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The Christian Way is Hard yet Extravagant: Bishop TD Jakes and the Art of Scripture

The Bishop is extravagant. His diction is formidable – a Southern American drawl that delights the ears even as it makes you put everything else down and lean back reflectively. His retention and use of scripture, at least to me, knows no comparison and I never feel quite so exalted and yet humbled as when I listen to his booming narrative.

And no, I don’t think it’s just a nice trick that he pulls out time and again to ensure he has a fancy plane in to travel the world and meet world leaders. Perhaps there are others out there that do. Perhaps God is being used to fund their golf outings and pleasure excursions, smiling as they sail along in a white hummer with the window down and some hater’s frown shining in. But not Thomas D Jakes.

 

I believe him to be a very careful and thoughtful orator with the love of Jesus at the centre of everything he touches. There is something of God’s power in his utterances (beautiful and poetic as they are), something wiser in his delivery than many of his contemporaries. No single man, with gifting based purely on very broad book reading can make me ‘understand’ the way this man makes me understand God. And it is not a tribal thing, or something woven deep into my DNA. After all, I am a white male who has spent most of his life in a non-descript town called Reading in the UK. The charismatic Bishop is in his fifties, African-American, very wide, very large, wears increasingly well-fitting suits with tidy black and beige brogues and pink-red ties. I, in my thirties now, put a glob of grease in my hair and stride out into the rain in brown boots and blue chinos (actually, the Bishop recently wore brown boots with some tweed trousers – a very strange combo).

 

And so, in this year’s sermon on Mustard Seed Faith he stands at the front of his ten-thousand full auditorium in Texas (known as the Potters House), and he gesticulates brilliantly, animating the fight we as Christian’s go through on the way to the heavenly city: “It is worth it to hit the rock! It is worth it to look bad for a little while and come up looking good for a lifetime, than to look good for a minute and come down in a flash!” These words rebound around, reflect, refract - as do so many others – before playing steadily on my soul (‘resonate’ is left for those words that make me pause the video and sink into deep reflection).

 

The Bishop continues - “I learned in the doing, I learned in the struggling, my strength tolerance increases, my ability to handle pain increases, my wisdom increases, my ability to deal with haters increases!” His back is arched, the congregation cheers as the accumulative sorrow is let out from the bellies of those that, like you and I, are still on a very tough journey indeed.  He looks around compassionately, still full of half-a-century of grieving stories in his heart: “I need some slow cook people in this room. I need people that have been through hell and back. Now…can I go a little bit deeper with this?” And here he brings to the table a series of after thoughts about the church and its leaders, how they have duped some of us into believing we can get off scott free, that we can receive a windfall of blessings without working very hard to gain our salvation: “We taught you to build houses without foundation! We told you to go out in the parking lot and walk around the car and claim the car. But we should have taught you about the car payments!”

 

And so let me become pathetic for the moment. In this discourse I am merely talking about the Bishop and his ‘skill’ or ‘gifting’ to move the listeners heart to Christ and the bible’s teaching. Many have been the sermons that have found me on my bed in tears, nodding confidingly at my screen, waiting for the gut-punch to manifest itself in some story that only the aged soul understands. I remember his depiction of the woman and the issue of blood, and how she crawled over a crowd and many years of pain and confusion just to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. I also remember the Bishop’s reenactment of the tormented soul outside the tombs in the Gerasenes, and the love of Jesus when he was met at the boat by that man. Indeed, there are many such pictures and visions that have been impressed on my heart over the years by this great preacher, and though the rhetorical style may be different to the quiet Anglican spirit of your local parish, or the piano vibrato just too maddening to your sensitive soul, his is a loving touch, and full of what I believe is the Holy Spirit.

 

Harry Hughes

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