Boundaries is not an easy book to understand or digest. This difficulty is due to the authors’ intentionally integrating, and syncretizing biblical truth with psychology. Therefore, a reader has to sift every word to discern what is biblical and what is not. I am extremely grateful to Ed Welch for his article “Who Are We? Needs, Longings, and the Image of God in Man” in the Journal of Biblical Counseling, Fall 1994, because it fortified me with the biblical, and theological discernment I needed for the task.
Authors Cloud and Townsend, state that the goal of Boundaries is to help readers achieve the relationships and purposes God intends for his children (28). They define boundaries as the characteristics that define a person. In the authors’ words, “they define what is me and not me (31).” According to Cloud and Townsend, knowing one’s boundaries is what helps one determine their responsibilities, so they can take control of their lives. The authors go on to say one’s boundaries develop in relationship with God and others, primarily in the early years of life. Boundary conflicts are most often due to inadequate or negligent nurture in these early years. These conflicts can only be resolved by following the authors’ nine-step procedure. One can apply this procedure to every kind of human relationship, including a person’s relationship to self and God. Finally, the author’s warn that applying this procedure will be difficult, and not without inner and outer conflict, but in the end it will be worth struggle, because people with boundaries live happily ever after.
In spite of the authors’ claims, Scripture never commands people to develop boundaries, or take control of their lives. So where did the authors’ get the concept of boundaries? They got it from psychology. For example, on page 39, the authors write, “man’s most basic need in life is relationship.” They repeat this assertion on page 66 where they say, “Our deepest need is to belong, to be in relationship…” The idea that man must have his needs met in order to experience fulfillment began with Maslow. According to Scripture, man’s most basic need is not relationship, but regeneration, and the forgiveness of his sins. The authors’ view of man is that he is a needy psychological receptacle that must be filled with “relationship,” so that he can set proper boundaries in relationships with others. In contrast, the biblical view of man is that he is a depraved sinner who needs to be forgiven and born again (Rom 3:9-23; Eph. 2:1-3). Man’s receptacle is not empty. Instead, it is overflowing with pride, selfishness and wickedness. These sinful motivations manifest themselves in all man’s relationships, which inevitably lead to conflict and alienation. In short, man does not have a “boundaries” problem; he has a heart problem (Mark 7:21-23). Only adherence to the heart-changing gospel of Jesus Christ can cure him.
What is even more disconcerting is the authors attribute this same relationship need to God himself. The author’s wrote, “Like God, our most central need is to be connected (66). However, the God of the Bible has no needs and is completely satisfied with himself. In fact, his greatest pleasure is himself and his inexhaustible glory. For God to have greater pleasure in anyone or thing besides himself would be idolatry, because it would exalt the creature over the Creator. The reason that he loves man is for his own pleasure and glory, not because he is a needy God who needs relationships with human beings to be complete.
Cloud and Townsend also have an unbiblical view of sin and its source. They claim, “. . . many psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety disorders, addictions, impulse disorders, guilt problems, shame issues, panic disorders, and marital and relational struggles, find their root in conflicts with boundaries (28).” Unfortunately, this list is simply a catalogue of sinful behaviors and attitudes renamed and redefined with psychological terms. According to Scripture, the source of these ungodly attitudes and behaviors is the human heart. As previously stated, God has only one plan for dealing with the human heart, namely the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The authors state the goal of the Boundaries is to aid readers in using biblical boundaries so that they can achieve the relationships that God intends for his children (28). However, it is not God’s intention that his children live by an unbiblical concept called boundaries. According to Scripture, specifically Gal. 5:16 and 5:25, all Christians are to live by the Spirit. This is also the main point of Rom. 8. The fruit of the Spirit as described in Gal. 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are precisely what is needed for healthy and harmonious relationships, not boundaries.
In closing, Boundaries is another example of the psychological teaching that has infiltrated the contemporary church. For almost two thousand years, the Gospel, the Holy Spirit, and the Scriptures have been sufficient to convert the souls of men, and empower them to live godly lives. However, according Dr. Henry Cloud, and Dr. John Townsend, these are no longer sufficient. Now we need boundaries. Ironically, on page 39 the authors promote the necessity of their psychological teaching by stating, “Many people have been taught by their church or their family that boundaries are unbiblical, mean or selfish.” How I wish this statement were true. Boundaries are unbiblical, mean and selfish because they lead people away from the all-sufficient truth of God’s Word. In former days, the church used to call this heresy. We had better return to those days before it is too late.