Book Review: Let It Go: Forgive So You Can Be Forgiven, by T.D. Jakes
T.D. Jakes. Let It Go: Forgive So You Can Be Forgiven. 1st ed. New York: Atria Books, 2012. 256 pages. $25.00.
“As a general rule, whoever describes the person best wins the person—and whoever wins the person—gets the opportunity to impact the person.” Ed Welch said that a few months ago on CCEF’s blog. It makes sense. It’s a compelling concept. But it’s also an alarming concept. What if someone with bad ideas is really good at describing people—their struggles, fears, and desires? Unfortunately, I’m afraid that’s the case with megachurch pastor T. D. Jakes in his book Let It Go.
Jakes’ book falls under the category of “Christian life,” and you would probably find it in the “Self-Help” section of your local bookstore, Christian or not. It’s a book of practical theology.
Jakes uncovers his wide-ranging purpose early on: “My hope is that this book will help you gain insight into what prevents you from being the husband you want to be, the wife you long to be, the mother or father you know is inside you, the creative person you were born to be—the most successful version of you possible!” (4). But tension in relationships hinders that success (5). As does the failure of people to truly understand one another (12). Thus, says Jakes, we need to embrace the big idea of forgiveness, of “letting go of the past and finding the grace to forgive” (18). Forgiveness is a “supernatural power that’s unleashed when we let it go” (34, emphasis his). Such power is foundational for Jakes’ entire outlook on life.
Jakes goes on to build on this sense of the importance of forgiveness. He points out the inevitability of conflict with others. “Offenses do come” (52), he writes. But “people refuse to let go of old issues, forgive their offenders, and move on” (57). Instead of such refusal, we need to be open and honest with others, willing to share what’s on our minds (ch. 4). We should also see anger as a useful tool in getting past difficulties in our lives (ch. 5). Offenses against us should be “written off” like financial debt (ch. 6).
Jakes talks about the workplace, noting how important it is to use some basic strategies for facing conflict in that environment (ch. 7). Further, trust needs to be rebuilt after any conflict (ch. 8), just as we need to recover and move on with our lives (ch. 9). Like God the Father, we must extend the mercy of forgiveness to our offenders (ch. 10).
What’s more, when people have a “basic, healthy love for themselves” (186), they will know how to forgive themselves (ch. 11), and then they can see offenses as opportunities to root out their deepest insecurities (ch. 12). Jakes also calls on the church to address the issues that keep it from being a place of spiritual life-support to broken people (ch. 13). He concludes with a final chapter and epilogue in which he seeks to motivate people to address these issues with hope. He wants people to have confidence that they can indeed be successful in any of these endeavors.
THREE HARMFUL ASSUMPTIONS
A point-by-point analysis of Bishop Jakes’ proposals, not to mention the myriad of details behind them, would go far beyond the scope of this review. And, unfortunately, those details abound with misleading and harmful teaching. Instead, I’d like to address some of his underlying assumptions.
First, Jakes assumes that personal success is paramount in life. This emphasis derives from prosperity gospel teaching. In the first chapter alone, I counted roughly twenty-five to thirty remarks similar to the one quoted above about becoming the “most successful version of you possible.” The “successful you” focus steers the whole ship. One wonders how Bishop Jakes can reconcile this assumption with the Bible’s emphasis on doing all to the glory of God (see 1 Cor. 10:31). He seems to have profoundly missed the foundational purpose of human existence. Whereas this “successful you focus” promotes profound self-centeredness, the gospel of Jesus Christ calls on each of us to look upward and outward, to the glory of God and the good of one’s neighbor.
Second, Jakes assumes that humanity’s main problem is something other than sin against a holy God. The only clear reference that I can find to sin against God is on page 118. Jakes calls sin “a debt we couldn’t pay.” But he offers no explanation for what that means. Instead, it seems that in context, the biblical language of debt simply fits his analogy of “writing off” offenses. Short of this example, I find no clear teaching on the nature of sin. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God,” writes Paul in Romans 3. Yet Jakes can write, “You’re not a bad person. You’re a good person with a loving heart” (12). Even though this is not Jakes’ foundational doctrinal statement, it reflects a very low view of sin, a view that sadly plays out throughout the book. The Bible takes our sin way more seriously than this. So seriously, in fact, that the prophet Jeremiah labels our hearts as deceitful, beyond even our own full understanding (Jer. 17:9).
Finally, related to the last point, Bishop Jakes sidelines the gospel. And I use the word “sidelines” charitably. Nowhere in the book does he attempt to explain the gospel with any clarity. I can’t even find a single use of the word gospel, though I could have missed it. My point is that the good news seems to be no news at all in this book. Chapter 10 includes a discussion of God’s forgiveness, but it is woefully inadequate, even to the point of just assuming that each of his readers is a born-again believer. There’s no discussion of the cost of forgiveness or how to receive it.
Yet we all must see that a holy God holds holy standards. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Left to ourselves we all defy those standards and we “walk in darkness” (1:6). Thus we need “an advocate with the Father” whom he has mercifully supplied in “Jesus Christ, the righteous” (2:1). Because of Jesus’ wrath-bearing death on the cross, all who cling to him have an incredible promise and hope: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). The bad news of sin stings. But the good news of grace in Christ shocks our dead hearts into life. An entire book on forgiveness that fails to be explicit about the gospel fails to offer the only true hope there is.
The multitudes are tuning in to T. D. Jakes. And when they turn up the volume, they hear a man describing them remarkably well. So they keep listening. But I sure wish they would change the station.
John Power is pastor of New Covenant Christian Fellowship in Attleboro, Massachusetts.
 Ed Welch, “Describe a Person Well and You Win That Person,” CCEF Blog, July 26, 2013, accessed November 25, 2013, http://www.ccef.org/blog/describe-person-well-and-you-win-person.