Defending Shame:
Its Formative Power in Paul's Letters

Te-Li Lau

Baker Academic

Our culture often views shame 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, this book 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. Foreword by Luke Timothy Johnson.

Read several scholars’ engagement with Defending Shame in the symposium.


Te-Li Lau

Te-Li Lau (PhD Emory University) is Associate Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of multiple books, including The Politics of Peace (Brill, 2010) and Defending Shame (Baker Academic, 2020).


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