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Defending Shame

Its Formative Power in Paul’s Letters

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Our culture often views shame and shaming in a negative light. However, Paul's use of shame, when properly understood and applied, has much to teach the contemporary church.

Filling a lacuna in Pauline scholarship, Defending Shame shows how Paul uses shame to admonish and to transform the minds of his readers into the mind of Christ. The author examines Paul's use of shame for moral formation within his Jewish and Greco-Roman context, compares and contrasts Paul's use of shame with other cultural voices, and offers a corrective understanding for today's church. The book explores how Paul's moral psychology of shame can guide believers to live lives that honor not only God but also their calling as children of God. It also includes a foreword from Luke Timothy Johnson.


Foreword by Luke Timothy Johnson
Introduction: A Fractured Understanding of Shame
Part 1: Framework
1. Definitional Background
2. Greco-Roman Backgrounds
3. Jewish Backgrounds
Part 2: Exegesis
4. Paul's Use of Retrospective Shame
5. Paul's Use of Prospective Shame
6. Constructing Paul's Use of Shame
Part 3: Cultural Engagement
7. Contemporary Contribution
8. Contemporary Challenges


"I didn't know so much could be said about shame, but Te-Li Lau has said it. This brilliant book is impressive not only in its methodological and exegetical depth but also in its practical substance. Lau powerfully unpacks Paul's Christ-centered concept of shame and demonstrates that it is an essential emotion for moral formation--and he does so with great sensitivity to the complexity of shame and shaming in our culture today. Scholars and pastors alike will be indebted to Lau for his careful and insightful work."

Elizabeth E. Shively, senior lecturer in New Testament studies, St. Mary's College, University of St. Andrews

"Defending Shame is a unique and valuable contribution to the literature on moral formation. With his thorough analysis of the place of shame in Greco-Roman and Jewish literature, Professor Te-Li Lau provides the context for the study of appeals to shame in Pauline literature and demonstrates that appropriate appeals to shame as practiced by Paul can contribute to moral formation. This book is not only an important contribution to the study of Pauline ethics but also a welcome contribution to contemporary interdisciplinary discussions about shame."

James W. Thompson, Abilene Christian University

"Simultaneously immersed in the biblical milieu and relevant to our world today, this valuable work displays concrete facility in an astonishing range of disciplines and is in turn relevant to various disciplines. Although its most novel and distinctive contributions are for Pauline ethics and theology, it provides considerations relevant to pastoral counseling, pedagogy, intercultural studies, and even social communications and public policy."

Craig S. Keener, F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies, Asbury Theological Seminary

"Te-Li Lau displays command of Pauline studies, expertise in both Hellenistic and Jewish backgrounds, and intercultural sagacity. How many Pauline scholars can draw on comparisons with writings in Chinese, where some 113 terms for shame are found? Lau can and does. The result is a book that arrives at practical wisdom worked out in shrewd dialogue with the West's 'fractured understanding of shame.' Lau makes possible not only a better understanding of the apostle Paul's letters but a better application of those letters in personal life, teaching and preaching, and the public sphere. This is a book of rare wisdom and high importance."

Robert W. Yarbrough, professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary

"Te-Li Lau's book is an unexpected addition to the field of shame research. Instead of looking at the typical honor-shame contrast, it provides the highly useful lens of shame as a pedagogical tool. This different perspective makes sense of some of Paul's moves and is also helpful for the modern church in considering motivations and methods of discipleship. An enjoyable read, this book is a necessary addition to any Pauline-studies bookshelf."

Mariam Kovalishyn, assistant professor of New Testament studies, Regent College

"Shame in our day is pervasive, powerful, and painful. Lau shows that in Paul's hands certain forms of shame--though many acts of shaming are prohibited--can be necessary in moral formation and used in positive ways to build Christian character. A remarkably comprehensive, insightful, and timely exploration of the meaning and function of shame."

Brian S. Rosner, principal, Ridley College

The Author

  1. Te-Li Lau

    Te-Li Lau

    Te-Li Lau (PhD, Emory University) is associate professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, where he has taught for over ten years. He is also the author of The Politics of Peace: Ephesians, Dio Chrysostom, and...

    Continue reading about Te-Li Lau


2020 Center for Biblical Studies Book Award (New Testament)

"Lau brings expertise in Chinese sources and cultural heritage to bear on Pauline thought in ways impossible for most Western interpreters. The results are highly fruitful for fresh appreciation of Paul's convictions and teaching, both in his times and ours."

Robert Yarbrough,

Center for Biblical Studies