Our age is characterized by what psychotherapist Joseph Burgo called an “anti-shame zeitgeist.” The beloved researcher Brené Brown wrote two No. 1 New York Times bestsellers decrying shame, and her TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” has been watched more than 26 million times.
This year, the anti-shame revolution is front and center in Christian publishing, with three new Christian books all titled Unashamed. Go to your local Christian bookstore and ask for a copy of Unashamed, and you may hear, “Which one? Lecrae, Heather Davis Nelson, or Christine Caine? Take your pick.”
There is no shame in sharing a title, but this coincidence points to a marketing reality: becoming proudly unashamed is all the rage now.
Lecrae’s Unashamed is a memoir, and as a fan of his music, I couldn’t put it down. (My six-year-old’s most requested musical artists are Elsa and Lecrae.) Lecrae’s story is compelling and deals with different facets of shame. As a young boy, he confronted deep shame over his father’s abandonment; he also faced sexual abuse. Throughout the book, he returns to the theme of not quite fitting in—whether it be because he was an arty kid in a rough neighborhood or because he is now a successful Christian rapper who neither fits neatly into mainstream Christian music nor mainstream rap.
Caine’s Unashamed follows the Australian teacher and speaker’s two previous titles, Undaunted and Unstoppable. Her women’s ministry, Propel, also lists more than a dozen “un” terms to describe the woman they hope to encourage, including unashamed: “She does not minimize or hide who God has made her to be.” Caine’s book is not a memoir—it’s about how to, as her subtitle states, “drop the baggage” of shame—but she draws heavily on her life story. Like Lecrae, she faced abuse as a child and derision over her ethnic heritage.
Similar to Caine, Nelson’s focus is on how to be free and healed from shame. Nelson, a counselor who graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary, draws explicitly from Brené Brown’s work on shame, but wants to “put [Brown’s] work into a biblical framework,” which she does helpfully. Beyond Brown’s solutions—empathy and vulnerability—Nelson points to union with Christ as an antidote to shame.
We could assume this trio of books represents another effort by Christians to speak into whatever issue or topic has become popular in our present culture. Shame has become a common enemy in Western culture, and we see ridding our lives of shame as part of our quest to embrace our true, authentic selves. But Christian authors have the opportunity to recover more about this in-vogue emotion. The Bible and the history of our faith reveal a varied landscape of shame, with a great deal of room for different types of shame and different ways it can function in lives of individuals and communities. And though liberation from shame is central to the Christian faith (1 Peter 2:6 tells us that “the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame”), Scripture does not seem to reject shame altogether.
Most us tend to think of shame as an internal feeling about our self-worth, an understanding closely tied to Western individualism. In his Christianity Today cover story “A Return to Shame,” Andy Crouch explains, “Poignantly described by psychologists and authors like Dan Allender and Brené Brown, shame in this context describes an inner sense of unworthiness, often rooted in trauma and embarrassing experiences. Though real, this sort of shame is psychological and deeply interior.”
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