Persons? Manifestations? Does it matter?

I have friends who are Oneness Pentecostals and many more friends who are Trinitarians. It has been an interesting day since T.D. Jakes appeared at an event called “The Elephant Room” (i.e. MMA for evangelicals) where he was asked about his understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. Many of my friends and acquaintances in Oneness Pentecostal circles have understood Jakes to be one of their own. Yet today he told Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, and others the following (according to Trevin Wax’s transcript):

Driscoll: We all would agree that in the nature of God there is mystery. But within that, for you, Bishop Jakes, the issue is one God manifesting Himself successively in three ways? Or one God existing eternally in three persons? What is your understanding now? Which one?

Jakes: I believe the latter one is where I stand today. One God – Three Persons. I am not crazy about the word persons though. You describe “manifestations” as modalist, but I describe it as Pauline. For God was manifest in the flesh. Paul is not a modalist, but he doesn’t think it’s robbery to say manifest in the flesh. Maybe it’s semantics, but Paul says this. Now, when we start talking about that sort of thing, I think it’s important to realize there are distinctives between the work of the Father and the work of the Son. I’m with you. I have been with you. There are many people within and outside denominations labeled Oneness that would be okay with this. We are taught in society that when we disagree with someone in a movement, we leave. But I still have associations with people in Onenness movements. We need to humble both sides and say, “We are trying to describe a God we love.” Why should I fall out and hate and throw names at you when it’s through a glass darkly? None of our books on the Godhead will be on sale in heaven.

For Trinitarians there is the simple confession of “One God-Three Person”, but some may think he fudged things a bit with the caveat that he isn’t “crazy about the word persons though” and that he is OK with “manifestations”. Some Oneness Pentecostals may be a bit upset that he said “persons”, but they appreciate that he struggles with the word “person” just as they do.

What do you think of this statement? Are you a Trinitarian or a Oneness adherent? Does it matter to you either way or do you find this to be a debate over semantics? 


See C. Michael Patton’s “T.D. Jakes Not a Modalist?” as well.