TD Jakes and the nearly gospel

I imagine millions of people tuned in for all or part of the live broadcast of Whitney Houston’s funeral on Saturday. One of the participants they will have heard was the renowned preacher, TD Jakes.

I caught part of his oration at the time and subsequently watched all (just under 6 minutes) of it. It was quite the speech from someone who is quite an orator.

He acknowledged the sadness people felt and the feeling that death had won. However, as he pointed out, the Bible claims that love is stronger than death.

The first family (the family of Adam) experienced death, as did Noah, Isaiah and Habakkuk. Every time, it looked like death had won. But there was still that Bible claim that love is stronger than death.

Two thousand years ago, ‘love entered the ring.’ And love is greater than death. Jakes talked powerfully about the fight that went to the grave, when, once again, it looked like death had won. Death threw a party that ran through the weekend. But early Sunday morning things changed and love removed the sting of death.

At this point Jakes’ message was reminiscent of ‘It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming’ – popularised by Tony Campolo. What a brilliant portrayal of the biblical theme of Jesus conquering death ‘in its own backyard.’

Then Jakes went on to apply his message. His listeners needed to understand that death had not won. Sure, the cards would be put away, the phone would stop ringing, the tears would flow and the pies and cakes would stop being delivered. But we are not to think that death has won.


Because one day we will be driving in our car and we will hear Whitney’s voice in our head; we’ll remember something she said and we will giggle as though she was right there with us. For even though death may remove our loved ones outwardly, they never leave us inwardly.

It was great that TD Jakes was able to proclaim the victory of Jesus to millions of listeners. And he did it so eloquently. But – and perhaps I am just part of what will be perceived as a narrow-minded minority here – surely there is more to the hope of the gospel than saying that our loved ones live on in our heads and our hearts. Surely Jesus died and rose again to do more than that. When he stood with the grieving family of Lazarus and declared that whoever believes in him will live, even though they die, surely he meant much more than that they would live on in the memories of their family. Lazarus would have lived on in the memory of Mary and Martha even if Jesus had not commanded him to come out of his tomb!

No doubt with time the friends and family of Whitney Houston will draw comfort from the memories that pop up and (with time) allow them to smile. But did Jesus need to die and rise again to make that possible? Is that all there is?

The Christian hope is that because of Jesus death does not have the final word. TD Jakes took his listeners most of the way to understanding that. Sadly, he took a detour just before nailing his point.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”


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