C.J. Mahaney & Semper Reformanda or …Not So Much

kinnon —  July 12, 2011 — 37 Comments

Semper Reformanda – or more exactly in the latin, Ecclesia semper reformanda est – which is basically, the church must always be reforming.


One of the stars in the present Reformed universe is C.J. Mahaney. He is a favourite speaker at Together for the Gospelone of the four founding friends of this Reformed movement.

T4G is convinced that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been misrepresented, misunderstood, and marginalized in many Churches and among those who proclaim the name of Christ.”


It appears that Mahaney has both misunderstood & misrepresented the Gospel in his own network of churches while marginalizing or discarding any who dared questioned his motives, methods & ministry.

Allow me to explain.

A number of years ago I began to read SGM Refuge – a blog I was turned on to by Michael Newnham and the community at Phoenix Preacher. (And I had discovered PP through the truly inimitable iMonk, Michael Spencer.) What I found at SGM Refuge (and later, SGM Survivors) were hard stories of hyper-controlling leadership, devastating coverups and a particularly effective ministry of  “shooting the messengers.”

There is not enough space nor time to go into great detail – you can do your own reading at the provided links. Suffice to say that it would appear that a legion of wounded SGMers are in recovery from what they’ve suffered at the hands of this “ministry” led by C.J. Mahaney, their lead apostle. And this while Mahaney has trod the conference stage of the Reformed universe – as one of their “humble” super-apostles to be emulated.

But, even though some want to deny or question the seriousness of the charges, apparently CJ’s sins have found him out.

Phoenix Preacher quotes Mahaney from his blog:

Over the last few years some former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace have made charges against me and informed me about offenses they have with me as well as other leaders in Sovereign Grace. These charges are serious and they have been very grieving to read. These charges are not related to any immorality or financial impropriety, but this doesn’t minimize their serious nature, which include various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.”

As PP states, it seems that what finally motivated CJ to respond – after ignoring the hundreds of thousands of painful words written at SGMR and SGMS and the countless meetings of SGM pastors with wounded people – was what has been called the SGMWikiLeaks from former SGM senior leader, Brent Detwiler. Reading it is like entering a world where the walls are all funhouse mirrors – everything is distorted – SGM polity in particular.

Again from PP,

600 + pages of emails and documentation from another one of the co-founders of the movement detailing the palace intrigue, politics, and even blackmail that kept humble C.J. and his cohorts in power while disposing of those who crossed them.

That massive document is not just an indictment of Mahaney, but of the whole leadership structure of Sovereign Grace Ministries and it appears that they are all complicit either by commission or ommission in creating yet another culture of leadership impunity. [emphasis added]

Read that again – “and even blackmail…” It would seem that Mahaney forced out his original co-founder Larry Tomczak who was not happy with then PDI’s move to Calvinism. It is suggested Mahaney did this by threatening to reveal counselling secrets about Tomczak’s son.

If anything needs semper reformanda, it would be Sovereign Grace Ministries. And one should question any leadership from someone who may have been willing to blackmail in order to get his own way. But you won’t hear that concern expressed from Mahaney’s T4G buddies.

Ligon Duncan dismisses those who have suffered directly from the leadership of Mahaney and his hand-picked team. And, of course, none of the rest of us have any right to comment. (Except for C.J.’s buddies.)


I would… encourage you to ignore the assaults of wounded people on attack websites and blogs, and that you discount the opinings of those who have no real knowledge of these matters or relation to SGM or authority to comment upon them, and that you refrain from assuming that you (or they) are in a position to render judgment on these things.

One might reasonably ask Duncan whether he has spoken to any of the folk who have been wounded by SGM. But. Obviously he doesn’t need to. He’s one of the T4G Celebs working with CJ – “ C.J. knows of my complete love and respect for him.” One wouldn’t want to confuse the facts with friendship.

Al Mohler has also stepped up to the plate for CJ in this Courier-Journal news item, which Duncan approvingly links to. (Note that the good folk at The Wartburg Watch have shown how Mahaney and his SGM church are significant donors to the seminary where Mohler is president.)

“I always have had only the highest estimation of C.J. Mahaney as a man and a minister,” Mohler said in an interview — his first public comments on the situation involving Mahaney, one of his fellow leaders in the Reformed, neo-Calvinist movement. “That continues absolutely unchanged. There is nothing in this current situation which would leave me to have even the slightest pause of confidence in him.”

“I assume he would retain every position in leadership,” Mohler said. “I expect he should be very quickly returned to leadership of Sovereign Grace.“ [emphasis added]

Nothing to look at here. Move along. Everything’s under control.

And this from the people who seem to live to sit in judgment on their non-reformed brothers and sisters.

But. Those are the people, they would tell you, who have “misrepresented” and “misunderstood” “the Gospel of Christ” “in many Churches and among those who proclaim the name of Christ.

Unlike their dear brother, C.J., of course.


There are those like Ligon Duncan who will say that I and others have no right to comment on these matters. They are wrong. The public ministry of Mahaney is held up by the new Reformed as an example to be emulated by young male leaders. (In the T4G world – women can never be church leaders.) If it was reasonable to expect Dever, Duncan and Mohler to actually concern themselves with the charges against Mahaney and respond appropriately – I would not have bothered to spend the time writing this. But Mohler and Duncan’s cavalier response to the many hundreds if not thousands who have been damaged by Mahaney’s leadership suggests this won’t happen – in fact, these wounded will no doubt be blamed for the troubles in Mahaney’s ministry. If only they’d submitted properly none of this would have happened.

Another story in the Celebrity-Driven Church.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

37 responses to C.J. Mahaney & Semper Reformanda or …Not So Much

  1. “Reading it is like entering a world where the walls are all funhouse mirrors – everything is distorted – SGM polity in particular.”

    I read the docs (pack a lunch and get the smelling salts) and was stunned that this is what passes for normal at sgm. This is what professional, highly paid leaders and minsters do with their time? Seems they have way too much time, too much money and too much influence.

    But you are right in that they have “defined” the issue and made it only about leadership squabbles so as not to have to deal with the trail of wounded including molestation and spiritual abuse. With the help of Mohler, Dever and Duncan, of course.

    • The stuff truly makes me want rage and weep, Lin. So many wounded folks and Mohler and Duncan only concern themselves with their “friend.”

      I know not what this be, but it be not Christianity.

      • Ah, the weeping and raging. I know it well. Next your stomach will churn and you wonder if you should stop reading the sgmwikileaks to go into the bathroom to prepare for what may come up. It’s not a pretty picture. Especially for those from within who know EXACTLY what so many of CJ’s and Brent’s words really mean. From the outside, it’s not nearly so badly because most people have no idea that the littlest sheep are held to higher standards than even Brent is holding CJ. And sometimes, at the first sign of any form of “rebellion” (asking a question) or lack of trust (saying I don’t agree- but still with a really good attitude), some of the littlest sheep have their throasts slashed and are offered up to the god of SGM as a barely living sacrifice. If only people could have a clearer picture so they could know what so many of the words in those documents mean.

        Thanks so much for taking the time to write about this! So many of the hurt and wounded are being forgotten by pastors. (Stomach just wrenched. No good shepherd leaves behind a lost or wounded sheep just because another shepherd is finally starting to get indigestion or gout from eating too many sheep and cries out because it hurts his tummy.) In this situation, you are showing what the heart of a shepherd looks like.

        Thank you.

  2. Thank you so much for publishing the truth. Not many have so far.

  3. Great post! I concur with what you have written here, particularly in regards to Mohler and Duncan.

    Thanks for linking to the Mahaney Money Machine article I wrote over two years ago. Last year I discovered additional information which I had initially overlooked, specifically that Sovereign Grace Ministries has also given at least $100,000 to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I updated my original post with the following information (included at the end):

    “Let’s cut to the chase and look strictly at “Lifetime Cumulative Gift Levels” as of year end 2007.

    The Roll Call 2007 lists the following contributors and their cumulative contributions:

    PRESIDENT’S COUNCIL (Cumulative gifts of $100,000 or more)


    C.J. Mahaney

    Businesses, Denominations and Foundations

    Sovereign Grace Ministries
    Gaithersburg, Maryland

    SUSTAINING MEMBER (Cumulative gifts of $15,000 to $24,999)


    Covenant Life Church
    Gaithersburg, Maryland

    It’s noteworthy to mention that PDI gave to SBTS in 2002 at the Leader’s Associate level ($5,000 to $9,999). BTW, that was the same year that Sovereign Grace Ministries came into existence.

    If you want to see for yourself, go to this link:

    link to sbts.edu

    Mahaney and SGM are listed on page 43, and CLC is on page 44.

    Just follow the money trail…”

    Here’s the link to the revised Mahaney Money Machine post:

    link to thewartburgwatch.com

    Keep up the good work!

    • You and Dee are doing good and important work, Deb. I know how hard it is – but thank you for continuing to do it.

      And I am now a faithful reader of your blog.

  4. Blackmail is a serious allegation! Is there hard proof of this or is this hearsay? Given the wikileaks nature of this, if it’s true, there should be hard evidence, no?

    Btw, great to finally meet you at theology pub!

    • Keith,
      Some of the story is here. And Tomczak appears to reference it here in the 5th graf from the end. And then directly Detwiler’s The Blackmailing of Larry Tomczak on page 131 of Document 3 goes into his understanding (Detwiler’s). Read pages 139 to 142 specifically. And weep that C.J. remained the SGM “lead apostle” to this day.

  5. In an earlier blog post, you quoted Blake’s statements about the “dark Satanic mills”. Regarding these celebrity pastors, allow me to quote from another freedom-minded Briton, the priest James Ball (1338-81):

    “When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.”

    It’s time for the Church to cast off the yoke of bondage to celebrity pastors and corporate Christianity, and recover their true freedom in Jesus Christ.

    • Thanks for this, Don. Great quote and your concluding sentence nails it.

  6. Great post Bill, I’m going to post some of my own thoughts tomorrow.

  7. I know your heart hurts to write this, Bill, and that you wrestle mightily. But thank you – truly – for continuing to write and share and call out. I always know that you are one blogger with real guts. Blessings, friend.

  8. Ugh. Someone make it stop. Please.

  9. Lori/Happymom July 13, 2011 at 6:18 am

    As one of the wounded who went public on SGM/Refuge/Survivor, I have not heard from Mr. Duncan and would be curious as to what scripture would support his “ignore the wounded…”

    Happymom – Wallace & Happymom

  10. You probably need a ‘churches that are doing good things and helping people’ chaser post to help bring renewed hope to your soul.

    The Spirit is working mightily even in North America, bringing down the mighty and raising up the outcasts. Which is to say that I heartily support these kinds of light shining posts, but hope you don’t get caught up seeing only the darkness.

  11. I don’t know the best way to ask this, but my question is genuine.

    Is there something about the fundamentalist/Calvinist theology – at least the Baptist kind (as opposed to the more traditional reformed denominations) that spawns this self-righteous, power-hungry, “I’m-justified-because-I-have-the-truth” nonsense? They love their teammates and regularly take swings at their perceived enemies. And the minute their teammates no longer agree, they’re treated like enemies. Because that’s what you do with heretics. You said it well: “And this from the people who seem to live to sit in judgment on their non-reformed brothers and sisters.”

    I was a fundamentalist and Calvinist and I failed to notice that these attitudes permeated everything we did. I didn’t realize it until I stepped away. I’m beginning to wonder if there is something deeply ingrained in that theology and view of God that explains these attitudes and behaviours. Maybe a narrow focus on a wrath-filled, intellectual -truth-obsessed God produces attitudes that are not reflective of Jesus. And perhaps a theology that creates that kind of followers is at least somewhat incomplete/inaccurate. Or maybe I just haven’t broken my addiction to self-righteously judge.

    Bill, I realize you have some grace-filled reformed friends for whom my description does not in any way apply.

    • Certainly there are many wonderful grace-filled reformed folks. But I think you have a point regarding some of those at the extremes of the fundamentalist/calvinist spectrum. I have seen this with a member of my own family and their behavior has been unspeakably hurtful and damaged relationships beyond repair in spite of numerous pleas for repentence and reconciliation. When calvinism/fundamentalism morphs into a sense of spiritual elitism and entitlement, the hurt people can do to others and their rationalization of it are absolutely mind-boggling and hearbreaking.

    • I’ve personally been on both sides of this theological problem, starting with years misspent as one who was grace-less and self-righteous, open-mouthed and close-fisted, pseudo-baptist and “reformedamentalist.” Now, thankfully on the other side of such abusive systems, I’ve concluded that THE key problem lies far deeper than just doctrine. It goes to the deepest assumptions we hold about how theological bits and pieces get glued together … to our epistemology. Boiled down to the core issues, I approached theology as if it were a perfectable cognitive system and also that I couldn’t figure it out for myself from God’s Word but had to rely on the superior knowledge of leaders.

      Two relevant quotes from *Dune: The Butlerian Jihad* by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson go to the heart of the mental and emotional issues here. First, “Assumptions are a transparent grid through which we view the universe, sometimes deluding ourselves that the grid is that universe.” (For instance, relying on a theology about Jesus is not equivalent to relying on Jesus, even if we think the thought suffices.) And, “Fanaticism is always a sign of repressed doubt.” (These systems don’t allow for even the appearance of personal weakness or of relative knowledge about absolute truth.)

      Sadly, we ALWAYS get these kinds of SGM situations when we treat theology and people like machines, and we always will. It’s in the deepest DNA of their system, and the rotten fruit shows what was in the roots. Not all Reformed epistemologies are this harsh relationally or near-gnostic in terms of intellectualism – – and they, too, bear fruit according to what DNA is in the seeds they plant.

      Hopefully I have come out of my destructive, legalistic experiences as one who is softened without being spineless, humble without being insecure, vibrant without being volatile. But I know what severe breaking it took for me as a mere follower of these rigid “reformed” systems. I fear for what kind of humbling it will take to break, reform, and transform Messieurs Mahaney, Mohler, and other such-like “leaders” …

      • As always, your comments add so much to my posts. Thanks B-rad.

      • As a former member of an SGM church for 17 years. I have to say I disagree that all you receive is grace, love, etc. Although in my circle there was grace, but there were many examples of church abuse, legalism and a religious control. It’s very subtle… this problem is just the ice berg… There needs to be more exposure and SGM leadership is dead wrong… The whole ministry needs to deconstruct it’s current way of functioning and rebuild with it’s return to the original calling. I got swallowed up in the legalism, control, etc… But wasn’t able to see until I left the ministry to attend another church. The original model was charismatic, apostolic and evangelistic in nature. Today it’s built itself as a massive corporation – this is unbiblical.

    • This rngs true, of why it’s possible for a church or a group of people to be deceived and not know it’s happening. Look what happened to the church in Germany .. All Hitler had to do was to use the words of Martin Luther.. To give them reason to be anti-Semitic and supporting an evil leader… I was heavily involved with an SGM church and until my eyes were opened.. I could not see that this type of reformed theology had twisted my thinking. And steeped in legalism Big Time!
      You become self- righteous and believe your church is the only one with correct doctrine… The other name is : idolism… This church has become a type of idol.. And I had come to worship doctrine, leaders and not the true teachings of our Lord….

      • Pam,
        Would that it was only in SGM that this was happening – but I would suggest it is one of the biggest attacks of the enemy.

      • I am sure , this isn’t the only church group where it happens . Truly it is the devil….. He is a liar and the father of lies… Complacency is also apparent as well. We see wrong .. And we just “wink” at it…. One thing Satan enjoys doing is deceiving the church or trying to deceive… Thankfully… We eventually wake up…. At least I am hopeful. I hope all of this comes to a joyful end with reconciliation and rejoicing….

    • I’m coming relatively late to this question (originally posed by TimD) on whether there is something intrinsic to Calvinist theology that tends to produce self-righteous legalism. I think we should, perhaps, look at the work of Calvin himself.

      Consider: a movement had just begun in earnest that restored the biblical truth of justification by grace, through faith, and that essentially overthrew the sovereignty of the papacy and associated clerical elite. The glorious liberty of the sons of God beckoned… so… what on all earth possessed (I use the word cautiously, and with a small “p”) Calvin to write a half-million word treatise exhaustively Institutionalising the Christian Religion down to the last detail?

      I don’t know what went on inside Calvin’s head, and even if I did, I am not his Judge. But the output of his career, which was based in letters, learning and human scholarship, was a vast pool of legalism and a weighty emphasis on doctrine, as prescribed by “qualified” scholars and which simpler Christian folk would simply have to follow, being unqualified themselves to question it. The Roman pagan clergy/laity divide was re-established, only with a different ruling elite. A very different “Christian religion” from that of Acts, whose leaders were unlettered and unlearned, but bold and given to miraculous acts of kindness so disruptive to established political order that they were arrested for them. And let us remember that their critics were struck by their lack of education and took note that they had been with Jesus.

      If the Holy Spirit himself is incapable and untrustworthy when it comes to opening scripture (that He himself authored, supposedly) to people other than me, then it follows that I must do his job for him. That is, I must decide on the definitive interpretation of scripture for those less spiritual and more easily deceived than I am. The thing is, once you’ve usurped any part of God’s role and owned it for yourself, it’s a frighteningly short step to the ancient delusion of coveting God’s throne.

      • P.S. I should clarify my comment in the last paragraph: that He himself authored, supposedly. I don’t question the Holy Spirit’s authorship of scripture, but our understanding of the consequences of His authorship. If we really believe the Holy Spirit inspired scripture, and we really believe He exists among us today, wouldn’t that give Him a leading role in deciding how scripture should be fulfilled in and through us? Wouldn’t He be able to explain it himself, even to the newest of believers, without having to submit first to our control? But that’s the bizarre thing. We make so much noise about ascribing authorship of the bible to God (as a shibboleth to prove our “soundness”), but then we push God out of the picture and ascribe ownership of the bible to ourselves and our chosen theological tribe.

  12. This is only an extreme example of an inevitable outcome.
    We should not be surprised.

  13. As a total outsider to the SGM-phenomenon, the amount of information is staggering, injurious and disconcerting. The research goes on.

    One of the above commentators noted that CJ gave–privately–$100,000 to Al’s school in Louisville. As the son of a manse myself (a very honourable father) and as an ordained, but retired, clergyman myself (Confessional and Reformed Anglican), where does a clergyman get $100,000 dollars for a private donation? Thanks to the researcher who posted the info and links. I checked them too.

    Also, to another commentator regarding “Calvinist Bapto-fundamentalism,” as it were. I’m a Calvinist of many years, but I’ve had the same concerns about some of these leaders, e.g. “pride.” Piper’s acknowledgement of “species of pride” in his own soul was sensed and queried many years ago by this scribe. There are some other reasons that this scribe believes that has developed, but it is an aside.

    Thanks for the good posts here.

    Oops, one more thing. Some financial research. (1) T4G will be held 10-12 Apr 2012. (2) There are 9 featured speakers including Mr. Mahaney, Duncan, Mohler, Piper and others. (3) In talking to a Senior Sales rep at the Louisville, KY, Convention Centre (in thinking about the $$ of the operation), she advised that the rental for 3 days would be about $560K. They are using the 22,000 seat arena. (4) The average registrant fee is $269/person. (5) They anticipate 10K attendees. Ergo, receipts will total $2.69 million dollars. (6) Estimated set-up, production crews, etc., at $300K. (7) Generously estimating $500K for advertising and staff matters. Conclusion or rough estimate: T4G profit of $500K-$1 million dollars. Also, the speakers will get to sell books, CDs, etc. There is a big business dimension to all this hoopla. But, I digress.

    • Great work, Donald! This information is really interesting.

    • When I originally posted a comment on the sad outcomes of pseudo-baptist and “reformedamentalist” theologies, I thought about mentioning a profile I wrote about a Reformed pastor friend who embodies, I believe, the true spirit of grace that can be inherent in that theology. I’ll do that now.

      My friend Rod is someone whose life I continue to learn from as I observe how he struggles to make grace real and keep it real. Since my experiences with abusive church leaders eroded my hope, knowing healthy disciple-leaders like him has been restorative …

      link to futuristguy.wordpress.com

      link to futuristguy.wordpress.com

    • DPV,
      Worshipping the almighty (but rapidly fading) greenback, methinks. Your info is rather scary. And thanks for your kind words and your research.

    • Donald, with all do respect, is there anywhere in the bible that a preacher can not make money ? We can not judge their motives on where and how they are going to spend the money. It’s not our called to do so. The most important thing is, are they doing the will of the Lord, and for CJ Mahaney repented of his sin. If he truly repent, and make his repentance public, then we should treat him as a brother.


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