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:
- I want to trade my whiny, nasal voice for Brown's basement-deep, resonant voice.
- 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.
- 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.
- The man more stories and illustrations than Methuselah.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.")
- 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).]
- 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.
- 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 Jesus — when he hadn't even read it! So Hunt's bad, MacArthur's bad, yet....
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
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.