Edward T. Welch, Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press. 352 pp. $17.99.
In Shame Interrupted, Ed Welch, faculty member of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF), shines the light of the gospel into the dark abyss of shame. Because of Welch’s candid perspective, Shame Interrupted was at first hard to read, then hard to put down, and now easy to recommend.
Hard to Read—The Brutally Honest Language of Soul and Scripture
Initially I found Shame Interrupted difficult to read because Ed Welch’s writing is so real and raw. He confronts us with the hideous and ubiquitous presence of shame—it is ugly and universal. This brutal confrontation is necessary because until we face how shame causes us to lose face we will never come face-to-face with our desperate need for Christ’s grace. If we shy away from Welch’s gut-wrenching portraits of shame, we would have to shy away from millions, if not billions, of people who daily face shame’s dehumanizing torment.
Welch exposes shame’s story by narrating the raw language of the soul of the ashamed. He reminds us, repeatedly, that the Scriptures are not shy about shame. By addressing soul and Scripture, Welch helps us to marvel at how God’s Word speaks more deeply to the human soul than we ever imagined. Thus, Welch powerfully illustrates what biblical counselors often talk about—the sufficiency and relevancy of God’s Word.
Hard to Put Down—The Healing Language of Gospel Hope
Throughout the book, Welch traces shame through three historical periods: before Christ, during the life of Christ, and after Christ’s resurrection. Welch reminds us, “the Bible, it turns out, is all about shame and its remedy” (41).
While in-depth and insightful, Welch also makes the complexities of shame and its cure understandable. Through Christ, we can find hope and healing that moves us:
From Nakedness to Covering
From Rejection to Acceptance
From Contamination to Cleansing
Those three summarizing phrases require more than 300 pages of listening to a story of hope—the story of hope. Welch describes the journey poetically.
Since shame is so painful, we could be tempted to race to the end of the story and hope to be done with it quickly. But shame rarely responds to quick fixes. Better to walk through the biblical story than to run through it (45).
As Welch develops the scriptural story and relates it to souls filled with shame, he exposes our false, shallow, and short-term fixes—such as self-worth and good works through which we seek to earn acceptance. Instead, Welch offers the gospel-centered, Christ-focused, and counterintuitive “answer” or “cure” for shame:
So if you feel unworthy of God’s love, you can turn in one of two directions. You can turn inward, in which case you are looking for a little self-worth to bring to the Lord, and that is pride. Or you can turn to him and discover that he has a heart for the unworthy (62).
Welch’s point is simple but profound: the way out of shame comes through trust in Jesus. Through Christ, the unclean become holy; the naked are clothed in royal garments; and the outcasts are accepted as children of the King.
Easy to Recommend—The Biblical Portrait of Honor
I recommend Shame Interrupted because it is a biblical theology of the gospel way of movement from shame to reconciliation. Don’t let that phrase “biblical theology” or the word “reconciliation” intimidate you. Let them encourage you. Welch demonstrates that from cover to cover the narrative theme of the Bible is the redemptive story of grace that transfers our shame to Christ and his acceptance before the Father to us.
Everything Scripture says about shame converges in Jesus. From his birth to his crucifixion, the shame of the world was distilled to its most concentrated form and washed over him (107).
I recommend Shame Interrupted because Welch makes it clear that the cross is the best summary of what God says to unworthy people. Jesus identified with us in our shame so we would identify with him in his grace. Shame is overcome in the honor Christ obtained for us through his identification with our shame and sin on the cross.
I recommend Shame Interrupted because Welch does not stop with looking to the cross. He applies the cross. Through the cross we receive honor before God: from poor to rich, from slavery to royalty, from weak to strong, from foolish to wise, from ugly to beautiful, from useless to missional, from shame to honor, from naked to clothed, from unclean to holy, and from outcast to beloved. Welch insists that to overcome shame we must rest in our association with Jesus.
I recommend Shame Interrupted because Welch does not pretend. He doesn’t pretend that honor before God necessarily means honor before others. Instead, he explains that if we follow the way of the Jesus, then dishonor will often follow us. Welch doesn’t pretend that loving those who shame us is easy, but neither does he pretend that it is optional. When Jesus and his shame occupy our attention, our own shame becomes less controlling. Then through Christ, we can turn toward others in sacrificial love because we no longer have any reason to hide but every reason to minister.
I recommend you read Shame Interrupted slowly. It’s an important read, but not a quick one. Shame Interrupted is deep because shame goes deep. Welch writes like the compassionate biblical counselor that he is—richly biblical and relationally relevant. To allow these depths to sink in, I recommend you take advantage of the thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter. They help to apply Christ’s grace to our disgrace.