Brokenness Equals Authenticity?

There’s no getting around the fact that we’re all broken. Every last one of us. Hurting, insecure, awkward, prideful. Ruined by illness, ravaged by divorce, raging against the self and the system. It’s true: we are fallen. We are screw-ups, messy and wayward. To know thyself–or to know anyone–is to see that this is true. No one is righteous; no not one.

Christians have sometimes tried to hide from this fact–putting on fronts of perfection, perpetuating false images of churches as polished, squeaky-clean country clubs for classy, happy saints… rather than hospitals for the damaged, ailing, addicted, recovering.

Which of course, is not good. The church, and the Gospel upon which it is founded, is not about perfection, but redemption; it’s about grace for those who don’t deserve it, hope for every single screw-up among us.

And yet I’ve wondered recently if the church–in reactionary efforts to purge itself of a “perfect/polished” veneer–might be turning “brokenness” into a bit of a fetish: focusing on it ad nauseam, touting it in the name of “grit,” “reality,” and “authenticity” to the point that the state of being broken is becoming its own sort of works righteousness.

It seems to me that in many churches today and among many evangelicals (particularly edgier Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, emergents and others who’ve been around the church for along time and are kind of sick of it), “being screwed up” has become something of a badge of honor. “Authenticity” (that is: being upfront about one’s messiness) is becoming a higher value than, say, “holiness.”

And this kind of saddens me. It saddens me when those who are “messier” are de facto the more “authentic,” somehow more believable or relatable than Deacon Joe Straightshooter, who has a solid marriage, is a good family man and doesn’t curse in casual conversation (how legalistic!). Why is it that the “I’m not churchy; I’m real!” folks with tattoos and flasks get more airtime these days than the churchy, pleated-khaki wearing, rule-keeping nerds?

It’s not that Eddie Edgy and Betty Broken shouldn’t be leaders or role models in the church. By all means, they can and should be. But for young people, new Christians–all of us really–I think we also need models of virtue and examples of holiness. We need to be able to see “authenticity” in Straightlaced Stanley and Angelic Angie. We need to be able to see the nice guys and the sweet old church ladies as role models. We need to recognize that goodness is as “real” as brokenness.

We’re all broken, yes. But that doesn’t mean we should pat ourselves on the back about it and languish together in stagnant waters of self-satisfied imperfection. No, we must always be striving for better… moving toward righteousness, in a positive direction from broken to more whole, from screwed-up to less screwed-up, by the grace of God. To be a Christian is to follow Christ, to aspire to be like him (i.e. holy). For it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16).

Brokenness and sin may seem the natural or more “real” state for us, but it’s not the ideal. We were made for more, and Christ’s atoning sacrifice allows us to become more human. That is, less broken and more healed. More together; not less. In Christ, more complete.

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17 responses to “Brokenness Equals Authenticity?

  1. We do need examples of holiness. I agree so much! Often times I feel like the relevant role models say “I did all this stuff, party this hard and God still redeemed me! It’s ok if you do too” and baby Christians aspire to be ‘bad ass’ & hard core instead of aspiring to be holy, pure & disciplined.

    Then again, by all means, broken people can be role models! But they should reflect the face of the One who died at Calvary; not repentance but forgiveness Himself.

  2. Wow… a lot of this just put into words things I’ve thought for a long time but never knew how to express, particularly why it strikes me as strange that brokenness has turned into a badge of honor in some ways. If we really believe in Grace that reaches beyond brokenness, I’d think that Grace should get the spotlight, instead of what is now a thing of the past.

  3. Thanks for addressing this.
    I think authenticity complements the pursuit of holiness–that it’s meant to be that way. It’s a hard balance to strike, and it’s even harder to articulate.

    I wrote a shortish piece addressing this issue. It’s a lot more emo than what you’ve written. But I’d be grateful if you gave me your thoughts on it. (http://chelseabatten.com/post/11969982657)

  4. Great thoughts. Reading this as a pursuit of holiness, I thought of the pendulum swings in church music and how the swing away from having worship as “a show” for something more authentic and simple — good ideas, really — then also opens the door for just crappy music and crummy musicians to have a stage because they’re “authentic.” I hear a lot of worship leaders talking about the need to pursue excellence in their musicianship because God doesn’t deserve (or call us to be) mediocre. I think that somehow this might be related to the whole legalistic to libertine pendulum.

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  7. Frequent reader, first-time commenter. Love your blog, especially your insight into Tree of Life, a new favorite movie. I appreciate your overall message in your post, but wanted to caution a possible assumption by readers (not you as I’ve seen your nuance in your body of work): that brokenness in any way equals tattoos and flasks. Tattoos and flasks are trivial decisions in mind (as are khakis, polo shirts, etc), and holiness has nothing to do with such matters. Let’s celebrate the real, difficult, life-defining decisions people make, not their fashion or style. I’m a relatively well-adjusted adult who moved from the khaki crowd to the wearing black, pierced ears, and tattoo crowd–tattoos and piercings just because I like them, not because I’m messed up or because I’ve lived a wild life (I’m probably kind of boring). Let’s not stereotype in either direction, whether khakis or tattoos (or both, why not?).

  8. It’s like when you are asked to give your testimony and it generally goes “I grew up in a Christian home and have known God my whole life, understanding my need for him and his love for me more as I developed.” At times this can seem boring – but I also think isn’t it amazing that God put me in a family that served him from before I was born?

    Great post :)

  9. deacon joe straightshooter doesnt exist….he’s a hypocrite at best, and at worst…. Only through willful self delusion can a person in this society pretend to be good….as they slavishly pay their taxes to create more war and buy iphones built with slave labor…. so who is broken?

  10. Brett! Great post. Just reading “love wins” by rob bell (mixed feelings about it) but one of the themes that strikes me in his book you so aptly summarized here: heaven is about completeness, wholeness, transformation. It is a good thing to consider,”who am I without my brokenness” because that is who I am becoming. The thought of a me or a you without brokenness or corruption struck me momentarily as sad (ridiculous right) because it has become or is part of me, today. Leaving it behind, like leaving anything behind we have attachments to (right or wrong) it turns out is stil saying goodbye. And I’ve never known an easy goodbye. What a journey we are on.

    Thank you for the reminder that authenticity is both the beautiful, the good, the gracious and the beast, the broken and the ugly. And both should be held up as being human today. But one is fading and the other forming, hopefully:)

  11. I will worship my god for ever

  12. I appreciated this. Brokenness, in some form, is part of everyone’s story, but dwelling on/identifying with the brokenness rather than the redemption & resurrection (whether now or still to come) glorifies the wrong part of the story & just leads to cynicism.

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