Tomorrow I get to spend about five hours or so with my friend Steve Brown.
Many of you know Steve, either from one of his books or from his Key Life radio ministry. Perhaps you’ve heard him interview me on one of his Steve Brown, Etc. programs on the ACT 3 Web site. However you’ve met Steve you either like him or despise him. The reaction is hardly ever neutral. Steve touches people’s buttons pretty directly.
When I first heard Steve Brown, at a Ligonier Conference some years ago, I thought he was a rank antinomian the way he spoke about radical freedom and grace. I remember writing on an evaluation form and suggesting he not be invited back! So much for first impressions.
Later I heard Steve again, in a different context, and his message connected powerfully. This only happened when I hit a wall in my life and was knocked off my high horse of performance and brought down big time. All of a sudden this guy was talking very directly to me! I loved his message, knew that he was not encouraging sin at all (thus he was not an antinomian in any true sense), and I realized I needed this man’s infectious joy and faithfulness to Christin my life.
I decided to invite Steve to speak at a conference we hosted in Wheaton at the Billy Graham Center. To my surprise, and maybe to his as well, he came. The first night we sat and talked in private and he said to me, "Man, you are not what I thought you would be." I answered, "Let me tell you my story and you will then understand what happened." Steve listened and then became a dear friend, which he remains to this day. I do not read everything he writes, since I don’t have the time, but I listen to all his Steve Brown, Etc. podcasts and some of his Key Life preaching as well. I also have read some of his material in written form. All of it is very good.
What matters the most to me is simple really—this guy is real. He is what you see and also what you hear on the radio and thus there is nothing, I mean nothing, that is phony about Steve Brown. He is opinionated, bold, creative, fresh and human. He is always willing to explore new ideas, listen to fresh arguments, engage people he disagrees with and learn from arguments he does not like.
As a result of all of this Steve gets a great deal of criticism. Some write him to let him know that they think he is not a Christian at all. They tell him he "encourages sin." (He ends his Steve Brown, Etc. program by telling guests their gift for coming on his show is "three free sins" and they should use them wisely! Some people, with no sense of humor at all, go crazy at this kind of stuff.)
On the other hand Steve touches thousands of folks who say, "Thank you for introducing me to a message of radical freedom, infectious joy and surprising faithfulness to Christ."
Steve, in his typical candor, recently wrote about how he preached grace for years but did not understand it. (Count me in on this one for the reasons that I stated above!) He says in his March prayer letter that for years he "never applied (grace) to myself." Because of this Steve knows just how much pastors need the message that God isn’t angry at them. Steve tells the story in this same letter of a pastor who came to see him and who broke down and wept just to say "Thank You."
Steve concludes by saying, "When ‘religious professionals’ start ‘getting it,’ it changes the church and the church can change the world." I agree profoundly. This is why I invest so much time and effort into scores of friends in the ministry. I believe the key to awakening the Church lies in the recovery of real grace in the hearts and lives of leaders.
If leaders begin to minister out of grace and freedom, with infectious joy and surprising faithfulness to Christ, then the churches will come alive with grace. This means pastors will be opposed and even criticized for preaching grace too freely. It means that sometimes they will be hurt very, very deeply. But it is worth it all if they (you) get the freedom to live a live in Christ not controlled by other people but rather by his grace alone.
Steve Brown helped me to see this and experience it deeply. I can’t wait to spend tomorrow with him in Oviedo at the RTS campus and then at the Key Life offices where I hope to meet his staff as well.
Steve Brown will speak for our Friends of ACT 3 dinner this September 5 in Carol Stream. Mark the date now if you would like to come. This is not a fund-raiser but an evening for our friends, old and new. I promise you too will enjoy meeting Steve Brown and hearing him speak in person. For those beyond the reach of Chicago you will be able to hear his address on our Web site. In fact, check out our new sermon, lecture and seminar feature with an entire library of audio files posted on our Web site.