Tag Archives: sin

The New Language of Brokenness (Part Two)

I have divided a longer post into two shorter parts for clarity.  In part one, I hoped to show that the language of brokenness is imprecise and that Millennials are increasing the uncritical use of this term.  In part two, I hope to show the dangers inherent in substituting brokenness language for the concept of sin and sinfulness.  Finally, I’ll offer some guesses on why these shifts have occurred.

As we’ve seen, the concept of brokenness itself is imprecise.  But it becomes even more problematic when we uncritically substitute it for the historic language of sin, for at least three reasons.  First, it ignores the breadth of the historic understanding of sin.  Sin and sinfulness are broad and thick concepts in Scripture, as evidenced by all the different experiential and philosophical descriptions for it.  Consider some of the other Biblical metaphors for sin:

  • Lawlessness
  • Unfaithfulness
  • Rebellion
  • Wandering
  • A hard heart or a stiff neck
  • Blindness/Deafness
  • Transgression/Trespassing
  • Missing the mark
  • A beast crouching at the door (Genesis 4)

Those who adhere to the Westminster Confession recognize sin as any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.  Theologian Cornelius Plantinga describes sin as “disruption of created harmony and then resistance to divine restoration of that harmony”.1 Notice that each statement addresses sin both as human moral agency and human circumstances.  We are simultaneously culprit and victim.  The real concern in this conversation is that brokenness is reductionist.  It primarily identifies the human problem in the area of circumstance and then communicates it using the language of victimhood.  If I see myself mainly as broken, I am tempted to allow that characteristic to explain more of my life than it should.

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The New Language of Brokenness (Part One)

I have divided a longer post into two shorter parts for clarity.  In part one, I hope to show that the language of brokenness is imprecise and that Millennials are increasing the uncritical use of this term.  In part two, I hope to show the dangers inherent in substituting brokenness language for the concept of sin and sinfulness.  Finally, I’ll offer some guesses on why these shifts have occurred.

The flexibility of words from generation to generation makes a fascinating study in American history.  We are all familiar with words whose meanings have dramatically shifted, such as:

–   Gay
–   Literally
–   Awful

The changing of words typically doesn’t reorder or reshape fundamental beliefs or practices in our lives.  The academy may publish interesting papers when it happens, but most of us simply shrug and move on with the new meanings.  However, certain theological language commands our attention when it begins to take on new contexts, new connotations, and new meaning, since these words represent realities about ourselves and about God.  Significant generational shifts in language present a danger to Christians because they hinder the ability for the old and mature to inform the young.1 Familiar words that are filled with new content lure different generations into a false sense of communication.  The Greek myth-makers at least allowed Sisyphus to roll the same boulder up the same hill.  Readers of theology that are trying to make sense of the ancient, the recent, and the new are confronting the same boulders, but always on a new hill, in a new direction, and rolling for a new purpose.

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