What’s Up With The Reformed Big Dogs?

September 18, 2011 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Over the past few years, a frequent refrain I’ve heard is, “Sovereign Grace Ministries just can’t have the problems that you people are discussing here, or else guys like Mark Dever and Al Mohler would not continue to support C.J. Mahaney.” I originally wrote the following as a comment on the previous post, but it got to be so lengthy and involved that I decided to make it its own post. Here is my attempt at answering the question of, “What’s up with the Reformed Big Dogs? Why would they continue to exhibit such solidarity with C.J. Mahaney, even with all the voices crying out that Sovereign Grace Ministries and C.J. have a lot of serious issues?

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I have put a LOT of thought into why the Reformed Big Dogs have so persistently promoted CJ and SGM. I mean, it’s nothing short of bizarre that these guys have seemed so blindly determined to keep supporting CJ, even as anyone who reads Brent Detwiler’s documents can quickly get a sense that CJ did NOT have anyone holding him accountable…which would mean that he could not actually be humble…which would then call into question everything else about CJ’s ministry persona.

It just doesn’t make sense that these men would risk their own credibility by jumping in – as Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, and Kevin DeYoung did – to assure the world that we don’t need to worry our pretty little heads about CJ. Why would they do that? I’ve thought a lot about this, and here are some possible explanations:

1. These RBDs have not really read Brent’s documents. Despite Al Mohler’s assertion that he had read the documents, I have a difficult time believing that even the most genius speed reader (as Mohler purports to be) would have been able to go through all 700-odd pages in the time that it took (less than a day or two?) for Mohler to make his first statement, when he said he’d read everything and basically pooh-poohed Brent’s charges as the ramblings of a disgruntled employee who didn’t like strong leadership. I know people reacted with shock and horror when I first suggested that maybe Mohler wasn’t being totally truthful about having slogged through all of Brent’s documentation like he claimed. I know a lot of people believe that Mohler is so above the rest of us that he would NEVER exaggerate or make a less-than-accurate statement.

But think about it realistically for a moment. No matter how smart he is and no matter what sort of speed reader, Mr. Mohler is undoubtedly a busy guy, as in CEO busy. Stuff gets put on a CEO’s schedule way in advance. The documents were released without much advance notice. While I’m not exactly a speed reader, I am VERY fast, and it took me probably two 8-hour days to read through everything. Let’s give Mohler superhuman reading ability and say that he would be able to make it through 700+ rather wordy pages in half the time that I did. Just how likely is it that this celebrity preacher/seminary president/author would have had a whole day cleared on his calendar when these documents made their surprise appearance?

I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it. I think Mr. Mohler probably manages his time like any other celebrity CEO – with lots of help from assistants and interns. My guess is that some lackeys at Mohler’s office were probably assigned the task of going through the documents and preparing a bullet-point summary for their boss.

So maybe in all of this, the possibility does exist that none of the RBDs actually took the time to thoroughly read and digest everything that Brent compiled. After all, the many nuances of CJ’s tyrannical, entitled leadership, along with the worst of the accusations (blackmailing/coercing Larry T) were not all laid out in one easy-to-find place. Rather, they were tucked here and there, woven throughout hundreds of pages. Maybe the RBDs glanced at the documents, got the quick impression that Brent was a small-minded disgruntled employee, and decided to support their fellow T4G speaker.

It’s possible.

2. The RBDs have indeed read the documents but don’t see anything wrong with CJ’s behavior because they themselves operate in a similar fashion. Here’s another possibility…one that would mean that the RBDs are each at least somewhat corrupt in his own way. I don’t like this possibility, but when you think about the ego that would have to be involved to gain the level of celebrity these guys have attained in certain circles, I think we’re probably kidding ourselves when we assume that a great preacher or great author always translates into a man of exceptional godliness.

Actually, I think it’s interesting to ask ourselves why we’d even make such an assumption? Why would we think that anyone who is OK with all the self-promotion necessary to attain the book deals and speaking gigs would at the same time be the epitome of honorable, humble, and gentle?

Anyone who has ever tried it knows that writing books is hard work. For almost all authors, getting published requires a level of ambition and dogged persistence that frequently goes hand-in-hand with an equal level of self-importance. Likewise a powerful leadership position. A guy like Al Mohler didn’t become the dominant voice in an organization like the Southern Baptist Convention without a good deal of politicking and machinations. These men’s notoriety didn’t happen by accident! It happened because they sought it out…or at the very least, did nothing to stop their promoters or quit doing the things necessary to retain their celebrity, as per their promoters’ instructions.

I think it’s interesting that we expect so much out of Christian celebrities – that we assume so much about them. Why can’t we just be grateful that they wrote books or gave talks that blessed us, without ascribing to them some sort of superior spirituality, some degree of being closer to God and more filled with the Spirit than we are?

Why do we have such an impossible time making the logical connection between a pastor/author’s fame and power and the very real possibility that he might be a driven and self-important person behind the scenes who sees nothing amiss with the idea that a guy like CJ could behave like a bully who was accountable to no one?

3. The RBDs read the documents but because of a complete lack of knowledge of SGM’s foibles, they immediately conclude that Brent is just graceless and crazy. This is another very real possibility. If you don’t understand the basic assumptions about the Christian life that CJ established for his denomination family of churches, you won’t understand why Brent was so totally consumed with correcting CJ’s behavior. We’ve talked about this before, but the Cliff’s Notes version of SGM’s approach to our walk with God is that you’re saved because of what “the Savior” did for you on the cross, but apprehending that salvation requires a lifetime of thinking about sin and hunting down sin, both in your own heart and in the hearts of all those in your circle of accountability. The most important mark of a true Christian, in the SGM way of thinking (which CJ initiated and promoted), is a willingness to be “humbly” confronted by others about your own sins.

So in Brent’s way of thinking, CJ’s “unentreatability” – CJ’s lack of willingness to be confronted about his sin and to agree with others’ assessments of his sin – was basically a sign that CJ was not right with God. SGM’s unique approach to the “local” church, with its emphases on small-group accountability, openness, and confession of sins, was NOT embraced by its founder! That simply could not be right…and was a sign that the founder needed help.

That was the mindset that consumed Brent as he devoted something like a year of his time to proving his case about CJ’s “unentreatability.” If the RBDs don’t understand the SGM mindset about sin and confession, they won’t understand what fueled Brent’s efforts. Brent’s efforts instead will look like the obsession of a Pharisee intent on nitpicking his superior.

4. The RBDs do believe that CJ is guilty of some stuff, but they are confident (as CJ himself seems to be) that there is no actual “smoking gun,” and that CJ will ultimately prevail…and they (the RBDs) have too much to lose in terms of their own influence and celebrity and book sales in order to rock the boat. Again, this is NOT a happy or popular idea, but it fits what we know about how other political and business relationships work. We somehow think that business and politics don’t ever enter in to Christian endeavors…but we are naive.

And I am NOT saying that these guys are necessarily motivated by money in the crass way that initially comes to mind – the Jim and Tammy Faye, I-gotta-drive-me-a-Mercedes-Benz kind of way. I don’t think these guys necessarily have to exhibit a love of fancy cars, Rolexes, and custom-made Italian suits in order to be concerned about their bottom line. I think many of them have viewed their celebrity and influence as tools that God uses to promote the gospel…and it’s also possible that many of them have blurred the lines between the gospel of Jesus and their own ministry organizations, to where the dismaying thought of losing some of their ministry organizations’ influence feels to them like discrediting the gospel.

These are some possibilities for why the Reformed Big Dogs appear to place such a high priority on preserving their professional association with CJ Mahaney (rather than helping their ministry buddy confront his issues and make the necessary corrections), even in light of the very clear and obvious problems that exist in the organization CJ has created.