16 February 2010

Steve Brown's "Grace in the Church" course at RTS: impressions and analysis

by Dan Phillips

Between this blog and my own, I've reviewed books, movies, software and music. To that, a couple of years ago on my blog, I added a review of a seminary course offered at Reformed Theological Seminary in Florida, taught by Steve Brown. This is an edited consolidation of two posts from there. The course I'm reviewing is available via their virtual campus presence on iTunes. Brown is a Presbyterian (PCA) pastor who's an author, pastor, seminary prof, and radio host. Brown is Professor of Preaching at RTS. I'm no Brown-specialist; this review is of one specific course. I have heard Key Life a few times, and saw a snippet of a cable-type TV show Brown did in which he had friendly arguments with the execrable Tony Campolo (I think this is the series). Now, to the course.

Among a number of courses I listened to from Reformed Theological Seminary was thirty-seven lectures on grace by Steve Brown.

In style, they're winsome, occasionally thought-provoking, and really irritating — not in a good way. Brown dispenses counsel and makes statements that I think are flat-out irresponsible. But because he's PCA, he's teaching at RTS, and he disagrees with Tony Campolo, I listened to the entire series in an effort to get his point.

Here's what I came away with.

First, my Summary Statement: Brown says a number of valuable, useful and true things in a winsome, easy-listening manner — however, he encrusts all that in so much that is irresponsible, reckless, harmful 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 for life:....").

Here are my main thoughts and observations:
  1. I want to trade my whiny, nasal voice for Brown's basement-deep, resonant voice.
  2. Brown comes across as an eminently likable fellow.
  3. Brown says a number of thought-provoking things. Though he doesn't develop it Biblically at any length, he says "God isn't mad at you anymore." For the Christian, true (Romans 8:1) — and praise God for it. 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." Mostly true. 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, I think, that we wouldn't be so shocked at our failures if we didn't have such a high opinion of ourselves.) True. Brown says that when pain exceeds payback, real change becomes possible. Good point. 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. Too true.
  4. The man has more stories and illustrations than Methuselah. The whole course is heavy on stories and anecdotes but offers next to nothing in terms of Scripture
  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 asserting 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 (?!). Brown rests it all on a case he never makes Biblically.
  6. More than anything, Brown comes off like a guy who's latched on to a true and Biblical concept (grace), detached it from the Bible, loaded it with his own ideas and concepts and implications, and made a career of it. (We warned against that danger back in 2006, and again in 2008... and probably several other times.)
  7. 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.
  8. 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. Granted, 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 Brownite disciples, that is exactly what he is doing. Since they can't see it in Scripture, they must depend on Steve Brown's 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.
  9. Brown says some things that are absolutely, barkingly, wildly irresponsible; and if his students take any of them seriously, they will ruin their ministries, themselves, 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'the should anyway! Because that's probably God talking to him. (I can imagine the jaws of dozens of readers who are pastors, hitting the floor.) So, in the Brown universe, verses like Proverbs 10:19; 12:18; 15:28; 17:27; 21:23; and 29:20 are not nearly so 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. The spirit of 1 Corinthians 16:15-16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; and Hebrews 13:7 and 17, not so much.
    (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 and witness and ministry and all, and God's reputation, I guess.
    (D) Brown urges all of them to cuss. Just to do it. I don't recall an exposition of Ephesians 4:29. I guess he already did all that, somewhere, or it was in his notes.
    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, don't be alarmed — 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.") Yet Brown natters on about things God says to him, about God laughing, and a bunch of dribble attributed to God — and Brown isn't talking about the Bible. Which, as you know...yikes. Fingernails on the chalkboard of my soul.
  10. Brown says weird things about repentance. I listened twice, and still can't quite explain his position. Brown denies the Biblical teaching that repentance means a change of mind which necessarily issues in adorning fruitful actions... though those elements come back into his teaching at other points. 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, Brown insists emphatically. It is understanding who God is and what He did and who I am (?!!). This takes me right back to my pre-Christ days in the cult of Religious Science. It turns the crisp Biblical call to action into a New Agey realization. No longer is repentance 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).
  11. 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.
  12. Brown says people should burn Dave Hunt's book that criticizes Richard Foster (because Foster is 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....
  13. 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 Brown says...
    (A) ...that if this unsaved Jewish rabbi he personally likes doesn't go to Heaven, Brown doesn't want to go, either. Now, what is that supposed to mean? The words mean that the Christ-rejecting rabbi's presence is more important to Brown than Jesus' presence. Surely Brown doesn't mean that. But he said it.
    (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. In other words, these two may well be above every other living Christian, including John Piper, John MacArthur, Al Mohler, and everyone else.
    (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.
    (D) Brown enthuses about what a great and real relationship with God unbelieving, apostate Jews have.
    (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," he adds — I didn't).
    (F) Brown frequently says in passing how well this and that apostate heretic "understands grace."
    (G) Brown says in particular that (unrepentant antinomian murderess) Annie Lamott is a wonderful Christian person who he thinks is so great and loves to provide a soapbox 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
  14. 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.
  15. 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. Which makes me wonder what he's doing, teaching at Reformed Theological Seminary, host to many wonderful classes by men like John Frame and others.
I left the course disappointed. I went in genuinely open-minded. Whatever I gained was so buried under endless stories and bizarre beep-beeps-from-outer-space, and so devoid of Biblical exposition, that I was left un-profited, and very concerned about Brown's disciples.

On "grace": for what I hope is a Scriptural corrective, review Grace: eighteen affirmations and denials.

Take this lesson, at the very least. 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.

UPDATE: since these articles The World-Tilting Gospel was published. If you read it, you will find that it thoroughly responds to Brown's muzziness, and anticipates the current (2014) arguments about sanctification and grace.

Dan Phillips's signature


olan strickland said...

Point 13. A) "...that if this unsaved Jewish rabbi he personally likes doesn't go to Heaven...."

When I read that I immediately thought of that popular longtime doctrinal compromiser, Billy Graham and then, presto - point 14.

James Scott Bell said...

This was a tough, but fair, critique. It is fair because Dan is specific on point after point. He uses a hammer, but strikes in such a way that he's clear on the substance. It's not ad hominem. That's the way to do it.

Dan's conclusion is right on:

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.

That applies to all preachers who, in essence, become "the show." Who give more of their own opinion than they do Scripture. Preaching is not a popularity contest. You can make it so, you can tell stories and jokes and blunt all the hard edges of the Bible. You can even cuss these days. But you create fans of the preacher, not disciples of Jesus.

DJP said...

Agreed, Johnny. It's one reason I am almost obsessive with laboring to make sure my hearers see it for themselves in that Bible that is lying open on their laps. Then, that truth is theirs. My goal is that they be able to say "The Bible says," not "Pastor Dan says."

Fred Butler said...

Well. At least he sounds good on the radio when you listen to his bad teaching.

DJP said...

Oh, I totally agree. Sounds like a great guy to hang around.

olan strickland said...

Dan, this post also pairs well with the one Phil just posted by Spurgeon. Speaking of the common Christianity of his day, Spurgeon said, "It is a counterfeit and a sham. It does not make men to differ from their fellows, it pretends to faith and has none, talks about love and does not show it, brags of truth and evaporates it into thin air in its latitudinarian charity."

Grace in the Church course: congregants should be assertive - at least once a month (ROFL)! Burn Dave Hunt and John MacArthur books.

Let's call light, darkness and darkness, light and then call that grace in the church!

Anonymous said...

Good, helpful analysis. I hope it's heeded. Personally, I haven't been able to listen to Brown for years precisely because of some of the similar outrageous things I've heard him say on his radio program.

G N Barkman said...

Thanks. That helps explain why I had trouble getting anything substantive from the radio progam, which I used to hear occasionally. It was attractive, fun, and breezy, but didn't seem to have much to say from Scripture.

candy said...

I came to the same conclusion a few years ago. I started listening to more substantial sermons from others, and had the same red flags.

jazzycat said...

IMO this points to a failure at RTS in their stewardship of the gospel.

It seems that current reformed thinking in America is moving in a direction away from grace in sanctification toward a direction of human effort.

JackW said...
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Nash Equilibrium said...

Here are a few reactions:

1. This Brown fellow sounds as though he is incredibly confused on so many basic doctrines, that I wonder why or how he is a teacher of anyone? His advice seems to contradict his doctrinal professions at almost every turn.

"Brown comes across as an eminently likable fellow."
"In style, they're winsome, occasionally thought-provoking, and really irritating — not in a good way."

Well now, there are some descriptions you typically wouldn't see together about the same person!

More than anything, Brown comes off like a guy who's latched on to a true and Biblical concept (grace), detached it from the Bible, loaded it with his own ideas and concepts and implications, and made a career of it.

WOW. That would be a pretty good description of the business model for just about the entirety of the Christian "Celebrity/Author" industry! Or so it would seem, prima facie, just strolling through the Amazon top Christian sellers or any Christian bookstore.

4. I read an article in the newspaper this last weekend that according to a recent poll, about one-third of people in the PCA believe that persons can be saved apart from Christ. While that news enraged, but didn't particularly surprise me, reading the things this PCA teacher spouts off gives new insight into why so many may be so confused.

SolaMommy said...

All I can think of after reading this is "wolf in sheep's clothing..."

DJP said...

I'm actually surprised there isn't more on Brown... unless I've just missed it.

Anonymous said...

Good analysis and example of separating personality from propositional teaching.

Chuck said...

Did anyone else see the '3 Free Sins' tab over at Steve Brown Etc.? One of the most bizarre things I've ever seen.

Stratagem, if that is true about the PCA it is very disheartening. The little Baptist college I went to is about 2 minutes away from Covenant Seminary, and I spent a good deal of time studying in their far superior library and attending an odd free seminar lecture here and there. Of course, I'm SBC so it's not like we don't have issues of our own.

Thankfully, just as surely as God uses denominations he can work apart from them.

Mike Riccardi said...

Wow. This guy should be fired.

FX Turk said...

I'll bet he's a great grandfather.

But I'm with DJP: maybe he should read copy for movie trailers or something instead of, well, that stuff.

And what is up with RTS letting this get by? Anyone from RTS reading the blog with an insight on that?

TAR said...

Thank you, Thank you , Thank you !!!

His radio show is carried locally, I listened because he claims he is reformed.. After a week of non scriptural foolishness I turned him off PERIOD

Unfortunately the elders and pastors of my church love him. my pastor has picked up the multiple" me-isms " and non biblical examples instead of using scripture to prove scripture.. We now hear the words I and me more than Jesus or God...

So I come here, I listen to solid sermons on line and pray for my failing church

Come quickly Lord Jesus!!

Nash Equilibrium said...


Read it and weep...

DJP said...

Yeah, Strat, as I thought:



PCUSA is the denom that jumped the shark decades ago when they defrocked Machen. Now, they can't even pick out the shark in their rear-view mirror.

Robert said...

If he wants his friend, the Jewish Rabbi, to go to heaven, maybe he should present the gospel to him. And perhaps he should go read Matthew 10:37-39. Of course, that may explain why he wants people to burn "The Gospel According to Jesus"...he is not a loyal follower of Jesus. He sounds like he is a loyal follower of himself, if anybody.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Ah OK, I stand corrected. Sorry about that. I honestly know nothing about Presbyterians (obviously), and I never made any distinction. All I know is that when I see the word "Presbyterian" it conjures up ideas of organs, robes, and people who go to the church mostly because their (fillindistantancestor) did. Therefore I confess I would never actually attend or give a fair trial to a presbyterian church, due to the negative connotations.

Nash Equilibrium said...

PS: Although I might add, if the PCA is endorsing non-Biblical teachers such as the one you describe, a merger of PCA/PCUSA may soon be possible - but I hope not!

donsands said...

"about God laughing, and a bunch of dribble attributed to God"

Made me think of 'The Shack'.

I can see tons of people in the Church liking this guy's teachings.

He sounds more like a PCUSA teacher.

Thanks for the headsup.

Sad to hear about teachers like this man, just after I listened to Alistair Begg preaching about how we need pulpits with genuine preachers in them.

Thanks again for the post. Makes me want to study my Bible even more.

I just don't understand why teachers don't love the Scriptures above all the other philosophies, teachings, and what-have-you's out there.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

In High School we were all given the opportunity to critique our teachers, at least once a year, and do it anonymously.

It may be helpful if his students could give him a grade. And this is the point, we have to grade our teachers on how they treat and interpret the Word of God, otherwise we are like rats following the Pied Piper.

I give this man way beyond an F, all the way to zero!

Rachael Starke said...

What is it about some pastors/people that causes this slow dissolve in their thinking as they age? Graham, Brown, pastors my husband and I have known - so many who were solid and faithful in their early decades of ministry, but then just drift away, taking a lot of people with them because of their earlier reputation for solidness.

What causes this? How ought people in ministry fight to avoid it? Probably a separate post or series, but one I'd love to read. No doubt many pastors will read this review and think "That will never happen to me." Really? Why not? Did Steve Brown ever say that?

(Of course, there's the other extreme - pastors becoming ossified and grizzled, perhaps out of a desire to specifically not succumb to Steve Brownism...)

Phil Johnson said...

Every time I have ever heard Steve Brown, the message seems to be the same: You don't need to fear God.

Our generation absolutely loves to hear that. If you can say it in a cool and cocksure way with a mellifluous voice while claiming to be a confessionally conservative Calvinist, you'll have no end of admirers.

It's a wonder Steve Brown's influence isn't even more far-reaching than it is.

Justin said...

I have an honest question about point #4. By "honest", I mean I am genuinely asking a question - not trying to pick a fight.

Can one not pick up truths about living a Christian life from a Roman Catholic writer? I'm thinking of Thomas Aquinas or even someone recent like J. Budziszewski, for example.

DJP said...

I didn't know Budziszewski had apostatized. How terribly sad.

The short answer: because the Roman Catholic Church perverts and opposes the Gospel, and the Gospel is foundational to Christian living.

You wanted a straight answer, you got a straight answer.

DJP said...

BTW, my answer's present-tense. Go back far enough in the history of the RCC and it was not wholly apostate. So writers from the distant past, maybe. Post 1517, increasingly unlikely.

Justin said...
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Justin said...

I have no idea how I thought that was point 4. . . sorry.

Anyway, thanks for the answer. I'm pretty sure J. Budziszewski is now in communion with the RC church.

I agree that the RC church gets the Gospel wrong and that the Gospel is foundational.

I ask the question, though, because much of what I read from Budziszewski seems to be solid stuff - practical living advice in his column Office Hours and his books like What You Can't Not Know and Ask Me Anything.

I want to be discerning, just worried maybe I'm off.

DJP said...

I just took your word on the points; I haven't committed them to memory!

I also saw the article about his road to apostasy. it makes for very sad reading. I had wondered, in the past, about his heavy emphasis on natural revelation, but he was so in-use among evangelicals I didn't think much further.

The article shows the way he thinks, the way he got himself off into Rome. Reading that pretty well cures me of any great yearning to pattern my way of thinking after his.

For someone, with all that's known and available and done, to conclude he wants to identify himself with today's Roman Catholic Church — there is something horribly wrong at a fundamental level. To blithely quote modern Roman Catholics on Christian living — particularly given Brown's heavy espousal of "grace" — is, to say the least, problematic.

Now, back to the topic?

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

You're right, DJP. Many bishops and priests from the past, in the RCC, such as Augustine, made sense. Dave Hunt criticizes Calvinists for giving credence to these pre-apostate Catholics. He thinks Calvin's theolgy is deeply rooted in Catholicism.

Say what!

Unknown said...
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Joshua Peterson said...


Long-time lurker, first-time commenter. Thanks so much for blowing the whistle on this no-lordship nonsense. Amazing how someone professing the Reformed faith like Brown can make such irresponsible and down-right foolish statements. The apostle John said that false teachers are most certainly NOT "us" (1 Jn. 2:19).

John said...

Re: Justin's question about picking up truths from Roman Catholic writers etc...

This question comes up often with different spins on it.

Here's my 2-cents (maybe worth less)input:

A: Joe or Mary Christian has "x" amount of time for devotions, Bible reading, Bible study, prayer, evangelism, discipleship - and then eating, sleeping, family time, church, etc.

B: Many Christians have trouble accomplishing the minimums in "A" above.

C: I encourage and suggest to people (and myself) to spend as much time in God's Word (truth) as possible and doing all of "A" above and then make the decision how much time is left to read all the other stuff that is out there and "keep the meat and throw away" the bones thing.

D: There's guys like DJP, Phil and all of them that are "oh so smart" and they can tell us in 2 mins. what it takes them 39+hours to distill.

Matt. 6:33...

Note: the appendix in George Mueller's "Answered Prayer" book on this is insightful. His library for many years consisted only of (by memory here): Bible, Greek text, Hebrew text, concordance, and a few lexicons.

Robert said...

At what point do we look to the words of 1 John 2:19 when we think of these men? "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they are not all of us."

Joshua Peterson said...


In Brown's article, "Church 'R' Us", which Dan links to under #8 of this post, he defends the inclusion of all kinds of false teachers in the body of Christ in the name of "grace." The verse from 1 John indicates that the apostle disagreed. Apostasy signals the exclusion of false teachers from the body of Christ.

Sorry for not making the connection more clear.


hansman said...

I enjoyed listening occasionally to Steve Brown on podcast until he interviewed William Young, author of The Shack. Steve practically fell out of his chair in praise and adoration over the book. I was very disappointed he didn't ask Young one hard ball question. Haven't listened to him since.

Robert said...


You were clear...I had started my comment about half an hour before I got to finish it and post it. After I looked through the comments in between and read yours, I had a d'oh moment! Sadly, the list of men to be rightfully included in this description (1 John 2:19) is ever-increasing. Although, the other side of that coin is that Jesus is coming. (I would say coming soon, but that is quite the relative term!)

Thank you for your attentiveness.

In Christ,

truth mission said...

Thanks for the review on Steve Brown.My opinion:We can't appreciate or appropriate the grace of God till we comprehend the breathtaking ,awe-inspiring power ,majesty and holiness of YHWH.The prevailing view of The Almighty as insipidly nice leaves me cold.When we have the biblical view of God ;grace truly becomes amazing

TAR said...

I am never surprised by church leaders, teacher or pastors apostatizing .

There are wolves in sheep's clothing all over the church.. that is why we carry our bibles and check every word against the truth of the word.

Jud 1:4 — For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Death or Glory Toad said...

Next thing you know, he'll be chillin' with McLaren and they'll be a double-feature on Challies. Blech.

candy said...

Do you think that SB has become antinomianistic in his theology? I have actually been surprised for a few years that he continues to be allowed to teach at RTS.

DJP said...

I don't know beyond what I say in the post. He expressly says he isn't — but sure talks as if he is.

John Haller said...

Thanks, Dan. This is a really good analysis.

Pray for my church. Steve Brown is speaking here the last weekend in February. Not my choice. Not by a longshot.

Fortunately, I will be in S. California on vacation at that time and if Phil is preaching that Sunday....

John Haller said...
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John Haller said...

Oh goody. I just checked and he is. The irony is that Phil's sermon from Feb 14 at GraceLife is on the same general topic as the conference at church. Topic is listening to the Holy Spirit.

Great sermon there Phil.

That series he did with Tony C was Hashing It Out. I watched it. I will admit that Brown was very patient.

Steve Brown liked The Shack. Please.

Off topic: A friend was recently telling me how moved he was by The Shack and what a great book it was. My response to him was: I've known you for a decade, and in that time you've never gushed over a single passage of scripture like you just did about The Shack. I think you need to re-prioritize.

Kerri Sheldon said...

John, I'm not sure what church you attend, but I was concerned because I saw that the church in Columbus which I used to attend is going to have Steve Brown speak and host a conference by him. Not good. I will be praying. That was a good response to your friend about The Shack.

John Haller said...

Kerri: yep, that's the church I attend and you used to attend.

Kerri Sheldon said...

I heard him speak at last year's conference and was NOT impressed. I can't believe they invited him back. I wonder why?! Let's pray the Holy Spirit moves and somehow spares our dear friends from hearing Brown speak...Maybe he won't even come!

Paula said...

Kerri said, Let's pray the Holy Spirit moves and somehow spares our dear friends from hearing Brown speak...Maybe he won't even come!

Tony Campolo was coming to speak at a conference at our [former] church a couple years ago and God sent a mammoth blizzard in mid-March. The entire weekend conference - canceled. God answered my prayers in a way I hadn't even thought to pray!

Lisa said...

PJ wrote "Our generation absolutely loves to hear that. If you can say it in a cool and cocksure way with a mellifluous voice while claiming to be a confessionally conservative Calvinist, you'll have no end of admirers."

...and then throw in some cuss words in the Name of Jesus and call yourself an Emerging Calvinist as you preach "Peace, Peace" and we've got ourselves the next generation of 'continually mutating to fit in with the culture' heretics with that tossed to-and-fro fan base.

John Haller said...


No idea why they invited him back. The conf is usually one of the weekends we are in Calif visiting my in-laws. I did listen to his Sunday morning talk last year (he'll be back on Sunday morning this year) and had the same thoughts you did.

In the past, we've had pretty solid guys like Jerry Bridges, Mark Dever and Sinclair Ferguson so I don't know why SB. I should (I'm an elder there), but don't.

I think the RTS association might be getting him a pass.

Brown's thinking Richard Foster is great causes me much concern in addition to the things Dan laid out.

It seems like there is a constant push of questionable things to get through: The Shack making the rounds, Rob Bell stuff in the school. I can't believe that we are the only church that wrestles with this stuff.

Everyone (and I don't mean just in my church) runs around talking about this book, that book, this conference, that speaker. Brian McLaren releases a book that's not a new kind of Christianity, it's just the same old heresy and the so-called Christian blogosphere is all atwitter about how provocative and deep it is. Give me a break.

Can't we just get back to the Word?

DJP said...


trogdor said...

Pastor worship (pastolatry?) is a big enough threat even when the pastor is actually preaching the word and downplaying himself (Paul, Apollos). It's bad enough when the pastor is Biblically faithful, and people quote him as if he is the authority - at least the sayings they latch onto are generally true (but removed from context and scriptural backing, they can easily become a mantra). But when the personality cult starts forming around someone preaching himself rather than Christ, the error is particularly egregious. From that comment thread it looks like there are plenty of folks devoted to the Tao of Steve, and silly things like 'scripture' and 'evidence' aren't going to sway them.

His claim that Fosdick would be on his side sounds like an accusation I would make.

Tom Chantry said...

I was tremendously sad all day yesterday after reading this. It is bad enough that false teachers ruin the credibility of evangelicalism and mislead the sheep, but for them to do so with the imprimatur of a Reformed institution is tragic.

Reformed Christianity has always been confessional. Churches, denominations, and schools have been defined by their adherence to precise doctrinal standards. In the current era, however, such standards are viewed as passé and are scoffed at by the evangelical world at large as “too exclusive.” Whether or not you think that the standard is too strict, the fact remains that any Reformed institution has a confessional standard which it ought to be enforcing. The problem at the Reformed seminaries is that they are increasingly unwilling to enforce strict adherence to their own confessional standards.

It is one thing for the evangelical to say that the Westminster Confession is too precise and that a shorter statement of faith will suffice to ensure orthodoxy. However, a seminary has only two choices - it can adhere to the standards which it has or it can fail to adhere. It cannot pick and choose within its standards or it loses the moral authority to discipline itself. The Reformed seminaries on the whole have been unwilling to enforce their own standards. Professors are allowed to teach contrary to the doctrinal standards of the church. This is particularly true with regard to the matter of creation, but it is also true in matters of ecclesiology and ethics.

The result is a group of institutions with uncertain doctrinal standards. If a school is willing to hire a professor of Old Testament who denies the confessional teaching on the Old Testament, what ground does it have to refuse to hire or to dismiss a professor who denies a cardinal doctrine of the faith? It becomes a joke to say that the school cannot tolerate deviation from its doctrinal standards if half of its faculty is non-sabbatarian and thus denies an entire chapter of the confession. This should be obvious whether or not you agree with the WCF teaching on Sabbath or not.

I am convinced that this is how an RTS winds up harboring this sort of nonsense. Do they wish that they could be rid of a man who so openly attacks traditional Reformed Christianity? Many of the trustees and administrators may wish exactly that, but what are they to do? If they were to make a stand on the confession they might need to dismiss a significant portion of their faculty, and where else can they make a stand? I fear that this man is only a symptom of a broader problem within the Reformed community - one by which all the Reformed institutions of higher learning are likely to become compromised.

John Haller said...

Actually Tom (and I serve on the board of a seminary), my theory is that the problem is the invasion of secular academic standards into a religious institution of the seminary. Those of us who spent time in secular institutions (I was a graduate assistant in one), particularly the research oriented ones, know the phrase "publish or perish."

Once you adopt that standard, people will start looking for fresh ideas so they can get published. After all, who wants the same old ideas simply restated. If the standard for academic advancement become publication, I think it is an invitation to come up with a new idea.

Case in point: Brian McLaren. If I recall correctly, he was a professor at a university and seems to have take that "I need a fresh idea to get published" to his new religion writings. Thus, a new kind of Christian, new Christianity, etc.

Just my theory.

When my Dad passed away (he was a pastor), he had about 7,000 books in his personal library, most of them what you would consider classical works. I would surmise that more than 7,000 new "christian" books are now published each year. That leads to a lot of nonsense getting mass marketed. It breaks down a lot of barriers which is why I think pastors who are committed to protecting their flock feel like they are under seige. It's a deluge.

Want a picture of evangelicalism: PD and The Shack are, I hear, the two largest selling publications ever outside the Bible. Ouch.

John Haller said...

Tom: forgot one more thing. I don't think it is a problem just within the Reformed community. I think the barbarians are at the gate everywhere.

Tom Chantry said...


Fully agree with both points:

1. There are indeed pressures within the evangelical-academic community to come up with a New Thing. You didn't even mention the problem of doctoral theses. They must be unique, which means either heterodox or so finely specific as to be of limited value. The needs of publication - both novelty and popularity - tend to mitigate against sound teaching.

2. This is going on in more communities than merely the Reformed.

I do think, however, that the Reformed institutions are generally thought of as among those in which the faith will be most stringently guarded. Having a confessional document that is 350 years old and a long history of faithfulness to that document ought to mean something! So my questions is not just "Why is there an onslaught against truth in evangelicalism?" but "Why are schools like RTS so impotent in the face of the onslaught." And I do believe that there has been a growing tendency to view confessional documents as rough outlines to which professors should give some deference rather than as strict standards of doctrine.

There are a lot of professors at RTS - and at the other Reformed seminaries, who regularly ignore the confessional standards of their institutions and teach what they want. They do not do it so dramatically, and so they are tolerated. Their departures do not seem so dangerous. But if you tolerate departures long enough, you're bound to get a Steve Brown sooner or later - and just what are you supposed to do about it when you do?

Jesse Pirschel said...

I was a student of Browns at RTS and this just scratches the surface of some of the silliness he taught. Imagine, if you can, a Presbyterian seminary pastoral theology class teaching potential ministers to have a resignation letter ready at all times so that if the session decides not to agree with you on something you can use it as leverage. I wish I was exaggerating.

Terry Rayburn said...

Here's some food for thought, just to keep on the back burner of your mind, for future observation:

There are what seems to me an increasing number of teachers, whether flat out legalistic or more grace-oriented, who exhibit something that the world calls "sociopathy".

A so-called sociopath can be of almost any theological stripe, but they exhibit two general traits (among others):

1. They exhibit a lack of conscience.

2. They tend toward extreme narcissicm.

The Legalist So-Called Sociopath:

In the case of a Christian so-called "sociopath", since they have no apparent conscience, the legalist rails against whatever he chooses for a sin, and puts anyone under condemnation that he can...
...yet he is often well-known as a person of poor character himself, thus hypocritical.

The "Gracer" So-Called Sociopath:

He exalts "grace" even above the Lord who gives the grace, and since he has no conscience, instead of thinking, "Wow, what loving grace! How it inspires me to want to follow and fellowship with and surrender and submit to such a grace-giver!"...

...he thinks, "Wow, what grace! Now I can live however the #$%@ I want and it's no problem!"

Psycho-Babble vs. Scripture:

I consider the terms "sociopath" and "narcissist" psycho-babble. I only use the words because they are well-recognized terms in our culture.

Scripture seems to indicate that ALL are born with some conscience, but that it may be "seared" (1 Tim. 4:2) through exactly the kind of thing Steve Brown talks about re *ignoring* your conscience.

I have observed much of this "searing" in the professing Church, although Paul seems to relate it to those who depart the faith (1 Tim. 4:1).

And the so-called "narcissicm" which virtually always accompanies a "sociopathic" seared conscience is nothing more than the natural self-centeredness spoken of in many ways in the Scriptures (though in the case of Christian leaders it may be disguised by an entertaining or shocking teaching "schtick" -- sort of a Robin Williams manic desire to be appreciated).

Finally, an understanding of the radical beautiful nature of God's grace toward us is critical to a spiritual walk.

Dan's balanced review doesn't throw out the baby of grace with the bathwater of Brown's grievous errors.

Chuck said...

Phew. Stratagem scared me for a second there.

Funny PCUSA story: I went to the first T4G in 2006. That same weekend, the PCUSA had a conference in Louisville (they have a seminary there as well, pretty close to SBTS I think). I was on an elevator at the hotel with the men I had traveled with and several other middle-aged khaki-ed men with name tags. They asked if were there for 'the conference', and we said 'yes'. It took us a few seconds to realize that we were talking about two very different conferences, and then it got quiet again.

Of course, I don't think Steve Brown's going to be attending or speaking at T4G anytime soon. Although I'd like to see him interview J. Ligon Duncan; the juxtaposition between two guys (supposedly) coming from the same page theologically would definitely put Brown's work in stark relief.

John Bugay said...

For what it's worth, Brown does not seem to appear on the curriculum for RTS's "virtual" degree programs:


DJP said...

Yeah, but....

John Bugay said...

His email address is listed on his page. You could email him a link to this posting. He might respond with some explanation.

DJP said...

...or, since his comments were public, and mine are public, Brown could respond in public, if he wished. John Frame has done it (at my blog). Dan Kimball has done it (here). John Reisinger has done it (at my blog).

John Bugay said...

Just a suggestion :-)

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, even such a wonderful confession as WCF does not protect individual depatures from the faith.

For example, Sinclair Ferguson discusses 'The Marrow Controversy" starting at: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=220484920

His context was a point in Scotish Presbyterianism were some left the confessional center and the Presbytery chastened the upright and refused to deal with the apostates.

We also know about Spurgeon's Baptist "Down Grade" from their Puritan Reformed Baptist confession to an apostasy in his age.

As Solomon wrote, "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

We should not be surprised. We should be diligent. So again thanks to the Pyros for defending the Gospel!

May we all take heed of the collective wisdom here. We need to act as the Presbyter who are faithful to call in account. As Dan correctly pointed out...in this age their is no corners to hide in...Public is any Church these days!

Adam said...

Are you sure he spoke about a Jewish rabbi and not some Roman Catholic priest? It was quite a while I listened to those lectures but I'm pretty sure he said it about RC priest (or maybe he used the same phrase for those two guys?).

DJP said...

It's also been a good while since I listened to them, but I wrote the original posts with it all very fresh in my mind — that made a big impression on me.

You'll pardon me for not re-listening to all 37 classes just to make sure?


daniel vance said...


I am a frequent lurker, very infrequent commenter. Love the site! I have no desire to defend Brown, but I would like some of your clarification about one of your criticisms--if you have time. You criticize Brown for saying that he doesn't want to go to heaven if his Jewish rabbi friend isn't there, too. There are many "within the church" (using the term very loosely) who make these claims--and they always make me uncomfortable, b/c they do reveal a heart that is more preoccupied with human relationships than with their Lord. But Paul's statement in Romans that he could "wish himself cut off for the sake of his hebrew brethren" always stops me from outright rebuking them. Can you offer any clarity here? Like you, I find the statements distressing; they really don't sit well in my heart...but I don't want to be arguing with Scripture, either.

DJP said...

That's a perfectly fair, good question Daniel. Maybe that's Brown's feeling; if so, it was horribly poorly-expressed and irresponsible for him not to clarify... and still a foolish thing to say, in my judgment.

In the context of Romans 9—11, Paul's main stress is that Israel has no excuse for their rebellion. His desire is that they be saved (10:1) — that is, that they repent of their rejection of Messiah and embrace Him in faith. It isn't that they're just so lovable and good and dear that Paul can't stand to see them get in trouble... which is the impression Brown's words gave me. That is, this rabbi is just such a dear soul, Brown wants to see him in Heaven, or Heaven won't be Heaven. I don't remember a word about Brown wanting to see the rabbi repent of his treason against God, repent of his capital offense, as his only hope of avoiding the just judgment of God.

I'll risk sharing a personal example. I have dearly-loved ones who have died, without leaving a sure testimony of saving faith. Some, but not nearly what I'd wish.

I have said that I cherish the hope of seeing them both in Christ's presence; and if I don't, God will have that many more tears to wipe away. (I write that with tears in my eyes, even now, at the thought.)

But the notion of saying I don't want to go there if they aren't there?

What would that say to living unbelievers? How would that reflect on Christ and His worth and glory? Who would that help? Wouldn't that just glorify me and my tenderheartedness, and make God look miserly?

I hope this is of some help to you.

daniel vance said...

Very helpful indeed. Especially your point about Paul wanting them to be saved (which includes repentance). Also, I might it add that is nice to hear the tenderness of your heart regarding your departed loved ones. I have similar circumstances in my own life. It's encouraging to know that we can stand for God's truth but not be the hard-hearted Pharisees that the McLarens of the world claim we are. Thanks again for the quick response--I know I jumped in pretty late on this thread!

Rob said...

This doesn't speak well of RTS for including Brown's messages. I've only listened to a couple RTS podcasts on church history, but never anything by Steve Brown, and after reading this post, I'm not likely to.

Particularly troubling is what he states about "Christians should disagree with their pastor once a month"(?) Where did this strange rule come from, and why once a month? I do agree that Christians should measure everything they hear from the pulpit with the scriptures, and if they find disagreement with the pastor's teaching they should lovingly and respectfully address it in private. But to instruct Christians to deliberately find a monthly disagreement is just ridiculous.

DJP said...

I hope you're not saying you wouldn't listen to anything else from RTS. I've actually heard some superb series from them, most notably that by John Frame.

The Brown series is, so far, a total exception. Which is what makes it so puzzling.

Perry Kaye said...

Hi, Dan.

I was wondering if the staff of RTS have been given an opportunity to read your opinion on Brown. Knowing that a professor like Brown is getting away with teaching these things worries me regarding my discipler who is thinking of going to RTS.

DJP said...

It's part of the beauty of the internet, Perry. Nobody has to log in to this site or buy a membership to read the posts, or to email a link to someone.

Morris Brooks said...

It seems to me that he was talking out of both sides of his mouth. If he really believes what he says he believes about the bible, about doctrine, etc, then he really couldn't believe all that other garbage he was espousing. On the other hand, if he really belives what he was espousing, he can't really believe what claims to believe about the bible. Unless, of course, he has never read it.

He is wearing sheep's clothing with a PCA headdress. Sheep beware.

Rick Frueh said...

Take all of his doctrine, wisdom, affableness, and preaching ability and set it aside. When anyone even suggests that a sinner who denies Jesus Christ should go to heaven he is nothing more than a well polished heretic. Period.

Unknown said...

This critique put into perfectly concise words all my disorganized thoughts after listening to Steve Brown on the radio off and on for some time. Thank you.

Nathan Cotton said...

Steve Brown is one of my heroes! He is one of the main reasons that I decided to go to RTS Orlando...then he left...nevertheless...I can't agree with you more..whats more important. I have not listened to his raido show but I'm going to now...

Nathan Cotton

Nathan Cotton said...

I have to say I am a Steve Brown fan..he is one of the reasons that I am going to RTS Orlando. I have not heard his radio show bit now I feel its a must. Thanks for the post.

nathan cotton

cuz I can? said...

@ virtual campus

Please also offer audio in FLAC.

cuz I can? said...


reverse analogizing man as a dog defiles Man's dignity


some citations oft ignored: http://BiblicalCatholic.com


how is that different than any other splinter group forming their own respective church from: the one, holy, Catholic, apostolic Church?


I'll take up that gauntlet:

John 6:28-69 --
where else does Jesus repeat the message as many times not offering an alternative explanation allowing people to leave not happy with the teaching?


Why do you not address the topic of "well formed conscience"?


if true sounds a bit demonic


You might want to explore the "double effect" of sin.


see #9D

Lesson without apostolic authority such doctrinal issues are difficult- if not possible to resolve.

DJP said...

Yes, it is important above all to stay with Sola Scriptura, and to worship only along the lines laid out therein. Without that, there is no apostolic authority, we can have no universal church gathered around the Lord and His truth, and we would be sure eventually to wander off into elevation of manmade traditions and eventually perversion and denial of the Gospel, such as one sees in the Roman Catholic Church.

Mike Morrell said...

Sweet! I just downloaded the course off of iTunes U. If only more conservative Calvinists were like Steve Brown, Joel Hunter, and (I suppose) Tim Keller, I might still be one!


DJP said...

That's two votes for contentless bluster instead of contentful engagement. Almost starting to look concerted, isn't it?

Tony said...

Over the years I've listened several times to Steve Brown and was always struck by the similarity with another preacher from my youth who had a large booming voice, more stories than scripture, extremely charismatic, absurd quotes, seemingly endless devotees - Jack Hyles. Different circles, same personality.

Nathaniel said...

I am a Junior at RTS-Charlotte and I hope that this post has not soured anyone on the wider RTS tradition. Charlotte does not host Brown or Brownisms of any kind. Furthermore, our virtual campus offers no courses whatsoever by Steve Brown for those seeking accreditation in the M.Div. program.

DJP said...

Nathaniel, as you've seen, again and again while people express dismay, I've repeated that other RTS courses online are really excellent. We're all just wondering how Brown fits in.

Do you have any insight on that?

Nathaniel said...


Brown is an Orlando phenomenon. The different campuses have similarities but also varying flavors. There are loads of PCA folk who loathe Steve Brown's teaching. However, there is a stream of Sonship teaching (Jack Miller) which is supportive of Brown's approach. Many Presbyteries are suspicious of Orlando grads almost solely because of Brown's teaching. However, RTS is not a PCA seminary. Brown has apparently had no problem signing his allegiance to the WCF year after year which is a faculty requirement.

Seminaries aren't churches. Bottom-line, they are businesses. Brown is published and successful. He is a boon to the establishment. That is probably why he stays on more than any other reason. Doubtful if that is a popular opinion, but I think it comes close.