Free – J. Kevin Butcher

Free J Kevin Butcher
Free: Rescued from Shame-Based Religion, Released Into the Life-Giving Love of Jesus by J Kevin Butcher
Published by NavPress on April 6, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
Buy on Amazon

In perhaps the most pointed moment of his last hours with his followers, Jesus says, "As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love" (John 15:9). His discovery: the prevalence of shame-based, try-harder Christianity--know more, do more, be more--has left many believers exhausted and discouraged, passionately longing to experience and live in Jesus' love. Their question: how?
Free: Rescued from Shame-Based Religion, Released into the Life-Giving Love of Jesus is about how to fall in love with Jesus--and how to walk with him surrounded and empowered by his love. Devoid of "lists and shoulds," Free unveils a relational pathway of spiritual healing, intimacy, and freedom, showing from Scripture and real-life stories how to embrace a love that powerfully gives birth to our worship, obedience, and willingness to surrender all to Jesus.

Like I feel most books of this era will be, Free is tinged with the collective trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic. Butcher makes references to it a couple of different times, but only matter-of-factly

My own criticism, and this is alternatively a rather hefty criticism and one that’s simply semantics, is that Butcher does not explore if there are any positive elements to shame, if shame can be used properly, or interpret the Biblical text in light of an ancient honor/shame-based culture. The way Butcher speaks of shame is different than the way Paul speaks of shame—“Come back to your right way of thinking and stop sinning. I say this to shame you” – 1 Cor 15:34—but that means we must be very careful with our wording. Shame as purely negative is borne out of Western culture. Eastern cultures saw shame as beneficial. It was a weight placed on the individual to bear them back toward repentance.

Instead of repudiating shame entirely, I would rather have seen Butcher talk about redeeming shame, or spoken of how Western culture has twisted shame and weaponized it to sinful ends. That may have been too lofty a discussion for this book, but it’s difficult to consider the “shame” verses of Scripture, but look at them with a modern perspective, and still come away understanding the right things. In the end, Free doesn’t go against Scripture. What Butcher advocates is wholly biblical, but fails to robustly consider the positive element of shame within a loving relationship with God.

For example, when Butcher talks about shame, he opens with an anecdote about being fired from his church and the resultant shame at feeling that he had failed the church, his family, and God. This is not what Scripture thinks of as shame. In fact, given that Butcher’s firing was a result of pushback against efforts toward racial justice, I would contend that it would have been actually shameful for Butcher to have relented his positions in order to save his job. I suppose I point this out, not specifically to criticize but only to highlight how different shame is used and viewed between Scripture and modern American culture. It’s an important distinction. What Scripture calls shame, Butcher calls guilt. It’s an appropriate change because of how the word meaning has changed for Western readers over the years, but still necessary to note.

Butcher explains shame as the result of performance-based Christianity. To him, abiding in the love of Jesus is the key to defeating shame, because when one is secure in that relationship and know that God’s love does not hinge on performance, it enables believers to relax and simply rest in God and allow the Spirit to work in their lives. Free envisions an individual shackled by shame, told they are not good enough and can never be good enough. He writes: “Guilt tells me that I made a mistake. Shame shouts that I am a mistake.”

Instead, Free calls believers to rest in God’s abiding love. In a personal and conversational way, Butcher shares stories from his own life and others, focusing on God’s love and how a secure attachment in that relationship can overcome suffering in this life. He tells stories of those sick, dying, or who have undergone tragedy and shares how it was God’s love for them—and their secure knowledge of it—that carried them through. Butcher talks about how desperation for God is as important as discipleship with Him. Carefully, respectfully, Butcher draws readers away from the “head” side of Christianity and points them toward the heart, rightfully noting that we go from the heart to the head, not the other way round. It’s a beautiful, passionate series of stories and exhortations that will surely help you find peace in the arms of God.