C. J. Mahaney gave me the most difficult interview of my career thus far. I have endured hostile subjects, awful conditions, and ill-informed answers. But I could not prepare for how Mahaney treated me. He wouldn’t stop asking me questions. He seemed to genuinely care about getting to know me. Mostly we laughed together and enjoyed each other’s company. Mahaney, the founding pastor of Covenant Life Church in suburban Maryland, has that effect on most people he meets. The only physical feature that stands out more than his shiny bald head is his wide, ever-present smile.
Finally I dragged Mahaney into discussing my one big question. How in the world does he explain the anomalous blend of charismatic practice and Calvinist soteriology found in the international network of Sovereign Grace churches he now oversees? “This could be the fruit of my pre-conversion drug-induced state,” Mahaney responded, some kidding aside. To the point, he explained, “We don’t see the inconsistencies.”
The lack of clear historic precedent may give Mahaney pause. But he does not think Scripture leaves us guessing about tongues. Christians may speak in tongues today, he believes, just as they did on Pentecost. The same biblical study that leads Mahaney toward Reformed conclusions guides his embrace of charismatic gifts. He takes 1 Corinthians 14 at face value. This chapter, where the apostle Paul teaches the Corinthians about orderly worship, probably came up at least five times during the three hours I spoke with Mahaney.
Charismatic with a Seat Belt
Along with like-minded theologians such as Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms, Mahaney has led the way for many Calvinists to abandon their traditional cessationism. These Calvinists profess to be “charismatics wearing seat belts,” to borrow Mark Driscoll’s phrase. Their numbers will likely increase as Calvinists encounter Majority World believers, who typically assume the New Testament gifts of tongues and prophecy continue today.