It’s a Shame
He’d been coming to church and listening to my sermons. He was trying to make sense of the gospel and its claims. One Sunday, I preached a sermon that got through. I spoke on the cross and shame.
I quoted Adrian Rogers: “The Bible teaches that when Jesus took our sin, he took all the punishment that goes with that sin. A part of that punishment is shame.” I simply said that Jesus not only dealt with our guilt at the cross; he also dealt with our shame. He was humiliated and shamed so we didn’t have to be.
He got it. He’d come from a shame culture. For the first time, the gospel touched his need.
As we increasingly find ourselves living in a shame culture, we need to learn how to understand shame, and to preach the Bible’s answer to shame.
Our New Shame Culture
I didn’t grow up in a shame culture. I’m sensing, though, that I live in one now. When Brené Brown speaks about shame, millions listen. “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough,” she writes. Interest in her writings is evidence that people experience shame.
Social media can contribute to our sense of shame. “We live in shame culture, a new moral system, where you know you are good or bad by what the cyber-community says about you,” observes one writer.
Andy Crouch argues that shame is becoming a dominant force in the West:
I suspect that honor and shame are becoming dominant forces in the American context. If so, effective evangelism and discipleship in the next generation will require learning from cultures where shame, far more than guilt, is the human problem the gospel must address.
As our society changes, it’s important to learn about the characteristics of a shame cultures. We must also remember that a North American shame culture will probably be different from shame cultures in countries like Japan or Iraq.
See honorshame.com for an example of a website that helps us understand shame cultures from a Christian perspective.
Developing a Theology of Shame
The world’s answers to shame aren’t enough. Becoming famous, or being affirmed, won’t solve the problem of shame. We need a biblical understanding of the source of shame, beginning in the first chapters of Genesis. We also need to understand the gospel’s answer to shame, and how God has created a community in which the shame is overturned.
Books like Shame Interrupted, Unashamed, and The Soul of Shame will help us develop a theology of shame. It’s hard to overstate the importance of understanding the Bible’s answer to shame. The answer isn’t self-help or tips. The answer is theological. The answer is the gospel.
Presenting the Bible’s Answer to Shame
Ultimately, we need more than a cultural or theological understanding of shame. We need to preach the Bible’s answer to shame. Our churches can not only present this answer; they can embody it.
Heather Davis Nelson writes:
Through union with Christ you are clothed with honor rather than shame, made part of a community to which you will always belong, and given a kingdom that cannot be taken away. Walking by faith according to our true identity of being “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3: 3) will transform our relationships, our parenting, our churches, our marriages, and our work… (Unashamed)
Let’s preach this. Let’s embody this in our churches. Let’s preach the gospel as the answer to sin and guilt, and also the answer to shame.
We increasingly live in a shame culture. Let’s understand the roots of this shame, and boldly proclaim the gospel as the answer to shame. Let’s create shame-resistant churches in which people can journey from shame to freedom.
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