On Brokenness and Biblical Balance

Care and caution are needed in dealing with others:

How many times have you heard me say that ‘we need to get the biblical balance right’? This is true in so many areas. One area involves something I have been writing a fair bit about of late: brokenness. The other day for example I wrote about how our Lord is a wounded healer and how he is close to the broken, the afflicted, the suffering, and the downcast. He is one with us in our suffering: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2024/05/11/our-wounded-healer/  

The Bible makes it perfectly clear that our God is near to the brokenhearted and the needy. Just three psalms and three passages from Isaiah will suffice here:

Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 147:2-3 The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
    he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.

Isaiah 57:15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
    who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
    and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
    and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

Isaiah 66:2 But this is the one to whom I will look:
    he who is humble and contrite in spirit
    and trembles at my word.

It is quite clear from these and so many other texts that God cares greatly about the broken and the lowly and the humble. ‘So what is there to balance here then?,’ you might ask. Fair question. While we must never ignore nor slight the broken and downcast, there is another thing we must avoid.

And that is the tendency to allow some folks to throw permanent pity parties, to always feel sorry for ourselves, to always cast themselves as the victim, and to always seek the attention and affection of others. Sadly, it is easy for those who are hurting to inhabit that place – perpetually. They see themselves as lifelong victims, and they expect sympathy and compassion 24/7.

Even those who have legitimate grief, pain and suffering – as for example, one who has recently become a widow (something I now know all about) – can become attached to the need for constant attention and affirmation. Yes, something like this hurts like mad, and we desperately do need the prayers, support, concern and well-wishes of others.

But again, we must watch out that we do not engage in continual pity parties, and make excuses for some less than Christlike behaviour, blaming it all on the recent hardship or trauma we may have experienced. Again, biblical balance is certainly needed.

Christians can and do suffer greatly. They can be depressed, and even suicidal. If we are too cold and too harsh and too unsympathetic with these folks, that might just push some of them over the edge. But on the other hand, some folks crave all the attention and will soak it up for all its worth. So as is so often the case, we must avoid unbiblical extremes.

One Christian pastor has recently penned a piece on this second extreme. He argues that sometimes all this talk about, and fixation on, brokenness CAN lead to a false Christian way of dealing with such things. Ben C. Dunson titles his piece, “Against Brokenness Theology.” Its subtitle is: “Replacing Sin with Victimhood.” He begins by quoting from a popular evangelical worship song, and then says that brokenness is not the same thing as sinfulness. He explains:

Brokenness happens to a person. It comes from outside of him. The song I opened this article with gives a representative sample of the kinds of things one finds in brokenness theology: weakness, instability, loneliness, weariness, barrenness, bitterness, fear. But note that all of these states are framed in this song as if they were caught like the common cold; they are things that happen to you.


The biblical picture is far different: yes, we are weak in ourselves; yes, we face manifold temptations to give in to disordered instability in our lives, to succumb to self-pity and despair in the face of loneliness, to become bitter when God’s providence is hard, to rage against God for our barrenness, to succumb to fear and anxiety in moments of stress.


But all of these responses are sinful. They are not neutral things that happen to us. Brokenness theology turns humans into passive victims of forces outside their control, rather than sinners who chose to rebel against God and who are therefore in desperate need of forgiveness and spiritual transformation.


In short, brokenness theology gives sinners a false understanding of the fundamental problem they face (God’s wrath), obscures the solution (repentance, faith, sanctification), and leaves them without hope (they’re simply broken victims). As such, it is a narcissistic, therapeutic perversion of the gospel. Sinners outside of Christ are indeed slaves to sin (Rom 6:17–21), but those savingly united to Christ are not helpless victims of forces outside their control. The grace of God has pulled us out of ourselves, to turn us to the savior in whom we find forgiveness for our rebellion, anxiety, fear, bitterness, grumbling, and doubts, and to find daily strength to fight against these sinful states of heart and mind. Brokenness theology teaches that God’s grace merely gives us help to endure all of these states, which are taken as characterizing the normal Christian life. These states, however, are sinful and must be repented of, not endured as so many unfortunate things that simply happen to us.

Now before going any further, it should be clear that what Dunson is more concerned with here is how we believers treat non-Christians, whereas I was talking more about how Christians are to treat other Christians. So the two matters are a bit different, but I think we can still take the point he is trying to make.

We need to give non-Christians the truth that they are not only needy, broken and messed up people, but that they are selfish sinners primarily and their core problem is to deal with the sin question. If we just cater to this idea of brokenness apart from dealing with the reality of sin, we will not have that much of use to offer the unbeliever.

And if we do push this brokenness theology too much on other believers, that too can become a real problem. For example, we rightly say that someone like a homosexual is sexually broken – as we all are – and that they are looking for love in all the wrong places.

But it can be too easy to eventually start making excuses for them and their behaviours – especially if they say they are now believers. If we concentrate too much on their needs and hurts (which we should do to some extent), but avoid the reality of sin and its power, we will not be giving to them the wholeness and healing that they really need.

In the article Dunson does eventually look at how this applies to fellow believers:

Christians who have come to see life through the lens of brokenness theology, and thereby to believe that their primary problem is that they are victims of forces outside of themselves, rather than the active agents causing those problems (anxiety, doubt, whatever), will then begin to define everything else in similarly extrinsic terms.


This is happening all across the evangelical church. “My pastor won’t agree with me no matter how many times I talk to him: I’m a victim of spiritual abuse.” “I’ve gone through a very hard time: I’ve been traumatized irreparably.” “I’ve likely been traumatized by events I don’t even remember.” Brokenness theology even leads naturally to accepting homosexuality, transgenderism, and other perversions within the church. What is homosexuality, or gender identity, in this way of thinking, other than yet another unchosen, unavoidable aspect of our brokenness? Many in the evangelical world are already making such arguments, and many more are leaning in that direction. Brokenness theology must be purged from the church. We must eliminate its patterns of speech from our sermons, songs, writings, and even our everyday speech. This will be difficult and painful, since the disease has progressed very far.

He closes his piece with these words:

No, I’ll stick with the old hymns: “Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore; Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love, and pow’r.” Weak and wounded, sick and sore, yes, but such things because of my sinful rebellion against God, from which I’ve been saved by Christ’s almighty power. We’re “lost and ruined by the fall,” as the hymn also says, yet brought near to God through “true belief and true repentance,” and by “the merit of His blood.” https://americanreformer.org/2024/04/against-brokenness-theology/

Again, we need to get things right here. Great care is needed in how we treat both believers and non-believers. As we share the gospel with non-Christians, yes they will be hurting and bruised and damaged. But they are also morally culpable sinners who need to hear the whole truth about themselves and the God that they have to do with.

Similarly, we need to show compassion and grace to hurting and at times fallen believers. But we also need to point them to their sanctifier and their deliverer. We all need wisdom and discernment as to how we apply these truths to those we come in contact with, be they believers or non-believers.

To put all this in the simplest of terms: Sometimes people need a hug, a listening ear, and a shoulder to cry on. But sometimes people need to be rebuked in love and given a proverbial kick in the backside. The trick is to have the discernment and understanding to know which of these apply and to whom under what circumstances.

[1715 words]

4 Replies to “On Brokenness and Biblical Balance”

  1. Thanks for yet another very important article Bill. Too often we see the wrong outcomes, because of a wrong approach to this issue.

    Among the psalms, and other books in the Bible, we find many examples of believers who have suffered greatly, and who clearly express how low it has brought them. One guarantee in life is that we will suffer pain of various types (whether due to our own hands, or at the hands of others), and being human, and thus being fallible and weak, we may fall into melancholy. It is a simple truth that we are told to prayerfully bear each others burdens, encouraging each other in the faith, because we all need that support at some time.

    the examples in the Bible end with the realisation that there is the One who can always help, and then turning to Him and laying our troubles at His feet, and trusting in Him for solutions, for a way out. And that is the progression – as by His mighty arm we are saved from despair as we lean on Him.

    is the determining factor here. Just as it is fair to express our emotions and feelings of loss and pain, frustration and suchlike, there is also an amount of time where God helps us deal with the pain, and then helps us get up, dust ourselves off, and get going again. And for every situation there is probably a different length of time warranted, but if we find that we’re still wallowing in the same place for what is clearly too long, then somewhere we have an incorrect response, and probably a sinful one – of believing that we deserve more, or self-pity because life is so unfair, of forgetting that Christ has taken all of our suffering, and we have invited the wrong thoughts and ideas and spirit in.

    in the Lord wasn’t an entreaty from God to ‘give it a go’. It is a command.

  2. I wish folks would actually research things before they write about them, re Ben Dunson, American Reformer on O Come All You Unfaithful. If one cares to go to
    worshipmatters.com one can find an article titled The Story Behind O Come All You Unfaithful. One will find quite the opposite of Dunson’s uninformed thesis regarding this song. The orthodox Christian credentials of the Kauflin’s, of Sovereign Grace Music, is beyond reproach. The many performances of SGM in, for example, The Prayers of the Saints, To God Be the Glory, are among the most God honoring & glorifying modern hymns and songs to have blessed the Church in its entire history.
    Shame on Ben Dunson for this hit piece on Lisa Clow, the Kauflin’s. For the record I sent Ben Dunson the link to the article I reference above but he has never retracted or corrected the misinformation in his article nor issued an apology of any kind.
    American Reformer may need a bit of reforming themselves.

  3. Thanks Gary. A few thoughts: 1) I know nothing about Dunson; 2) I know nothing about the song or those behind it (which is why I did not linger on it); and 3) I suspect his article would still stand and be of value had he not mentioned the song at all. But thanks again.

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