Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Shame Interrupted by Edward T. Welch

We've all experienced shame, that deep sense of being unacceptable because of something we did, or something done to us, or something associated with us. We feel naked, exposed, unclean. Shame, Welch writes, requires more than superficial treatments. It has to be named, brought out in the open. Then God's words to the shamed are heard. Acceptance is assured. It might sound too good to be true at first. But accept it.
The Bible is all about shame and its remedy. Welsh takes the reader through a great deal of Scripture. He shows how we are now clean through what Christ has done.

Welch's premise, I think, is correct. It is only through understanding, believing, and living out what Christ has done for us that shame will truly be done away with. I do have some issues, however, with how the book is written.
It seems that Welch assumes one reading through a Scripture passage will change an individual. For example, he takes us through Jesus' crucifixion, emphasizing the shame Jesus experienced. Then he writes, “No matter how stubbornly resistant to change your shame might be, witnessing extreme shame like this will move your shame to second place in your thoughts.” (180) If it were only that easy.  Welch does note at the end of his book that it is a long process. “When you read a passage of Scripture once, it can soon blend into the background. But if you read it for a few months, it changes your life.” (315) So it does take time, lots of time.
Sometimes Welch is confusing, in a clever sort of way. He writes of Jesus, “If you are reluctant to come to this Priest, remember that he is one of us.” The next paragraph begins, “If you think your High Priest couldn't wash you well enough, remember that he is not one of us” (190) His clever way of writing, for me, obscures the important truth.
Here is another example of his confusing writing. After writing about the Beatitudes, he predicts, “There is a difficult task at hand.” (153) The very next paragraph reads, “Think the opposite of how you normally think. That will most likely keep you on the right path. For example, while everyone around you is jockeying for power and prestige, set your sights on the opposite. It's easy. Just become like a child.” (153) So is living the life of the Beatitudes difficult or easy?
Welch writes as if the healing automatically follows when steps are taken. “First, you listen. Then you believe in Jesus, who invited you into his honor. Then you discover an entirely new life in which you feel like you are starting with a clean slate.” (219) If it were only that quick.
Sometimes Welch writes as if a monumental task is simple: “Your task, then, is to adopt God's retelling of reality...” (153) That task has been taking me a lifetime to accomplish.
What I did not like about the book the most was Welch's use of the language of shame. It took me a while to recognize the frequent use of “should.” In writing about the life of Christ, he concludes, “You should hear in all this that the King identifies with outcasts. The message couldn't be clearer.” (114) And if I don't hear that? I feel ashamed because I “should,” and I feel dumb because it couldn't be clearer!
Here are some more examples of the “should” language Welch uses. “This is just a sample of the things the Spirit does, but it should be enough to persuade you that you are clean in Christ.” (235) “Every person who knows shame should be captured by this story.” (132) “So if you are familiar with shame, you should be hearing good news and expecting even more.” (119) I caught myself thinking, time after time, but how is the reader going to feel if he really isn't persuaded, isn't captured, isn't hearing good news, isn't expecting more? Would he feel shame?
I could add several more but I hope those few give the flavor of the writing.  As to the writing style, I felt like I was reading a textbook. The language is clinical and not personal. He gave many examples of people yet none of them, except a few, had names – they were “the lady” or “he” or “she” or “the young man.” Even the stories felt impersonal. I didn't feel like Welch was talking to me, but rather that he was giving a lecture.
I think it would be very hard for a person with deep seated shame to read this book. Welch makes it look too simple, too easy, too quick. I think this book would need to be read with a counselor or a close friend over a long period of time. There are discussion questions at the end of each chapter that would help.
Or this book might be suitable for counselors. It certainly gives lots of good material a counselor could use when working with clients.

Edward Welch, MDiv, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. He has counseled for over thirty years and is the best-selling author of many books.

New Growth Press, 337 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from The B&B Media Group for the purpose of this review.

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