Now is the Springtime of My Discontent

kinnon —  May 17, 2013 — 21 Comments

With apologies to Will Shakespeare for the title.

Perhaps it is just me — and the things I read — but there is a level of madness in the present North American Evangelical/Christendom landscape that appears to know no bounds.

From the Ridiculous

One narcissist, from his perch as a theological academic of indeterminate stripe, portrays himself as a victim of inverse racism — while another, his former traveling companion, a self-proclaimed “gigachurch pastor” commends himself as a true green arbiter of all things Jesus funny. The two proving the fine line between comedy and pathos.

Through the Painful

In the city that hosts the World that Walt built, three Megachurch pastors resign over adultery — one of them from one of the “10 healthiest churches” in America. A Charismatic voice claims it’s “the spirit of Jezebel” whilst another voice states “it’s probably more related to the feelings of isolation experienced by large-church leaders.”

To the Tragic

— the embarrassing disaster that is Sovereign Grace Ministries led by C.J. Mahaney (no matter what rearranging of deck chairs on the SGM Titanic has recently taken place) and the amended and expanded sexual abuse lawsuit they now face. (Read The Wartburg Watch posts here, here, here and here. They have been more than faithful in staying on top of this story.)

This is a tragedy at so many levels — the worst being what has (allegedly) happened to the victims and their families. Many of their stories first told at SGM Survivors over the six years that blog has existed — for those who had the willing eyes and hearts to read and comprehend.

In July of 2011, well before the lawsuit was announced, I wrote a post entitled C.J. Mahaney & Semper Reformanda or …Not So Much, triggered by the SGM Wikileaks documents;

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

And later…

…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.

In the followup post, Wait! Don’t Look Behind the Curtain I quoted my friend, Dan Gouge (from the City of God team blog),

Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan have both stood up for Mahaney and, in essence, insist that his critics shut up and that everyone else move along.

What’s remarkable about this is that there seems to be a reflex here that is shockingly similar to the one that kicked in at the Vatican when the child sex-abuse scandals started to leak into the media. (Note: Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that C.J. Mahaney is the equivalent of a sex offender.) The hierarchy circled the wagons and went about blaming everyone else while trying to protect itself. Neither T4G nor SGM is a hierarchy like Rome, but there is an undeniable star system at the top of today’s Reformed church world with a handful of powerful men who dominate conferences and bestseller lists, and it appears that they have taken to looking after their interests – the interests of the powerful – at the expense of all those whom they claim as followers. (emphasis added)

Though it has not been alleged that Mahaney was directly involved in sexual abuse, Dan’s comment was prescient in that the Mahaney-led SGM allegedly engaged in coverups not unlike that of the Roman Catholic Church. With mini-Pope’s like Al Mohler defending the honour and integrity of Mahaney, whilst Ligon Duncan cast aspersions on the victims;

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. (The original link for this in the Reformation 21 site archives does not work — but it’s alive and well at the Wayback Machine.)

Matt Redmond, blogger and author of the very good book, The God of the Mundane, wrote this yesterday in his post, Answering Some Objections I’ve Gotten About the SGM Lawsuit

What I keep hearing is we should wait till the verdict comes in to hear both sides because SGM has totally denied the accusations. Therefore no blog posts and no articles till then. Before the trial of Sandusky, an article “Love Notices Wet Hair” was published on The Gospel Coalition site and distributed widely. That article was posted 7 months before he was found guilty. Either we need an admission of how wrong that was, or we need a similar stance. Really all they would need to do is write a blog post that said, “in light of the accusations against SGM we offer this post.” That would be a start.

I would also like to see a public announcement about the need for any and all named parties to stop speaking at conferences. This would benefit everyone. I want you to imagine what it must be like for a victim of abuse to continually hear about the speaking engagements of those who enabled the abusers or were themselves an abuser. To see them rise in popularity. To see them above criticism. When the Reformed community does not see any problem with CJ Mahaney speaking at conferences because he has denied the charges against him and none have to be proven in the courts, our cult of personality has reached an apex. (emphasis added)

Zach Hoag, another gifted blogger and author, wrote this in his post A False Gospel of Reconciliation yesterday

I’ve written before about the current lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries and how it represents a rapidly approaching counseling cliff for the evangelical church at large – a cliff especially perilous when conservative churches deal with matters of abuse. Well, this week, more allegations were filed against SGM, and they are horrific. And, as of now, the major evangelical institutions that are closely connected to SGM – namely, The Gospel Coalition (where C.J. Mahaney, a defendant in the suit and founding leader of the SGM movement, is a council member) and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (major supporter/ally of C.J. and SGM, with President Al Mohler as close friend and staunch defender of C.J.) – have not issued anything in the way of cautionary or even concerned statements regarding the man or the movement (that I am aware of). There has been total silence about a celebrity preacher and an organization that is now literally inundated with accusations of sexually and physically abusing children and conspiring to cover it all up over many years. Nor have any/many connected big-name individual leaders, themselves also institutionally powerful, come out with words of warning or grieving. Instead, powerful men like John Piper have made gestures of support in the midst of C.J. and SGM’s legal troubles.

The silence is deafening.    (emphasis and links in the original)

The attitude of many who purportedly swim in the same spiritual streams as Mahaney et al, is either that the rest of us are out to get SGM because we don’t like Mahaney, or we simply hate the beauty and truth that is NeoReformed theology.

In a Twitter back and forth with Spiritual Sounding Board’s Julie Anne Smith, me and fiery writer & Calvinist gadfly, Frank Turk (who, despite our profound theological differences, I consider a friend), Frank made this Tweet comment about the present debacle

@kinnon @DefendTheSheep Like I said: I admire the starch it takes to find a sex offender when the charges of spiritual abuse can’t work out

It would appear that Frank and many of his NeoReformed brethren see the lawsuit as simply another attack on poor C.J. — and their shared NeoReformed/Complementarian doctrine.

And therefore the tragedy is compounded as many of the NeoReformed appear most concerned about protecting the belief in the veracity of their doctrine. They don’t appear to really care about what happens nor what has happened to the victims of the cult-like behaviour of C.J.Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Whether they mean to or not, they seem to be saying,

Screw the victims, C.J. believes the right stuff.’

kinnon

Posts

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.

21 responses to Now is the Springtime of My Discontent

  1. These men do not represent the whole of the Reformed tradition. They represent themselves and a kind of spectacular Christianity that is essentially passive and consumerist at its core. By spectacular and consumerist, I simply mean, the Christian faith is lived through spectacular events ie: worship, whose lasting impact is lacking, and must constantly be “purchased” by returning to the spectacle to find inspiration and validation.

    They are part of what Marxist theorist Guy Debord called the Society of the Spectacle. The spectacle is the event where the iconic celebrity, in this case, preachers, present an “image” of reality that is clearly not the reality that they claim. This hyper-reality ties people into a false sense of what is true. Umberto Eco, author of The Name of The Rose, wrote in Travels in Hyper-reality, “the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake.” This version of contemporary Reformed evangelicalism is a kind of hyper-reality, presenting an image of Christianity that is clearly biblical only in the use of proof texts and image references that seek to authenticate the celebrity spectacle of the church.

    The Reformed tradition is far more diverse than these church leaders represent. As a Reformed Christian, I am confident that our differences are greater than our similarities.

    Bill, for your readers, I’ve begun to write about this world of the spectacle and hyper-reality at my blog. See The Spectacle of the Real – link to edbrenegar.typepad.com – which is the first of a growing number of posts in preparation that address that false reality of our time. I believe it is time for us to recover the real in order to live with truth and integrity.

    • Your comment makes the post worthwhile, Ed. Thanks.

      • Bill, presently I’m serving as the interim pastor of a lovely church here in North Carolina. The push to create a spectacle each Sunday that draws people to worship is quite real. For what I find is that the measure of the church for many people is the spectacular nature of the entertainment value of worship. It is the music and the sermon that must attract attention.

        The challenge is how to work within the context of the spectacular while being true to the Gospel’s hard edges of discipleship. I find that being a real human being, vulnerable and unwavering in turning the focus away from self to Christ is all that can be done. Well, maybe not all, but I’ve yet to find any other way. This is where the proper Reformed emphasis on grace enters into the picture. We are simply, and merely, conduits for the Spirit of God to work “through.” I hope I never forget this reality.

    • Ed, Now that was a comment worth reading. But now I see I have a new problem. I have to figure out which blog I’m going to replace with yours because I certainly can’t read them all. ~ja

    • Great comment, Ed. I wonder if you’ve read “Empire of illusion – The end of literacy and the triumph of spectacle” by Chris Hedges. If not, I strongly recommend it. It’s a piercing of USAmerican society and culture from the perspective you describe.

      • No, I have not read it. My reading has been Umberto Eco, Jean Baudrillard, Guy Debord, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and James K.A. Smith. I will check it out.

      • Thanks very much Julie Anne. If you’ll notice my posts are long and infrequent. In that sense very counter-cultural.

    • I’ve been looking for an excuse to re-read The Name of the Rose. Looks like I’ve found it. So, Umberto Eco, Jean Baudrillard, Guy Debord, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and James K.A. Smith. What do you reach for when you’re in the mood for something really “meaty?”

      • Begin with JKAS’s Desiring the Kingdom and Imaging the Kingdom, then Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault to Church.
        This isn’t the postmodernism that most church people know. This is on a different intellectual and cultural setting.

        I began with Baudrillard’s Impossible Exchange because I found in a bookstore. I had to read the first 20 pages five time before realizing that he was an advocate, but a describer, a critic, and that what he describe had a sort of a feeling of lament. Try Simulaca and Simulation, first. You can find a PDF version of it online. In it you’ll find a brief discussion of the iconoclastic controversy of a thousand years ago. It has application to the way mega-churches “image” their environment.

        Debord is interesting. Society of the Spectacle is more irregular in coherence than his Comments on the Society of the Spectacle. Here’s a brief excerpt from the latter.

        “The society whose modernization has reached the stage of the integrated spectacle is characterized by the combined effect of five principle features: incessant technological renewal; integration of state and economy; generalized secrecy; unanswerable lies; an eternal present.
        Technological innovation has a long history, and is an essential component of capitalist society, sometimes described as industrial or post-industrial. But since its most recent acceleration (in the aftermath of the Second World War) it has greatly reinforced spectacular authority, by surrendering everybody to the mercy of specialists, to their calculations and to the judgments which always depend on them. The integration of state and economy is the most evident trend of the century; it is at the very least the motor of all recent economic developments. The defensive and offensive pact concluded between those two powers, economy and state, has provided them with the greatest common advantages in every field: each may be said to own the other; at any rate, it is absurd to oppose them, or to distinguish between their reasons and follies. This union, too, has proved to be highly favourable to the development of spectacular domination – indeed, the two have been indistinguishable from the very start. The other three features are direct effects of this domination, in its integrated stage.

        Generalised secrecy stands behind the spectacle as the decisive complement of all it displays and, in the last analysis, as its most vital operation. The simple fact of being unanswerable has given what is false an entirely new quality. At a stroke it is truth which has almost everywhere ceased to exist or, at best, has been reduced to the status of pure hypothesis. Unanswerable lies have succeeded in eliminating public opinion, which first lost the ability to make itself heard and then very quickly dissolved altogether. This evidently has significant consequences for politics, the applied sciences, the legal system and the arts.

        The manufacture of the present where fashion itself, from clothes to music, has come to a halt, which want to forget the past and no longer seems to believe in a future, is achieved by the ceaseless circularity of information, always returning to the same short list of trivialities, passionately proclaimed as major discoveries. Meanwhile news of what is genuinely important, of what is actually changing, coms rarely, and then in fits and starts. It always concerns this world’s apparent condemnation of its own existence, the stages in its programmed self-destruction.”

        He wrote those words in 1988. I find their application to our current situation in North America rather troubling.

        Once you read Jamie Smith’s works, what Debord writes will make more sense because he is writing about cultural liturgies that have formative impact upon us. His point is tht the church needs to get out of its head, and recognize that we are desiring beings, and those desires seek out cultures where they find nourishment. Jamie’s discussion of the mall as cultural liturgy is illuminating.

  2. You nailed it, Bill. I agree with you completely that this has become an issue of “right” doctrine over anything else. If CJ was off in any aspect of his doctrine, they would have called him out immediately, but he is their NC and complementarian fanboy. He can do no wrong. The millstone verse comes to mind when I think of these fools who abandon the weak and defenseless.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy May 17, 2013 at 11:48 am

      If CJ was off in any aspect of his doctrine, they would have called him out immediately, but he is their NC and complementarian fanboy.

      Not “Doctrine”.
      Purity of Ideology.

  3. The Canadian keyboard strikes again.

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy May 17, 2013 at 11:45 am

    It would appear that Frank and many of his NeoReformed brethren see the lawsuit as simply another attack on poor C.J. — and their shared NeoReformed/Complementarian doctrine.

    Just like the Bolsheviki saw Counterrrvolutionary Capitalist Conspiracy Attacks from everywhere plotting against their Pure Marxist/Leninist Ideology/Doctrine.

    The only difference between Communists and Calvinists today is whose Party Line gets recited. And the name and face of Comrade Dear Leader.

  5. Great post. It saddens me that so many are totally unaware of the level of ridiculousness that is going on.

  6. Frank Turk’s recent tweets:

    “Tweets
    Frank Turk @Frank_Turk
    I have a theory: j.mp/Z2mC5q the judge is actually Al Mohler and he’s part of the cover up.
    about 3 hours ago Frank Turk @Frank_Turk
    Well, hell: j.mp/12ijKxW now we’ll never hear the end of it. Or else: CJ paid off the Judge.
    about 4 hours ago ”

    I do not find the systemic covering up of molested children or the spiritual abuse of the shepherding cult, PDI/SGM, funny. The lack of compassion and cold heartedness of the Neo Reformed movement is chilling.

    • Bill, I caved. I responded to that tweet. I normally wouldn’t have been able to see it because I’m blocked, but I did with that link. I could not refrain. I am so weak.

  7. I thought that someone calling me prescient would feel better than this :/

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