As I mentioned in the post “How I Discovered Mahaney Mania”, I purchased C.J. Mahaney’s so-called masterpiece when it first came out in 2006. Had I read it back then, I probably would have concluded: well, at least the author focuses on the cross, which has been shunned by so many mainline churches. Then I would have put it away — out of sight, out of mind. However, that’s not what happened… Having acquired considerable knowledge about C.J. Mahaney, Sovereign Grace Ministries, and their connections to the “Reformed Big Dogs” over the past year and a half, I have a much different perspective on Mahaney’s book.
As I highlighted in yesterday’s post, Living the Cross Centered Life is deficient because Mahaney equates the gospel with the “death of the Savior on the cross”, leaving one with an incomplete picture of the gospel. Sadly, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is marginalized at best or totally ignored at worst.
I have so appreciated two of our thoughtful commenters – Arce and Junkster – who have been loyal to The Wartburg Watch since its inception. Because they have so effectively communicated the importance of the resurrection, I have included their remarks.
“The resurrected and ascended Jesus is what makes the birth, life and crucifixion of Jesus of any significance. Without the resurrection and ascension, we would not think of him as the Christ, nor would we believe his teachings. Without the resurrection, there would be no Pentecost, no Damascus Road conversion and no Paul as an Apostle, no church, no Christian theology, etc., etc., etc., The Resurrection is the central event in history that gives meaning to everything else. It is the powerful display of God’s love for Jesus and for us.
The crucifixion is the powerful display of Jesus’ obedience as the Messiah (both as man and God) to the Trinity. Our sins are forgiven by his act on the cross, validated by the resurrection.
Grace is not merely the forgiveness of sin, it is also the outpouring of God’s love for us that resulted in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus to be an intercessor for us, so that God ignores our sin and sees Jesus’ perfection instead.”
And Junkster writes:
“1 Corinthians 15 focuses far more on the resurrection and its significance for us in living victoriously as Christians than it does on Christ’s death for our sins. True, Jesus completely paid for our sins on the cross, and our redemption was completely accomplished there. But God did not merely save us from the penalty of sin (the focus of the cross), but He also saved us from the power of sin (the focus of the resurrection). And, one day, we will be saved from the presence of sin, as we enter into His presence, where no sin can dwell. Meanwhile, we have His Spirit in us to guide, teach, correct, and purify us. Wow!
As important as what took place on the cross was, if we maintain all our focus there, we never recognize the significance of Christ’s burial, resurrection, appearances, ascension, and sending of the Spirit in His place. Perhaps the reason some preachers want to keep the focus at the cross is that they fear they will lose their position of power over other believers if they ever realize that God’s Spirit indwells them as well as their ‘exalted leaders’.”
Mahaney spends an entire chapter explaining how our feelings cannot be trusted in his chapter “What You Feel vs. What Is Real”. “Our feelings simply cannot be trusted”, he writes. (p. 33) There can be no doubt that trusting our feelings can be a problem, but God has given His children the Holy Spirit to guide and protect them. Unlike our feelings, that still small voice can be trusted. As an outside observer, it appears that the Holy Spirit is marginalized in Sovereign Grace Ministries. The pastors are the primary ones with special gifting, not the members. The pastors serve as a “higher authority” because they know what’s best for the flock…
The chapter that bothers me the most in Living the Cross Centered Life is “The Scream of the Damned”. Mahaney begins by quoting R.C. Sproul: “This cry represents the most agonizing protest ever uttered on this planet. It burst forth in a moment of unparalleled pain. It is the scream of the damned – for us.”
Mahaney echoes Sproul’s words as he describes Jesus’ death. He writes:
“In this strange, unnatural darkness, by the flickering light of the soldier’s torches, we step closer to the cross to watch and listen.
Suddenly His face contorts in a display of anguish more terrible than anything we’ve seen yet. He can restrain Himself no longer. He screams out, My God, my God!
me?” (pp. 91-92)
Here’s the problem I have with this description – it is sensational, and it’s NOT how the gospel writers described Jesus’ last words. See for yourself:
“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:30 (ESV)
“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.” Luke 23:46 (ESV)
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34 (ESV)
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 (ESV)
“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.” Matthew 27:50 (ESV)
After reading EXACTLY how Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John describe Jesus’ last words, I have a very hard time believing that Jesus “screamed”. As Matthew and Mark indicate, he “cried out in a loud voice”. That sounds a lot more powerful and controlled than a scream. After all, those standing at the foot of the cross could clearly understand Jesus’ final words. What do you think?
One of the most ironic chapters in Mahaney’s book is entitled: “Breaking the Rules of Legalism”. He writes:
“There’s no doubt that one of the greatest hindrances to keeping the gospel central in our lives is our creeping tendency toward legalism. It’s an age-old foe to God’s plan of salvation through faith alone. From the earliest days of the church, legalism has sidetracked Christians and thrown them off course. And it happens today as much as ever.”
If only C.J. Mahaney would learn from his own writing…
He concludes this section on legalism with the following definition:
“Here’s a simple definition I use: Legalism is seeking God to achieve forgiveness from God and justification before God through obedience to God.
A legalist is anyone who behaves as if they can earn God’s forgiveness through personal performance.”
Sounds a lot like Sovereign Grace Ministries – you must join a Care Group, children must demonstrate first time obedience, wives must submit to their husbands, church members must obey their leaders. The list goes on and on…
Finally, C.J. Mahaney explains that living a cross centered life will enable you to learn
- how to break free from joy-robbing, legalistic thinking and living.
- how to leave behind the crippling effects of guilt and condemnation.
- how to stop basing your faith on your emotions and circumstances.
- how to grow in gratefulness, joy, and holiness.
These aren’t overhyped promises of an author wanting to convince you to read his book. These are God’s promises to all who keep responding with their whole lives to the gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (p. 19)
As I read Living the Cross Centered Life, I realized I have never seen such name-dropping in all my life! Throughout his book, Mahaney quotes reformed leaders ad nauseum! In my ever to be humble opinion, Mahaney relies far too heavily on what reformed theologians have to say.
What bothers me even more than Mahaney’s deficient Gospel message is the promotion of this book at reformed conferences and on pastors’ blogs. After finally reading Living the Cross Centered Life, I find it incredible that a rising star in the SBC like J.D. Greear would include it on his ‘Recommended Reading” list. Personally, I’d like to see a lot less book reading and a lot more Bible reading. Of course, that doesn’t put money into anyone’s pocket unless they buy the latest English Standard Version that is highly promoted by the Calvinistas.