Among the wonderful changes that accompanied the turn of the millennium is the new sense of freedom that many followers of Christ are beginning to sense and maybe even experience. That change didn't come at the stroke of midnight as a particular year became a new one, of course, but it coincided closely enough. Still, those of us who have been around for a while know that one person's definition of freedom is not necessarily the same as another's, and that's especially apparent among evangelical church leadership. As Steve Brown puts it, when it comes to freedom, some good and well-intentioned people --- as well as their counterparts --- have lied to us for quite some time now.
"Many of us say, 'As Christians, of course we're free --- but that doesn't mean we're free to do whatever we want.' But if we aren't free to do what we want, then we aren't really free," he writes. "Or if we are, it is a weird sort of freedom." This, Brown says, is what we've been taught and consequently how we've lived. It's the church's ultimate bait-and-switch, and frankly, I half expected Brown himself to place a condition on Christian freedom. Not because he's that kind of guy, but because I still haven't gotten used to Christian publishers printing such radical stuff. But he never does. He repeats his message throughout the book: You really are completely free.
Now that would seem to be a good thing, but a message like that can rattle the cages of some of the imprisoned and those who would keep them that way. Freedom is a tough thing to handle, especially in a subculture that needs rules and regulations to keep its people in line. The prisoners themselves, Brown points out, are afraid of freedom, preferring to live a life of apparent niceness and decency to one that means becoming a radical follower of Jesus and leaving their cells to live the life of a genuine disciple, wherever that takes them. Or not, thus proving their freedom.
In an amazingly truthful statement, Brown writes: "If the Christian faith is about being nicer, it becomes moralism; in that case, Buddhism will probably be of more help than Christianity." I had to check the book's spine after I read that to make sure this book really was published by a CBA publisher. Kudos to Howard for having the guts to publish this book.
Throughout the book, Brown --- a self-described ultra-conservative --- is open and honest about his own history as one who deprived people of their freedom. "Religious professionals have to wear an exceptional number of masks to keep their jobs," he writes. "I have been a religious professional for most of my life, and I know all about masks." That history, he says, enables him to help others take off their masks and experience freedom.
My one concern about A SCANDALOUS FREEDOM, a concern that I suspect Brown shares, is that people who think they're already free will disregard this book, believing they have no need of its teachings. As Brown knows, it's the tricky word "freedom" that gets in the way. We don't want to admit that we don't have it, so we don't allow ourselves to truly experience it or be exposed to a deeper understanding of what it means for Christians. That's what Brown offers: a deeper understanding and more truthful definition of freedom that will truly set the church's captives free.
I suppose there are a few Christians out there who are so free that they have no need of what Brown offers. I know there are many who will demonize him and accuse him of teaching heresy. But for the rest, his is a timely and much-needed message.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on June 1, 2004