Sin and repentance are out and brokenness and acceptance are in—at least in many Christian vocabularies. We are certainly broken in our sin and are in great need of acceptance by God through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. But, the substituted vocabulary of brokenness and acceptance is not simply another way of saying sin and repentance, but a way of moving beyond them.
According to the new language, we are no longer guilty sinners who have rebelled against a holy God and who desperately need to respond to Christ in repentant faith. We are now victims who have lived in shame and who desperately need to move beyond the shame we have felt and that others have heaped upon us and accept ourselves. Faith, sin and repentance are God-directed, but the new language is man-directed and fashions God as a divine therapist who helps us accept ourselves and gain self-esteem.
The biblical call is to repent and believe in the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, not feel broken and allow Jesus to help you accept yourself. The problem of addressing this issue in relation to the personal narratives of brokenness and self-acceptance that are being put forth is that no caring person wants to pile on a self-acknowledged victim. Nevertheless, we must be clear that it is only conviction of sin and repentant faith that results in the forgiveness of sins and acceptance in the sight of God on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. We must not lose sight of the difference between placebo compassion and the real thing.
The new language is just as evangelistic as the old, but it is offering a different gospel. The call is for all of us to recognize we are all victims and openly acknowledge our brokenness because when we do, we will overcome the shame associated with not accepting ourselves and not accepting others. The good news according to the new language seems to be that Jesus will help us live without any shame and that he will keep us from shaming anyone else. The biblical accounts of Jesus eating with sinners are severed from their gospel context and treated as though Jesus was unconcerned about confronting anyone’s sin and calling them to repentance. The red-letter, recorded words of Jesus are pitted against the biblical authors even though, in the Bible, they are all Spirit-given word of Christ.
There seems to be little thought given to the fact that when we lose the vocabulary of sin we lose redemption as well. When self-love replaces the liberating love of Christ that delivers us from bondage to our sins, Christianity is reduced into another vain, psychological, self-help marketing scam. We must be reminded of this as we consider what is it stake in the movement afoot to normalize homosexuality in evangelicalism. In 1923, J. Gresham Machen contrasting genuine biblical Christianity with Christian liberalism wrote in Christianity and Liberalism, “At the very root of the modern liberal movement is the loss of the consciousness of sin.” He continues, “The fundamental fault of the modern Church is that she is busily engaged in the absolutely impossible task—she is busily engaged in calling the righteous to repentance.”
The neo-liberalism attempting to move evangelicals toward the normalization of homosexuality and same-sex marriage may admit (at least in the beginning) that such a lifestyle is not God’s best, but will avoid calling the lifestyle sin—to which the only proper response is repentance. After all, they will argue, the church tolerates all sorts of lifestyles that are less than God’s best because we are all broken and our focus is on the grace of acceptance. The new vocabulary will attempt to erect a Christian faith without the conviction of sin and repentance—which is not Christianity at all. Where the neo-liberalism takes root we will hear things like, “What does my sexuality have to do with my spirituality?”
When “brokenness” is substituted for what was previously called “sin” and “self-acceptance” is substituted for “repentance,” we lose more than words—we lose the Christian gospel. The apostle Paul told the church at Corinth,
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
If we lose Paul’s grammar, we lose his gospel. If we shift his words to the present tense and say, “And such are some of you,” we are left with no one washed, no one sanctified, and no one justified.