A Review of
Free: Rescued from Shame-Based Religion
J. Kevin Butcher
Reviewed by Zena Neds-Fox
Kevin Butcher is a man with his heart on his sleeve. He works hard to make sure it stays right there, too. He is convinced that without a radical, pulsing heart of love for people, the message of Jesus is meaningless. In his first book, Choose and Choose Again: The Brave Act of Returning to God’s Love, he tells stories of how people he has known were profoundly changed only and ever through the actual love of community and acceptance. In his latest book, Free: Rescued from Shame-Based Religion, Released Into the Life-Giving Love of Jesus, he breaks down what it means to live in that love.
Here Pastor Butcher lets us walk with him on two very dark nights of the soul. One where he had built a church and then was fired when disagreement and tempers rose. The shame of this event drove him to the brink and in turn, his understanding of shame as the “satanic antithesis of God’s love” started him down a road traveled with Jesus as a close companion. The other is as he walks through his wife getting a cancer diagnosis that left them both having conversations with God they’d hoped they would never speak out loud. The question of surrender versus the illusion of control was placed before him and ultimately he gives in to the God he came to know as a loving father. Kevin explains that without an abiding, loving relationship with Jesus, none of us can make it through the true depths of despair a lifetime can bring.
Though presented as a rescue from religion, the book may be better understood as a meditation on the importance of healing. He talks about the common phenomena of those who say, “I can’t feel the presence of God” and answers in a profound statement that most of us aren’t comfortable with feeling anything. He says, “How difficult this is for those of us who have been taught that in our walk with God, feelings themselves are inferior and insignificant compared to discipline, effort and performance.” He reiterates by stating that all of the rote prayers we can pray can’t touch unhealed wounding stating that, “Our hearts aren’t only deeply sinful…they’re also profoundly wounded beyond human repair.” Butcher’s message is that the work of vulnerability with the God who already knows you will lead you into the security of knowing you are loved – and that is what our hearts truly long for.
This writing is profound, yet extremely relatable. Kevin Butcher is a man who has been changed. He shares some truly shameful behavior with the wisdom that “no matter how spiritually together or self-disciplined we think we are, the power of damaged emotions will trump cognitive truth, every time.” He has changed from a bootstraps pastor into a broken, lost man on the verge of suicide at one point. Changed there to someone who holds a love relationship with Jesus as his only hope and the only hope he knows to offer others. He does this with deep theological understanding and raw humanity. If your devotional reading has lacked such a perspective, I recommend you allow this book to blow a clean breeze in through the window.
Zena Neds-Fox lives in Michigan with her librarian husband and three brilliant children. She is a sign language interpreter and co-host of the deeply troubling podcast, Jesus likes Girls.