Blind-Eye Blogging

March 5, 2012 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

What with C.J. Mahaney’s woes of the past 8 months or so, coupled with other rumblings within the Sovereign Grace Ministries organization, the topic of how SGM’s “brand” continues to be perceived was raised last night.  Some people believe that surely by now, the non-SGM outside Christian world has to have a better understanding of what makes SGM dysfunctional and very different from a healthy denomination…right?

I think the answer to that question is, sadly, “No.”  The standing of C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries continues to enjoy what seems like a free pass from other leaders in the Reformed world.  The SGM “brand” has not really taken much of a hit over the past several months.  As commenter “Ozymandias” said, in response to the assertion that SGM was losing credibility,

I’d argue that this is definitely not the case. If it was, you’d see both (a) SGM get dropped quickly from conference participation; and (b) a lot less hesitancy on the part of the conservative evangelical blogosphere to talk about the denomination’s problems and difficulties. Absent (a) or (b), I’d say (for better or worse) the brand hasn’t taken the kind of hit you describe.

As I thought about this topic – of why SGM seems to enjoy some sort of immunity to being critically examined by its Reformed peers – I wrote the following.  I was originally going to post it as just another comment, but it turned out to be so long that I figured it’d make a better post.  Here goes:

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I continue to be mystified by the blind eye the Reformed blogosphere seems determined to turn to CJ, SGM, and the many problems within the organization.

These same “watch-bloggers” who are so quick to foam at the mouth over secondary doctrinal disagreements and barely hesitate to insinuate that certain non-Reformed pastors aren’t saved would appear to barely care at all that SGM (under CJ’s leadership) has left a trail of battered and broken souls. It’s like in these guys’ minds (the Reformed blogosphere is a largely male world) there’s just no way that anybody who has passed their doctrinal sniff test could possibly have issues that ought to concern them. At their conferences, CJ says all the right stuff and makes them laugh more than they usually do. CJ’s books, when read with a non-SGM understanding of key terms, seem fine. And they like SGM’s music.

That seems to be enough to have earned CJ and SGM a free pass to do pretty much whatever they want behind the closed doors of their family of churches.

I’ve thought about this question – why none of the Reformed bloggers care enough to dig more deeply and gain an understanding of SGM’s problems…and, more alarmingly, why many of these guys continue to endorse SGM – a LOT. And I’ve concluded that the answer is something like this:

1) The Reformed blogosphere’s doctrinal litmus test has become something of an idol to its participants; and

2) Most of the bigger names simply cannot afford to jeopardize their standing and status by ticking off CJ/SGM when nobody else within their world has dared to do so.

Many of the better-known bloggers have spent the past 8 or 10 years fighting what started out as a very good fight – they have battled for ditching the squishy “Therapeutic Deism” which too much of the Rick Warren Purpose-Driven Evangelical world had embraced. They have fought hard for Christians to instead go back to more of a Bible-based understanding of who we are, what our problem really is (sin), and what the solution is (salvation through grace alone, through faith in Jesus alone). Along the way, they also embraced the fight against the post-modern thinking that spawned the “Emerging Church” movement. In my view, all very admirable causes.

But somewhere in there, something happened. These guys developed a shibboleth of sorts – if you will, a secret handshake. And that is, if a preacher says the right words and affirms the right doctrinal positions, he will be accepted, affirmed, and promoted…especially if these bloggers’ other favorite celebrity preachers accept, affirm, and promote him.

CJ was pretty much a genius for the way he apparently grasped this principle early on. I mean, way back in the late 90s/early 2000s, CJ deliberately shifted the PDI organization away from classic Charismaticism, something most of the Reformed bloggers find revolting, and toward a Puritan view of sin and salvation. The name change was a very big piece of CJ’s genius (even though as I understand it, CJ tasked Josh Harris with finding the new name). On some intuitive level, CJ understood that “Sovereign Grace Ministries” would ring all the right bells with the Reformed tastemakers, whereas “People of Destiny International” would make them curl their collective Reformed lip. With the new name in place and some sermons that used all the right doctrinal buzzwords and catchphrases, CJ was basically in.

Once in, my second point comes into play. The men of the Reformed blogosphere have built whole careers, complete with book deals and speaking gigs, out of their blogging endeavors. Nothing at all wrong with that, of course…BUT, when your ability to support your family is now on the line, diplomacy becomes key. It’s OK to continue to needle the usual targets (hyper-Charismatic wackadoodles like Benny Hinn, Pentecostal Oneness dudes like T.D. Jakes, Prosperity Gospel lightweights like Joel Osteen, and pretty much anyone in the Evangelical world who isn’t walking the proper theological line are all still fair game). But leaders of other Reformed movements? Speakers at Reformed conferences? Guys with Al Mohler’s stamp of approval? Uh, not so much. The people who need their blogging careers must tread very carefully when it comes to the book-blurb-writing, conference-speaking segment.

So I think it is way simpler for these “watch-bloggers” to just not do any watching when it comes to the celebrities who have already passed the doctrinal litmus test. There are plenty of other easy targets out there. There’s no lack of new blog fodder coming out of the world of megachurches. Who would even have time to dig in and study, for instance, how SGM subtly redefines key doctrinal terms and adds such a significant performance element to the gospel? Who wants to get their hands dirty learning about the bad and the ugly that result when the watchbloggers’ own favorite doctrinal saws are taken to their extreme literal conclusions?

(For instance, these guys are all big into affirming the sufficiency of Scripture. Matter of fact, just writing that phrase, I feel like it should be said like this: The Sufficiency Of Scripture™. It’s really that big of a Reformed defining phrase. Affirm the sufficiency of Scripture, and you’re A-OK. Take it a step further and condemn something that would get in the way of the sufficiency of Scripture, and you’re even more legit.

I think it can get tremendously uncomfortable for these bloggers, hammering away at The Sufficiency Of Scripture™, to force themselves to consider what happens when this teaching is taken and applied to a large group, like SGM’s family-of-churches, in wooden and legalistic ways. SGM’s rejection of anything to do with psychology is a perfect example. SGM’s fixation on “biblical categories” has led to many situations where people were counseled that problems like depression or ADHD were solely sin issues and could not be dealt with in any other way. SGM pastors counseled members to avoid medical intervention and instead hammered away on the sin element.

What Reformed blogger wants to confront such an uncomfortable truth, that sometimes a simplistic and legalistically and woodenly applied embrace of The Sufficiency Of Scripture™ could lead to so much harm and abuse?)

Definitely, it’s just so much easier to look the other way. It’s so much simpler for these “watch-bloggers” to shrug and soothe themselves by saying, “CJ has to be all right. He affirms The Sufficiency Of Scripture™! And Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan and Mark Dever think he’s GREAT!”

There are all sorts of other shiny pennies of doctrinal incorrectness to go after. So much blogging, so little time.

But in the interim, the very people looking to these guys to sound the alarm and be the internet’s doctrinal sentinels are being let down in a big way.

© 2012, Kris. All rights reserved.