What Steven Furtick got wrong about the bible, God’s love, and how to deal with pervasive shame in order to experience true forgiveness and reconciliation.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Romans 12:2 NKJV
If I had to categorise the mega-church preacher, Steven Furtick, it wouldn’t be the term “pastor” but more likely I would call him a motivational speaker.
This was a post he made on Facebook, which was screen-captured by a number of ministries and shared with examples of how it misrepresented the gospel of Jesus Christ. When the criticism mounted, Furtick took it down. No explanation of what he got wrong, or acknowledgement of the necessity to represent Jesus accurately, just quietly trying to make it go away. But of course, the internet is forever…
Motivational speaking has its place, sometimes, but in comparison to the bible it tends to be very superficial and only provides a band-aid solution to very deep issues within the human psyche. The bible, on the other hand, deals with complex psychological problems in order to get the root of the issue and confront it. Is that a painful process? You bet your sweet, sweet fade-cut it is. However, to properly weed out those pernicious maladjustments of flawed human beings, these things have to be brought into the light and examined honestly.
This is tough stuff, but the end result should be a changed human being. If you follow Jesus and there is zero change between who you were before and who you are now and who you are becoming… that’s a big red flag. That’s the opposite of bearing fruit. As Jesus said in Matthew 3:8 (NKJV) Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance…
The bible talks, at length, about people who have been reborn of the Spirit and who are now part of a new creation:
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”… Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” – John 3:3&5-8 (NKJV)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. – II Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
…that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22-24 (NKJV)
What Furtick seems to be attempting to do through his motivational speaking style of preaching, is to remind people that God’s creation was good, and we were made for good works which God prepared for us to walk in (Genesis 2 & Ephesians 2:10) but… he leaves out the aspect of our failure to live up to that standard and our inability to meet that standard unless we are made new in Christ, which is kinda the whole point of the gospel. He’s attempting to give people the good news without the bad news, but the good news doesn’t make sense without the bad news.
Why was nudity not an issue before sin entered the creation? If we look at nudity as a symptom or metaphor for shame and vulnerability, it makes sense that human beings had no shame before they sinned. Relationships between God and one-another had not been corrupted and the desire to conceal who they really are had not taken root. It was perfectly safe to be exposed to each other. Relationships now are unsafe. People hurt each other all the time, especially as a defense when their shame is being triggered by someone exposing their failings.
Now that sin had entered relationships, it was no longer safe to be vulnerable with one-another. Vulnerability is risky because it means someone can truly see you for who you are and choose to reject you. The intense desire to be seen by other people is a major driving force in relationships, but the terrifying implications of being seen also deter people from the risk of intimacy. As a way of avoiding the feelings of shame, we hide from God and we blame each other.
We do, fundamentally, need to change. We’re not “good people” who forgot about how good we are and how much we rock; we’re people who have done things we actually can’t be proud of, nor should we be proud of them. We’re guilty of sin, and our guilt leads to a pervasive sense of shame about who we are because we try to minimise our behaviour or conceal it from view rather than dealing with it through truth and vulnerability.
In his well-meaning folly, Furtick ends up perpetuating those lies we tell ourselves about who we are because we don’t want to confront our guilt. Rather than helping to set people free, it actually keeps them in bondage to their deep-seated internal shame.
The bible’s cure for shame is vulnerability, and that is exactly what psychology consistently finds in research.
If you have ever read or listened to Brene Brown, you will know what she says about her career in psychology research around the topics of shame and vulnerability. Originally she was studying shame in order to figure out how to remove it so that people could have functional relationships, because primarily shame is a barrier to intimacy. What she discovered in her research was that the only way to transcend shame was through vulnerability with others: showing other people the ways in which we have failed.
We cannot experience forgiveness and reconciliation with God unless we are willing to expose our flaws to Him in a state of humble vulnerability. If we try to cling to our pride because we’re afraid of feeling shame, God cannot help us to deal with our issues. The same barrier will also remain between us and other people, preventing the formation of truly intimate, honest and mutual relationships.
Honesty and vulnerability are pretty much the same thing. We shield ourselves with lies because we cannot own up to our guilt, but that toxic process leads to shame, which we have an example of through Adam and Eve.
In contrast, shame requires concealment through lies in order to stave off the fear of rejection. We’re all afraid of being condemned and rejected for who we really are because we internalise a lot of the guilt we bear from our sins and begin to identify who we are with the worst aspects of what we have done. Human beings experience so little forgiveness among ourselves, mostly because we refuse to truly change our behaviour and often prove to be untrustworthy, to the extent that we don’t fully understand how forgiveness and reconciliation actually works.
This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:5-9 (NKJV)
The first step in being forgiven and redeemed is repentance, which is a state of mind where we seek to change our ways and be transformed from our former selves who try to justify bad decisions and conceal our mistakes with lies. We cannot be forgiven if we cannot admit to our mistakes. If we can overcome our pride enough to lower our defenses before God and come to Him in vulnerability, He is faithful to forgive us and remember our sins no more.
Humility does not automatically equal humiliation, which is what most people are afraid of. Seeking forgiveness requires humility, which is letting go of the barrier of pride, but humiliation comes from attempting to maintain a façade and then being exposed for it. People will avoid God and avoid coming to the light at all costs because they want to hold onto the fake persona they cultivate through the shame/pride spiral of avoiding truth. God will not deal in lies or have a dishonest relationship, which is why He does not extend redemption until people drop the pride.
Surely He scorns the scornful, But gives grace to the humble. – Proverbs 3:34 (NKJV)
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:5-6 (NKJV)
The forgiveness of God is total and complete. Is it a difficult process? Sure. But when God forgives us He wipes the slate clean. If someone reminds you of your past before Christ and tries to shame you for it, that person is not of God.
“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.” – Isaiah 43:25 (NKJV)
However, there’s a big difference between people who constantly remind you of your past mistakes, and people who point out that you have not changed your ways. It’s important to actually show the fruit of repentance, which is a reformed character.
When God washes us clean and we become a new creation, that is true freedom in Christ. Freedom from shame, freedom from sin, freedom from guilt, and the freedom to have more meaningful relationships based on authenticity instead of concealing our shame with pride.
That’s the kind of motivational speaking I’m looking for, and that’s why the gospel is so powerful. It tackles our shame head-on and exposes it through the light of Christ Jesus so that we can be healed and transformed. That’s the most incredible gift anyone can be offered. That’s redemption.
Concealing shame with pride is how narcissism festers in the soul.
What Steven Furtick is doing with his brand of preaching is robbing people of the opportunity to be reconciled to God through vulnerability and humility. We have to go through these uncomfortable and confronting emotions in order to have a true change of heart. If we aren’t willing to let down our guard, we cannot know intimacy with God or with each other. The fruit of pride concealing shame is narcissism, which we see in psychology and also in Genesis:
And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. – Genesis 4:3-8 (NKJV)
Cain did not meet the standards which God had set for maintaining the relationship and when Cain received that feedback from God, he became angry. Instead of admitting that his part in the relationship was sub-standard, Cain refused to lift his game and instead chose to murder the competition for God’s affections. Simply by displaying self-sacrificing love towards God, Abel was murdered. That’s how narcissism destroys other people and kills relationships. Because Cain refused to approach God with humility and attempted to offer God a form of love which amounted to bread-crumbing, Cain’s shame was activated by the feedback that his version of love was not God’s version of love.
Psychology research has found that shame can lead to anger and violence, but it also leads to depression and anxiety, depending on whether that shame is externalised or internalised. Shame is essentially self-hatred born out of an avoidance of guilt and honesty. Cain’s parents blamed others for their sins and Cain inherited that propensity for avoiding accountability. That method of dealing with shame produces an untrustworthy character because people like that will throw someone else under the bus in order to avoid being held responsible for their behaviour.
To be a trustworthy person, you have to be willing to confess your mistakes to God and other people. When we do that, we remove the power of shame which keeps us held prisoner through fear, and we stop lashing out at anyone who either directly or indirectly triggers that sense of shame.
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much. – James 5:16 (NKJV)
A mutual relationship can only be fostered through honesty and vulnerability:
Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:25-32 (NKJV)
Are you going to be angry with some people? Yes. That’s a perfectly reasonable response to being betrayed or lied to or gossiped about or stolen from or bullied. You still have choices about how you respond to those people. Holding them to account and giving them the opportunity to repent is the first step. Whether they repent or not, you are required to forgive and let go of your anger, but reconciliation is another matter altogether and does require genuine repentance and reformed behaviour from the other person. If they cannot let down their guard and own their mistakes, you’re advised to treat them like a tax-collector, which is to avoid contact with them.
We have to give each other the opportunity to change, and we have to make the idea of change an incentive for healthy and intimate relationships rather than shameful and frightening. Steven Furtick has managed to completely miss the point of the gospel with one tweet, which is quite remarkable. Let’s hope it can be the catalyst for deeper conversations about the human condition and how we can truly find healing through Jesus Christ.
*Unless otherwise noted, scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.