The “Broken” Evangelical Buzzword (Wells)

I recently finished reading a very popular evangelical Christian book.  It wasn’t too bad, but when I finished reading it struck me that the author used the terms “broken” or “brokenness” way too much.  After doing a word search on my Kindle, I found that these words were used around 100 times in 300 pages!

It would be interesting to do a sociological study on these terms.  I’m guessing that “broken” and “brokenness” are evangelical buzzwords that have become very popular just in the last 10 years or so.  (Are these words used mostly by GenYers/Millenials?  I can’t imagine my grandpa using these terms!)  I’m also guessing that older generations of Christian writers rarely, if ever, spoke of being broken or facing brokenness.  Speaking of this topic, here’s a post I did in May.  I’m re-blogging it here because I thought of it after reading the book I noted above.

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David Wells did a nice job of explaining and critiquing postmodern spirituality in the first chapter of Losing Our Virtue.  At one point he says that postmodern spirituality doesn’t really talk about sins in moral terms but in psychological terms.  In other words, instead of talking about sin as breaking God’s law, disobeying God, and a rupture in the relationship between God and man, people talk sin by way of personal experience:

“It begins with our anxiety, pain, and disillusionment, with the world in its disorder, the family or marriage in its brokenness, or the workplace in its brutality and insecurity.  God, in consequence, is valued to the extent that he is able to bathe these wounds, assuage these insecurities, calm these fears, restore some sense of internal order, and bring some sense of wholeness.”

So in evangelicalism today you’ll notice words like broken, numb, shattered, and wounded.  Wells quotes one praise song to prove his point:

“He heard my cry and came to heal me / He took my pain and He relieved me;
He filled my life and comforted me / And his name will shine, shine eternally.”

What’s the big deal?  Why can’t we just talk about being broken and bruised instead of sinful and wretched before God?  Isn’t it OK to say we’re “numb” instead of saying “my sin is ever before me (Ps.51)?  Here’s Wells again:

“This psychologizing of sin and salvation has an immediacy about it that is appealing in this troubled age, this age of broken beliefs and broken lives.  The cost, however, is that it so subverts the process of moral understanding that sin loses its sinfulness, at least before God.  And whereas in classical spirituality it was assumed that sinners would struggle with their sin, feel its sting, and experience dismay over it, in postmodern spirituality, this struggle is considered abnormal and something for which divine relief is immediately available.  That is why the experience of Luther, Brainerd, and Owen is so remote from what passes as normal in the evangelical world today.”

This is important to note!  I’m not saying that everyone who uses the terms “broken” or “brokenness” rejects sin in a postmodern way.  But we do have to be sure we talk about sin in biblical terms and not define sin based on our psychological experiences or emotional feelings.  Sin isn’t first about our feelings, experiences, and emotions, it is first about disobeying God, doing what is evil in his sight, falling short of his glory, and being accountable to him for it (Ps. 51, Rom. 3, etc.).  And the remedy for sin is not something that we feel or do, it is Christ crucified for sinners, doing what they could never do themselves!

David Wells, Losing Our Virtue (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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2 comments on “The “Broken” Evangelical Buzzword (Wells)

  1. Rhonda S Montgomery says:

    Thank you! Thank you for summarizing the problem with this word “broken.” Exactly. This is putting sin into psychological rather than moral terms.

  2. Matthew Beech says:

    I’m fairly certain that the term goes back to Gen X. I’ve heard it used growing up in the church since I was a child and I’m no Millennial.

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