Book Review: “Living the Cross Centered Life” by C.J. Mahaney

Title: “Living the Cross Centered Life”
Author: C.J. Mahaney
Publisher:  Multnomah
ISBN: 978-1-59052-578-4
Pages: 176
Release Date: January 19, 2006
Rating: 5/5 (highly recommended)
Purchase: Sovereign Grace,, WTS Books

Sometimes, with the truth of the gospel already revealed to us, we grow numb and complacent to it. Substitutionary atonement? Already learned it. The depth of my sin? Cognitively aware. I will admit that I readily fall into this sin. I have had many people recommend this book to me, and because I trust their opinion, I read this book for the first time last year. And again, I admit that because of my familiarity with the cross and my desire to learn about newer things, I had difficulty seeing why they found this book so helpful. I thought it was just another book expositing the gospel. Even if that were all this book were, I would recommend it–and one could learn from it–on the basis of its accuracy. But this book is much more than an exposition of truth, and that is where its strength lies.

C.J. Mahaney has a profound emotional understanding of the cross. The truth of the gospel has led him to deep, humble love and gratitude for the cross. It comes through in the sermons he gives, and it comes through in this book. This is the strength of Living the Cross Centered Life. It goes beyond just explaining the gospel–which again, is still a very helpful thing to do–to focus on the role we play in the gospel, and what our response to it should be. It is inescapably personal. In talking about sin, Mahaney makes it personal. You cannot escape his point: we have committed sin, and we deserve to die. When speaking on the suffering of Christ, it is again personal: we put Him there. The way Mahaney writes gives us the relevancy of the gospel, but also the responsibility for it. To me, that is this book’s greatest strength. I cannot escape my role in the gospel as a partaker in the crucifixion–nor as a participant in its blessings.

And as Mahaney points out, keeping the gospel central in our minds will help us combat subjectivism (putting undue emphasis on our emotions), legalism, and condemnation (focusing on the heinousness of sin rather than on grace). He makes an excellent case for these points, showing how right thinking about the cross helps us fight these tendencies. Through this, he also shows just how detrimental a misunderstanding or non-personalization of the gospel can be. It can lead to subjectivism, legalism, condemnation, and pride, but he also makes the excellent point that failing to take to heart the personal nature of the gospel–Christ was crucified for my sins!–can lead to feeling like God does not love me personally. This is a sad lie, and I am grateful that Mahaney seeks to encourage believers about the overwhelming love of God as displayed on the cross.

If there is anything that is meant to cultivate assurance and joy and thanksgiving and worship in the believer’s life, it is the death and resurrection of Christ. How can we not have these things knowing that the punishment that was meant for our sins was suffered by the Son of God? C.J. Mahaney understands his responsibility for Christ’s death. He understands the cost of his salvation. Because of it, he is emotional and passionate about the exaltation of his Savior in the gospel. It is genuine; it is infectious. This book is equally humbling and encouraging to read. And ultimately, this book is God-glorifying. The gospel should create joy in and worship for our Savior. As Mahaney points out, “Joy is a command. . . . if you aren’t serving with gladness, you aren’t serving Him appropriately or representing Him accurately” (108). Every believer needs to be reminded of the gospel, that which brings him fellowship with God. This book is an excellent tool for that. I heartily recommend it to you.

(This book was provided free for review by Sovereign Grace Ministries, to whom I am very grateful. The opinions contained herein are solely my own.)


3 responses to “Book Review: “Living the Cross Centered Life” by C.J. Mahaney

  1. Have you seen what was revealed about C.J. Mahaney not too long after you made this post? This includes C.J. Mahaney blackmailing Larry Tomczak and hiding that sin for over 10 years? Recently it has come up that C.J. Mahaney allegedly hid and covered up child molestation when he was Sr. Pastor at CLC.

    A shame that C.J. Mahaney doesn’t practice a lot of what he teaches. A worse shame that so many put up with his hypocrisy.

    • Hi, Steve,

      I appreciate your comment and concern. I’ve responded at length to a similar comment here: I repost the last paragraph below, because I still hold to it:

      The “survivors” and “refugees” may be telling the truth. Detwiler may be telling the truth. What I say comes from what I know, just as what they say comes from what they know: C.J. is a man who knows his place–at the foot of the cross. He is properly ashamed of the sinfulness of his unsaved state, so that Christ might be more glorified for whom He saved. God has used C.J. to teach and convict many, including me, through his sermons and books. What I have seen shows a man who tries and loves to pursue God. What I have seen from SGM shows an organization devoted to glorifying God. I believe that if there is unrecognized sin in C.J. or a pattern of error in Sovereign Grace Ministries, God will convict them of it so that they can joyfully bring Him more glory. Because that’s what everything is ultimately about: God’s glory. And that’s why I can endorse C.J. and Sovereign Grace Ministries, because I believe that God is glorified through the majority of their efforts. They are not perfect. None of us are. But I believe they strive to be, and are, on the right path.

      Since then, I’ve read another blog post that I think sums up how I feel about the situation quite well:

      What it comes down to is this: Is CJ Mahaney saved? From what I’ve seen in his life and teachings, I think so. I don’t think that whatever sins others claim he has committed lead us to question his salvation. I sincerely hope the sins weren’t committed in the first place, but let’s say they were–I don’t think publicly demanding his head is at all the picture of John 13:35, where Jesus says the world will know believers by the love they have for each other. Nor do I think it is the picture of Matthew 18, which describes an orderly, personal attempt to restore someone’s relationship with God. I’m grieved to see the church turn on itself this way in a stunning display of disunity, because I think that dishonors the name of Christ, whom the church is privileged to bear. We’re all hypocrites. I certainly am, as I am unable to do everything I teach. Paul felt the same way in Romans 7. What sets us apart from the world is that we bear with one another in patience when this happens.

      Thanks again for your comment and concern, Steve! I appreciate that you felt this was an important enough issue to reach out.


  2. Elliott

    Believe what you will about C.J. Mahaney. Are you aware that a number of churches have left SGM in the last year or so including the group’s “flagship” church CLC (Covenant Life Church)?

    With these number of departures it is apparent that something was wrong in the group though many of these churches have been pretty mum on their reasons for leaving the “association.”

    There is no question that C.J. has a God given gift on teaching but the documents released show that C.J. Mahaney doesn’t practice a lot of what he teaches. Scripture says that many will follow their shameful ways and the way of truth brought into disrepute. It is quite possible that C.J. is that person.

    Along with a teaching gift Mahaney has quite the charisma. It may be that charisma that has allowed Mahaney to escape the consequences of his poor character and actions. I has also been suggested that other SGM Leaders are reluctant to admit that there were issues with Mahaney since with Mahaney and SGM being so intertwined the would be admitting there were also issued with SGM.

    One thing you can’t deny is that C.J. Mahaney blackmailed and hid that sin for over 10 years. That in and of itself should have been grounds to disqualify Mahaney as a leader. Scripture warns about applying rules with favoritism and they seem to have done with Mahaney.

    One thing that shows a lot is CLC leaving the SGM “association” and CLC not defending C.J. Mahaney. C.J. Mahaney was around the CLC Leaders a lot since C.J. was based in the same building till C.J. decided to move the group. I imagine had C.J. had been an example of exemplary character they would have rushed to his defense. With that not being the case one has to wonder what the real C.J. was like.

    Sadly C.J. fled the accoutability to local leaders that he taught one should to do when he quickly left CLC despite having taught for years on accountability and submission to local church leaders.

    One thing to realize is that a leaders are so intertwined in their book deals and conferences that they can be reluctant to point out or even be wiling to see issues with those in their group.

    Just some things to think about. Again believe what you want.


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