When Shame Became Cool Again


Shame is something familiar to us all.  We don’t discuss it much, we don’t reflect on it enough and we don’t admit the depth of its grip on our souls but never the less shame is a struggle we all experience.  Its a pervasive state that contaminates all of our relationships, all of our experiences and all of our hopes for the future.  For many it has become a quiet prison that holds us captured in the past when God calls us to a brighter future, we are somehow stuck in a moment.

Shame comes from many sources, it can be from a moment in our life’s history where we disgraced ourselves and somehow acted less than human, those moments where we were far less than we know we should have been.  Shame comes from things done to us, the scars of sexual victimization, the pain of bullying, the hurt caused by the words of a father or a spouse.

CJ Jung called shame, “a soul eating emotion.”   It is a silent killer and it derives all of its power by the fact that for many it remains hidden inside.

We must remember two things when discussing shame in the church:

1) – Jesus came to the shamed – Jesus came to redeem and set things right in doing so he did not come to seek those who were healed but seek the lost and ashamed.  Before Christ our dignity and worth was wrapped up in the wrong system, we were covered in sin and we were far from God.  We needed a new start, so Christ came, and brought the good news that he would take our shame.  Our sin was covered by the blood of the lamb and  we could become new and be born again.

2) – Jesus took our shame – Jesus not only ate with prostitutes and sinners, he not only sought out those caught in the indignity of shame he actually took on our shame.  Jesus became the scapegoat for our sin, he took it upon himself freely so we might be redeemed.  Is 53

Dr Ed Welch says,

“Everything Scripture says about shame converges at Jesus. From his birth to his crucifixion, the shame of the world was distilled to its most concentrated form and washed over him. He was despised, insulted, naked, a friend of sinners, and abandoned by those who knew him best. The crucifixion was not the tragic end of an otherwise charmed life. It was the logical conclusion of the shame he voluntarily accumulated from the moment of his birth.”

So here’s the question I wrestle with……

How has shame based theology made a return to the public circle?

Why is it each year we find more young preachers, who in the name of returning to the gospel, preach a doctrine that is far from the gospel?  Why is a works based theology captivating the church and younger generation again?  Why are there more young hot shot preachers, who preach with great authority, but speak far more of sin than they do grace?

Why are so many young people turning to works based faith and finding themselves delighted to be repeatedly told of who they once were, instead of being constantly reminded of who they have become in Christ?

1) – Young People want a return to the gospel yet don’t have a true definition of the gospel

I find that many young people have a deep desire to return to the gospel but they have no reference for what the gospel is, so every church is “gospel centered” but no one really knows what that means.  “Gospel centered” has become as much of a buzz word as “missional” is.  Gospel however, is far too often incorrectly characterized by what we once were than being about who we are now.  Sin and death is a part of the gospel story but praise God it is not the end!  Calvin himself said, “The whole gospel is contained in Christ.”  The gospel is God’s rescue plan for the world through Jesus.

2) – Young People want faith to be serious

Most young people grew up in churches teaching 5 ways to have a better life.  Now that they have grown they have discovered that they want to take their faith seriously.  They want authority in their life and they want to be taught new big bible words like “eschatology.”  Nothing is more serious than shame and guilt.  Sorrow connects to seriousness while joy seems to connect with childishness.  So the joy of our true identity in Christ is often disputed by the pain of who we once were. Young people believe that when they are beating themselves up over their shame at least their faith is active.  Shame is about what we have done while grace is about what Christ has done. Its far easier for our younger generation, who have grown up in the epicenter of individualism, to focus on what they have done than what Christ has done for them.

3) – Young People want to approach God as king before they approach him as Father

We serve a fatherless generation and one that has neglected the regenerative power of God inside of us and has instead chosen to approach God as a task master or as a boss.  It is a generation that has been taught that love is earned.  They are accustomed to earning affection and the narrative of a father who loves unconditionally is harder to find a reference point in their database of experience.

4) – Shame is measurable – Grace is not

Quite simply grace is to big to measure and shame is great at keeping score!

Final Thoughts:

1) – Our churches will attract shamed people – When we speak the truth in love we will find shame just as Jesus found shame in the sinners and the tax collectors.  Even among the redeemed there will remain, patterns of shame and guilt that are deeply woven into people’s old identity as they discover their new identity in Christ.  The question is not will we find the shamed, the question is what will the shamed find in us?  Will they find another system of measuring and adding up that eventually exhausts and destroys or will they find in us Jesus?  Could we learn to love and lead in such a way that while encountering our grace, patience and steadfast love our people actually encounter Jesus in us.

2) – The Shamed are Called to the Shamed – I have heard it said, “the broken but mended have so much to offer the broken and lost.”  Paul teaches that we should boast only in Christ.  Only through Christ can the shamed now boast before the world that shamed them and only through Christ do our wounds become our victory.  Only in Jesus name can the people of God become a new creation and go sharing the story of their freedom from shame and their new identity in Christ.


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