Scott Brown-Todd Friel Discussion

Let me first of all say that I am not interested in getting into a discussion on the Family Integrated Church in general. The FIC is a broad movement, with many diverse views. Not everyone agrees, and you cannot pin one person’s views on another person. Hence, this is not meant to be a refutation of the FIC.

However, I discovered this link which contains a discussion of Scott Brown and Todd Friel discussing Brown’s latest book A Weed in the Church. I am only going to address the views that were presented in that particular program.

Let me first of all say that I agreed with a lot of what both Scott and Todd had to say about the sad state of youth ministry in the church today. There are, indeed, many problems with the “entertainment culture” much of youth ministry, and even into college ministry.

However, I found myself in more agreement with Todd than with Scott, simply because I thought Scott’s position was way too simplistic, and I didn’t really get the sense that he has thought all of this through. Here are some reasons for this:

1. Misuse of scripture

It is a gross misuse of scripture to make Jesus’ statement “Let the children come to me” relevant to age integration. They were bringing their babies to him, not to participate in some kind of meeting for teenagers to study the Bible, but for Jesus’ blessing. They were asking that he might “touch” their children, not have them participate in some age segregated activity. To read age segregation or integration into this text is pure eisegesis.

Secondly, having taken classes in the exegesis of the Proverbs, all I could do is just shake my head when I saw Scott Brown’s interpretation of Proverbs 22:15. First of all, the idea that the Proverbs are meant to be universal scope is entirely controversial, and I can only think of one scholar off the top of my head that takes that view, and Dr. VanGemeren tells me that he is heavily criticized by all of the other scholars of Hebrew wisdom literature. Todd Freil was right to immediately criticize that position by pointing out that there are many children who are very mature. That does absolutely nothing to the truthfulness of Proverbs 22:15, as Proverbs 22:15 was never intended to to be something that is *always* true, but only something that is *generally* true.

Secondly, this text is dealing with *children* not *teenagers.* Does Scott Brown really want to take the second half of this verse “but the rod of discipline will remove it far from him,” and apply it to teenagers? Does Scott Brown believe in spanking sixteen and seventeen year old teens?

2. Scott Brown’s experience with youth ministry

I don’t think that being formerly associated with the youth ministry in any way makes one more qualified to address what the *Bible* teaches on this issue. In fact, it may make you more susceptible to reading your experiences into the text. For example, my theology teacher made the observation that evangelicals tend to be a swinging pendulum. That is, we go from one extreme to the other extreme. A good example of this is hyperpreterism. People come out of the crazy dispensationalism that is grossly imbalanced, and throws everything into the future, and then they run right into hyperpreterism which throws everything into the past. I think one can legitimately ask the question as to whether Scott Brown has overreacted to a real problem in the church.

3. Misuse of “Patterns”

If I ever get to meet D.A. Carson, one of the things I would suggest to him is to add the exegetical fallacy of “misuse of patterns” to his book “Exegetical Fallacies.”

First of all, I would question whether such a “pattern” of church integration exists in scripture. How many places in scripture are we not even told the ages of the people who the prophets or apostles preach and minister to! Hence, one must rightly question whether such a pattern exists in the first place.

However, even granting that such a pattern exists, it is a major leap in logic to go from finding something that is a pattern in scripture to saying that it is normative. For instance, one pattern that you will repeatedly find in scripture is the collecting of water in a bucket. Hence, according to Scott Brown’s logic, it is normative for us to collect water in a bucket, and, therefore, all of the pipes that we use to collect water in our houses are examples of sin within the body of Christ. Such, however, is utter nonsense.

The problem is that it is one thing to identify a pattern, it is quite another to show that it has significance, and quite another to show that this significance is meant to be in terms of normativity.

A good example of a pattern that clearly has normative implications is the book of Judges, and the continued pattern of “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” followed by “so God gave them into the hands of…” It is clearly meant to be in the context of crime vs. punishment, as the text presents continual moral decline throughout the historical books. However, notice how the scriptures make it perfectly clear that these are moral responses of God because of disobedience.

The problem is that *never* does scripture ever take the alleged pattern of “family integration” and understand its significance in terms of normativity in the same way that it takes the pattern of “everyone doing what is right in their own eyes” and understands its significance in the normative context of the breaking of God’s law. In fact, I would argue that, even if one could show such a pattern in scripture, the scriptures give very little attention or significance to this pattern. Hence, to even bring it up is exegetically fallacious.

4. Antithesis vs. Sola Scriptura

While this did not get developed in the program, there was mention of an evolutionary worldview, and the idea that separating children out into age groups somehow came from an evolutionary worldview. I addressed the issue of antithesis and its relationship to Sola Scriptura when I reviewed the Botkin girls’ book So Much More. As I mention in that post, simply saying that “an evolutionary worldview” teaches this is not sufficient reason to dismiss the idea, especially in light of the theological principle of “Common Grace.” The reality is that it is a biological fact that the human brain develops over time. Even the apostle Paul knew that when he said, “When I was a child, I thought like a child” [1 Corinthians 13:11]. Would Scott Brown like it if, in teaching five year olds about language I start using terms like “Generative Grammar,” “X-Bar constituent levels,” “Government and C-Command,” or “langue vs. Parole?” Obviously not. The fact that Darwin recognized this obvious fact has nothing whatsoever to do with its truth or falsity. Both Darwin and Paul recognized this fact; the issue is the *context* into which they put it.

Now, I do agree that we too often think that children simply can’t understand, and we talk down to them when we do not need to. There are also times in which we refuse to challenge children to help them grow. However, there are also times when you need to speak in terms they will understand. It takes wisdom to know when each is appropriate. That is the value of breaking children up into various age groups in some contexts, and not in other contexts.

The main point here is that you cannot take a false worldview, contradict everything in it, and then impose the results upon the text of scripture. That, in and of itself, is a denial of Sola Scriptura.

5. What is the “sufficiency of scripture?”

Having dialogued with Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Jews on this issue, I was somewhat surprised to hear this brought up in this context. However, if you look at the link to the interview, you will see that, up on the top underneath the church, you have the phrase “Proclaiming the Sufficiency of Scripture for Church and Family Life.” However, the question must be asked as to what we mean by the “sufficiency of scripture.” Traditionally, this phrase has been connected with the Latin phrase regula fide; that is, scripture is sufficient to function as the rule of faith.

In other words, the classic teaching on Sola Scriptura is that the scriptures are sufficient to *regulate* [regula fide] church and family life, but not to tell us everything that can be done in church and family life. The latter view, I would argue, is disastrous to the sufficiency of scripture, as it asks language to do something it can never do.

To help explain what I mean, I remember dialoguing with a Jew on the issue of the sufficiency of scripture, and he argued that I needed the Rabbinic traditions because I could not understand the fourth commandment without them. He said that I needed to know what “work” is, and the scriptures, as they are, just simply don’t tell me. He asked, “Is lighting a fire work? Is picking up sticks always work?” These kinds of questions were what he used to undermine the sufficiency of scripture.

What is interesting is that the very same premise [we must be told everything that can be done] is being used by Scott Brown to affirm the “sufficiency of scripture,” and being used by this Jewish apologist to deny the sufficiency of scripture. The reason is that the logic of a position that says that we must be told everything that can be done will lead directly to a denial of the sufficiency of scripture. Consider family life as an example: Where in the Bible does it tell us how to change a diaper? Are we supposed to use disposable or cloth diapers? When should the children go to bed? The Bible simply doesn’t address these issues. Does that mean it is insufficient?

Furthermore, this can even apply to church life. Where does the Bible tell us to sing, specifically, Psalm 91? Where does the Bible tell us to sit on pews? I can even go right into the hornet’s nest, and ask where the Bible says that we should integrate people who, specifically, are the ages of 25, 35, and 55. You won’t find the Bible saying, “Sing Psalm 91,” “Sit on pews,” or “Integrate people who are 25, 35, and 55 years old.” Does that mean it is insufficient? The problem is that Scott Brown’s view of language is way too simplistic. He is expecting the text to directly tells us what it means and exactly how it must be applied in every situation. That is expecting language to do something that it was not meant to do, nor could it do.

I have a friend who studied under D.A. Carson here at Trinity, and she told me of this wonderful insight that he had. He said that evangelicals tend to confuse the idea that the Bible was written *to* us with the idea that the Bible was written *for* us. You can see that coming out here. When you demand that scripture tell you exactly how to apply itself in your particular situation, you are acting as if the text is being written *to* you rather than *for* you. As Dr. Osborne always told us this semester in Hermeneutics, you have to find out what the text *meant* before you can find out what it *means.* Language will always be written or spoken in a particular time and in a particular context, and hence, one cannot expect the author to say how the text should be applied in *every* situation [family, church, or youth ministry].

The question is how we can save the sufficiency of scripture, and still account for application of the text. The answer is that we have to understand language as more complex that just simple text on a page. Language is actually an *action.* J.L. Austin and John Searle were the first two linguists to really develop this idea, and it has been revolutionary in our understanding of language. They distinguished between 3 different elements in language: the locution, the illocution, and the perlocution. The locution is simply “the act of saying something that makes sense in a language[1].” The Illocution is “the action intended by the speaker[1].” The perlocution is “what follows an utterance: the effect or ‘take up’ of an illocutionary act[1].”

With these distinctions made, we can now focus on the illocution. The illocution assumes that, when a person makes a speech act, he is intending to do something by it. When we apply scripture, we look at what the author is intending *to do* by his speech acts as a whole. We see the logic of his intentions throughout the passage. What we can then do is then use these intentions in parallel situations in our own life.

To illustrate, let me give an example of two different laws from the Hebrew Bible. Leviticus 19:9 says that, when the land is harvested, the Israelites were to leave the corners of their field unharvested. However, one can rightly ask, “How big is a corner?” I mean, could not one simply leave one plant unharvested in each of the four corners of his field, and say that he is being obedient to this command?

The answer comes in the fact that the law was made to help the poor. In other words, your definition of a “corner” depends, to a large extent, on how much you care for those who are starving to death. A person who cares about helping will give very generously, but a person who hates those who suffer will give very conservatively.

Also, let us take the example of a railing around the roof of the house [Deuteronomy 22:8]. The question is, “How big should you make the railing?” Just like the issue with the size of the corners of the field, we must ask what the author intends to do by this text. In this text, it is quite direct, as he says that it is to prevent people from falling off. However, what happens if someone climbs over the railing, and ends up falling off? The point seems to be that the railing is to protect innocent life, and that the height of the railing needs to be sufficient to prevent people from *accidentally* falling off the roof.

Now, with our understanding of the illocution of these two texts [to provide for the poor and to prevent accidental death], we can transfer those intentions in today’s culture. For example, do we only give our last little chunk of change to the poor, or do we set aside a generous amount each month to help those who are starving to death in places like Somalia? Do we make sure that we are careful to inspect the safety of things like amusement park rides, or buildings so we make sure that there are no [or very few] accidental deaths?

However, if one were to suggest these things, would it be right to object, “Where do you find the careful inspection of amusement park rides in scripture?” No, it would not, because such *is* found in scripture, but its relationship is to the illocution, not to the locution.

This whole program, Scott Brown continually lived on the locution of scripture, and it wasn’t until the end when he was pushed to consider the illocution. I thought that Todd Freil’s question as to where scripture says anything about a separate meeting for elders was excellent. I thought that Scott’s answer “It is implied” was quite weak. Who decides what is implied and what is not implied, and how do you relate it back to the text?

The problem is, when you allow for this, it completely ruins the entire “Where’s that in scripture” argument that he relied on the whole program. The command is for teachers is to teach the word without any qualification, and the application of that command is to many diverse contexts and situations. Never is that command restricted by age grouping. We are given a blanket command, and examples all over scripture where the word is proclaimed in all kinds of various contexts. Hence, the illocution of these texts seems to be that the word of God is to be taught in all contexts, so long as it does not violate any explicit command in scripture [i.e., going into a strip club].

The reason for this is that the importance is on people understanding the scriptures, not the age group context in which they came to that understanding. There will be some things that will be better taught in a context where people are divided up by age, and there will be some things that will be better taught in age integration. The importance is whether the teacher uses wisdom in the settings that he uses to teach.

Hence, in order for this argument to be rehabilitated, one must show that the text of scripture means to make some kind of relevance out of the ages of the people you are addressing. If one cannot, then the command to teach in all contexts to all people stands.

I think that Andreas Kostenberger, in his book God, Marriage, and Family, summarizes well what I am trying to say:

Just as fathers may lead their family in worship and Bible reading at home, so the pastor of a local church may lead the entire congregation made up of people from a variety of familial and social backgrounds, in joint worship. The same can be said about a variety of other forums and settings-such as Sunday School, children’s worship, or youth group-which the church may choose to institute in order to fulfill its scriptural mandate to instruct and edify believers[2].

Hence, the scriptural support for youth groups is the scriptural mandate to instruct and edify believers.

Also, if we take the argument that the scriptures are sufficient to function as the regula fide, then Scott Brown is actually denying Sola Scriptura. Why? Because there is nothing in scripture that forbids youth groups. Hence, Scott Brown has effectively bound to the continence of God’s people something that is not found in his word.

6. Who cares about being “radical?”

Folks like Scott Brown and others who constantly emphasize being “radical” literally have no effect on me, because I have no desire to be “radical.” I could care less about being “radical.” I want to handle the scriptures aright. I want to be able to say that I am consistent in interpreting the text of scripture in the same way that I handle the Epic of Gilgamesh or the Annuls of Sennacherib. I want there to be consistency in how I interpret people’s words in their every day speech, and how I handle the Bible.

As Dr. Averbeck told us in Advanced Hebrew Grammar, being “radical” is not a virtue in exegesis. In fact, it is a good way to get refuted. You don’t want to get cute; you want to be sound. You want to be methodologically consistent. When you are “radical” with how you handle the text of scripture, you have a tendency to abuse the text in order to deal with a specific problem.

Finally, I don’t want to make it sound like I disagreed with Scott Brown on everything he said. He is exactly right that youth ministries need to wake up from the entertainment culture, and start teaching from the scriptures. I also think churches should be careful about demanding that parents do certain things with their children. Churches and families need to work together, not against one another.

The big problem, however, is that Scott Brown’s view of the sufficiency of scripture is unusual, and leads, logically, to a denial of the sufficiency of scripture. This view would be silly putty in the hands of a Jewish apologist. Also, one does not have to adopt this view to allow for proper application of the scriptures, if one understands the complexity of language. Hence, this view of the “sufficiency of scripture” should be rejected.


[1] Saeed, John I. Semantics, Third Edition. Wiley-Blackwell Publishers. Malden, Massachusetts. 2009. p.239
[2] Kostenberger, Andreas J. God, Marriage, and Family, Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation, Second Edition. Crossway Publications. Wheaton, Illinois. 2010. p.262


6 Responses to “Scott Brown-Todd Friel Discussion”

  1. Shawn Mathis Says:

    Thank you for doing the hard work of listening and evaluating this interview. Your points were clear and helpful. With respect to illocution you may find the Larger Catechism Question 99 helpful.

    I may link to your article from my blog.

    You may find my article about Scott’s organization, NCFIC, helpful.

    for peace and unity of the Church,

  2. otrmin Says:

    Thank you, Shawn!

    Yes, question 99 was helpful.

    I will certainly take a look at that article you wrote. I also saw on Karen Campbell’s blog that you say that Scott goes into more detail in his book. His book is available in Kindle format for fairly cheap, so I will see if I can load it onto my I-Pad, and read it.

    God Bless,

  3. Shawn Mathis Says:


    If you think the book will offer more substantial defense, it does not. I merely repeats the “desert isle test” and then asserts that the sufficiency of Scripture means no age-segregated meetings.

    But if you do read it, maybe we could compare notes.


  4. Shawn Mathis Says:


    I have a new article on the matter, interacting more with the 80+ comments. The young man, Ryan Glick, is trying to defend the “desert isle test”–I think you may be able to help me clarify this young man’s thinking.


  5. Shawn Mathis Says:


    You had mentioned interest in Mr. Brown’s book. I have a book review up, here:

    And some info on similar beliefs of Mr. Philips:

    take care,

  6. otrmin Says:


    Yes, those articles were very interesting.

    It almost seems like this movement is very reactionary. I mentioned on the post defending Albert Mohler this morning that I had a theology professor who said that we as evangelicals tend to be like a pendulum. We tend to go from extreme to extreme. When we react, we overreact. You can certainly see that coming out in this movement.

    God Bless,

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