One of the most difficult concepts for people who hear the gospel message to grasp is grace: a gift – purchased by the supreme sacrifice –freely given. For bad people. People who are messed up. For the broken.
The truth that Jesus Christ stood in our place, to pay the penalty for our sin … ironically, it is an obstacle for many. And if we believe in God, logic tells us there is an adversary, an enemy. The Bible is very clear about that.
So it is that the extraordinary message of grace is opposed by that enemy, who uses distortions and half-truths to deceive many.
That’s what Michael Brown is concerned about today.
Brown, whose reputation as an evangelical scholar is well known, says in a new book, “Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message,” that certain teachers are presenting a distortion of the grace message, and the implications are grave.
In “Hyper-Grace,” he quotes a woman who said via Facebook: “Your words pierced my hard heart and bring tears to my eyes. I can’t believe how far away from my Savior I have strayed listening to ‘feel good’ Christian teachers. Thank you for drawing me back with your word of truth. It is much needed today, as I know I am not alone in being a victim of deception in the Christian world. Thanks again and God bless you!”
What Dr. Brown and this reader are referring to, in short, is a new wave of teaching in the church that (rightly) emphasizes grace, but to the exclusion of other vital teachings about repentance and confession of sin.
In fact, Brown points out the arrogance of this “new wave,” which denigrates the Reformation: “John Crowder, who identifies himself as a ‘new mystic,’ goes even further, saying, ‘Just as there is a new mysticism on the rise, I believe it is coupled with a new reformation. The good news will be preached with such clarity that, even the days of Luther will seem utterly primitive in its concepts of grace and faith.’ Yes, ‘Even the reformers were not reformed enough. You will see how the cross united us to Christ, not just positionally, but effectively. It doesn’t just cover our sins, but eradicates sinfulness itself from us.’”
Brown is rightly concerned about the devastating effects of such thinking and in fact, has scores of examples of believers who have bought into hyper-grace. They are among those whose faith has been virtually shipwrecked when they discovered they are not on a higher spiritual plane, as many of these teaches infer. People struggle with sin, even after salvation.
At a time in history when the American church is plagued with hyper-grace teachings, along with what is called “easy believism,” Brown worries about the cause-and-effect with regard to hoped-for revival: “Absolutely, hyper-grace can be a problem. On the positive side, those hearing a true message of grace are getting refreshed and revitalized. But on the larger level, absolutely I see the hyper-grace message as antithetical to revival. When you talk about the need to repent, sin in the camp, seeking God – these are all received negatively in the hyper-grace camp. For many, many reasons it can be antithetical to revival.”
Brown, unlike many evangelical leaders who are aware of error but refuse to go public with it, is not afraid to confront popular teachers (though one could say he does so with humility).
One such teacher is Joseph Prince, a fixture on networks like TBN. According to Brown: “Fourteen times in his book ‘Unmerited Favor’ Pastor Prince makes reference to ‘effortless’ spirituality, and the word effort occurs a total of sixty-eight times in one form or another. In ‘Destined to Reign’ the word effortless even makes its way into the subtitle: ‘The Secret to Effortless Success, Wholeness and Victorious Living.’ Where is the truth, and where is the error in what he has written?”
You see the problem, right?
If you can’t live in the grace that Joseph Prince floats on, you’re doing something wrong. If your pursuit of faith is not “effortless” you are doing it wrong. If you haven’t overcome poverty or poor health (such topics are not the main emphasis of true, biblical grace), you are feeling defeated. It’s not dissimilar to the broader “easy believism” messages of an Andy Stanley or Steven Furtick. These dudes are blessed financially and otherwise, so if you’re not, well, you just aren’t doing it right.
Michael Brown’s willingness to take on a juggernaut in the American church is more than commendable; it’s necessary. Every pastor in America should read “Hyper-Grace” and then resolve to teach a biblical message of grace that their congregations – filled with live, messy humans – can model for others.