Time wonders if T.D. Jakes is "the next Billy Graham"
IS THIS MAN THE NEXT BILLY GRAHAM? That's the cover line of this week's Time magazine, which lists Dallas Pentecostal T.D. Jakes as "America's Best Preacher" in a series of "America's Best" cultural innovators. Is Time repeating itself? Maybe its editors thought no one read its December listing of Jakes in its "Time 100" as one of the country's spiritual innovators. In that piece, Time religion reporter David Van Biema emphasized the Jakes of books, music, theater, and television. Here Van Biema's emphasis is explicitly on his preaching:

He purrs like Isaac Hayes and screams like Jay Hawkins. He slips from quoting a standard hymn—"Just as I am, without one plea/ but that Thy blood was shed for me" almost straight into hip-hop: "Transform me/ Translate me/ I release you to rearrange me/ Are you willing to be changed?" He does this without warning or acknowledgement. (If you miss one riff, don't worry, there will be another one along in moments.) And however leisurely Jakes' presentation may seem, each sermon eventually reveals itself as perfectly calibrated and balanced, cohering into an often exquisite extended metaphor.

But saying he's an amazing preacher is very different from suggesting he's "the next Billy Graham." Both are able to fill stadiums, but the two are very different—even in preaching styles. Jakes is a weekly preacher, Graham is a crusade evangelist. That means that the topic ("You must be born again") and structure (e.g. sermon illustrations from the newspaper) don't vary much for Graham. And though Graham's approach was very innovative against the news in the 1950s, it's now relatively common among evangelistic preachers. And that's not to mention the radical institutional differences between the two men. Van Biema seems to recognize these differences, and answers the question "Is this the next Billy Graham?" with what sounds like a "no."

There is a huge difference between being America's best preacher and America's Preacher, Graham's unofficial title for decades. In fact, that category may have evaporated, given today's cultural landscape and absent Graham's singular attributes. He is a white man in a country that understood itself, myopically, as white. He is a Protestant in a nation that was more aware of its Protestant roots than its growing diversity. A Baptist, he preaches a Gospel message so pure as to elude denominational criticism. He is expert at minimizing personal or philosophical particularities that would have reduced his constituency. A friend of Presidents, he lives in comfort but has nonetheless avoided ostentation and escaped the "rich preacher" label.

Jakes, by contrast, is a man of vivid particulars living in an age suspicious of the phrase "common ground." Some Americans might find him too black. Some Christians would consider him too Pentecostal, and even some Pentecostals question aspects of his theology. … Gay Americans would have no reason at all to consider Jakes their preacher. … Many other Christians believe that Jesus was a poor man and that wealth corrupts. Jakes is not their preacher.
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Even if he's not America's preacher, Van Biema writes, everyone should experience him at least once. But why? That question is answered in a sidebar on the resurgence of biblical preaching. "The reason that preaching is enjoying a revival in churches where it was a dying art, say religion scholars, has to do with appetites that are harder to satisfy outside church, as the culture grows noisier and more coarse," writes Nancy Gibbs. It's somewhat surprising that Time faults a lack of commitment to the Bible as the reason for the drop in preaching's moral authority:

When it came to preaching, as opposed to social activism and counseling, the mainline churches lost their faith, lost a whole generation. The Bible became just one more sourcebook, like the daily paper. Even in the megachurches, with thousands of members and vast resources, the sermon sometimes seemed like one more offering in the Christian cafeteria, wedged between the 12-step programs and the music and Sunday school and countless fellowship activities. But strong preaching—biblically based, artfully crafted—is a tradition that is being reclaimed and transformed at the same time.

Ironically, it's that recommitment to biblical theology that has some folks judging Jakes. That line about "some Pentecostals question aspects of his theology" is the only reference to criticism over Jakes's beliefs on the Trinity—even though the example of preaching Van Biema uses explicitly illustrates why orthodox Christians are upset.

"And God said, 'Let us. Let usssssss … '" says Jakes, and then digresses: " … One God, but manifest in … three different ways, Father in creation, Son in redemption, Holy Spirit in regeneration. And God said, 'Let usssssss … '"

Problem: That's not Trinitarianism. That's a pretty straight-up teaching of modalism, an early church heresy that denied the permanence of the three Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and argued that God only temporarily manifested himself in different roles. This view is also that of Oneness Pentecostals, which apparently describes Jakes. He has used these exact words before, but denies he's a heretic. "My association with Oneness people does not constitute assimilation into their ranks any more than my association with the homeless in our city makes me one of them," he told CT last year. Maybe his association doesn't mean he's a Oneness Pentecostal, but his language describing the Trinity certainly seems to. And for that reason alone T.D. Jakes isn't "the next Billy Graham."

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Maybe the reason Time decided not to spend any time on Jakes's theological problems is because the issue also includes a separate article on "America's Best Theologian," which it awarded to Duke University's Stanley Hauerwas. The University of Chicago's Jean Bethke Elshtain calls him "contemporary theology's foremost intellectual provocateur … a thorn in the side of what he takes to be Christian complacency for more than 30 years." What's at the center of his astonishing message? "An omnipotent God incarnate who relinquishes his power and dies an ignominious death in order that human beings might 'have life and have it more abundantly.'" Indeed, radical stuff both for Christians and non-Christians. Time's "best theologian" appellation is only the latest (though most prominent) Hauerwas tribute: see, for example, recent profiles in academic magazine Lingua Franca and multifaith religion site KillingTheBuddha.com (then come back and read Books & Culture's 1998 interview with "Pope Stanley").

More than 160 dead following religious riots in Nigeria
The Nigerian military is attempting to restore order in Jos, Nigeria, after weekend rioting between Muslims and Christians left countless hundreds dead. One report says that at least 160 corpses have been dropped off at area hospitals, but there are "still so many bodies on the streets" that final tallies won't be in for a while. The fighting reportedly started after a rumor spread that Muslims had burned down a local church. Christians retaliated against the news by burning down mosques, and Muslims responded by burning down churches. Cars, houses, and people were also burned.

More arrests as Taliban's trial of Christian aid workers continues
The Afghanistan "trial" of eight foreigners accused of promoting Christianity finished its fifth day yesterday, but the world remains in the dark as to how it's going. Reporters were told Sunday that the court was awaiting word from the prisoners on how they planned to defend themselves. As The New York Times reports today, it's not an easy question to answer—the detainees can't just pull a name from the phone book. "For one thing, there are no telephone directories because there are hardly any phones. For another, there are hardly any lawyers." And the case itself promises to enter uncharted territory. "You'd like a lawyer who could say, 'Been there, done that,' but the Taliban have a unique way of looking at justice, and I don't think that person exists," says American consular officer David T. Donahue. The Taliban seems to be making up the rules as it goes along, suggesting one day that there would be no prisoner swaps, then suggesting that there may be. As an example of how odd the trial is, the foreigners have only been allowed to appear in court once so far, and that was to protest their innocence. "During the investigation we were accused of many things but that was not true," Georg Taubmann, director of the Shelter Now office. "We have never converted anybody. We are shocked with the accusations." Taubmann, the seven other foreign Shelter Now workers, and their 16 Afghan coworkers got company over the weekend—but not from the three diplomats trying to contact them. Instead, the Taliban announced that it had arrested dozens of Afghans who had worked with International Assistance Mission, another aid organization that has faced recent crackdowns.

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