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.

Arce explains:

“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!


have You 


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.



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    I am thankful you said it; “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.”

    It is mind boggling that there is only one place in the whole New Testament where a Greek word is translated, “Pastor,” (Ephesians) yet, they seem to be the focal point in most churches. The church at large is responsible because our complacency has allowed us to defer to their, “authority,” instead of acknowledging more of the Holy Spirit’s annointing to teach us all things, as a priesthood of believers. And when we do claim our intrinsic authority in Christ and have a different opinion than the pastor about almost anything…well, that’s liable to get you booted out, pressured out, or at least shunned, for being divisive with he, “authority.” It seems we’re in need of a reformation repeat.

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    How timely this article is for me. Deb, you are a great writer! I really appreciate your analysis.

    I just started a Precepts Colossians study. Wasn’t Paul warning about teachers, and teachings similar to CJ Mahaney and his crowd? I guess if we do not read it for ourselves, we will never know! There is the part about wives, husbands, children, slaves and masters but I read this from the position that now that I am in Christ, I do not have to “establish” my position or defend my turf, He is already doing that for me!

    I am a remnant from Providence Baptist. Funny thing is that they were teaching the gospel message and equipping me as a Christian, only I got a different message then they obviously meant for me to have. God uses all things and people to bring us to Him!

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    Name dropping is one of Mahaney’s favorite things to do. I also visited a SGM church where he spoke and I think some of those guys got mentioned more than Jesus!

    “We are thinking about willing the blog to you in the event of any trials of heresy and subsequent burning by the YE crowd.”

    I’d be honored. But I need a partner in crime. Think the other German speaking, Star Trek knowledgeable, teen would be up to it?

    Oh and you are completely right about the Vulcan thing. Considering I can name every Voyager episode from the opening credits I am completely ashamed of myself.

    Did you ever see the episode where Nelix left and Tuvok moved his foot in a little “dance”.? I was almost moved to tears! *Sigh* Blame my mother. I think it was passed on through the genes.

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    “After reading EXACTLY how Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John describe Jesus’ last words, I have a very hard time believing that Jesus “screamed”.”

    Piper picked up on this and preached it at a Resolve conference a few years ago. It is simply shock jock preaching.

    Ironically, I have a problem with the word ‘damned’. We tend to think of it in biblical terms as final. Yes, He was cursed for that time but NOT damned. He was victorious over DEATH for us all. That is not damnation.

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    This is an edit of a reply I put on the previous post rather late:

    As an attorney and as one who has studied how we “know” what we know (epistemology), and who has also had to understand what we mean by “truth” (everyone has a differing perspective and innocent people get convicted), I find that the concept of sovereignty is terribly misunderstood. Sovereignty is the having of the power to reign by nature of who the sovereign is and who the subject is. It is a relationship between two parties or entities or persons that gives one authority or power over another. However, sovereignty is not necessarily the exercise of that authority or power. That is, the sovereignty exists whether used or not.

    In human relationships, unused power tends to erode over time, as the subject and third parties will come to reject or doubt the legitimacy of power. However, in the case of the human and Almighty God, there is no question as to the Creator’s legitimate possession of sovereignty.

    God’s use of his sovereignty is mitigated by his love. Hence, the offer of salvation, which is the replacement of sovereign power of justice with love and grace, to which we can respond freely. Thus, the frequent biblical implication that it is by his love (aka grace) that we are saved, not by his sovereignty, but both preserve us once we have said that Jesus is Lord.

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    I couldn’t agree with you more! It’s not a coincidence that we named our blog “The Wartburg Watch”. Martin Luther is a hero to both Dee and me. I hope you will continue to comment here because what you have shared is extremely important.

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    Great to hear from you BagLady. I love the name! You are very kind to compliment me on my writing ability. It’s funny looking back on how things have turned out in my life. I started out pre-med at Duke (like so many others), and it took me a year and a half to realize that medicine was not for me. You have to make mostly A’s to get into med school, and the courses and the competition at Duke were brutal!

    Halfway through my sophomore year, I changed majors to both English and Economics. I credit God for influencing me to choose English. How I graduated on time without attending any summer school still amazes me. Because I had to write so many term papers for my English courses, I really had to work on my writing skills. I owe much of my writing ability to my professors because they really challenged me.

    Before I married my husband, I worked as a Trust Officer at a large bank for almost 5 years, and I had to write important letters to clients, attorneys, CPAs, etc. All of the correspondence was kept in trust files for years and years. I believe that written communication skills are often sadly lacking in the business world, so I made it a priority to write professional letters. I even edited some of my colleagues’ important correspondence.

    In the fall of 1987 I was accepted into the Executive MBA program at UNC-Chapel Hill, where I attended classes in the evenings. My husband and I married in 1988, and I stopped working; however, I continued pursuing my MBA, earning my degree in May 1990. Two wonderful daughters came along, and I have been a stay-at-home mom for all these years.

    In June my “baby” will be graduating from high school, then she will be going off to college in August. Next year will be a radical change for my husband and me (the empty nest), but we continue to be extremely close after all these years, and we have some very special years ahead of us.

    I have always had a passion to write, and I am in awe of this new communication tool called the internet. I give my Heavenly Father all the praise and glory for how He has gifted me to communicate through the written word.

    Please continue to comment here. We love hearing from our readers!

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    “1 Corinthians 15 focuses far more on the resurrection and its significance for us in living victoriously as Christians…”

    I pray God allows this “victory” mentality to replace the tendency of many believers toward self-condemnation, doubt, and defeatism.

    “Personally, I’d like to see a lot less book reading and a lot more Bible reading.”

    What a concept.

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    Great comment.

    Today’s abusive churches use “sin” as the control factor for their flock. The pastors get a pass (and how sinful they can be has been well documented here as well as other blogs) and the flock should just shut up because they are so controlled by sin that they have nothing to add to the discussion.

    I think it is important for folks to read beyond the cross to the Resurrection but many people just read books like “the Cross Centered Life and get mired in pain and self doubt.

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    I am curious what you guys think about Hebrews 13:17 which reads, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

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    Hebrews 13:17 is a wonderful verse; however, it’s extremely important for discerning Christians to be able to recognize a “true leader” who is qualified to keep watch over their souls.

    Matthew Henry makes several important points in his commentary of Hebrews 13:17 that address this. Here are the highlights:

    “(1.) The duty – to obey them and submit themselves to them. It is not an implicit obedience, or absolute submission, that is here required, but only so far as is agreeable to the mind and will of God revealed in his word…”

    (2.) The motives to this duty . . . They have no authority to lord it over the people, but to lead them in the ways of God, by informing and instructing them, explaining the word of God to them, and applying it to their several cases. They are not to make laws of their own, but to interpret the laws of God; nor is their interpretation to be immediately received without examination, but the people must search the scriptures, and so far as the instructions of their ministers are according to that rule they ought to receive them, ‘not as the word of men, but, as they are indeed, the word of God, that works effectually in those that believe’.”

    I am well aware of the fact that Hebrews 13:17 is a favorite verse among SGM pastors and one they like to quote to the flock. Here’s the solemn warning to anyone professing to be a leader:

    “as those who will give an account.”

    Matthew Henry explains that “they must give an account how they have discharged their duty, and what has become of the souls committed to their trust, whether any have been lost through their neglect, and whether any of them have been brought in and built up under their ministry”.

    So how are C.J. Mahaney and his apostles doing in this regard? If I were them, I’d be extremely concerned about having to give an account to Almighty God for their leadership (or lack thereof).

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    Ah Scott

    You have given us the favorite verse of all those pastors who wish to be in charge and rule over others. It is the crowning verse of many groups that have been reported to have a high degree of spiritual abuse. I think of Sovereign Grace Ministries as one example.

    Here is a link to a site that deals with spiritual abuse. http://www.spiritualabuse.org/mywritings/obedience.html

    In NH, an elder raped a teen and got her pregnant. She was made to apologize and sent away to have the baby. The pastors and elders colluded. I suppose she could have kept her mouth shut so that she would be a “joy” to her leaders.

    Paige Patterson bragged about sending a woman back into an abusive situation and rejoiced when she got two black eyes because hubby showed up at church-click on article on our site regarding Patterson.-we have the transcript. This lady added to Patterson’s joy at the risk of her life.

    Then there was the pastor who covered up a sexual molester on his staff. Perhaps people shouldn’t have complained-it kind of upset him.

    Then there is the lovely practice of care group leaders in Sovereign Grace churches who write up reports on all members in their small groups. If said member says something judged to be a bit non-supportive to the pastors, a lynch meeting ensues and the person who said things in confidence is raked over the coals, put under discipline, etc.

    Then there are the pastors who pursue former members to new churches and call their new pastors and make up hogwash about them being “under discipline.” And elders who spread rumors about people’s marriages being in trouble (happened to me.) Guess we should have given him a hug and let him keep on lying.He would not have had to have the uncomfortableness of being confronted-not a joyful time at all.

    And what about Ed Young Jr- of jet and mansions fame. I guess we keep our mouths shut and not upset him because he is really flying around the country to “spread the word.”

    I joyfully follow my current pastors as well as some past ones. They have earned it. They are servant leaders who are quick to point out their own failings. They lead humble and modest lives. And, surprise, surprise, the encourage people to speak out and disagree because they get that the Spirit speaks through the members.

    Scott, please read the book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. It is an excellent resource and clearly shows how some take verses out of context and use them to hurt others. And I pray that you are not such a person who would misuse this verse to hurt others.