U2 and Lenin’s Favorite Songs

I thought I should record this on the internet since I spent some time finding it. The fanfare/intro to the U2 song, “Daddy’s Gonna Pay for your Crashed Car” (on Zooropa) is from a song called “Le Rocher Sur La Volga.” The version U2 used was from a record called Lenin’s Favourite Songs. Other versions are our there. You’re welcome internet.

What’s Wrong with Written Communication?

C.J. Mahaney is continually telling Brent Detwiler that he prefers to meet face to face instead of communicating by email. I have heard similar things from pastors. It has become a truism that email doesn’t communicate tone, facial expressions and body language like in person communication does, and so it is inferior. Contrary to this view is a little book we use called the Bible.

You would think that of all people, Christians would respect written communication the most! We have an entire library of books bound together as one which are a written communication to us of the highest authority. We don’t know what Moses or Paul looked like when they preached, wrote or confronted someone. We have no idea what their tone or facial expressions were. And yet we expect all believers to be perfectly capable of receiving the message communicated via the written word and to live based on that message.

So it doesn’t make sense to me for Christians to knock written forms of communication. Of course, more can be conveyed in person than via email, but that doesn’t make it inferior. And in cases where emotions are charged, people may lose self-control, ideas may be forgotten in the heat of the moment, and fear may silence us, email may be a far superior way to communicate so as to get thoughts down on paper, be polite and remain self-controlled. A religion that reverences a written Scripture should not be so down on “written communication.”

Theological Change at Covenant Life Church?

Josh Harris began his sermon this Sunday with a proclamation that Jesus is risen from the dead, ascended on high and reigning. He went on to preach a sermon about the primacy of love in the life of the Christian.

Now, it is not as if Josh and SGM did not believe these things before, but they were not emphasized. “The gospel” was basically double imputation, rather than the declaration that Jesus is Lord through his life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension. So we may discern that the message of change has gotten through to Josh and that he will be changing theological emphases, at least at his church. I did not hear the call to introspection and constant agonizing over the cross like you would typically hear in an SGM sermon. This seems like a positive development.

Wanton Names

We live in an age where names are invented out of thin air. The concept of “a Christian name” has kind of gone by the board. So, it is with interest that I read this canon from an old Anglican book:

The ministers shall take care not to permit wanton names, which being pronounced do sound to lasciviousness, to be given to children baptized, especially to the female sex; and if otherwise it be done, the same shall be changed by the bishop at confirmation.

I wonder what names they had in mind?

Josh Harris Resigns

Events are in the saddle and the landscape is changing fast at Sovereign Grace Ministries. Josh Harris is now stepping down from the SGM board, per this announcement. It is probably a wise move by Harris, allowing him to disassociate himself from what is beginning to look like a circle the wagons mentality on the part of the SGM board. It also helps him be a pastor – his main duty – during a crisis for his denomination.

Again and again this points out to me that we need small parishes of 150-300 people, coupled with faithful pastors and a clear structure. The whole big shot, super-star, cult of personality model of ministry should be put to death.

The SGM Board Responds

Well, the board of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) has responded to events of the past week and the quickening pace of statements and counter-statements by issuing a statement of its own. Further, we have seen statements from Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan and others telling us all to stand down, quit talking and let SGM handle this. I disagree.

Concerning the SGM statement, I cannot adequately judge whether or not Brent Detwiler’s refusal to use the mediation process put forward by SGM is right or not. It seems to me that he has an excessively high standard for what C.J. needs to do and that his standard is based on the aberrant theology of SGM with regard to introspection and hunting sin down in every corner. However, I do have some sympathy for Mr. Detwiler in that he doesn’t want to play this game on their terms. He has asked for up to 25 additional witnesses to be allowed in the process, and I don’t know what the status of that request is.

Another problem that is apparent is that since SGM tried to re-invent the wheel and create a real “New Testament church”, they have no courts, canon law, or ecclesiastical process to handle situations like this. Therefore, their answer to every problem is Ken Sandee and Peacemaker. That is a real failure.

The board accuses Brent of public slander of Mahaney’s reputation. My dictionary defines slander as “a malicious, false, and injurious statement spoken about a person.” Detwiler repeatedly assures us that he has no malice towards CJ, I can’t be the judge of that. Are his statements false? Certainly the emails in the documents are actual records, and are not false. Perhaps the judgements he makes are false, such as that CJ lords it over other men, but these judgements are matters of opinion. Are the documents injurious to CJ? Certainly. But I would venture to say that what is injurious are CJ’s own words and actions as outlined in the documents, not what Brent says about him. Granted, they are one side of the story. CJ has not really presented his case other than to say that he disagrees. But does what Detwiler did rise to the level of slander? I don’t think so.

The SGM board, in their point number 3, says that there is no reason to deem CJ unfit for ministry at this time. How they can say this when he blackmailed/coerced Larry Tomczak to resign back in the 90’s is beyond me! He and Tomczak have reconciled and CJ has repented of his actions, but HE DID DO IT!Note his own words:

It grieves me to report to you that in a particular phone conversation I sought to coerce Larry to present his leaving as I thought was right.

He can be forgiven, for sure, and thank God for it, but is it at all in keeping with Paul’s charges in the New Testament to have a minister who blackmails others? This is open and shut to me. He has not denied it, he has owned it, and yet SGM says that is just fine for now.

The board goes on to say that they will determine CJ’s future fitness for ministry by evaluating charges against him. Given that they have already said “no problem” to blackmailing Tomczak, and have smashed Detwiler as a slanderer and defamer, it is difficult to imagine that they will do anything beyond slapping CJ on the wrist when all is said and done. CJ benefits from not responding publicly and allowing “the process” to work itself out. But since this is all now out for public consumption, I see no reason why he couldn’t write a lengthy response to Detwiler’s charges, outlining where he agrees and disagrees, and presenting evidence for his side of the case. Perhaps that is what will happen privately, but it would sure help to make it public now.

And why it has taken him this long to respond is obvious to see. Imagine that you are Detwiler and you agree to the mediation proposed by SGM last year or whenever. You have arrayed against you the entire institutional apparatus of a denomination founded by the man you are accusing. Further, the ministry leading the mediation is one constantly promoted by said denomination, with a vested interest in seeing the denomination continue in stability. Essentially, the best result you can probably get is to admit that “we are both wrong”, hug and let CJ go on his way. Meanwhile, the problems that SGM is shot through with go unaddressed and the laity are never the wiser about what has been transacted behind the scenes. No, as Josh Harris preached last Sunday, God in his providence has used this conflict to expose greater problems in SGM as a whole. Would CJ have responded at all if Detwiler had simply picked up his ball and walked away a couple years ago?

What disturbs me is what looks like two responses to the situation: one from Harris (who did not sign this statement), consisting of repentance, remorse, an openness to critique and an acknowledgement that things need to change. The second response, from the SGM board, many of the pastors and of course the T4G crowd is to unite behind CJ, declare him a great guy, shut down conversation about the documents by talking “gossip” and “slander.” The future of SGM may hinge on what approach wins out. Will Harris cave in and toe the line, or will his perspective influence the wider group? Look, I have no faith in guys like Dever (who has a similar cult of personality church), Mohler and Ligon Duncan to fairly adjudicate anything. Ask N.T. Wright about how fair these guys are. Or Mark Horne, Peter Leithart, etc. They have a rabid fanbase of ESV-reading, Piper quoting, conference attending men who treat them as a near magesterium on theological issues. They are, it must continue to be said, brothers in Jesus Christ, but they are brothers who have not treated their own opponents with the grace and caution that they now want to lavish on Mahaney.

Josh Harris Response and New Documents

Two new documents have been uploaded to the Sribd SGM Wikileaks account. I looked at them briefly and they appear to be Detwiler’s final discussions with SGM prior to Mahaney’s temporary resignation.

As an outsider looking in, I found the sermon Josh Harris preached yesterday and the reports of his remarks last night to be encouraging. I see a man who is legitimately struggling with what is happening and how to respond Biblically. One response might be for Harris and all involved to resign, but that might leave their churches in total chaos and scatter the sheep, so that probably isn’t an option for him right now.

A cursory look at some of the other SGM churches and how they responded yesterday is not as encouraging. I found Mark Mullery’s “business as usual” tone to convey precisely the opposite of what Harris conveyed. I checked in on the Fredericksburg website and did not see or hear any mention of these events, though there may have been one outside of the sermon. Harris’ call for prayer and fasting might be something that should occur denomination-wide, as well as serious consultation with other denominations (notice that he used the dreaded “d” word), as to how to restructure SGM’s polity. Frankly, there are so many varying issues that I don’t know how they can all be digested and worked through. It might be best to disband and/or merge into another denomination with better governing structures. I think the example that Harris is providing should be emulated. He is to be commended for suggesting that members read the documents, admiting that “it is as bad as it seems” and mentioning the blogs. I was stunned by all this, and see it as evidence that he, for one, is listening to God’s Word. Hopefully, the other local pastors will take their lead from him and begin to search out where things are wrong and what needs to be done.

Thoughts on C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries

For once in my life, my wife trumped me in the news department. She mentioned casually to me a few nights ago that C.J. Mahaney was stepping down from his position at Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). “What?” I was floored and had to immediately navigate over to the SGM Survivors and SGM Refuge blogs to figure out what was happening.When I read C.J.’s statement, my first impression was that he is doing the right thing and his head seems to be in the right place. I don’t like the model of getting a group of celebrity advisers to minister to me as part of my eventual return to ministry (see Jim Baker, Ted Haggard and Todd Bentley among others); however, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. In my opinion, guys who have serious issues would be better served to completely die to self and disappear into anonymity for the rest of their lives. It would be nice to try to figure out “whatever happened to that Mahaney guy” ten years from now – then you would really know that change occurred. But I am getting sidetracked…

So I clicked back to the SGM Survivors blog and saw a link to this document drop on Scribd. I started reading “The Untold Story” and my whole view of the situation changed. These files exhaustively document many of the inner struggles of the leadership of SGM. There is not financial impropriety, adultery or other sensational sin, but there is what I would call cunning, flattery, anger, bitterness, disengenousness or dishonesty and a pattern (that I have heard of before) of people being moved out or cut off when they don’t toe the party line. There is more than that, but that’s my high-level view of things. I would also say that there is excessive introspection to an amazing degree, but that is to be expected given the “cross-centered” theology that SGM has wrapped itself around the axle on over this past decade or so.

So why does it matter? Do these kinds of character faults, grievances and betrayals disqualify anyone from leadership or constitute serious sin? I haven’t waded through all of the documents yet, but I think they do. We are told that overseers are to be “sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable…not quarrelsome..He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered…” The emails suggest a level of over-sensitivity and soft revenge that are not in keeping with a pastor (or bishop, as CJ really is).

My observation of SGM over the years and what I’ve heard from insiders have raised the following concerns:

* Acting like clones. From shaved heads to speech inflections and cadence, the pastors at various SGM churches sound very much like CJ. Folks in the movement tend to use the same terms like affection, passion, serve and appropriate. One example of this is from the document “A Final Appeal” that quotes CJ in an October, 2005 email to Brent Detwiler saying, “From the first e-mail I have informed Pat about my support but in his desire to serve me he has continued to pursue this” and “I will be glad to explain my perspective on this if that would serve you.” The verb “serve” is something that you hear constantly from SGM folks and if you pay attention, it becomes like an in-group code word.
Christians need to be real, living in the real world with the transforming grace of the gospel, but also without falling into systems of jargon, denial, happy talk and sectarianism. When talking to another Christian, I want to be able to honestly discuss life without having to use phrases that end up meaning nothing because they are so overused.
* The gradual removal or “un-friending” of people who don’t toe the line theologically. Someone described this to me as “a hang-over from the charismatic shepherding movement, though in a less overtly authoritarian modality, a sort of soft-despotism” and I think that is an accurate description of what you read in Detwiler’s documents.
I’ve heard stories over the years including a guy who was on the inside at Covenant Life and whose WIFE had a theological view that was considered aberrant. This was enough to begin the gradual removal of the man from the inner circle and he eventually resigned his position. I grant that it can be hard to maintain friendships with people who have theological convictions different from our own, but a real love towards them should make it possible to continue in relationship, and not ice them out due to a Stepford wives type of conformity. Further, if we believe in the catholicity of the Church at all, it demands that we learn how to accept some degree of doctrinal variance within local churches. Someone I know was essentially asked to leave the church due to hesitation over the excessive demands for self-disclosure at small group. Add to this the many “de-giftings” where pastors are suddenly removed from their position with little or no explanation given to the congregation.
* Institutional arrogance / lack of Catholicity. Jesus said in John 17,  “that I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” The exact implication of what this verse demands are of course debated, but the failure to listen to warnings to change on the part of SGM sets a bad precedent. The SGM practice of rebaptism for people baptized as infants is a grievous affront to the catholicity of the Church.
I question why SGM cannot merge or cross-pollinate with groups like Acts 29, the Grace Network, and others. Does it really require a SGM church in every city, even if there is already a strong Calvinist and/or Reformed Baptist presence? (I’m looking at you Fredericksburg).
* A flawed polity. As I mentioned several months ago, SGM’s structure of church governance is skewed. It is similar to Calvary Chapel, where the pastor is Moses to his congregation and Chuck Smith is the Pope. The emails do show that CJ is treated akin to the Pope of SGM. He functions as an Archbishop, but without the time-honored constraints of a true Episcopalian system (vestry, church courts, and so forth). In the emails, leadership group members don’t want to be the one to confront him or deliver bad tidings to him. Local pastors are removed from on-high with no explanation. Systems of government do not solve problems, bad people can be in any system, but they can make it easier to correct problems.
* Morbid introspection and an incorrect understanding of “the Gospel.” Someone I know put it better than I can: “SGM deemphasizes the resurrection and overemphasizes introspection and “the cross”, which becomes morbid; they also decidedly deemphasize bible study; their view of culture is truncated as is their view of the Gospel:  “Jesus died for my sins” v. “The good news is that the King has come in the person and work of Jesus Christ.”
This introspection is constant in these documents and in the lives of SGM churches. Every motive must be scrutinized at absurd lengths and a neo-Puritan desire to constantly work into emotional distress over being the chief of sinners and returning to the cross is modeled from on high. A view of glorification and Christian maturity give way to probing motives for pride, no matter what we do. SGM does not see the Gospel as the proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus and union with Him (a more Calvinist approach), rather, it is simply imputation, which seems to be the hill that SGM always wants to die on.

With all of this said, these men are brothers in Christ. They have produced good fruit in many lives (as well as bad fruit in others). Sometimes we can wonder how it is possible to read a book on humility and be changed for the better by it when the book is written by a guy struggling with just that issue? But God seems to work like this (we aren’t Donatists). We can receive good things even through flawed vehicles because Christ is at work in all. This cannot, however, become an excuse to allow these men to continue in their sins, be leaders for life, or be above the law somehow.

One possible response from SGM leaders is that people shouldn’t read these documents or they are gossiping. They may blame the internet for their problems. Susan Sontag wrote an essay about Abu Ghraib in which she talked about blaming the *pictures* rather than blaming the *actions*. It is similar to an abusive husband being angry because his behavior has been exposed rather than the fact that he sinned. In this case, C.J. Mahaney is an extraordinarily public figure who has brought attention on himself due to his increasingly high profile over the past decades. He writes books, speaks at conferences and leads a denomination. His activities can be scrutinized and public records (such as Detwiler’s) can be read. We don’t have to ignore the elephant in the room and play a pietistic game of pretend. I believe SGM needs deep reform in many areas, but it will be hard to change what has become an institutionalized culture of conformity to patterns of thought, speech, appearance, and behavior that most of the pastors have been steeped in for their entire professional lives.