Tell Your Dad He is Broken. Deeply Broken.

Pastor Steve McCoy recently tweeted this and ignited something of a firestorm on the internets:

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 3.43.06 AM

And honestly, I understand the backlash. Especially from a therapeutic perspective, it just sounds wrong. The emphasis – deeply – almost immediately triggers images of fundamentalist spiritual and emotional abuse of kids, abuse that is very real, abuse that I experienced as a child, abuse that I have witnessed firsthand in several church environments.

But here’s the thing. I’ve used the word ‘brokenness’ to describe the theological idea of humanity’s sinfulness. Like, a lot. Honestly, I wrote a book that relied heavily on the brokenness metaphor when describing the serial killer Dexter, highlighting his ‘dark passenger’ as an extreme example of our sinful shadow self. There is a scene in that show where Dexter’s sister Deb falls apart and, in tears, exclaims, “I’m what’s wrong! I am broken!” It is a powerful revelation of the truth of her situation, and it is a truth revealed in our own lives whenever we encounter devastating failure or contradiction within ourselves.

dexter-season-8-debra

The sticky wicket, though, is in the application. It is one thing to affirm the general theological truth that human beings are broken people, flawed people, failing people, fragmented people, often-running-away-from-wholeness people. That we can be damned destructive sometimes, and that this is what’s wrong with the world. It’s one thing to affirm that theological reality of fallenness and then follow it up with the far more alarming truth: that smack dab in the midst of our brokenness, we, all of us, are the very beloved of God. That the good news is the end of shame, and Jesus says we are enough.

That’s one thing.

But it’s quite another to change that theological conversation into a specifically adapted message to children, complete with a pointed emphasis that seems to almost push against belovedness itself. Specifically teaching children that they are deeply broken is an exercise in shame precisely because their brokenness is not yet their own. No matter what your doctrine of original sin might be, the beauty, the miracle, of childhood is that they have not become so wounded, nor tempted, as to have properly entered the human condition of “brokenness.” This is why Jesus was so clear: become like a child, then you can enter the kingdom. Return to the place before brokenness – the place where God was near and we were truly alive and breathed in our belovedness. The place before what has always been true became clouded by the tree of knowledge.

So, Steve, my suggestion is this. It would be better to teach our kids to just be the beloved, because that is precisely who they know they are better than we know it ourselves.

And, perhaps we, as dads, ought to remember the lesson that we are the ones who are broken – and the more we can accept our own belovedness in the midst of that brokenness, the less brokenness we will actually pass on to our children.

About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. He blogs here at Patheos and HuffPost Religion. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter, released in 2012. Most importantly he binge-watches TV dramas and plays in the snow with his family.

Find him on Twitter & Facebook!

  • Stephen

    Just to be clear, are you saying children are “not broken” at a young age, whatever that age is for you? And that when Jesus says to enter the kingdom as children he saying so because their not sinful?Just wanted to make sure I’m reading this all correctly, I’ve never heard that before so I don’t want to assume.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      @Stephen what I’m saying is that “sinful” or “broken” are fundamentally different realities for a child, psychologically and spiritually speaking. And that is precisely what Jesus is pointing out in our need to be “like” them. There is an innocence resembling – though not exactly – the pre-fall condition before the tree of knowledge clouded our relationship of belovedness with God. That’s why children can “see” the kingdom more clearly, and we adults struggle.

      • Stephen

        So your saying because their young statements like that are too difficult for them to process & could lead to needing therapy? Sorry for the ?’s, I think there are tons of beliefs you have underneath all of this that I may not see at the moment.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          @Stephen I’m saying that the statement is a) inaccurate in its application theologically and existentially, and b) it has a high potential for harm in its application.

        • Stephen

          What potential harm do you see could happen? I really want to be informed.

        • lilrileyghost

          @Stephen To start with, i’ll give you an example:
          It implicates God had us made broken because of “original sin”.
          That our inherent worth is nothing – because we contribute nothing. <—This being the main implication
          Life serving a God who teaches us that brokeness is the only miserable existence we have and does not purport to a loving God.
          just a couple things to get started. Im sure others have an instant response, they just have to barf it out first.

        • Stephen

          lilrileyghost I’m going to be cautious with what I say because I don’t want to be the next guy getting a blog written about what I live out via scripture but what you said I believe would be true if that’s how Steve teaches it. 
          And maybe “broken” isn’t the best word, maybe not, depends on how it’s taught. It’s good for me to wrestle with this since I have two beautiful baby girls who I love deeply & long for them to come to our King who gave his life to save us from our sin.
          Just so you know I am not reformed, I am not anabaptist, or anything else people like to call themselves, I’m simply a follower of Jesus who can’t be put in a basket via a tradition of thought.
          I will say I think we should never start of with you are broken first, because the story of scripture doesn’t start there, it starts with a God, who always does what is good, right, & perfect. He made us in his image, fully known and fully loved.
          Yet the bad news is, via Adam’s sin as our representative we have all been conceived in sin & are born with a natural hostility to God that only Jesus could save us from among other things & If that is what Steve teaches I agree. 
          Yet I do agree if we taught brokenness as God “created us” broken because of original sin & we’re worthless with no value despite being in his image then I’d engage people in humility with that.

      • Stephen

        Also from what I can see in scripture Jesus was referring to kids being needy & dependent on their parents & that was thee attribute Jesus actually pointing too unless I missed something.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          @Stephen disagree there, but no worries :).

        • Stephen

          O ok, I see where the difference in thinking are now.

  • ryanlrobinson

    Yes, I definitely agree that there is some element of brokenness, even as a child. That does not mean that it is the core of who we are, which was the immediate connotation that jumped out at me from the tweet. Even as adults, we need to be told that we are primarily image bearers of God infinitely loved to the point of death on our behalves. It does not mean we are perfect; we’re not; we’re “broken.” But that isn’t the core of who we are and by raising children to know that they are broken (with no mention of loved), it is both theologically problematic and will likely require decades of therapy to heal from.
    This was my take on it: http://emerginganabaptist.com/discussing-brokenness/

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      ryanlrobinson thanks ryan, spot on. I’ll check out your piece today.

    • Stephen

      I agree w/ you on this & I could almost guarantee Steve McCoy would agree. He just was tweeting a piece of what to teach our children.

      • ryanlrobinson

        @Stephen I suspect he would at least partly agree, and said as much in my blog. Probably more a case of a bad use of Twitter which, if taken on its own, would lead to harmful consequences, than it was ever meant to be “pound home this reality over and over again and nothing else matters.” That said, I still think it is important to call out how a bad use of Twitter can hurt a lot of people when you are in a position of influence like a pastor.

        • Stephen

          Guess I can agree. Gotta be careful what & how we tweet.

    • Jtheory2182

      ryanlrobinson read your piece Ryan, yesterday, and it was really good.

      • ryanlrobinson

        Thanks!

  • http://Twitter.com/karen_e_eaton KarenE

    I engaged in significant discussion with Pastor McCoy and others (as much as numerous 140 characters allow anyways), and I think I can sum my thoughts up this way:
    (1) I think there is a serious problem with the language of “brokenness” as it relates to children. A child’s primary understanding of vocabulary usage is through usage, and we commonly use that term in the U.S. to describe things that need to be thrown away (or fixed to be useful). Telling a kid they are broken is likely telling they are worthless or useless in their current condition.
    (2) in our culture (and possibly in others as well), shame doesn’t need to be taught. Children learn it simply by living. So why does it need to be taught as “brokenness”?
    (3) it’s the wrong focus. When I hear I am bad, wrong or broken, I’m too busy wallowing in the shame that has just been pointed out to hear anything else, and likely to not understand any follow-up given about how Jesus loves me. It’s kind of like hearing “Hey, your a horrible person … Well, at least you’re loved by God.” How should I be expected to believe part 2?
    I’m not sure what I believe about original sin, but I do think it’s fine to teach (and more importantly model) that everyone is imperfect. I try to apologize a lot. To the extent children “sin”, I think we’d be surprised how little of their behavior qualifies as sin. Much of what kids do, (not listening the first time, acting impulsively, breaking rules, testing limits) is developmental and not a formed intent to disobey God. I worry sometimes about how conservative Christian culture defines sin in children and punishes children for it. Beyond any language of brokenness, these discipline practices are harmful beyond words.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      KarenE so much of this is nuance and emphasis, isn’t it? like you said, we’re imperfect – that’s self evident. my little 3YO knows that she “has a hard time listening” some days or “doesn’t do her job” and therefore loses privileges. i often do what i understand as “gospeling” in those non-listening moments – pull her in even if she’s having a meltdown, hug her, and tell her how much i love her, etc. anyway, my sense is that God really truly loves the broken us, the us that is very clear about our imperfections and unable to posture or “change”. that’s when he pulls us in and tells us how much he loves us.

  • stevekmccoy

    Zach, your “return to the place before brokenness” idea just isn’t found in the Bible dealing with children or anything for that matter. It sounds nice, but it’s just not based in Scripture. That idea is not connected to Jesus receiving children. But that part of your argument isn’t even necessary since you should have ended this post after the word “enough” since that paragraph better (not perfectly) represents what I’m talking about. 
    The rest is somehow saying, in reference to me anyway, that I’m saying or encouraging something that I’m not. “Deeply” refers to internal brokenness as to original sin, being children of Adam, etc. When my kids sin, I will often ask them why they did what they did. They will typically talk about more superficial issues. Those are still important. But then I’ll teach them about a deeper reality of sin in them and in me and everyone else. That we are all sinners, and it is our brokenness deep down that makes us liars and thieves and prideful, etc. I’m simply pointing them to the bigger reality behind why they did what they did and then we talk about Jesus, the cross, forgiveness, love, grace, and so on.
    Most parents I know don’t teach their kids of their own deep sinfulness, and that helps to build some pretty prideful, cruel, and selfish kids. They don’t need the good news because they don’t get the bad news. That’s the majority culture where I live, though I deal with others who have a different experience and who get a slightly different approach (though the same teaching).

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      stevekmccoy Unfortunately man, I have to read “just isn’t found in the Bible” as “not a part of my systematic theology.” There’s plenty of room, biblically, for an emphasis on children’s relative innocence and the psychological reality that future brokenness is primarily a result of hurt caused by adults/the world. I think that innocence is latent in Jesus’s argument in Matt. 18, contra your assertion. And now that I see your last paragraph, I think we may disagree more strongly than I first thought.

      • stevekmccoy

        zachhoag stevekmccoy “Unfortunately man, I have to read “just isn’t found in the Bible” as “not a part of my systematic theology.” — When you decide to treat me as a person who can actually formulate a thought, let me know. You could respond to me like a thinking person and never say that first line. That first line is an attempt to show your superiority. It’s rude.
        Is “relative innocence” what we are talking about? I don’t think so. It’s innocence or not. Period. It’s original sin or not. Period.

        • kri

          stevekmccoy zachhoag actually, i think that first line was important to include

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          stevekmccoy zachhoag Steve, honestly, I think it’s pretty obvious to the reader who is being rude here. You made absolute assertions – “just not found in the Bible”, “just not based in scripture” – and you continue with “Period. Period.” Etc. That’s precisely the stuff that kills conversation. There’s no room for nuance or narrative perspective or any perspective outside your tradition.

        • stevekmccoy

          zachhoag No. I’m making arguments. The word “period” shows the sharpness of the point I’m trying to make. Feel free to show me why you disagree. 
          Jesus isn’t speaking to the innocence of the children who “come to him.” He’s using them as the example of all of us, that we all need to come to him as they children were coming to him. It had nothing to do with their innocence. Also, kids aren’t a nuisance as the disciples seemed to believe in that passage.
          As to original sin, Ephesians 2:3 is helpful.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          stevekmccoy zachhoag ok, then my argument is that your thinking is fundamentally systematic and not narrative/nuanced. Also, this is why we need the new perspective on Paul :).

        • stevekmccoy

          zachhoag stevekmccoy Stop saying it and show me. Am I just supposed to take your word for it? Goodness sakes.

        • StuffCCLikes

          stevekmccoy zachhoag I hope your kids tell you this when you tell them they are deeply broken. I hop they say “Am I just supposed to take you word for it? Goodness sakes.”

        • stevekmccoy

          StuffCCLikes stevekmccoy zachhoag That’s what the Bible is for. I show them that too, Stephanie. I also ask them to check their own hearts. Isn’t it clear you want to lie sometimes? You want to disobey? You want to steal?

        • Jtheory2182

          stevekmccoy StuffCCLikes zachhoag and sometimes, even as a child she wanted to tell the truth, obey, and share her toys. But your theology gives no value to that. It just finds a way to paint it as sinful too, cause how could it be good if they’re broken.

        • StuffCCLikes

          stevekmccoy StuffCCLikes zachhoag You have a lifetime of complicated relationships with your children ahead.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          stevekmccoy zachhoag I already did.

        • stevekmccoy

          StuffCCLikes stevekmccoy zachhoag Stephanie, your experience isn’t everyone else’s experience. It’s just not. And your demand that it be everyone else’s is causing you to judge everyone else by your experience and the experience of some others. You aren’t seeing the whole of it, only the part.

        • stevekmccoy

          zachhoag stevekmccoy Where? I didn’t see it.

        • lilrileyghost

          stevekmccoy StuffCCLikes zachhoag Somebody lives in Egypt, by de nile. Don’t be surprised if your children grow up and move away and don’t ever return. My parents tried that crap, and didn’t get it til they were down to two (they had 8).
          I don’t understand why you continue to discount and “pooh-pooh” everybody’s experience. it might all go well for you, but the hoards of replies that i’ve seen in several places indicate that this message said in its broad spectrum is actually more harmful than it is good. PERIOD.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          stevekmccoy zachhoag the post itself is precisely making a narrative/nuanced argument, and matt. 18 & mark 10 include a sense that children are uniquely able to see & enter the kingdom b/c of relative innocence and dependence. but i’m not going to belabor it because it won’t matter. in a reformed context (which i am super familiar with/came out of) original sin/total depravity will trump any narrative or nuance because ‘that’s what the bible teaches’ etc. steve, look, we interacted this week about the pope already, so i know where you stand. the new perspective disentangles us from the systematic adherence to total depravity & law/grace dichotomies which are UNASSAILABLE TRUTHS for a reformed person like yourself. no disrespect, those are just the facts.

        • stevekmccoy

          zachhoag stevekmccoy Zach, your insistence on pigeonholing me only pigeonholes yourself. We have the opportunity to talk but you can’t stop telling me who I am because that’s how I must be since I’m connected to the word “reformed.” Sorry you can’t hear me, but it is disrespect. I’ve given you more respect than that.

        • StuffCCLikes

          stevekmccoy StuffCCLikes zachhoag I’m not only telling you my experience, hundreds of people are on the Stuff Christian Culture Likes facebook page are telling you about their devastating experiences with beubg told from a young age that they are deeply broken. You continue to resfuse to listen to any of this, at the expense of your childrens’ well-being.

        • lilrileyghost

          stevekmccoyIm just bemused at the fact that you’re assuming something about Stephanie that wasn’t ever stated implicitly here. Isn’t that a sin, to point out the speck in your sister’s eye without removing the plank from your own eye first?

        • stevekmccoy

          StuffCCLikes stevekmccoy zachhoag Stephanie, I don’t deny you believe that. I don’t deny many believe that at SCCL. I hate the fact that many feel hurt by the faith that has changed me deeply. I’m saying I know many who disagree with you and who believe and have experienced quite the opposite. So which “many” do we believe? There must be a way to explain both. Someone has to be wrong. If the Bible says what I’m saying and it’s true, your group could be taking good teaching by bad people and throwing the baby out with the bathwater. That’s what I believe is happening.

        • lilrileyghost

          stevekmccoy StuffCCLikes zachhoag Then there are hoards of bad teachers and all should be stoned. By your admission, you too.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          stevekmccoy zachhoag no, by slamming the pope on twitter and saying original sin/total depravity PERIOD you have told me your position, and it lines up with what i’ve experienced. no one’s a martyr here, steve, but i do think we disagree and probably don’t need to belabor it beyond that.

        • stevekmccoy

          zachhoag stevekmccoy I’m surprised you would write about me and I would try to honestly engage you here and you wouldn’t want to do so. I’ve been accused by many who don’t know me concerning this tweet that I don’t want “relationship.” I’m trying.

        • DanicaNewton

          stevekmccoy zachhoag 
          “I’ve been accused by many who don’t know me concerning this tweet that I don’t want “relationship.” I’m trying. ”  
          Would you please engage with me by responding to the question I wrote below?  Thanks.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          stevekmccoy zachhoag dude, it’s fine, you engaged, we exchanged a few ideas, and there’s not agreement. i was commenting on the controversy as a whole – this wasn’t an open letter to try to draw you out into conversation. i really do think it’s all good to land where we’ve landed.

        • lilrileyghost

          stevekmccoy zachhoag Nope, you’re actually not, Steve. Im looking straight at you – and im seeing a guy who is resisting having his faith challenged at all. You’re just sitting here, arguing away til Jesus comes and smacks you upside the head. what do you not get? I think Zach’s tired of arguing with you, and not going anywhere. Frankly, we’re all tired of you. I don’t know if its just male chauvinistic thinking or whatever, but you just go on this little power trip telling everybody what they can and can’t do, what they can, and can’t believe, and you know what? You sound like you’re stuck in the middle ages. And then you go and ignore Danica. You better have a damn good reason for it, and not because she’s a lady (you’ll be sexist if you did admit it!)

        • ABorrowedFlame

          zachhoag stevekmccoy Why does everyone keep touting original sin as a particularly reformed idea?
          I also fail to see where the idea of seeing the kingdom as Children implies innocence. It seems to be about trust, at least, that’s how the narrative reads to me. The idea of childhood innocence seems to owe  a lot to the old ‘age of accountability’ idea, which I never really saw in scripture either, I admit.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          ABorrowedFlame zachhoag stevekmccoy original sin becomes heavily emphasized in an Augustinian/Calvinistic context as total depravity. it’s the link between the two that is uniquely reformed.

        • ABorrowedFlame

          zachhoag ABorrowedFlame stevekmccoy I disagree. I’m almost certain that many a non-Calvinistic friend would agree that sin has impacted every part of our person. I can’t help but think this is being portrayed as a ‘Calvinist’ thing, because it’s the popular horse to flog right now…

        • lewisbwells

          stevekmccoy StuffCCLikes zachhoag I believe the many who don’t place doctrine over person.

        • lewisbwells

          stevekmccoy StuffCCLikes zachhoag When I was young, my parents taught me that lying and stealing were wrong (disobeying too, within context), primarily by living honest and forthright lives in front of me. I don’t live with a repressed desire to do any of those things.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          ABorrowedFlame zachhoag stevekmccoy total depravity is calvinism. this is devil’s advocate nonsense that just confuses the issue. wesleyan/arminians don’t believe total depravity. nor do anabaptists like myself.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com/ Findo

            “arminians don’t believe total depravity” – According to Roger Olsen and John Wesley, they do… just sayin’

          • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

            right, but both nuance this in the *totality* of the depravity. i was being somewhat biased in saying that they don’t believe total depravity in nearly the same way that calvinists do.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com/ Findo

            Total depravity is that sin has affected every part of us – not that we are only evil or incapable of any good. How does the Arminian view differ from this?

        • SteveDawson1

          stevekmccoy StuffCCLikes zachhoag Lately there have been a slew of pop preachers who feel the need to present theological principles in 140 characters or less. It Doesn’t Work! 
          Major doctrines should not be presented on Twitter. You may link to a post as a teaser. By why or why do you try to present “original sin” and “brokenness” with such a handicap?

    • DanicaNewton

      stevekmccoy Hi Steve, I have an honest question for you.  I like to think that you are honestly taken aback by the response to your tweet, being that your intentions were good.  So here’s my question:  

      How do you square this entire, extended conversation (the thousands of negative responses you’ve gotten to your tweet, across various forums and platforms), with Paul’s admonition to cater to the weaker brother? Specifically, 1 Corintians 8? 
      “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” 
      As a person in spiritual leadership, I try to be careful that I’m not doing this to the people who I am leading, and when I inevitably fail, I ask for their forgiveness and stop doing whatever it was that made them stumble. 
      I’m asking from an honest place — how do you take these verses, and do they apply to those who were hurt by your tweet? (in other words, those who your tweet made stumble)

      • ChrisRose

        DanicaNewton stevekmccoy Anyone else shocked that there is no reply. Cuz I’m not shocked.

        • Jtheory2182

          ChrisRose DanicaNewton stevekmccoy me neither. sad.

      • DanicaNewton

        Whelp, as I’ve recieved no response from Steve, I am left to wonder if the reason he hasn’t responded to me (even though he said that he was trying to be relational), is because when confronted with the scripture above, he has no response to it because he knows he’s in the wrong. So he disengaged.
        My pastor once told me that anybody can prop a tree up, but only truth will produce fruit. Steve, brother, I don’t see a lot of love, or patience, or kindness, or goodness or self control in your responses here and on other forums.
        As a pastor, you’re called to a higher standard to ensure those looking to you don’t stumble because of your actions or words. It’s not fair, but it goes with the vocation. Can’t you see that? Or is it just that you choose not to see it?

        • stevekmccoy

          DanicaNewton I know I’m in the wrong, huh? So I I disengaged? It’s sad? You aren’t shocked? Hmm. No one was willing to say that Steve might be busy and we shouldn’t judge Steve for it? 
          I’ve been gone for nearly six hours for an out of town all-star baseball game my 10 year old was playing. I’m not wasting another word here for people who want to judge me without knowing what’s going on. No benefit of the doubt? See ya.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          Steve, I agree there was a bit of a gangup there, and it wasn’t fair to make those assumptions about your motives. I’d love to hear you respond to Danica’s question, but no worries if you can’t.

        • DanicaNewton

          stevekmccoy DanicaNewton *sigh*  still no answer to my question?  I’m sorry that you are busy and I judged you for it.  I was feeling frustrated and overlooked and ignored, such a common occurrence on theology blogs that I stopped commenting.  So I’m sorry, really, I am.  
          I’d still like an answer.  Really, I would.  I really, really would.

        • stevekmccoy

          DanicaNewton stevekmccoy I’m happy to answer your original comment, though I hadn’t read it until just now. If you want to engage me further on it, you can email me. I’m not commenting here again. I can tell the difference between a conversation that’s desired and people who are wiling to listen and those who don’t want to listen. We’ll see if my response is heard concerning your comment because it’s pretty simple. And the only reason I’m responding is to show that your judgments about me are wrong and unfair. 
          1 Cor 8 isn’t about truth, gospel, reality. It’s about freedoms. It’s about things that are fine to do in God’s eyes but not required. You can take it or leave it. It’s meat sacrificed to idols. You can eat it, sure. It’s not a sin to eat it. But there are weaker ones who may see you eat and THINK it’s sinful (though it’s not) and it may hurt their faith in God. So we shouldn’t eat it for their sake. And we don’t need to eat it anyway. It’s not an essential of our faith. Not even close. Again, you can take it or leave it.

          The gospel, the truth of God that must include the reality of our sinfulness isn’t a take it or leave it issue. It’s just not. It’s not a freedom issue. It’s not a non-essential everyday life issue like eating a piece of meat. And we aren’t allowed to tell God or his people that speaking the truth in love, that preaching the gospel, is a non-essential. Even the suggestion of this passage in reference to this issue shows the reality of the problem from those who claim abuse over a gospel issue. 
          Let me make it perfectly clear: “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Cor 1:23
          Paul said there is one way people are allowed to stumble (Christ, gospel, cross) and one way people shouldn’t be made to stumble (freedoms the gospel brings that might be misunderstood though they shouldn’t be, like eating meat sacrificed to idols). 
          Hope that helps. Again, I won’t respond here so if you respond here I won’t see it. Thanks.

        • Jtheory2182

          stevekmccoy DanicaNewton Hey steve, I saw your tweet about the baseball and should have connected the dots. My apologies for the gangup.
          But you have to see it from Danica’s viewpoint is that she asked that question back when you were engaging with Zach and Steph a lot, and she felt left out as you continued to engage with them and ignore her.
          Maybe it was prioritization and I get that, but the least you could have offered was an explanation and a promise to get to her when you had the chance. Just to let her know you saw question and considered her worth responding to.

        • DanicaNewton

          stevekmccoy DanicaNewton Thank you so much for your thoughtful response!  I would like to correspond via email, but don’t have your address.  Here’s my thoughts:
          I agree with your analysis of the text, that it’s about non-essential aspects of our faith.  I guess where I disagree is that the act of telling your kids they are broken, is preaching the Gospel to them.  Even the verse you cited says that we preach Christ crucified – it says nothing about telling people they are broken.  When did Christ Himself ever tell people they were broken?  It seems such an unloving thing to me, and out of the character of our God.  
          I am seeing that this is actually coming down to a difference of opinion about what the ‘Gospel’ is, and how we are supposed to spread it.  I personally (and I know you disagree with me), look to passages like … 
           John 13, ““A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.””,
          and Matthew 28, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”,
          and Matthew 10, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”
          I see my commission as being to go out into the world, and love those in the world, and seek to bring healing and deliverance to them, and proclaim to them that Christ the Son of God was crucified for the sins of this world, and rose again.  It seems to me to be counter productive to be so harsh that people are driven away from God, rather than towards Him.  
          Can you acknoweldge that the people speaking out against your tweet here, aren’t ‘of the world’, but many are Christians who love God.  But THEY are deeply hurt by your words?  They don’t really need the gospel preached to them, and your words are causing a stumbling block placed in front of them.  Do you not have compassion on them, enough to desist, and maybe word things in a different way?
          And lastly, on the theology of the depravity of man, I am mixed because I see that we are made in the image of God, that Christ said for us to have faith like a child, but the bible also says that the heart is desperately wicked and deceitful, and of course if you read through the first two chapters of Romans, you will become convinced that Gentile or Jew, you are in a bad place.  
          So I’m on the fence there, but do know one thing – telling everyone how horrible they are all the time sounds very unloving, and isn’t what Christ did at all.  So I’m going to err on the side of grace with this one.  I realize you do not want to comment again, but please know that I may be fb messaging you soon to continue the conversation, should you wish.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          stevekmccoy DanicaNewtonSteve, I have a slightly more firm response than Danica, and I’ll be closing the comments after this.
          First, “We’ll see if my response is heard concerning your comment because it’s pretty simple” & “Again, I won’t respond here so if you respond here I won’t see it” is a sucker-punch kind of challenge that is not welcome on this blog. As you continue to accuse everyone here of not listening, you deal out accusations and conversation enders like this. And then you “leave” before having a chance to LISTEN to a response.
          Steve, the problem here is that you launched a missive in a public forum that was seen by a therapeutic online community and received intense pushback. But instead of acknowledging that community for who they are and the pushback for what it is, you’ve failed to receive any of their concerns and have simply defended your thought and theology wholesale.
          Even my post here – which was really an attempt to find nuance and support a view of human brokenness from the biblical narrative – was quickly shut down with “not biblical” and “PERIOD”.
          Second, your comment above is fine and dandy until one realizes what it assumes - namely, that the opposition to your tweet is, in fact, DIRECT OPPOSITION TO THE GOSPEL. I know you don’t like to be “pigeonholed” but, my friend, you are doing it to yourself. This kind of narrow gospel perspective is precisely the fundamentalist tendency of the new Reformed movement, and the result is a fundamentally harmful theology. 
          I haven’t heard anyone  here (and especially not me) denying the sinfulness of humanity. What I have heard are people trying to make the point that children have to be treated with extreme care when it comes to the verbal messages sent their way. Both BIBLICAL and THEOLOGICAL nuance exists on this within orthodox, Christian thought – and NONE of this is a denial of the gospel. Have you listened to that? Your comment above is clear that you have not. Are you attentive to the developmental and psychological needs of children that require we integrate biblical truth with actual reality – like the reality of emotional abuse – in order to see our kids grow up healthy and whole, even as they follow Jesus as the answer to their sin and shame? Your movement and, it seems, you too, have not.
          Danica made a sincere plea from a ministry perspective. Her plea has great merit, especially as you consider the spirit of Paul’s instruction, to protect those weak in conscience, young in faith, etc. Perhaps Jesus’ s warning in Matthew 18 is even more applicable: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble…” 
          May we all proceed with caution and care when it comes to our kids. 
          Peace to you.

  • Jtheory2182

    Yes. All of this.
    The doctrine of original sin at its worst presupposes an inherent brokenness on children etc. that is there before they’ve even had a chance to BE broken. And that is why this theology falls apart. We are broken by our sinful choices, and choices have to be made. Of course we live in a environment where these sinful choices become almost inevitable because of there being more than one self, and when you put two selves in a room, there will be struggle. Until there is love.
    Children especially don’t have knowledge of why what they do is sin, or wrong, and we can teach them why it’s wrong, but we should never teach them THEY are wrong. God has redeemed them on the cross, they have good in them…in other words, we are broken, but we are also valued.
    So yeah, definitely agree with all this. And love how you brought Dexter into it.

  • MickiTaylor

    Really, Steve just doesn’t *want* to hear or consider any of this.  Masses of people have tried along the full spectrum of very nice to not so nice to share their own experiences and the harm that came from this sort of teaching. They have shared understanding of child-like thought processes – from experience as both professionals and as parents.  He just doesn’t care to hear it.  
    Whether it’s pride, or stubbornness, or what, I don’t know… but God bless and protect his children, since he refuses to consider any of the input he’s received.  (Seriously, I have not seen him conceded even the tiniest bit to anyone that has tried to converse about it.  Not one iota.)

    • stevekmccoy

      MickiTaylor I know many, many people who have been taught this and who not only don’t feel abused or harmed, but are thankful, eternally thankful for it. So it must not be the teaching that is the problem, but the people who teach it, the lack of love from those who teach it, or a false way to teach it.

      • lewisbwells

        stevekmccoy MickiTaylor  That’s a general response for most abusive teachings or concepts – “It’s not the teaching, it’s the people who are teaching” …which is really just an extension of the abusive concept or teaching. Not only are they teaching it wrong, but they’re teaching it wrong because of being deeply broken, imperfect, sinful. 
        “This isn’t a teaching/concept/system problem. It’s a sin problem.” Or, “you’re just doing it wrong” or some variation.

        It’s the teaching.

      • LauraKL

        stevekmccoy MickiTaylor Wow. I literally know ZERO people who have not been harmed by constantly being told how unworthy and worthless they were as children. I went to a mid size Christian college and have been very involved in many churches and in church leadership and literally ZERO people (of the hundreds I have met) have not obviously had disordered thinking related to their ideas of God, themselves or others because of this toxic idea. Do you not talk to people very much? Like whole heart talk to people? Like, lets really jump into the deep end and talk about the stuff in our lives talk? 
        Don’t get me wrong, I understand the depravity of mankind, I get that, kids get that. They live in the world, its unkind, its unjust, kids have a laser focus on that by default in a way most adults don’t. But I think kids need to be reminded that they are beloved and that God rejoices over them with singing. And that in SPITE of the fall and in SPITE of a broken world, he finds them so, so precious. That the promise of God, the promise of the bible and the promise of an eternity with him. God came NEAR. 
        If your kids are disrespectful or you think they are too proud, that’s a whole other issues. There is humility and respect and I’m all for teaching and modelling those things. But I just do not understand how teaching them total depravity will get you there.

  • http://jbyas.com/ JByas

    It feels like this back-and-forth is far too anecdotal. I would like to see data on how kids respond to these things. My “feeling” is that kids respond less to these statements and more to the holistic environment in which they are told/experienced. But I could be wrong. It’s hard to engage without all the facts. And since no respected developmental psychologist with experience in childhood verbal abuse has spoken up about it, it’s hard for me to even see why this is worth such a long discussion.
    Anecdotally, we are at a logjam. There are plenty of kids who grew up in a very long home but are told they are deeply sinful and broken on a theological level who grow up to have healthy and “normal” egos. And vice versa. It’s not black and white and I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone I trust to help guide me through the nuance . . . no pun intended Zach!

    • http://jbyas.com/ JByas

      *Loving, not long. Crap.

      • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

        JByas I HATE long homes, they are so abusive.

    • Jtheory2182

      JByas if you would like to read stories, I would suggest liking the Stuff Christian Culture Likes page, or at least visiting it, Stephanie has been posting many messages she is getting by people who have been hurt by this teaching deeply

    • StuffCCLikes

      JByas There is data on how kids respond to these things over at the Stuff Christian Culture Likes facebook page. Many of us were raised being told that we were deeply broken and have significant emotional and/or mental problems as a result. I myself have a very difficult time seeing God as a loving father and have had many years of therapy that have finally helped me challenge the notion of what I was taught was God’s message when I was very young.

      • http://jbyas.com/ JByas

        No doubt that some people who are told they are broken have problems as a result. My point is that even data on your FB page is anecdotal. There are probably just as many people who were told they were broken that don’t end up with significant problems as a result. There are cultural pockets since the Reformation where this theology was prominent and it just seems implausible that there is a necessary connection between that theology and significant emotional or mental problems in some timeless, objective, and generic way. Perhaps not. But that’s my point. There is no hard data to use.
        It’s not a theology I subscribe to any longer but it does feel unfair (and less than rigorous), on both sides, to say “your theology of original sin emotionally scars children” in some context-less blanket statement or, on the other hand, “your lack of theology of original sin makes children selfish.”
        I would rather have more precise data that allows for context and conversation. I understand that there is a lot of personal and emotional energy in this discussion and I respect it.

        • http://jbyas.com/ JByas

          My main concern is how quickly we take sides and then defend that side rather than spending more time withholding judgment to truly understand all the angles and connections.

        • Jtheory2182

          JByas I think in Stephanie’s case at least it is less of a problem with the idea that for some it didn’t emotionally scar them, but that for many it has, at least the ones she has engaged with, and that is mainly what her site is for, as a place of therapy and healing for those hurt by doctrine or the church. In her quest to affirm their pain as valid, I believe she is simply wanting Steve to admit that the doctrine itself can be hurtful in cases, and that maybe it needs a reexamination in how it is applied. Even if he doesn’t completely give up the doctrine itself, but more than that she is seeking a validation of these people’s pain from him that he doesn’t seem willing to give. He hedges and justifies. At this point the only attack he is getting personally is the feeling that he doesn’t really “get” where people are coming from, or wants to blame other things rather than the root of their hurt.
          This might be a bit of a paradigm shift for him, and I respect that but it’s not really that much a leap to acknowledge that what works for some doesn’t work for all, and that this should not be a hardline thing we teach every child that comes out of the womb.
          And honestly I think there’s better ways to work with even children that are a bit selfish or self important than almost literally breaking them like you would a horse with too much spirit.
          But I do believe there are somewhat scientific statistics on the suicide rate in Calvinistically leaning denominations and it is rather high. I wouldn’t know where to look to provide that information though.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          JByas Jared, what would this data look like? I ask because I’ve heard this line of reasoning before (in relation to the smokin’ hot wife trend) and it seems to be a way of avoiding the data that is there.

        • http://jbyas.com/ JByas

          Jtheory2182 JByas Thanks for this! Yes, I completely agree. My initial response was a call for more evidence to talk more objectively about this scenario and I can certainly see what you mean regarding the back-and-forth dynamics.

        • http://jbyas.com/ JByas

          It would be rooted in credible statistical methodology. For instance, the APA recently released this: http://www.apaexcellence.org/assets/general/2013-work-and-wellbeing-survey-results.pdf  
          regarding the workplace and balance. Of course, statistics themselves must be scrutinized but it’s certainly more reliable than “I’ve met so many people who have been hurt” followed by “Well, I’ve met so many people who haven’t been hurt.”

          The problem can be that once we’re in a context it’s hard to see outside of it without some methodology in place to measure. Once we are convinced we tend toward confirmation bias, which makes it easy to spot areas that support our thesis.
          If I want to get to the “root” of this question, I must parse out all the variables, in good scientific methodology. And anecdotal evidence without a specific methodology doesn’t allow you to do that. For instance, what other factors surrounded a child’s environment that might have led to feelings of inadequacy. Tone of the teacher? Emotional stability of the teacher? Personality of the child? Specific words of the teacher? Overall religious environment & behaviors?
          I think you are getting at this Zach and others when we keep using the word “application,” as in the “application of this doctrine.” My simple problem is that my background is in philosophy & organizational marketing where “application” is too vague a term. What are all the variables in which such a doctrine can be “applied”?
          My overall point is that it feels more divisive than helpful to argue about an issue until we can firmly drill down to those core points of disagreement and see them with clarity rather than taking sides based on vague evidence that each side has to “prove” their side.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          JByas thanks for explaining that. my sense is that there must be some kind of balance here. for instance, in situations of abuse especially, there needs to be validation of the individual’s experience. that can be followed by investigation, but validation of the experience – and how that person perceives the cause and effect – should be validated first.
          i think of the experience of gay folks growing up in fundamentalist environments who were driven to despair, self-harm, etc. by the messages in those communities. the fundies are very quick to say that there’s no proof those messages – what they would call “the gospel” – directly led to that experience of despair, and therefore the fault is really in the person who experienced it. the gay person is misappropriating the message at best, or maybe they are just mentally ill (gay) at worst. in any case, they need to chill because there’s no proof that the message leads to any kind of emotional abuse. etc.
          but when the number of voices grows to a certain level, it becomes really hard to ignore that there is, in fact, a link between the message and the experience. now, more investigation may be needed – but it should still be validated. this is why i think StuffCCLikes has a real point. this is also why i don’t buy into an absolute dichotomy between anecdotal and statistical/scientific evidence. sometimes the latter can be far too slow, and people continue to be hurt in the meantime.
          does that make any sense?

        • http://jbyas.com/ JByas

          zachhoag JByas StuffCCLikes Absolutely. I’m not sure though if “balance” is the right word. I think they are two separate things. I am obviously very much in favor of validation and even giving benefit to those who were (no doubt) harmed by such theology.
          I think saying “this theology hurt me” and saying “this theology is harmful for children” are actually two different things. The first is a subjective experience that must be acknowledged and accepted for what the subject experiences. The second is an objective claim of cause & effect.
          And this is where I think we do agree Zach: the subjective (in my mind) is more important than the objective. I care more about how people experienced their theologies (enculturated and incarnated, for good or ill). It’s just more interesting to me. More human.
          But we shouldn’t confuse the two, otherwise, like you said regarding gay folks in the church, we don’t get anywhere in the debate because we are talking past each other. We haven’t as I said above, come to any clarity around those core points of disagreement.
          I am a quibbler about details so sorry for the insistence on nuance. But does that make sense?

        • http://jbyas.com/ JByas

          zachhoag JByas StuffCCLikes Since my passion is for unity and dialogue I am always on the lookout for how our postures, rhetorical devices, and use of logic impede true conversation. That’s just the perspective I come at these things from.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          JByas zachhoag StuffCCLikes yeah, i think so. thanks man.

  • http://twitter.com/katehanch Kate

    perhaps teaching our children and ourselves humility could be more helpful. We are humbled because of God’s great love for us, we are also humbled because we sin–we are not perfect. Humility incorporates both of these ideas.

  • RyanPendell

    I’ve rarely found “original sin” to be a helpful concept when it comes to specific actions or issues. Why did x murder y? Because of original sin. Ok, but that doesn’t really explain anything. Why poverty? Because of original sin. Ok, but that doesn’t really provide any insight into the matter.
    Not that it has to have explanatory power, but it is often used in such a way. As an adolescent, hormones basically were original sin. They were reason-less, overwhelming, motivating, and part of my “nature”–my “sin nature.” That was not helpful at all. Instead of exposing the patterns and immediate causes of my behavior, it masked them.
    Original sin can become a comforting way to avoid talking about real causes of evil. It can also become an excuse for not seeking the better. “Well, we’re all sinners, aren’t we?” And it can be come a way avoid responsibility for one’s actions. If I have children, I want them to learn how to say, “I chose to do this. I could’ve done otherwise. I apologize.” Not “I am a defective person who is bent toward destruction. Please forgive me because I can’t do otherwise.”

    • Jtheory2182

      RyanPendell well said.

  • TimSams

    The problem we Christians have is that we’re often stating the conclusion before we listen to or experience the story of another person. We like summary statements like “You’re broken”. Makes us feel wise. But without context, experience or even judgment, it’s little more than a cross-stitched little mantra that is meaningless. 
    It goes the Christian tendency to speak in code, If you’re ever talking with a person who values authenticity, they will tear you apart as they try to unpack your lingo.
    I think it would be better for us to listen first, be willing to walk along with people as they go through their stuff and maybe suffer with them through it. Statements like “you’re broken” really won’t need to be said because it will be lived.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Hi all, just to add further perspective to the mix: I do think this is a matter of baseline assumptions. For many, there is no room in biblical theology for what seem to be psychological and developmental realities. Thus, the suggestion of the latter becomes a threat to the truth that must be put down. The psychological reality is that our “brokenness” as adults most often stems from hurt or dysfunction that we’ve endured from our parents (and others) during childhood. Which is what makes the original tweet and its emphasis so wrong.

    • ABorrowedFlame

      zachhoag Hey Zach, I think you need to be a bit careful here: while it may well be true that there are some who have no room in their theologies for what you suggest, I don’t think it helps to play it off as a dichotomy like that. Moreover, I don’t think it’s fair to imply or assume that those who reject your idea do so necessarily because they’ve no room for it. I think this is what Steve took offence at – we all need to assume that others are thinking these things through as much as we ourselves are.

      • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

        ABorrowedFlame zachhoag but I’m not assuming if there is, in fact, no room for it. see what i mean? i’m not being unfair here – i’m hearing the argument which, in and of itself, does not have room. he may be thinking it through – no doubt! – but his conclusion is that there is no room in his theology for the point i’m making.
        that’s all.

  • Jtheory2182

    speaking of total depravity, I’m pondering this article by Derek Rishmawy. It clears up some problems I have had with this doctrine, but it creates whole new ones.
    http://derekzrishmawy.com/2013/07/11/that-time-c-s-lewis-got-total-depravity-wrong-like-everybody-else/

  • thobie01

    I like the title of the post – about telling your dad he is broken.  I think that’s probably how my daughter learns most poignantly about brokenness, when I get angry with her and treat her harshly.  Then I have to genuinely and humbly apologize for the things that I’ve done wrong.  I think she’s well aware of her own “brokenness.”  She gets in trouble and sent to her room for all kinds of things all day long.  I really don’t need to follow that up with “you’re broken!”  She gets it.  But I think it means something different when she sees it in adults that she loves, and then sees them apologize for their brokenness and try to make things right.

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