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Shame and the Gospel by Trevor Withers

31 March 2023

Peter Crumpler reads study for an ‘epidemic’

FEW churches run a community pottery studio, but it forms a core part of the ministry of Trevor Withers’s Network Church in Hertfordshire.

The workshop seeks to help to counter the “epidemic of shame” sweeping Western society, as described by the American professor Brené Brown and others. It is designed as a “playful shame-resilient space” where people can practise their creativity, feel included and affirmed, and explore faith.

The studio, described in this book, is one way in which Withers seeks to connect the gospel message to contemporary “shame culture”. He draws on his church and schools ministry to conclude that the “felt guilt” that once drew many people to a gospel of forgiveness and redemption no longer resonates.

In sections, he sets out the nature of shame, how churches can respond to a shame-based culture, and how Christian communities might become “shame resilient”.

While explaining that guilt declares, “I did something wrong,” and shame states, “I am profoundly wrong,” Withers describes his belief that Christ’s life provides a powerful response to this deep-seated shame.

He writes: “Jesus knew long before Brené Brown that the antidote to shame is empathy, so he draws alongside people, shares their lives and eats with them — the greatest sign of friendship and empathy.”

Withers encourages the Church to focus more on Christ’s life and resurrection than on his death. Preachers who centre their message on penal-substitution atonement theology — that Christ’s death paid the price of sin — may struggle with some of the author’s arguments.

He describes Christian ministers agreeing that preaching about shame may be a better way of attracting believers to Christ — but refusing to go along with his Christus Victor atonement theology of Christ’s resurrection as bringing victory over evil to establish his Kingdom.

This section of the author’s thought-provoking book could profit from further development in which his arguments were explained more fully.

The Revd Peter Crumpler is a self-supporting minister in St Albans diocese, and a former communications director at Church House, Westminster.


Shame and the Gospel
Trevor Withers
Malcolm Down Publishing £10.99
Church House Bookshop £9.89

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