Interesting Thoughts From Ozymandias Over At sgmnation Blog, “Praise Warrior’s” Thoughts About CJ’s T4G Contributions

The sgmnation blog features a guest post from “Ozymandias,” who ponders the question of what has been driving the leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries to respond to their denomination’s problems the way they have responded over the past 10 months or so.  Ozymandias suggests that the leaders’ primary concern is not so much about what would best serve the people of SGM’s churches but instead is about what the rest of the “Young, Restless, & Reformed” Christian world will think of Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Ozymandias says,

It [the focus of leaders' concerns] isn’t first and foremost about who is at the denomination’s helm, or how a new Partnership Agreement will define HQ-to-field operations, but about how public discussion affects the denomination’s reputation in conservative evangelical circles. As has been referenced here and there on “the blogs,” the center of gravity revolves around the (psychological) fear of what the public airing of SGM’s systemic problems would mean for its reputation in the YRR world, or in social science and business terms, the public diminution of the denomination’s overall brand among co-religionists.

Ozymandias then goes on to demonstrate how his hypothesis - that SGM leaders are mostly concerned about the organization’s image and reputation with the larger Christian world - makes perfect sense in light of SGM leaders’ actions and statements. 

For the sake of a working hypothesis, let’s see how this particular way of defining center of gravity might explain just a few of the decisions since last July:

– It can explain why the interim board’s first order of business was the establishment of the fitness panel, involving three well-known conservative evangelical personalities: Kevin DeYoung, Carl Trueman and Ray Ortland. It also helps to explain the rapid turnaround and public release of the report’s findings.

– It can explain the overarching theme of SGMHQ’s November 2011 denominational letter, written in the wake of Covenant Life Church’s internet release of its 30 October 2011 Family Meeting. Note the sheer number of times the letter repeats the words “public” vs. “private,” as well as the highlighting of Josh Harris’ influence and CLC’s public example [emphasis added]:

“we have taken the approach of privately engaging with CLC…”

“It has been our hope from the beginning that these disagreements could get worked out privately…”

“we would not engage in critiquing each other beyond the private realm”

“Our goal has been to interact privately and through conversation, withholding public critique.”

“…the CLC pastors have chosen to broadcast their differences and disagreements in public meetings and through the internet

CLC has always functioned as something of a model of SGM belief and practice. Pastors throughout our churches could assume CLC and SGM are on the same page, and look to CLC to observe the direction and positions of SGM.”

public statements continue to be made from CLC pastors that seem to us to significantly misrepresent SGM and have the potential to implicate and cast suspicion upon you and the churches you serve.”

“CLC pastors have publicly voiced their concerns and criticisms for SGM broadly..”

“In their most recent family meeting, made public through Josh’s Facebook and on their website, CLC openly shared their negative assessment of SGM leadership.”

“…the sweeping and pejorative assessments he is making of SGM…”

“…because of the public nature of Josh’s comments and our concerns for how SGM is being portrayed.” “Our disagreement lies with aspects of their assessment, their presentation of these issues, and the impression their public statements can have.”

“We have communicated to Josh that his broad critique of Sovereign Grace in public forums, while identifying certain weaknesses with which we all agree, is having the effect of raising suspicions in local churches against local church pastoral teams”

“Our request to them at this point is to confine their public pronouncements concerning reform to issues CLC is facing, although we have urged them to please continue to share concerns for SGM privately with the board, just as we have sought to share our concerns for them privately.”

– It can help to explain, following CJ’s reinstatement, the discernible move away from regular posts about the denomination’s issues on SGM’s Plant and Build blog. Related to this, it can also explain why, recently, all of the previous comments to older posts at the Plant and Build blog have been deleted and are no longer available for public review. It can also help to explain why earlier statements by denominational leaders have also been removed, and why, in the new board’s first public statement, it made itself clear that, among other things, it would not involve itself in “day-to-day communication.”

– It may explain why there has been no specific response to Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax’s 7 March 2012 letter to the interim board – a letter signed by multiple SGM churches and subsequently made public.

– It may help to explain the rush to affirm and seat a new board, as SGM’s 13 March 2012 letter describes, “[in the] small window of time before the release of the [Ambassadors of Reconciliation] report.” If – and I emphasize if – the goal is to lessen the impact of the report’s findings among the conservative evangelical crowd by releasing it simultaneously with some statement about “how the denomination has already addressed AoR’s more salient points,” then it is understandable how, as the 13 March letter continues, “it was important to get a new board in place in order to respond promptly to [AoR’s] report.”

– It could also explain the decision to hold off any public release of the AoR report until after this week’s Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference in Louisville, rather than release it in the run-up to the event.

I think Ozymandias is absolutely correct in his assertion that if his hypothesis is true – which seems rather obvious, especially in light of the multitude of statements from SGM that show such nonsensical determination to frame up the organization’s problems as primarily interpersonal conflicts that have to be dealt with privately – then SGM’s issues will never really be addressed without input from those whose opinions matter so much to SGM’s leaders.  Ozymandias says,

I would argue that significant reform is just not possible without public YRR discussion of the denomination’s historical, systemic problems. And unfortunately, there has been a noticeable unwillingness on the part of YRR outlets to engage in any such discussion. If you regularly read conservative evangelical bloggers or personally interact with conservative evangelical publishers, you may wish to bring this up with them. Shying away completely from the conflict’s immediate proximate cause (i.e. the Mahaney/Detwiler conflict) I might recommend a polite letter, especially to those who have historically highlighted SGM, its books and its music to their audiences, asking if they are aware of how the denomination is currently facing division, and if they have any concerns that they have – either through commission or omission – perpetuated the conflict rather than helped to ameliorate it.

Check out the full post over at sgmnation.  It’s a good one.


Also, in light of the fact that C.J. Mahaney is a featured speaker, several people have written to ask for a specific post about T4G (the “Together for the Gospel” conference taking place right now).  I thought “Praise Warrior” said it well when he wrote,

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.


220 comments to Interesting Thoughts From Ozymandias Over At sgmnation Blog, “Praise Warrior’s” Thoughts About CJ’s T4G Contributions

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  1. Somewhereintime
    April 17th, 2012 at 8:33 am

    I vividly remember listening to a CJ sermon that talked about the Puritans and how their “reign” ended poorly and how important it was for all of us to end the race well.

    Unfortunately, CJ and company got caught up in the same snares that the Puritans did and are NOT ending their race to the finish line well.

    It truly is a sad tale of human sinfulness.

  2. Somewhereintime
    April 17th, 2012 at 8:35 am

    Just my comment on Calvinism …

    I don’t believe it …

    It’s unbiblical …

    How’s that! :)

    P.S. – A note to my calvinistic friends … I’m not even an Arminianist either! How can that be?!?!

  3. Kris
    April 17th, 2012 at 8:36 am

    My philosophy as moderator has been to let the discussion go where it goes, unless I get the sense that people are trying to use this site to proselytize for points of view that violate my conscience in a big way. We’re not going to provide a forum for someone who wants, for example, to diss on Christianity and promote atheism. Or for someone to hijack every conversation and redirect it around to his own personal hobby horse of universalism. But most of the time, as long as a topic is somewhat related to SGM, I’d prefer to err on the side of freedom rather than control.

    I admit that these discussions about Calvinism vs. Arminianism are boring to me, too, but I do think they can be educational, particularly for those who have spent years accepting at face value SGM’s assertions about its “sound theology” without really digging deeper to trace how much that theology has morphed and changed over the years…with leaders displaying the same level of confidence over their absolute correctness, even though they’d promoted something quite different not that long before.

    I guess I’d suggest to those who find that type of comment boring to scroll past the stuff that bugs you. But at the same time, I’d ask those who find themselves commenting a lot about a particular theological point of view to rein it in a bit. Especially if you’re presenting information in such a way as to try and argue someone out of the opposing point of view, that’s a good sign that you’re probably going to bug some people who don’t come here to read theological debates.

  4. Moniker
    April 17th, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Somewhereintime said: I vividly remember listening to a CJ sermon that talked about the Puritans and how their “reign” ended poorly and how important it was for all of us to end the race well.

    That reminds me of a quote I heard somewhere. Goes something like this: “Dead men make the best heroes because you know how they finished.” Isn’t that the truth?

  5. sgmnot
    April 17th, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Greg #193 Thanks for giving me a good laugh this morning! :D

  6. Steve240
    April 17th, 2012 at 9:22 am

    Ex CLCers Mom said

    I was thinking this morning, it really does seem to me that an unusually high percentage of children raised within SGM are extremely ‘anti-christ’..I really would love to know the statistical percentages..While I am sure SGM would like to direct those outcomes back to being the parents’ fault, I can look at my own family and see that only the ones who were NOT raised in SGM have a heart soft towards God.

    I know that there have been people questioning why Calvinism has been discussed recently on this blog but what you indicate above just might indicate why at least some knowledge of Calvinism and other beliefs is at least useful.

    Calvinism would teach that those children not receptive to God and hence not becoming saved is due to God not “electing” them to salvation or possibly their time of election isn’t here yet. SGM claims that they believe in Calvinism but if they seek to blame parents they aren’t being consistent in their beliefs in this area.

  7. Somewhereintime
    April 17th, 2012 at 9:28 am


    We often “snicker” (I know … ungodly) at those in SGM who believe in God’s complete sovereignty, but have to micromanage EVERYTHING. They say “Trust God” but end up trusting themselves.

    We’ve seen MANY MANY issues with legalism in SGM where the walk isn’t following what the heart believes.

  8. exCLCer
    April 17th, 2012 at 9:35 am

    John Loftness – promoted to Chairman of the board. How fitting. :barf:

  9. just saying...
    April 17th, 2012 at 10:32 am

    #192 – Unassimilated-
    Calvin had someone burned at the stake??

    “CJ discovered Calvin. It’s not Calvin’s fault, nor do I think it was Calvin’s intention to be paired with such an abusive ministry.
    Yet he did have a friend of his burned at the stake for Heresy, so I can understand the attraction”.

  10. Steve240
    April 17th, 2012 at 10:45 am

    just saying

    Google “Calvin burning at stake” and you will find a lot of information. Here is one piece of information:

    From: Evangelical Outreach, His Ashes Cry Out Against John Calvin by Dan Corner

    You are about to read an important part of church history from the Reformation period that has been so concealed in our day that very few people know the facts. Brace yourself for a shock.

    On October 27, 1553 John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, had Michael Servetus, the Spanish physician, burned at the stake just outside of Geneva for his doctrinal heresies!(1) Hence, the originator of the popular doctrine of “once saved, always saved” (known in certain circles as “the perseverance of the saints”) violated the cry of the Reformation — “Sola Scriptura” — by murdering a doctrinal heretic without Scriptural justification. This event was something Calvin had considered long before Servetus was even captured, for Calvin wrote his friend, Farel, on February 13, 1546 (seven years prior to Servetus’ arrest) and went on record as saying:

    “If he [Servetus] comes [to Geneva], I shall never let him go out alive if my authority has weight.”(2)

    Evidently, in that day Calvin’s authority in Geneva, Switzerland had ultimate “weight.” This is why some referred to Geneva as the “Rome of Protestantism”(3) and to Calvin as the “Protestant ‘Pope’ of Geneva.”(4)

    During Servetus’ trial, Calvin wrote:

    “I hope that the verdict will call for the death penalty.”(5)

    Sadly it appears that a lot of Christian History includes prominent figures that felt that the end justified the means. One would wonder just how much one believes in God’s sovereignty when Calvin felt he needed to resort to this type of tactic.

  11. intheNickoftime
    April 17th, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Stunned in #195 –

    It would be nice if some of those CLC pastors would do the right thing, perhaps try the old loving pursuit with CJ, then tell it to the church when he does not listen.

    CJ is in a fortress now. A walled city. That encampment is run by JL and we all know which way he swings. He displayed his colors when he meddled in the Ashburn church and now he would take the same stand. As the leader of SRC he finds no problems with CJ and wont let anything be “told to the church” (not that they would listen…the effects of Kool-Aid being what they are).

    CLC’s only shot was when he was still, technically, a member of their church. Now at SRC CJ is a member in good standing. It doesnt matter what he did or when he did it. If SRC will not hold him accountable, how can any other church make him face the music?

    CJ is in a good place, for his own protection. And since he still pulls the strings, he is still steering the ship. As much as is seems wrong, he has maneuvered himself into a great position. I hate what he stands for but I have to admire his battlefield skills, his “Commanding General” intuition and observations. He is a formidable antagonist and will not go down easy! (Like Gen Lee of the confederacy, he will keep dodging and running and counterattacking. And it will take a Gen Grant type to force him out…the “assume the best” types will never ever ever get him to capitulate. CJ did not rise to his position through good works and he will certainly not lose his position through good works.

  12. Oswald
    April 17th, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Steve240 #210 — Below is a link to a panel discussion about Calvin, and the situation with Servetus is discussed. The participants are men who would probably call themselves Calvinists. This discussion took place at a Desiring God conference in 2009. It’s worth hearing what they have to say, since we have quotes from others here.

  13. Oswald
    April 17th, 2012 at 11:44 am

    intheNick #211 — Good observation and well articulated. Interesting that you should speak of Lee as compared to CJ because we’ve heard that CJ is quite the student of Civil War lore and fact. But as we remember, Lee was ultimately defeated. Once again, God will not be mocked.

  14. Mr Stretch
    April 17th, 2012 at 11:52 am

    For me, it’s all about my relationship with God and hearing from the Holy Spirit for myself.

    I personally don’t care what anyone believes. Some day my mind will be open and I will understand what the scriptures were intended to mean.

    Mr Stretch

  15. Sea change
    April 17th, 2012 at 11:54 am

    EmSoli. :clap I already knew you were a wise woman, but was freshly reminded with your post.

    My husband and I had some hurt from being “cared for” by our sgm pastors. A while ago one of them asked us if there was anything he did that needed to be apologized for, now that he had seen the light re sgm. When we told him how he had been responsible, we received a very sincere and healing apology. A lot of these pastors are probably having to do some mental and emotional sorting of their past actions. What they thought was right in the past, because they were trained to believe so, now is beginning to look wrong. The past isn’t going to reprocessed as well without the input of those who were hurt by them.

    Personally, I have been skipping the Calvinism debate too.

    I also think its ironic that SGM pastors have to micromanage everything, when sovereignty is pressed so hard when convenient. There is no part of church ministry or our lives that can operate without their wise oversight.

  16. lily
    April 17th, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Wonder what about Civil War lore, etc. intrigues CJ. Anyone know?

  17. El Pastor
    April 17th, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    It appears the AOR report is now available.

  18. Steve240
    April 17th, 2012 at 12:43 pm


    Thanks for the link. I listened to part of it, tt gives an interesting perspective on what has been reported about Calvin. I am sure we won’t know the real truth this side of eternity.

  19. Ozymandias
    April 17th, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    From SGM’s comments to the report:

    We were encouraged that from their study AOR did not find a broad pattern of failure and that from what they could see, these failings do not characterize Sovereign Grace churches as a whole.

  20. Greg
    April 17th, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Sea change,
    The need to control, to micro-manage is exactly what attracted SGM to neo-Calvinism. In the late 80s, early 90s, SGM was, like many charismatic organizations, under some criticism for being doctrinally unsound. There were a number of topics that the pastors had differing views on, and I know that was a challenge for the A-Team.

    Also, around that time, a number of families faced tragic situations, and the pastoral staff was at a loss on how to counsel them. Brent was one of the few A-Team that had theological training and he steared them towards Reformed Theology. The one thing a controlling personality cannot tolerate is not knowing what to say or what to do. I personally think that not knowing is part of spirituality

    I did not have a problem with Reformed Theology per se, but that they adopted a rather strident form of Calvinism as dogma and number of core members in CLC were forced out for disagreeing or simply saying that it was not the only theological view. I was already familiar with Puritan writings, but always from a historical perspective. All systematic theologies are created by men in a historical context, usually as a reaction to social ills or philosophical challenges. They have their strengths and weaknesses, but they are never equal to scripture.

    With this perspective, I challenged a CLC pastor, “What makes you think we can adopt Puritan theology without committing all the same mistakes? Are we any better than they were?”

    I’m not arguing for or against the merits of Calvinism, but anwsering the heart question of why leaders with a controlling spririt are often attracted to it, and often abuse it. Like any dogma, it offers a coherent set of beliefs that cannot be questioned.

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