It was with great joy that I read and reviewed Randy Newman’s book, Bringing the Gospel Home. There was one spot however that gave me pause. In his book Newman argues that, “if a tract or online presentation of the gospel only refers to our sin as ‘brokenness,’ we are misrepresenting the truth.” Newman then argues that using terms like brokenness makes it sound as if we are only victims when really we are the ones in rebellion and given over to idolatry.
Late last week Newman expounded upon this point in his article “We’re Worse Than Broken”. He believes that the word is not helpful for believers or unbelievers. For the believer, Newman says, “the word doesn’t go deep enough to move us forward in sanctification”. He points out that God uses words far worse than broken to describe our lost condition.
This word is also inadequate in sharing the gospel with unbelievers, says Newman. It is inadequate because it fails “to convey the dire straights that only the gospel overcomes”. Newman helpfully notes that
…the Bible’s description of sin is far more active than passive, more something we do—willingly, rebelliously, idolatrously, and knowingly—rather than something perpetrated upon us by others against our will, contrary to our nature, or different from our cravings.
To this end Newman believes that we should chose our words more carefully. Using a term like “brokenness”, in his opinion, leads to a “reduction of the full and multifaceted concept of sin, as it is described in the Scriptures, into a buzzword that feels more at home in our therapeutic culture than in God’s Word”
In one sense I agree with Randy Newman. We must be very cautious not to diminish the multifaceted concept of sin for the sake of using buzzwords that are acceptable in a therapeutic culture. He is also correct in noting that brokenness often makes people feel more like victims than active rebels. So I agree that we should be cautious in using the word brokenness.
However, I do continue to use the word. I continue to use the word for two primary reasons. First, I use it precisely because it actually does help me to explain a robust biblical theology and the multifaceted concept of sin.
To be broken means in part that something is not functioning properly—it is out of working order. To say then that people are “broken” means that people are not functioning properly. In order for something to be “broken” this implies that something was once functioning properly. This allows us to begin the gospel with God and His creation.
God lovingly created us in His image to display His glory through our enjoyment of Him. And because of this great truth we can say that each person has great value, great responsibility, and great accountability to God.
It is only through the lens of Eden that we can even come close to understanding the depth of our fall. Zac Eswine helpfully states that, “without placing our sin into the context of our having been created, we discard vital aspects of the beauty of redemption”. That is one reason that I continue to use words like “brokenness”: to show that we are not functioning the way that God created us. We are broken people living in a broken world.
Secondly, I use that word because people feel broken. Newman admits this much when he says:
Our experience of alienation from God does indeed feel like we’re broken. We’re not living the lives we were created for. We’re not connecting with others with the level of intimacy we were designed for. We’re cut off from the kind of connectedness with God that he intended.
My contention is that we should continue to use a word like broken but define it using a biblical paradigm. Certainly we should not present a gospel that makes people passive victims. But we can explain their feelings of brokenness by saying, “yes, you and I are broken—let me explain why I say that…”
Terms like “brokenness” can be a huge bridge to sharing the gospel with someone. It can easily help us explain creation, fall, and redemption. I agree that it is not a synonym to “sinful”. But it is still a helpful word and does not necessarily mean that one is watering down the gospel.