"C. J. Mahaney, after serving for many years as a pastor in Maryland, is now the pastor of a church plant in Louisville."
What a difference six years makes… In the latter part of 2008 Dee and I began to investigate the Neo-Cal crowd. We chalk it up to divine providence that we started researching this corner of Christendom. At the time we knew virtually nothing about this 'select' group; however, unbeknownst to us, Dee and I had been members of churches that were being heavily influenced by Neo-Cal leaders.
One of the first things that caught our attention six years ago was the selection of speakers for The Gospel Coalition's 2009 National Conference. We hadn't even launched TWW when we took notice that Mark Driscoll and C.J. Mahaney were listed among the speakers at that national gathering of Reformed leaders. Not only that, these two men – Driscoll and Mahaney – came to our area in February 2009 to address college students attending a 20/20 Conference held at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Getting back to The Gospel Coalition, it's first national conference took place in 2007 with 500 like-minded individuals attending. According to TGC's website:
The Gospel Coalition kicked off in late May with little fanfare, just how organizers wanted it. Any conference headlined by D. A. Carson, Tim Keller, and John Piper would likely attract more than 500 attenders with a little publicity. But Gospel Coalition leaders chose a word-of-mouth strategy and capped attendance by hosting the two-day conference in the chapel at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS). They wanted to test their ideas on a relatively small, friendly group.
Later, Christianity Today featured an article about TGC which provided the following background information:
In 2008, the conference was a by-invitation-only, off-the-record meeting of the nearly 50 men on the coalition's council In 2009, 3,100 pre-registered and 223 walked in.
They also rolled out the Gospel Coalition Network (TGCN) on The City, a social networking site developed at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. The site will allow TGCN to approve and register members who agree with TGC's foundation documents (including their statement of faith and "Theological Vision of Ministry"). They can then organize in geographical groups.
In some ways this reminds us of the Danvers meeting that took place back in 1987. It was kept top secret until the documents could be drafted, solidifying the complementarian position. After all, it involved some of the same key individuals…
Immediately following TGC's 2009 conference, the Gleanings website of Christianity Today provided the following observation:
And these participants were overwhelmingly young men. I tried counting from my seat and came up with about 20 men per woman – not too surprising in a mid-week conference for pastors with Calvinist and complementarian views. Don Carson estimated that 80 percent were under forty.
TGC has continued to hold bi-annual meetings as well as regional meetings. The organization has even held two women's conferences. Of course, founders D.A. Carson and Tim Keller, together with John Piper, are prominently featured on the speaking schedule, along with women who toe the party line.
Since the time that the original "Council Members" were installed, a number of them have resigned, namely:
James MacDonald and Mark Driscoll (remember the Elephant Room with T.D. Jakes?)
C.J. Mahaney and Joshua Harris (SGM debacle)
Have I missed anyone else?
Even though these men no longer serve on TGC's Council, some of their interviews are still available on TGC's website. This one definitely stands out to me:
What's interesting about the speakers who have been selected for TGC's 2014 National Conference is that four out of seventy-eight are from the Raleigh-Durham area. Yes, The Gospel Coalition is having quite an influence where we live.
Based on a recent post that appeared on TGC's website, it seems not everyone is approving of The Gospel Coalition. Kevin DeYoung and Ryan Kelly collaborated on an article – Extra-Ecclesial Gospel Partnerships: A Mess Worth Making – in which they describe precedents of interdenominational fellowship and partnership during the time of the Puritans and appear to use history to justify the bonds that are being formed via The Gospel Coalition.
One thing that stood out in this article (though not surprising) was the nonchalant way that DeYoung and Kelly talked about C.J. Mahaney as a founder of Together for the Gospel. Here is what they wrote:
T4G began in 2006 as a conference for pastors that grew out of the friendship of four men who, despite their significant differences in some theological matters and in denominational affiliation, were adamantly together for the gospel. Mark Dever, the de facto leader of the group and of the conference, is the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist (SBC) in Washington, D.C. Albert Mohler is the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBC) in Louisville, Kentucky. Ligon Duncan, until recently the senior minister at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi, is now the chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. C. J. Mahaney, after serving for many years as a pastor in Maryland, is now the pastor of a church plant in Louisville. (emphasis mine)
WHY are they downplaying Mahaney's background — oh, he's just a pastor from Maryland who is currently planting a church — and failing to mention the church where he pastored for 27 years or his lofty position as former president of Sovereign Grace Ministries?
As most of our readers know, Sovereign Grace Ministries has come under tremendous scrutiny and is not the 'family of churches' that it used to be. The number of SGM churches in the U.S. has dwindled to around 60 (and some of these are tiny church plants). Then there's the sobering fact that the church where Mahaney pastored for 27 years (Covenant Life Church) has disassociated itself from SGM. And, of course, there was the Nate Morales trial and damning testimony of Grant Layman, C.J. Mahaney's brother-in-law. Are these among the reasons why there was no mention of Mahaney's former church or SGM in DeYoung and Kelly's post? It certainly appears that some in The Gospel Coalition crowd are trying to rehabilitate Mahaney's image…
The way Together for the Gospel is described by DeYoung and Kelly in their article – as just a chummy group of like-minded friends and pastors who gather every other year – we are left wondering what the future holds for T4G given the fact that Mahaney wasn't 'together' with his buddies (at least not on on stage) at the last conference. Looks like the show will go on one more time since the 2016 dates have already been announced.
As you might imagine, the comments written under the DeYoung/Kelly post are primarily affirming of The Gospel Coalition crowd. However, one interesting comment did manage to get approved. Here is a screen shot (in case it disappears)…
In response to Will Grif's query, we happen to know of one frank comment left under this post that has never seen the light of day. Jed Paschall, a member of a small PCA church in California, wrote the following response:
Sorry Kevin, still seems like a tightly formulated articulation of the party line. TGC allows no dissent, before deleting comments, or twitter feeds. The fact of the matter is you guys get huge $$$ in publishing contracts, which the base only happily buys up. You all pull in healthy honorariums from your speaking engagements, and score immeasurable points from the TGC mutual admiration society. Can you give us any concrete examples of how TGC is actually advancing church ministry on the ground?
The fact of the matter is that TGC wouldn’t be viewed with as much suspicion if it were simply an aggregate of content (e.g sermons, articles, blog posts) from the broadly Reformed world. However, TGC has taken upon itself the presumptuous role of promoting what they view as “reformed” and “orthodox” (e.g. the sanctification debates with Tullian), when you have not gone all the way to make yourselves into an actual denomination with meaningful church courts.
At the end of the day, TGC seems to want to have it’s cake and eat it too. None of the ecclesiastical responsibilities to determine what is actually in/or out of bounds and why, with all of the clout to say who does and does not have influence in the conservative evangelical world.
BTW – I sincerely doubt that A) my comments will actually be heard and actually responded to, and B) that any response will candidly outline TGC’s actual position.
Perhaps there are other comments that have gone unapproved?
We just don't understand the loyalty this crowd has toward C.J. Mahaney. Remember the statements by Carson, Keller and DeYoung and Dever, Duncan, and Mohler a few years ago staunchly defending him? It really makes us wonder – what pull does C.J. Mahaney have over them, especially since he is no longer serving as a 'Council Member'? Why are they so concerned about rehabilitating his image? Is there something we don't know???
Lydia's Corner: Genesis 16:1-18:15 Matthew 6:1-24 Psalm 7:1-17 Proverbs 2:1-5