Book Review: Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend

A book review of the popular book "Boundaries" comparing it with what Scripture teaches.

In the first chapter of the best seller Boundaries, we read about Sherrie, a woman with many problems. 

She’s unable to graciously say no to unreasonable requests, she’s never learned how to discipline her children, and she doesn’t express herself honestly with her husband. She worries that God might “strike her dead” because she often lies to hide her resentful feelings. (page 16) 

The author’s conclusion: “Sherrie suffers from severe difficulties in taking ownership of her life.” (page 26) 

In the final chapter of the book we’re told that Sherrie’s life and overall well-being are transformed. She is a successful business woman, happy person, and better mother because she's enforced boundaries (given people ultimatums) in every relationship in her life. She's no longer concerned when others are hurt by her decisions. Sherrie says, “I’ll always be meek and gentle. But being a separate person helps me take the initiative to inherit the earth.” (page 325)(1)

Sherrie is finally getting what she wants in her life. That's the concept of Boundaries in a nutshell.

If I were to address all of the biblical errors in the 325-page Boundaries book, it might require a 325-page article. Instead, I’m going to concentrate on the way they introduce their doctrine in the  first two chapters and on several of their websites. 

Boundaries assumes that their readers are surrounded by “unsafe” people, especially unreasonable family members. They say, “The truth is that not many people take responsibility for themselves or care about how their actions are affecting other people” (source). 

Ironically, despite their view that most people are unreasonable, they assume that those who read their books are the reasonable, sacrificial people in the world. And considering they've sold over 4 million copies of the original Boundaries book and six sequels, that's quite a contradiction.

Some Boundaries principles are biblically sound when mature Christians apply them in appropriate relationships in appropriate circumstances. But I personally know of people who’ve justified immature, inconsiderate, and even vengeful actions based on the teachings of Boundaries. I'm not saying that's the intention of Boundaries authors, but their principles lend themselves to selfish application.

It's also easy to understand the popularity of this teaching. It's part of our fallen human nature to blame-shift our problems onto others. Building walls is easier than building bridges. Giving people ultimatums is easier than seeking mutual understanding. "Being a separate person" is easier than being considerate of the needs and desires of others.

A book review of the popular book "Boundaries" comparing it with what Scripture teaches.
Boundaries state: “This book aims to help you see the deeply biblical nature of boundaries as they operate in the character of God, his universe and his people” (page 28).

I’m not exaggerating to say that Boundaries books could be good examples for Bible students who wish to study teachings that misapply and misunderstand Scripture.

It may not be the author's intention, but many of the Boundaries teachings fit the description in 2 Timothy 4:3: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” 

According to the authors, boundaries are “one of the most serious problems facing Christians today….Any confusion of responsibility and ownership in our lives is a problem of boundaries.”(page 27) 

If we believe this claim, we are not in touch with our sin nature, and we probably think that following passage only applies to others and not to us:

Mark 7:21-23: For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.

Quite a few of the principles in the Boundaries teachings fit easily into a hypocritical, selfish mindset. For example, the teaching is founded on setting up "safe relationships, relationships in which people love you unconditionally" (page 167, Boundaries). Boundaries teaches us to place conditions on others, giving them ultimatums if they don't behave as we want them to behave, marginalizing them if they don't honor and respect us properly. Then, they tell us to find people who place no conditions on us. 

This contradicts so many teachings of Scripture. For example, Matthew 7:12, Philippians 2:1-6, and Romans 12.

Cloud claims that psychology offers solutions not found in traditional Christian counseling. But he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say that God gave him answers better than both standard Christian answers and psychology. He claims his solutions to human relationships are based on “understanding certain basic developmental tasks” (source). In his bio, Cloud mentions the influence of two Freudian theories and doesn’t mention Scripture at all (source).

Cloud's favorite Freudian theories support blame-shifting. To read about these specific theories, see the footnotes in Are Boundaries Teachings Biblical?.  

In part two of this book review Boundaries Un-Scriptural Foundation, I share three Scriptures prominently used by Boundaries authors to justify their teachings. Please take time to read about this serious misuse of Scripture at the very core of Boundaries instructions.

For a collection of helpful articles about specific Boundaries errors in their teachings about marriage, family, and church relationships, see Are Boundaries Biblical Collection.

Note: There may be times that we need to apply guidelines in our relationships, but guidelines do not go as far as boundaries. See Boundaries versus Guidelines.


(1) I'm pretty sure that a person who is meek is not someone who brags about it. See Blessed are the Meek and The Meek Will Inherit the Earth.


  1. Well said. I too have had issues with this book, even though I hadn't read it, because I saw the attitude of those you applied this book to their lives in a selfish me oriented way. It "seemed" to be a Biblical excuse to avoid people that they didn't like. But in reality, it created walls that didn't resolve the underlying issues.

    1. Teresa, I am in agreement. I had this book suggested to me about 10 or so years ago by a church counselor. It is still being used by the same group of counselors and I find that sad. I recall when I first started reading it, that it seemed awfully selfish and had figured that the writers must think I am perfect...well, I am not, and the false teachings in that book just about broke up my marriage, ruined my relationships with my in-laws and with my daughter. Ironically, my daughter is now using the book against me at the suggestion of a Christian counselor. Our entire family is broken over this boundary and my grandkids run away from us and will not have anything to do with us. Not sure what we have done wrong except we are all imperfect people and are still works in progress. I am afraid for my daughter now because she looks angry when I have seen her and looked at me with such evil contempt that it is frightening. All of her written responses are textbook type comments with the same language of the Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend and also by Lysa TerKeurst, which is more of the same. I am struggling with this but hopefully and prayerfully God will repair our relationship. I am very thankful to Gail and BLNs for directing me in scripture and the right direction to better understand what is happening. She has been a blessing to me in this and I am thankful to God for leading me to her teaching on this. Thank you for your response as it helped me to know that others feel the same way that I do. God bless you, Teresa R.

    2. Hi Growin'nlearnin'
      You know that I'm so sorry for what has happened in your family. And I appreciate you mentioning the book by Lysa TerKeurst book. I haven't studied it, but I've seen that she mentions "boundaries" in her explanation of the book.