“Brokenness” is a widely used word today in some trendier reformed circles. What’s in a word? This word is often used as a synonym for “sinfulness.” Everyone can relate to feeling “broken,” that is, we say or do things we are ashamed of, we fail, we’re selfish, we damage those closest to us, we are anxious, depressed, etc. We are “broken” and in need of fixing.
And this is the appeal for a culturally sensitive gospel minister to label “sinfulness” “brokenness” and to offer the “gospel” as a means of fixing our brokenness, or at least helping us deal with our brokenness. You know you are broken – and I’ve got the answer for your brokenness: Jesus. This approach is certainly less offensive and apparently more effective than those old, irrelevant but rather God-centered, biblical, and objective categories of sin and guilt, grace and justification.
So what’s the problem? “Brokenness” is not the same thing as “sinfulness.” The former is our felt, subjective experience. “To err is human,” as the timeless cliché says. Sinfulness is objective – it refers to the fact that we ARE sinners, and therefore guilty before a holy God. Our brokenness is at best a presenting symptom of our sinfulness.
If we preach “brokenness” as our primary problem, instead of our sinfulness and objective guilt before God, the “gospel” we preach will be “not a gospel.” We will preach another Jesus. Our “gospel” will be therapeutic – either a transformative treatment for healing our “brokenness” or a coping mechanism to help us deal with it. Jesus is not so much a Savior as a deified cosmic therapist.
Certainly we can trace our “brokenness” to which most everyone will admit back to its source: sin. And we can present the true Gospel as the means by which we are delivered from the objective guilt of our sin before God. And yes, as a result of that, we can find true comfort from the true Gospel for our “brokenness.” But if we never go beyond the category of “brokenness” to the deeper problem of our actual sinfulness and guilt before God, our preaching is broken and needs to be fixed, that is, reformed according to the Scripture.
Repentance (not recovery) and the forgiveness of SINS (not therapeutic healing) is the Christ-given preaching mandate of the Church (Luke 24:47). Pastor, you may have to sacrifice a degree of ministry “success,” i.e., some people may actually be offended by the Law and the Gospel you preach. You may lose some “nickels and noses”! But you need not be ashamed in the Last Day, and will rejoice when your crucified & risen Savior says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”