Book Review: The Soul of Shame

The Soul of Shame Book Review

I’m privileged to have been able to see a counsellor for my Mental Health for a number of years, as well as take medication. Both of those are natural tools of healing – which in my understanding of things sit alongside prayer and spiritual practices. This book, The Soul of Shame, is a beautiful reminder of why we need to be both/and not either/or on issues of health and identity. Curt Thompson, a psychiatrist and Christian, has written this book to help us in Retelling the Stories we Believe About Ourselves. I’ve found this book deeply healing and helpful personally, and have begun recommending it widely.

This book is not ‘just’ for those of us wrestling with mental health problems – rather, it is for any human being who is aware that there is something wrong with the world, and daring to wonder if there might be something wrong with them, too. In The Soul of Shame, Thompson blends a clear and explained understanding of how the human mind works, with the biblical story and theological truth about what it means to be human; made in the Image of God and fallen, living in a broken world but made for more. This blend is incredibly helpful – and Thompson is clear that what he is saying needs both parts to function correctly. As a piece of writing, Thompson offers us something both deeply probing and profoundly reassuring. If this were a doctor, the bedside manner would be spot on!

The introduction alone is probably worth the price of the book, at least in terms of tying in so many different threads, unpacking what Shame is and does, and ‘opening the box’ in terms of raising issues that need to be talked about. Thompson writes this at the end of the introduction:

I invite you to join me in discovering the soul of shame, the story it is trying to tell and the alternative story of goodness and beauty that God is telling, one that God is imagining for us all, one in which he is doing ‘immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us’

I could make this review significantly longer, but this is a book that I really hope is read widely and well by Christians, and those open to Christian things. The theology in this book is robust enough to reshape our lives, but also accessible enough that it could almost be used evangelistically (And the dialogue with how the brain works from a scientific perspective lends itself to this). We live in a culture where some of the biggest questions of and challenges to the Christian faith have to do with shame – this book is a vital resource. Ultimately, in my opinion, this is because Thompson gets the theological basics spot on, and reminds us of what it means to be human:

True goodness and beauty emerge when healing takes place at all levels of human awareness, which necessarily includes our individual as well as communal life. They are inseparable. This is what it means to be made in God’s image. And this is what it means for us to live like God: to practice asking questions, the mission being not to find the right answers, important as they are, so much as to be more connected

When you enjoy and appreciate a book as much as I did The Soul of Shame, it can be hard to review it. Let me give another example of a nugget of wisdom from the book, wherein Thompson combines simple insight on how the brain works with timeless biblical wisdom:

Hope is generated as our anticipatory neural networks are shaped by multiple experiences of trust being affirmed and rewarded. To the Roman followers of Jesus, Paul writes: ‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but wealso glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us‘”

As the halfway point of 2019 approaches, I think The Soul of Shame is certain to be in my Top Ten books of the year, if not in the Top Five. It really is that good. I’d commend it warmly to anyone intrigued by this review, grappling with shame, or even wondering how the Bible could interact with psychiatry. I’d love to know what you make of it.

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