Smoking and the Christian: My Experience with Steve Brown

Smoking and the Christian

Smoking and the Christian

My Experience with Steve Brown

Richard Hollerman

We assume that most people reading this short article are professing Christians and that most would oppose the Christian’s use of tobacco in any form. But this is not always the case. Some people who profess Jesus actually do smoke in some form and defend the practice.

As we discuss this topic today, we want to use the well-known person whose life and perspective will provide the background for this discussion. We are not “singling out” this one person but simply use him as an example of what can happen when we allow sin of any kind into our life and then seek to justify it.

Some of you may recognize the preacher, writer, and public speaker by the name of Steve Brown. He runs the ministry called Key Life out of Florida. He also has been close to James Kennedy of Fort Lauderdale and R. C. Sproul of Orlando. His website identifies Brown with these words:

Is the Founder of Key Life Network, Inc. . . . and Bible teacher on the national radio program Key Life. This weekday 15-minute broadcast and the 1-minute feature, You Think About That are currently heard on over 600 outlets. (Key Life Network yearly sends out over 350,000 CDs, magazines and pieces of printed literature at no charge.) Key Life Network also has a ministry dedicated specifically to pastors. This can also be found at

Is the host on the talk show, “Steve Brown, Etc.” . . . .Is Visiting Professor of Practical Theology at Knox Theological Seminary in Ft. Lauderdale, FL and also at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.

Is the former pastor of Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church, Key Biscayne, FL; First Presbyterian Church, Quincy, MA and East Dennis Community Church, East Dennis, MA. (

Where does he fit into this article on smoking? Brown smokes and he defends the practice. If you have heard Brown speak or read his articles, you realize that he strongly opposes what he calls “legalism” and promotes what he calls “Christian freedom.” He is also a 5-point Calvinistic Presbyterian, which is related to his carnal practice.

Some years ago, I went to a Calvinism conference where Steve Brown was one of the leading speakers and participants. My purpose was to distribute Christian literature outside the convention center by giving it to those who attended. As I was carrying on my intended activity, I noticed Brown outside, during the day, smoking in the front. I walked up to him and gave him my literature. He didn’t apologize or seek to defend his filthy habit but did take the literature. Later, he gave the piece back to me and said that he didn’t agree with it. (The piece pertained to the question of how one comes to Christ.)

Recently I went to the Key Life website and noticed that Brown continues to smoke and defends the practice, considering it a part of his “Christian liberty” and calling those who oppose him as “legalists.” Apparently there have been people down through the years who have questioned his practice.

On the website, I found an interesting piece that describes somewhat the frame of mind and theology that would allow the public sin of smoking. Notice this insightful excerpt:

I just came home from speaking at the Liberate 2013 conference at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale. I generally don’t like conferences and don’t much like speaking at them. A conference is just another meeting (albeit a big one). If I get to heaven and God calls a meeting or sponsors a conference, I’ll know I’m in the other place.

But this was different for a lot of reasons. One reason was the whiskey and cigars.

Whiskey and cigars????

Wait, wait…let me explain.

When one is a conference speaker, those who sponsor the conference will almost always give him or her a gift of a fruit basket, candy, special coffee, etc. It’s one of the perks of speaking at a conference. They think it lessens the pain. Anyway, that’s what happened at Liberate. When I checked into the hotel, there was a gift for me at the desk. It was heavier than most and made me wonder.

The clerk laughed and said, “Maybe it’s booze.”

“Are you crazy?” I responded. “I’m a preacher and this is a church conference. We don’t do booze.”

I was really curious to open the package. There was—and I’m not making this up—a bottle of 12-year-old whiskey and two fine cigars.

Now before you jump to unfounded conclusions, try to remember that I’m a lifelong teetotaler and have never been able to get that stuff down (though I’ve tried). I do think there are some things that I would handle better drunk (conferences come to mind), but God has made it simply impossible for me to drink adult beverages. I think it’s a spiritual thing, given that all the males in my family tree were drunks who kept falling out of the tree. God broke that generational curse with me.

Not only do I not drink alcohol, I don’t smoke cigars either. I’m a pipe smoker, and pipe smokers and cigar smokers rarely cross the other’s line. ( articles/steves- letter-april-2013)

The excerpt above not only speaks about cigars and liquor but also pipe-smoking. It is the latter than Brown defends. The article continues with even further discussion on “legalism” and the defense of this filthy and sinful habit:

So why give me the gift? I think it was a statement. In the conference publicity for my session, they quoted me as saying that Christian freedom meant “you should live your life with such freedom that uptight Christians will doubt your salvation.” The people who organized the conference decided to take me seriously.

By the way, just so you know, the idea of offending uptight Christians didn’t come from me. It was from Martin Luther who wrote:

I believe that it has now become clear that it is not enough or in any sense “Christian” to preach the works, life and words of Christ… as if the knowledge of these would suffice for the conduct of life…and such teaching is childish and effeminate nonsense.

There are some who have no understanding to hear the truth of freedom and insist upon their goodness as means for salvation. These people you must resist, do the very opposite, and offend them boldly lest by their impious views they drag many with them into error. For the sake of liberty of the faith do other things which they regarded as the greatest of sins…use your freedom constantly and consistently in the sight of and despite the tyrants and stubborn so that they may learn that they are impious, that their law and works are of no avail for righteousness, and that they had no right to set them up.

I didn’t drink the whiskey or smoke the cigars nor did the people at the conference expect me to. They wanted to tell me that this conference was different—man’s rules would bow before the radical grace of God. They wanted me to see they “got it” and wanted me to feel affirmed they did.

I did…and loved it.

I told the conference (there were a whole lot of people and piles of young people) that the music wasn’t my kind of music, the worship was a bit much for an old Presbyterian, and I didn’t like conferences…but this time was a gift to this cynical, old preacher who is generally defending himself and trying to explain in order to keep from being “tarred and feathered.” The conference was marked by scholars and leaders (except me…I’m neither) who had found that because of the Cross, God isn’t angry and the Gospel is a message of radical freedom, infectious joy and surprising faithfulness to Christ. (Ibid)

Do you also have the view that only an “angry” God would condemn smoking? Do you also promote a theology that asserts that “radical freedom” is compatible with “faithfulness to Christ”? If this is your theology, you are not alone. There are probably millions of others out there who would allow for sin and still assert that one remains! Although they may not smoke cigarettes, cigars, or even pipes, they would see no spiritual wrong in this (although they may acknowledge that it is “foolish” and harmful to the body). However, I assure you that this thinking is not a glory to God but a dishonor to Him!

Another quotation on the Key Life website also shows the liberal view that this Calvinistic theology promotes:

What do a Christian pop star, a pope, a Puritan, a full-fledged member of The Gospel Coalition, and Steve Brown have in common? A love for cigars and pipes.

Join Ted Kluck and Zach Bartels on Steve Brown, Etc. as we talk about their new book, “The Christian Gentleman’s Smoking Companion: A Celebration of Smoking to the Glory of God.”

Is smoking a sin? How do you get your wife to let you smoke? What is the proper way to light a cigar? How, exactly, do you smoke to the glory of God?


Are you shocked with this quotation? You should be! Can you imagine a book written to “celebrate” smoking? Can you imagine one that purports to “guide” the reading into the right way to smoke? Can you imagine that cigars and pipes are promoted in this way? And what of the fact that a “love” for these sins is glorified! This is what is conveyed in the above quotation!

This is not the end. Another quotation will further justify the sin of smoking and make opposition to this to appear as “legalism.” Notice:


I know, I know.

I probably shouldn’t have permitted the picture of me smoking my pipe in the last Key Life magazine or, for that matter, on this website.

Look. It’s the only sin I have left and, if I didn’t have that one, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. Everybody knows that perfect Christians don’t associate with imperfect Christians…me being the perfect one (sans pipe) and you being the imperfect one.

So my pipe, you could say, is my effort at true “koinonia.”

What about my health?

Good point that, to wit, when it’s my time to die, I don’t want to be like a sinking ship with nothing to throw overboard. (Therecoveringlegalist .com/2010/11/10/ smoking-the-legalists-are-alive-and-well/).

Can you imagine this? This “letter” is saying that a photograph of Brown was used in his magazine to show that he is a smoker. And he seems to not have been  apologetic or ashamed of this public display of smoking. We hope that this is revealing something to you of Calvinism, “Christian” ministries, seminaries, and denominations.

I suppose that we could make several comments about this subject, but let’s mention this. First, we find it disappointing that a public figure like this willingly and deliberately chooses to sin publicly and flaunts his “right” to do so. Surely he knows that his “liberty” will be influential for others to follow his example. We remember that Paul wrote to Timothy: “Show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12b). He writes to Titus with the same counsel (Titus 2:7). Does Brown want to be this sort of example to others?

Second, we also are disappointed that other preachers and speakers, well-known in American pulpits, would use Brown as a speaker and promote him and his theology. Where is the one who will stand up publicly and rebuke Brown’s hypocrisy and sin? What about the leading churches, seminaries, and ministries that do not see this hypocrisy and challenge it?

Third, we find it interesting what historic Calvinists will tolerate. We know that some denounce the once-saved-always-saved teaching that says one can be saved even after gross sins like adultery, homosexuality, blasphemy, and drunkenness. But somehow we have been told that the historic “5-point Calvinists” are different and they surely won’t tolerate one’s continual sin over the years (even a lifetime). Rather, they will conclude that the person was not saved in the beginning, when he thought he was saved, if, in fact, the person continues in sin for a long length of time, and especially after repeated warnings. But the case of Brown must contradict that! Calvinists will defend continual, deliberate, known sin and assume that the person is “elect” and on his way to heaven!

Fourth, it is also disappointing that a public figure like this can promote a view of legalism that endorses and accepts the sin of smoking. This shows that “legalism” is being used in a way that permits open, public, and well-known sin. Have we used this term (legalism) to justify wrong in any way? Let’s learn from this and be very careful in our use of the term. (After all, it is not found in the Scriptures.)

Fifth, we know that some would quote the scripture that says, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). This scripture is one of the most misused ones found in Scripture, one that unbelievers enjoy using if you point out to them that one must not remain in sin or unbelief for this results in guilt before a holy God.

The following verses (Matthew 7:3-5) show that Jesus does not forbid all “judging” (after all, he commands it in verse 6 as well as verses 15-21!). He actually is condemning hypocritical judgment, that judgment that is practiced by one who condemns a person in sin while he, himself, practices the same sin!

As the Lord says, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (v. 5). Jesus says that we must remove known sin from our own life and then we will be able to “see clearly” to take the sin out of our brother’s eye! Jesus is not condemning our pointing out the sin in someone’s life (especially a public figure like Brown), especially if the person adamantly defends the sin and gives himself as an example of one who willingly participates in such a public, known, deliberate, and unrepentant sin!

We hope that our words serve as a warning to all that we must be on guard against just accepting a public preacher’s life and sin as being a guide for our own life. We must have the discernment to “judge” someone’s sin and warn others of it. We must not fall for the reasoning of someone who would defend sinful behavior and exert influence on others. So whether it is C. S. Lewis, Steve Brown, or anyone else, let’s have the wisdom to reject the sin and not fall for a deceitful defense of it. Further, let’s remember that Calvinism can justify not only smoking, but many other sins as well. Let us beware!



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