own gospel, in the chapter immediately prior to the one from which Jakes’ takes his text:
Then the disciples of John reported to him concerning all these things. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to Jesus, saying, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”When the men had come to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ ” And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight.Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”(Luke 7:18–23)
In the book of Acts, this same Luke records Peter explaining the purpose of the miracles that Jesus performed:
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.(Acts 2:22–24)
Once again, Jakes mishandles the Holy Scripture, taking a verse out of context and misapplying it to make a point of his own devising. He expertly clothes his error with Biblical language, obfuscating it with generous portions of truth.
Having shifted the ground, Jakes introduces a subtle version of the word-faith heresy, which teaches that the confession of our mouth actualizes reality:
And whenever you start talking more about your problem than you do your promise, you are praising your problem. And whatever you praise will be magnified in your life. Let’s explore this a little bit.
Jakes continues to whip up the crowd into ever increasing crescendos of ecstatic frenzy. They love him. They love his message.
I fear for him.
I fear for those who love his teaching.
Please, pray for him.
Please, pray for them.
Jakes now mocks faithful, humble, Biblical Christians, his voice saturated with scorn:
You’ll never get what you want from God being passive, sitting back and folding your arms and saying, ‘Well, if it’s the Lord’s will’. That woman [the woman with the issue] would have died praying ‘If it’s the Lord’s will’.
The crowd goes wild.
It, it wasn’t just about the Lord’s will. It was about her will.You have a will – that God respects.He created us with a will, an ability to make choices and make decisions…we have a will. That’s why he asks one man, ‘Wilt thou be made whole. Do you want it bad enough to crawl for it? Do you want it bad enough to go through what you gotta go through to get it? Do you want it bad enough to be laughed at and criticized, not be popular at work, and they call you a Christian and make jokes about you? How bad do you want it?
Contrast this with Jesus’ prayer to the Father:
Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.(Luke 22:42–44)
Compare Jakes’ words with how Jesus taught His disciples how to pray:
So He said to them, “When you pray, say:Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Or the teaching of James:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.(James 4:13–16)
Or that of John:
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him(1 John 5:14–15)
The petition that God hears and grants is the petition made in accordance with Hiswill. The Christian life is one of putting to death our own will, the desires of our flesh, that the express will of God might instead reign in us:
And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:25)
Jakes’ doctrine is arrogant. It is not from God. He magnifies us, and diminishes our Sovereign Creator. Heed the wisdom of Solomon:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil.(Ecc. 12:13–14)
Jakes continues to glorify our own spirits:
The human spirit – I’m not talking about the Holy Spirit – the human spirit is so strong that doctors will tell you that there have been cancer patients eaten up with cancer. They said ‘You’ll be dead in 30 days.’ And by sheer will, they have lived. I’m talking about the human spirit – I’m not even talking about the Holy Spirit…if the human spirit is that strong, imagine what happens when you add the holy.
The subtle version of the word-faith heresy introduced but moments earlier grows rapidly towards full maturity.
We see now why Jakes dared only to read a single verse from Luke 8. Had he read the story of the woman in context, it would have been plain that it was not the woman’s ‘aggressive’, bold and powerful will that made her well. No, it was her faith– her childlike trust in the ability and compassion of Jesus:
But as He went, the multitudes thronged Him. Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped.And Jesus said, “Who touched Me?”When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, “Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’”But Jesus said, “Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me. Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately.And He said to her, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”(Luke 8:42–48)
Jakes continues his eisegesis, reading into the text with great profundity that which is not there.
The crowd, wild with excitement, does not care. They are utterly enchanted by his spell.
The music reappears, signalling the beginning of the end.
Jakes tells the crowd that God gave Him this message: ‘God told me, when you get to Code Orange, He said, tell my people, “You’re not just having a 12 day revival. You’re having a 12 day resurrection.”’
This self-proclaimed prophet of God launches into a frenzied series of final crescendos. This is the consummation for which he has been labouring, artfully seducing his audience.
The crowd is on its feet, clapping, hands waving, cheering. Dramatic music plays.
There is more revelation directly from God. ‘God says,’ claims Jakes, ‘I’m still touching. Whatever you want. Whatever you need.’
Again, Jakes gives free rein to our wants, our desires.
God is still touching, says Jakes. This message, this sermon, must therefore have been what God wanted Elevation to hear, never mind that it misrepresented and twisted God’s Holy word.
Jakes is still speaking:
Let him touch you.You might be watching on a screen, you may be watching over the Internet, but allow the power of the Holy of the Spirit touch you right now. You might have a condition or an issue that has persisted in your life for years. But oh my God, the glory of God is here to minister in your life.
A singer sings He Touched Me.
Jakes declaims again, his voice charged with emotion:
I feel the Spirit of God sweeping up and down these aisles. The glory of the Lord is moving from pew to pew. Hallelujah. His presence is in this place right now. You don’t have an issue that he cannot fix. Every situation, every circumstance, every problem is within His grasp. You are to allow the Holy Spirit to do a new thing in your life right now. To heal you, to minister to you, and set you free. The glory of the Lord is here. Touch causes growth. You can’t grow in God if you won’t touch Him and allow Him to touch you.
Here we have another confusion of temporal and eternal promises in Christ. Can God fix my every problem in this life? Certainly. Does He promise in His word that He will? No.
Jakes’ teaching is deadly to those who are enticed by it. They trust in God to fix the problems of this life, to keep them from trial and tribulation. And should He not accede to their arrogant expectation, their faith is shipwrecked, because it was founded not upon the sure and certain promises of God’s word in Christ as recorded in the Scriptures, but upon the false words of a self-proclaimed prophet.
This preaching gives people a transient emotional high. It scratches itching ears, speaking into them what they are eager to hear. It manipulates, it deludes, it defrauds. Afterwards, when tribulation or persecution arises, immediately its victims stumble. They are lost, innoculated to the true Gospel. They have tried Christianity, so they think, and found it full of empty promises – it doesn’t work.
Is T.D. Jakes the Greatest Preacher of Our Time?
Only if the measure of greatness is the ability to play a virtuoso performance on the emotions of a crowd.
But that is not the Biblical measure of great preaching, which rather esteems fidelity to the text, and the ability to make the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. Law, to frighten comfortable sinners, to show us our need for a Saviour, to teach those who trust in Christ the perfect standard of godly living. Gospel, the power of Salvation to all who believe, that sweet comfort of Christ declaring ‘It is finished’, His having reconciled us to God and saved us through His perfect life, death and resurrection.
Jakes is concluding. He commands by divine authority that I allow the Holy Spirit to do a new thing in my life right now.
But does the Holy Spirit require my permission before He works in me? If so, how was I ever saved, when I was once His enemy and dead in my trespasses and sin?
In quiet, tremulous tones, Jakes pleads repeatedly over the music and song for us to ‘Touch Him’.
Even here, Jakes leaves us with a problem. For he has not yet told us how to touch Jesus. Jesus isn’t standing bodily before me, as he was for the woman with the issue of blood. I can’t reach out with my hand and touch the hem of His garment, as did she.
Jakes instructs the now reflective audience to ‘Climb over every obstacle and excuse.’
He changes tone. He feels the pain of every individual in the crowd. He assures them, ‘God wants to stop your issue, and set you free.’
Has God said in His word that He wants to stop your issue? By what authority, then, does Jakes proclaim this?
Jakes is well into his emotive plea for people to be saved:
Now, He won’t make you be saved. And He won’t make the backslider come back to Him. And He won’t make you be a Christian. You have to use an act of your will and say “I want this, I want this.”’
Is this true? Does the Scripture teach that we are saved through an act of our will?
Or does the Scripture instead teach that we ‘were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’ (John 1:13)? Does it teach that ‘No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him’ (John 6:44)? Does it teach that ‘by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast’ (Eph. 2:8–9)?
Wherever you are, if you’re here and you want to be a Christian, or if you’ve drifted away and you wanna come back to the Lord, would you raise your hand? Right where you are, and say, ‘I wanna be saved’?
What does Jakes mean, by ‘I wanna be saved’? Saved from what?
He gives his answer:
If the woman with the issue of blood with all of her problems and obstacles can say, ‘I want this’, lift that hand up! Yes! Lift it up! Yes!
For Jakes, salvation is deliverance from the problems and obstacles of this life. This is his beguiling message, for who would not want that? And, having heard his sermon, the fervent crowd has believed the lie that this is what God is offering them.
A few more words, and Jakes is done.
Furtick steps forward. ‘The Bible says that the angels in heaven rejoice when one sinner turns from their sins’.
The crowd cheers and claps.
Wait, what was that? – ‘when one sinner turns from their sins’?
But we have heard nothing at all about our sins from Jakes, only about our ‘issues’.
For Jakes, our problem is not that we have grievously offended an infinitely Holy and righteous God with our sin, and that He is therefore justly angry with us. For Jakes, our problem is not that we are deservedly facing an eternity in hell. No, for him, our problem is that we have issues in this life.
With his misdiagnosis of the human condition, Jakes’ gospel is necessarily false. His gospel is not that Christ died to bear the punishment for our sin and rose from the dead, but that Jesus died to show us our worth and to fix our problems.
Furtick, though, is smitten. He tells us that we’ve just received ‘one of the greatest gifts in the body of Christ’ – the treasure of God’s word through Bishop T.D. Jakes.
But we didn’t hear the proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
We didn’t hear the Law or the Gospel.
We didn’t, then, hear God’s word.
And never once did Jakes make anything of the second half of Hebrews 4:15 – that the reason Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses is that He was ‘in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.’ And that, therefore, we should ‘come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and grace to help in time of need’.
The writer to the Hebrews speaks not of a ‘Jesus who can fix my problems’, but of the Jesus who lived the sinless life that I could not and can not. It tells us of the Jesus whose righteousness is now put to our account by faith, so that we may come boldly to His throne and receive grace and mercy without fear or condemnation.
And how I need that grace and mercy! For even this very day, I find myself mired in sin and in need of forgiveness. I have not loved the Lord my God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength. I have not loved my neighbour as myself. Not even for a moment. I need, right now, a High Priest who has made a perfect sacrifice for my sins. I need His flawless righteousness put to my account.
Furtick finishes by telling Elevation that they have to ‘expect God to bless you because you’ve been a part of this’.
I am excluded, because I wasn’t part of that. I haven’t been on pilgrimage to the Holy City of Charlotte, North Carolina. I haven’t entered into the great Temple of Elevation Church. I have not worshipped at the feet of Bishop T.D. Jakes.
And, do you know what?
Because I have something infinitely better.
I have a sinless High Priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses.
A sinless High Priest who took our sin upon Himself on the cross, and now pronounces absolution through His sure word.
A sinless High Priest who bids us come boldly to His throne of grace, that we might obtain mercy and grace to help in this time of need.
Repent, then, and believe this Good News.
I have deliberately eschewed writing here about Jakes’ embrace of the heresy of modalism as valid Christian doctrine, notwithstanding modalism’s lethal opposition to the historic orthodox Christian faith, which is necessarily Trinitarian. Yes, the offering of mainstream evangelical platforms to such a man is a cause for profound alarm and ought certainly to have us weeping in fearful repentance before the Holy One who is Truth. But this was not that post.