Monday, March 31, 2008

Steve Brown - 2

(See part one for the setup)

I have now finished the 37 lectures on grace I had downloaded from RTS, and... whew!

To begin with the Summary Statement: Brown says a number of valuable, useful and true things in a winsome, easy-listening manner — but he encrusts it in so much that is irresponsible and/or garbage that I could never recommend him without a list of warnings and qualifications so long it would look like what you get with a new prescription ("Here are the ways this medicine could kill or horribly disfigure you:....").

Let me list some of my thoughts and observations:
  1. I want to trade my whiny, nasal voice for Brown's basement-deep, resonant voice.
  2. He says a number of thought-provoking and helpful things. Though he doesn't develop it Biblically at any length, he says "God isn't mad at you anymore." Brown says God never disciplines Christians because He's mad at them. Brown says nothing is perfect, nothing is forever, and you aren't home yet. Brown says, When a dog plays checkers, you don't criticize his game; you're just pleased and surprised that he's playing at all. (The point being we wouldn't be so shocked at our failures if we didn't have such a high opinion of ourselves.) Brown says that when pain exceeds payback, real change becomes possible. Brown criticizes phony airs Christians feel they have to put on in front of other Christians, our failure to extend anything like grace and compassion towards one another.
  3. He sounds like a fun, easy guy to be around, to hang with: warm, open, encouraging, and accepting. I want to like him, want to affirm his teaching, wish I could. I think of another well-known name who emphatically affirms grace — yet whenever I've listened to him, for decades, I haven't personally received a grain of grace from his presentation.
  4. The man more stories and illustrations than Methuselah.
  5. This is a big weakness. In theory, Brown constantly claims that everything he says is Reformed and Biblical and sound and true. In practice, he doesn't seem to feel the need to root much of it in Scripture. The entire course featured only a relatively few allusions-to/citations-of Scripture, and no extensive exegesis or exposition. He keeps saying that his students can look it up, or that he's got a ton of Biblical backup, or that he'd normally give Bible but since they're seminary students he won't (?!). Regardless, he seems to start from the position that he has established his position Biblically, and now he just wants to work out the implications.
  6. To his credit, Brown constantly urged his two classes to feel free to challenge him Biblically. To their discredit (in my I-wasn't-there opinion), they never did. Perhaps they started out convinced.
  7. All of the alarms I have begun to sound and will develop in a moment are borne out in this comment thread. In that thread, one Christian brother attempts to bring the Bible to bear on some of what Brown says and does. He doesn't do it in the nicest way, but he does it faithfully. By and large, the host of respondents do not even attempt to engage the Bible. They respond in Brownisms. This is a huge red light. Much as Brown denies that he wants to make disciples of himself, that is exactly what he is doing. He is making them depend on his thoughts, his ideas, his cute sayings, his insights, his experiences, his stories. That is a necessary and unavoidable consequence of giving endless podium-time to stories, illustrations, and cute sayings instead of exposition of the text of Scripture and then development of a system from that text. People come away knowing Brown, not Scripture, and therefore — I fear — not necessarily knowing God.
  8. He says some things that are absolutely, barkingly, wildly irresponsible; and if his students take any of them seriously, they will ruin their ministries and other people. For instance:
    (A) Brown says that, when one is preparing a sermon, and he thinks of saying something but his conscience or judgment tells him he shouldn't — he should anyway! Because that's probably God talking to him. So, in the Brown universe, verses like Proverbs 10:19; 12:18; 15:28; 17:27; 21:23; and 29:20 are not as important as expressing oneself in a personal pursuit of "grace."
    (B) Brown also tells Christians they should disagree with their pastor once a month, period, just because it's healthy for their assertiveness.
    (C) Brown speaks of a Christian leader who fell morally, badly, and says in effect that he's glad he did, because it was good for him. Too bad about the guy's family and church, I guess.
    (D) Brown urges all of them to cuss, just to do it. I don't recall an exposition of Ephesians 4:29.
    (E)
    Brown keeps talking about dialogues he has with God, and quoting (usually without qualification) things God supposedly says to him, Steve Brown, that are not in Scripture. But it's okay, remember, because he says believes in the Reformed position on the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Bible, and he isn't a charismatic, and maybe he's hearing God wrong. (Those are his "covers.")
  9. Brown says weird things about repentance. I listened twice, and still can't quite explain it. He denies the Biblical teaching that it means a change of mind which necessarily issues in adorning fruitful actions... though those elements come back into his teaching at other points. Just another weird aspect of his teaching. [UPDATE: I listened again. Brown says that he used to teach something like that forgiveness was apologizing for spilling the milk, repentance was cleaning it up. He now regards that as a terrible error and false teaching, for which he apologized everywhere he had preached it. Repentance is not change, he insists emphatically. It is understanding who God is and what He did and who I am (?!!). So it's a New Agey realization; it isn't a decisive change of mind that issues in a change of behavior, because we can't change (Matthew 3:8; Acts 26:20; Romans 12:1-2 and etc. to the contrary notwithstanding).]
  10. Don't really love the plethora pop-psychology and faddish phrases, like giving this and that person (including God) "permission" to do or be something.
  11. Brown says people should burn Dave Hunt's book that criticizes Richard Foster (because he's a hero of Brown's); and he told a whole audience to burn John MacArthur's The Gospel According to Jesuswhen he hadn't even read it! So Hunt's bad, MacArthur's bad, yet....
  12. Again and again Brown trots out his creds: I am a Christian, I am orthodox, I am Reformed, I am a five-pointer, I am conservative, I believe in literal 6-day creation, and on and on. But then he says...

    (A) that if this unsaved Jewish rabbi he personally likes doesn't go to Heaven, he (Brown) doesn't want to go, either (which means that the rabbi's presence is more important to him than Jesus' presence, though I'm sure Brown doesn't intend that meaning); and...
    (B) Brown says that there are no "super-Christians," except maybe (Mary-worshiping proponent of a Gospel-perverting sect) "Mother" Theresa, and (longtime doctrinal compromiser) Billy Graham — so, in other words, these two may well be above every other living Christian, including John Piper, John MacArthur, Al Mohler, and everyone else; and
    (C) Brown frequently speaks of how much insight he's gotten from this or that Roman Catholic or otherwise heretical writer, on various aspects of Christian living; and
    (D) Brown enthuses about what a great and real relationship with God unbelieving, apostate Jews have; and
    (E) Brown mentions how he wears a New Age bracelet for some physical ailment, quipping that he "tried Jesus" and it didn't work, so he is trying this ("and I thought I heard the angels laugh"); and...
    (F) frequently says in passing how well this and that apostate heretic "understands grace." And...
    (G) Brown says that (unrepentant antinomian murderess) Annie Lamott is a wonderful Christian person who he thinks is so great and loves to feature on his radio show.
    (H) Brown says that Harry Emerson Fosdick was a Christian, and probably would be "on our side" (or some equivalent) if he were alive today
  13. From all that, my impression is that Brown can't think the Biblical Gospel is very important, in spite of what he says about the Biblical positions he formally holds.
  14. And that would mean Brown's not very Reformed — since if being Reformed means anything historically, it must mean seeing the Gospel as a decisive, divisive, watershed issue.
I left the course disappointed. I was hoping to gain personal help and encouragement from Brown's emphasis on grace. While I did gain some helpful points here and there (see point #2, above), they were so buried under endless stories and bizarre beep-beeps-from-outer-space, and generally so devoid of Biblical exposition, that in the final analysis they didn't really help me much, and left me very concerned about Brown's disciples.

The course did leave me with some themes I plan to develop in some Pyro posts, however. I'll state one right here, for anyone influential who "happens" by:

You can insist that you believe in the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, and that your positions are Biblical, until your blue head caves in — but if you don't specifically and continually ground every major point and application in the Word, you're just preaching yourself. People will walk away quoting you, not the Word. That means they're leaning on you, trusting you, depending on you and your insights. You've become their priest, their Pope, their magisterium.

You're making disciples of yourself, not of Christ.

You think about that. Amen.

33 comments:

Terry Rayburn said...

Or you could have closed with, "God told me to remind you about that."

DJP said...

Oh, sure.

Everyone's got a better idea.

(c;

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Thanks for taking the time to do the field research.

Steve Brown sounds like a Pied Piper to me, leading the weak towards a cliff.

James 3:1.

Jim Kirby said...

Dan,

Thanks for this exposé on Brown. It was very insightful and helpful.

JDK

Wyatt Roberts said...

Dan:

When you use the word antinomian, do you always mean it in the Anne Lamottian sense? It certainly seems like you're using it as a pejorative here. (Just thinking about your post over at TeamPyro.)

DJP said...

I haven't read a syllable from her that made a lick of Christian sense to me. She certainly communicated a strong sense that... how to say this tactfully? ... "Lordship" isn't a big feature in her conception of Jesus.

Wyatt Roberts said...

Dan:

I'm not sure what to make of her.

The only book of hers I've actually read was "Bird by Bird," which was actually quite good (somewhat similar to Stephen King's "On Writing"). But she does hold very unorthodox views, so I can certainly see why you say that.

Honestly, Dan -- and you might blast me on this -- I really struggle with how to "think" about folks like her. I, too, believe in "Lordship" salvation (at least I think of salvation in those terms). However, I'm not exactly sure what that "looks" like, particularly for people who seem to struggle with particular "addictions." Not that I think my personal experience mitigates biblical doctrine -- I don't. I do, however, recognize that many of those Christ accepted didn't seem to have a systematic theology, but a simple, child-like faith in Him.

DJP said...

Well, here's what I do, Wyatt.

I literally rejoice and glory in the fact that it isn't my business to decide who is and isn't saved. So I don't even try.

But I CAN AND DO decide whether doctrines, opinions, practices, or teachings are or are not Biblical. And I do "judge" them.

Nobody will find me saying, publicly or privately, that Lamott isn't a Christian. But I can say that, from everything I've seen from her, I have no reason to believe that she's a Christian besides that she says she likes "Jesus." Which a parrot could do, and which the apostle John doesn't seem to think is sufficient.

And it sure as SHOOTING is an insufficient basis to commend her, recommend her, and give her a platform from which to speak as a Christian.

Wyatt Roberts said...

Thanks, Dan. I agree with most of that (in all fairness, though, I suspect she would describe it in much stronger terms than just "liking Jesus.")

Carlo said...

Wyatt,

You wrote: "Honestly, Dan -- and you might blast me on this -- I really struggle with how to "think" about folks like her. I, too, believe in "Lordship" salvation (at least I think of salvation in those terms). However, I'm not exactly sure what that "looks" like, particularly for people who seem to struggle with particular "addictions." Not that I think my personal experience mitigates biblical doctrine -- I don't. I do, however, recognize that many of those Christ accepted didn't seem to have a systematic theology, but a simple, child-like faith in Him."

I would say if this person you know wants Christ and his addiction, he cannot have both. Jesus said if we want to follow Him we must deny ourselves and take up the cross.

If I can recommend an article for you to read, it would be from Grace To You http://www.gty.org/Resources/Transcripts/42-120 and he talks about what it means to take up your cross and what being a Christian should look like, this is a good read.

Lastly, I'd like to recommend
http://www.gty.org/Resources/Articles/609 where MacArthur lists what does not prove or disprove genuine faith and and a list of items what proves genuine faith. Man, isn't that one of the most important question is for everyone: what actually proves genuine faith? The last of those items (but not least) is obedience. But it's a great list and I think we would all benefit from reviewing it.

Wyatt Roberts said...

Carlos:

Thanks for the links. I like MacArthur (though I don't always agree with him). Anyway, I'm reading the first article now. I'll get back to you.

Wyatt Roberts said...

Carlos:

I am still reading the first of the two MacArthur links you sent me. There's just...so much there I disagree with, I'm not sure where to begin. The high points:

MacArthur states that the purpose of the law is to "crush men" (i.e., all men, Jews and Gentiles alike). However, Paul clearly and repeatedly tells us the law was given solely to the Jew (Rom 7:1, 9:4. 1 Cor 9:20).

Curiously, MacArthur states:

"That's why when you preach the gospel you have to preach the law. You have to slay the sinner. He has to be dead before he can be alive....So the law was given in order that it might be a crushing blow delivered to the head of the sinner who can't keep the law and is therefore cursed by the law. Galatians 3, if you break the law in one place, you're guilty of the whole law and you're under the eternal wrath of God. The law crushes us."

How could Gentiles be redeemed from the curse of a law they were never even under? I agree that certain aspects of the law serve as a reminder of man's sinfulness, but that is quite different that saying "when you preach the gospel you have to preach the law."

If you read back over Galatians, it is evident that throughout the passage, Paul is contrasting his former life under the law with the grace that he (and others) now have in Christ:

Gal 2:15-16 "We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law."

Gal 3:13-14 "Christ redeemed us [the Jews] from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us [the Jews](because it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree") in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles [you guys, the Galatians], so that we could receive the promise of the Spirit by faith."

MacArthur's problem, in my view, is one of hermeneutics, and it pervades much of his essay.

Moreover, JM says, "That's why the Beatitudes [say] if you want to enter the Kingdom you start by being poor in spirit."

No. This is just plain wrong. In fact, it's the opposite of what Scripture actually says. It reverses the truth:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them."

I don't necessarily disagree with what I take to be the sense of what MacArthur is saying, but the way in which he says it actually inverts the text. The Beatitudes is about how one recognizes those who are in Christ, not the things one must do to enter into His kingdom. It's the difference between the Law of Moses ("Do them and you will live"), which is causative, and the Law of Christ ("If you love me, you will obey my commandments"), which is indicative.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Carlo,

Thanks for the links to John MacArthur's GTY sermons. Wyatt, I don't have the same heartburn you do about JM's style of exposition or his hermeneutics.

But then again, I do believe that preaching Law before Grace is an appropriate sequence. Hearing the Bad News makes me thirsty for the Good News, and another resulting effect of that sequence is that I'm so ecstatically and joyfully grateful for the Good News.

Anyways, you'll probably disagree Wyatt, and that's okay with me. I like knowing the Bad News before the Good News, and I like John MacArthur. And I do think Genuine Salvation = Genuine obedient discipleship.

Pax.

Wyatt Roberts said...

Truth Unites:

No heartburn :-) At the risk of appearing to be patronizing, I do like MacArthur quite a bit...used to listen to him a lot when I lived in Dallas. I just happen to disagree with him on this issue.

As I said, I recognize that certain aspects of the law serve as a reminder of man's sinfulness. However, MacArthur is simply incorrect to say that "when you preach the gospel you have to preach the law." And whether or not you "like knowing the Bad News" doesn't bear much weight on the question. Now, preaching the law may prove to be an effective method of winning converts, or ensuring they aren't squishy, but that's a different question.

Carlo said...

Wyatt,

You wrote: "MacArthur states that the purpose of the law is to "crush men" (i.e., all men, Jews and Gentiles alike). However, Paul clearly and repeatedly tells us the law was given solely to the Jew (Rom 7:1, 9:4. 1 Cor 9:20)."

By the way, it's Carlo, not Carlos. :=)

While it is true that the Mosaic Law was given to the Jews, what doesn't change, is that Jesus met the requirements of the law of Moses and His keeping the requirements of the law (together with satisfying His Father's wrath) has implications which extends to both Jews and Gentiles who embrace the gospel message.

The law was given to the Jews not because there was anything special of the Jews in and of themselves. The Lord could have bypassed Isaac and gone to Ishmael if he wanted. Then God could have given the law to the Ishmaelites (well, you know what I mean). Here's the one thing that changes, no matter who the Lord chose to gave the law to, to those who were given the law and to those who were a law to themselves (see Romans), everyone is guilty as charged.

Anyone who I share the gospel with and thinks he is a good person I can ask him, "have you ever lied before, then you are guilty, ever committed adultery, guilty, ever lusted, guilty, etc. etc. etc. Anyone who is not saved is crushed under the requirements of law of Moses or the law of conscience.

In fact, Wyatt, this is stunning, the precision of the apostle Paul under the guidance of the Holy Spirit is amazing. The apostle Paul reminds us that even though the Gentiles did not have the law, they had the "work of the law" written in their heart (the proper grammatical interpretation of this is "written work of the law on their hearts - written is used as a modifier to work it is not used as verb as so many translations write). This important and amazing distinction between the work of the law vs. the law written in their heart is critical. Because all those who have the law written in their heart (believers) are saved. But these Gentiles who were not given the law (of Moses - that's the law that Paul is talking about) are completely and utterly, 100% responsible because they have the WORK of the law (of Moses) written in their heart.

So, I have no problem, nor should any Christian, have a problem, mentioning aspects of the law to crush them since the apostle Paul already admits that many of them by nature already do what the law requires because they written work of the law is in their hearts.

Wyatt Roberts said...

Let's see.

At Mars Hill, Paul didn't preach "the law" to the pagan Gentiles, but what? He preached the risen Christ.

Peter, on the day of Pentecost, preached not the law, but, again, the risen Christ.

And what did Philip preach to the Ethiopian eunuch? Luke tells us in Acts that he "proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him" -- or as the KJV puts it, he "preached unto him Jesus. Not the law.

The only example I can recall that even remotely resembles MacArthur "law-based" presentation of the Gospel is Jesus' conversation with the rich young ruler. Interestingly enough, when confronted with questions about the law by Jesus, the guy actually claims that he had followed the law. It is the point raised by Jesus after discussion of the law that really nails the guy.

Again, I'm perfectly fine is someone feels it's useful to use aspects of the law to remind a person of his or her sinfulness. HOWEVER, it is simply wrong to say, as JM does, "when you preach the gospel you have to preach the law." If John MacArthur is correct on this, then Paul did not preach the Gospel at Mars Hill, Peter did not preach it on the day of Pentecost, and Philip did not preach it to the Ethiopian eunuch. I'll leave it to you to decide if this is, indeed, the case.

Carlo said...

Wyatt,

I didn't mean to turn this into a discussion about JM and preaching the law. Actually, I'm not aware of JM making the statement as you put in quotes that when you "preach the gospel, you must preach the law."

I guess the question that must be asked is what is the gospel. In a nutshell it is this: Heaven is a free gift, it cannot be earned or deserved; man is a sinner; he cannot save himself; God is merciful and does not want to punish us; God is also just and must punish sin; Jesus is the God-man; He came into the world to save sinners - purchase a place for us in Heaven and pay the penalty for our sins; this gift is received by faith. This is the gospel message. Now, I don't know how you tell someone about sin apart from the revealed law...you can say it without using the words, "law of Moses", but that's what it means to proclaim the gospel. Whatever you mean by "preaching Jesus", I believe in order for the gospel to be proclaimed, it must include all of the aforementioned items above, right?

Wyatt Roberts said...

Carlo:

Well, that's quite a nutshell.

I guess I would disagree with you *somewhat* on what constitutes the Gospel (at least the nutshell version :-).

Yes, all of those things you listed are absolutely true. In my opinion, however, the Gospel, as it's used in Scripture is considerably less unwieldy. It's not a systematic theology like what you've kind of outlined above, but a proclamation. This site has a pretty good description of how the Gospel writers (and Paul) would have been using it:

"Euaggelion [the greek word for Gospel, or good news] was commonly used in the Greco-Roman culture as a technical term for 'news of victory.' The messenger appears, raises his right hand in greeting and calls out with a loud voice: 'rejoice …we are victorious.'"

This is very consistent with the way we see the term being used in Scripture.

But look. I'm with you. I didn't really set out to hijack Dan's blog to discuss this. I will try to write something on my blog in the next few days. If you want to drop by, I'd be more than happy to discuss it with you.

dac said...

37 Lectures?

You sir, are a glutton for punishment.

DJP said...

Ohhh, DAC, you don't know my world. If I listened only to 20 of them, or 30, or even 36, and made a comment — some guy would come in and shred me for daring to comment on the basis of only a PARTIAL listen-through, and calling me an idiot for not knowing that it's the 37th lecture that makes sense out of all the preceding lectures, and that without IT....

You see where I'm going with this.

Like over at Pyro, commenting on that Keller article. How many times did I say I was ONLY talking about THAT ARTICLE, and not judging his whole ministry? And (IIRC) everyone was fine with that, and read and accepted the English just dandy — except this one guy with a chip on his shoulder....

Carlo said...

OK, Wyatt. Can't make any promises about visiting your blog. I'm really trying to behave and keep my internet blogging (as a bloggee) really, really, small.

candyinsierras said...

I used to like Steve Brown when I first became reformed, because I liked his emphasis on grace, but I eventually became alarmed at some of the things he said, just like you mentioned. I am surprised he still teaches at a reformed seminary, to be honest. Or does he? I am not sure.

DJP said...

Yes, Candy: this on which I'm commenting is a course taught at RTS (Reformed Theological Seminary) in Florida. Surprises me too. But he commends how the seminary's "changed"; once he couldn't have taught the course without a lot of challenges, and now it's just fine. He sees that as a good thing. I'm not so sure.

TBE said...

Dan, haven't you learned a single lesson from the Emergents and NT Wright fans out there???--unless you've read every single letter of every single word anyone's ever written, you're not qualified to critique it! The only reason you find fault with Brown's 37 lectures is because you haven't heard the ONE lecture out of the other thousands he's given in his career that CONTEXTUALIZES it all for you!

(And now, I hope you'll excuse me...I need to have my tongue surgically removed from the inside of my cheek.)

DJP said...

Thanks for a good laugh.

You know, seriously, that did once get me a point in a dispute with one of these guys. (I forget which one.) He was ragging on me, I think, for not having read all of N. T. Wright before criticizing him.

So I asked if he'd read all my stuff before criticizing my criticism.

He was honest enough to admit that I had a point.

a servant of Jesus said...

Greetings from a fellow Bible student, though I have no degrees... just a Bible student.

Thank you very much for this assessment and examination of Steve Brown ~ I agree. He has been lax on Scripture for years, even mocking those who criticize him for not backing up what he says with Scripture...

Thank you again.

a servant/life-slave of Jesus, SH

DJP said...

Thanks. Yet he "covers" it all by saying he's got Scripture for it all. Hm. "Habeas corpus," I say.

Zach Van Dyke said...

Just wanted to let you know, I gave you a "shout out" in my latest article for Steve's website for pastors: www.poopedpastors.com

So glad it's all about grace.
Zach

DJP said...

Amen for the real, dynamic grace of God, that is "training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age" (Titus 2:12).

Tim Brown said...

Dan:

Thanks for the article. At one time I used to listen to him, then came to understand his position on what is referred to as Lordship salvation. I then stopped listening. Recently, someone (who cares about me, means well and was trying, I'm sure, to help me understand grace better) send me a link to 'scandalous freedom". In it, he joked about a woman who decided to quit reading the Scriptures for some time because she was doing it out of duty.

You're right. He's long on stories and very short on exposition. And, like so many I'm sure, I *want* to like him. I really do. But there is just too much "blah blah blah" in there to weed through in order to glean anything worthwhile from it.

One thing I do like about him, and share, is a "basement-deep, resonant voice".

I'm thankful.

Brandon Wallace said...

Well, I was with you up to a point. Then I realized that what you were writing was not with love and grace at all. Too bad you couldn't listen to the things Steve (and the message of Jesus) was trying to say all along...

DJP said...

This meta is long-closed, but I thought it might be illustrative to let that one through. Is Brandon a fair fruit of Steve Brown's ministry? I spend two posts dealing with what Steve Brown actually says, and I weight it against what Scripture says. Brushing that all aside, Brandon feels himself (A) competent to judge my heart, and thus (B) justified in ignoring how Scripture reflects on what Steve Brown says.

Judging (and condemning) the heart of a total stranger, without the obligation to adduce a shard of evidence, trumps the Word of God.

Good fruit? Or bad?

Stan McCullars said...

Not sure I would lump Brandon in with Steve Brown's ministry. Steve is big on grace. Brandon seems a bit quick to judge in this case.