"We are called to take the gospel to those with hard hearts and blind eyes."
C.J. Mahaney (in The Sustaining Power of the Gospel at 2012T4G)
I just finished listening to the audio of C.J. Mahaney's message The Sustaining Power of the Gospel which was delivered during the opening session of the 2012 Together for the Gospel conference. Don't get confused if you watch the video on the T4G website, which shows this subtitle – When a Pastor Loses Heart. You see, this is the actual title of his message, which I initially heard back in November 2011. How is that possible? Mahaney explained in his opening remarks that each speaker decides which message to share, and this is the one he selected. If you're not familiar with C.J. Mahaney, he is famous for recycling his messages, and this one was first delivered at the most recent SGM Pastors Conference.
In preparation for this post, I listened to the SGM version a second time, and it is very similar to the one given at T4G. In case you're wondering about the identity of the theologian who worries that he botches his sermons, Mahaney identifies him in the SGM message. He is talking about a Presbyterian pastor named Sinclair Ferguson, who was one of the speakers at the 2011 SGM Pastors Conference. I remember hearing Sinclair preach once during a chapel service at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Alistair Begg was initially scheduled to speak but had to cancel at the last minute. Ferguson is a fine speaker. I'm just sorry he has gotten involved with Sovereign Grace Ministries.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and frankly T4G attendees, the above photo is what you look like to us. In the foreground is the T4G pacer vehicle with the Fab Four – Mohler, Dever, Mahaney, and Duncan – leading the flock down the road to so-called reformation (or "perdition" for movie buffs). This is the fourth T4G conference that has been held, and we wonder how many of you keep flocking back time after time to hear the same speakers. We have to assume that you've been too busy to vet one of the Fab Four – C.J. Mahaney – and that you know nothing about the devastation that has occurred in Sovereign Grace Ministries. That is the only possible explanation we can come up with for for why you would listen to C.J. Mahaney's message.
On the opening day of T4G, Jim over at SGM Refuge featured this post by Praise Warrior:
"We find it ironic that CJ Mahaney will preach a session called “When A Pastor Loses Heart” at the T4G (Together For The Gospel) conference soon. Perhaps before stepping up to the plate to hit his homerun, CJ might consider interviewing the many pastors and church members who have lost heart and left Sovereign Grace Ministries.
It might surprise the many that will be gathered to hear the strength of the arguments that CJ might not be the best choice to deliver a message on this topic. In fact, many of us would call it downright rude – an ‘in-your-face’ blow to those who are convinced that CJ charging ahead in his public ministry poses a significant lack of integrity on his part and the part of those around him.
Let the discussion panels be comprised of just 4 pastors who have lost heart under CJ’s leadership and the conversation would become quite lively.
CJ, would you please consider recusing yourself from speaking at this conference? Don’t you think you might have a slight conflict of interest here? Here is a suggestion: rather than taking your cues from your buddies Mohler, Duncan and Dever, why don’t you simply ask all the remaining pastors in your family of churches if they think it is wise for you to continue in public ministry at this time?
No one is out to destroy you. Most of us feel sorrow for you. It might be time for you to consider the following:
1) Have you failed to both teach about AND PRACTICE meaningful membership at Covenant Life Church?
2) Doesn’t the nature of a church covenant require the church’s consent to both enter and leave the membership of the church?
3) Do you have unresolved conflicts with your family of churches and their leaders?
4) Are you aware your flock (the one you pastored for so many years) is studying you?
5) How many people are struggling with you because your teaching does not line up with your practice?
Answer these questions and we will be happy to not walk out when you begin to speak at T4G. If you get around to answering these, maybe clue us in as to why Dave Harvey is continuing in his ministry as well. Not that you owe us anything. You might have already forgotten about us."
What in the world is going on here?! Granted, Sovereign Grace Ministries has been changing quite a bit since it first came into existence from People of Destiny to PDI International to SGM, but those changes pale in comparison to what has taken place since last July. Brent Detwiler, one of C.J. Mahaney's long-time associates, was fired several years ago and he began revealing to SGM leaders that he has hundreds and hundreds of pages of documentation that show fatal flaws with his pal C.J. In early July 2011 Mahaney abruptly stepped down as president of SGM. He made his surprise announcement on A View From the Cheap Seats, but the post has subsequently been removed. (Mahaney deletes incriminating evidence, too? Mark Driscoll must be really proud of his mentor!)
No worries – we featured C.J. Mahaney's breaking news in a blog post called "Trendy Calvinista, C.J. Mahaney, Temporarily Steps Down to Deal With Sin". Here are the first few paragraphs of Mahaney's announcement:
I need to inform you about some recent developments that I believe are expressions of God’s mercy and intended to serve our future together as a family of churches.
Over the last few years some former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace have made charges against me and informed me about offenses they have with me as well as other leaders in Sovereign Grace. These charges are serious and they have been very grieving to read. These charges are not related to any immorality or financial impropriety, but this doesn’t minimize their serious nature, which include various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.
I believe God is kindly disciplining me through this. I believe I have by the grace of God perceived a degree of my sin, and I have been grieved by my sin and its effects on others. I have had the opportunity to confess my sin to some of those affected in various ways by my sin. And I am so very grateful for their forgiveness. But I want to perceive and confess any and all sin I have committed. Although my experience of conviction has already started—and this is an evidence of God’s mercy—I’m sure there is more for me to perceive and acknowledge. Even with the charges I disagree with it has been beneficial to examine my soul and ask for the observation of others. And I am resolved to take responsibility for my sin and every way my leadership has been deficient, and this would include making any appropriate confessions, public or private. Most importantly I want to please God during this season of examination and evaluation."
Shortly thereafter, an unidentified individual began posting hundreds of pages of documentation – appropriately called SGM Wiki Links – from Brent Detwiler, including internal correspondence from SGM. The most startling revelation was that Mahaney essentially blackmailed Larry Tomczak, the co-founder of PDI and Gathering of Believers (which became Covenant Life Church).
Peter Smith of the Courier-Journal wrote an article on July 8, 2011, entitled 'Serious charges vs. popular pastor, author Mahaney. Smith revealed the following:
A Sovereign Grace board statement said:
“The charges against C.J. are serious, but his response has been one of self-examination and, when possible, specific confession to those sinned against. However, given the numerous events, people, and perspectives involved, the work of an independent panel will be vital to fully examining these charges and arriving at an objective conclusion, especially on those charges with which the board does not agree.”
Here are some subsequent posts we wrote regarding this debacle.
Then something incredible happened! Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan broke their silence and publicly defended their buddy C.J. We had been bamboozled, as explained in our post Hoodwinked by Mohler and Mahaney.
A few days after the news broke, the Courier-Journal featured a follow-up article entitled Mohler backs Mahaney- dismisses claims of abusive leadership. Here are Mohler's comments:
"I always have had only the highest estimation of C.J. Mahaney as a man and a minister," Mohler said in an interview — his first public comments on the situation involving Mahaney, one of his fellow leaders in the Reformed, neo-Calvinist movement. "That continues absolutely unchanged. There is nothing in this current situation which would leave me to have even the slightest pause of confidence in him."
But Mohler has already drawn his own conclusions.
He based that on hundreds of pages leaked to the Internet last week, detailing correspondence between Mahaney, his main accuser and former colleague, Brent Detwiler, and other Sovereign Grace leaders.
"There is nothing disqualifying in terms of anything that is disclosed in this," said Mohler, who regularly speaks on programs along with Mahaney. "It’s just evidence we knew all along, that C.J. is human but a deeply committed Christian and a visionary Christian leader."
The reporter Peter Smith went on to write:
“Mohler said he saw no reason for Mahaney to take a leave from other leadership positions…
"I assume he would retain every position in leadership," Mohler said. "I expect he should be very quickly returned to leadership of Sovereign Grace."
Mohler contended that Detwiler has "an obvious vendetta" against Mahaney and attributed the document dump on the Internet to him."
Smith also included the following:
“The Sovereign Grace network is separate from the Southern Baptist Convention, the affiliate of Southern Seminary, but Mohler praised Mahaney’s group as "one of the most vital movements of church planting and evangelism and church development in this generation…"
Mohler said he knew this practice has had online critics for years.
"Basically there are people who are very uncomfortable with the strong kind of spiritual direction that comes through the Sovereign Grace Ministries," Mohler said. "It’s very hard to criticize it on biblical terms, as you’ll see on most of those Web sites. It basically comes down to the criticism, ‘I don’t like that.’"
On the VERY SAME DAY that Mohler's remarks were made public (July 12, 2011), Ligon Duncan posted a response on the Reformation 21 website. Here is an excerpt:
"If you have been confused or discouraged by things you have read on the internet concerning my friend C.J. Mahaney and his leave of absence from the board and presidency of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), I would encourage you to read this and this and this . . . , if you want to understand what is really going on.
I would then encourage you to ignore the assaults of wounded people on attack websites and blogs, and that you discount the opinings of those who have no real knowledge of these matters or relation to SGM or authority to comment upon them, and that you refrain from assuming that you (or they) are in a position to render judgment on these things.
It is clear that far from a scandalous cover up, our brothers at Sovereign Grace are taking these matters with utter seriousness and are endeavoring to walk in Gospel repentance and humility and fidelity. C.J. knows of my complete love and respect for him. And my brethren at Sovereign Grace know of my support and prayers for them. Al Mohler has spoken about this here. And, of course, C.J. has reached out to Mark Dever for counsel and accountability, but I want to emphasize that we fully respect the process that SGM is taking to review the entire situation and that we have no intention whatsoever of joining in the adjudicating of this case in the realm of the internet – a practice as ugly as it is unbiblical."
Well, that's the drama that played out in the few days following Mahaney's announcement that he was stepping down as president of SGM. In our upcoming post, we will highlight what happened leading up to C.J.'s reinstatement as president of Sovereign Grace Ministries.
It truly is incredible that Mahaney is once again enthroned at Together for the Gospel, as though nothing of significance has happened in the SGM "family of churches".
Here is a song dedication to all you loyal T4G attendees. Enjoy!
Lydia's Corner: Ezekiel 3:16-6:14 Hebrews 4:1-16 Psalm 104:24-35 Proverbs 26:27