Along with 37 million other people, I’ve been captivated by sociologist and author Brené Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability. Brown tells a secular story of human sin, shame, and our need to expose our weaknesses if we wish to grow. It hit a nerve in the wider culture and also within churches. People want more vulnerability in their lives and communities.
But when we think of vulnerability, we often imagine sitting around a table airing our emotional dirty laundry. Is vulnerability only for people who love to talk about feelings, or who are too weak to handle their own problems?
Brown defines vulnerability not as weakness, but as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” It’s not just unburdening yourself in confession, it’s exposing yourself to risk for the sake of others. It’s sharing your struggles, but also speaking truth in love.
In his book Strong and Weak [read TGC’s review], Andy Crouch defines vulnerability as “exposure to meaningful risk.” He notes that Old Testament prophets were vulnerable but didn’t bare their feelings over vanilla lattes; they powerfully spoke truth. They fearlessly fought injustice, oppression, unrighteousness, choosing to obey God for the sake of his truth. They imaged the Lord, who ultimately made himself vulnerable in human flesh for our sake (Phil. 2).
But instead of being vulnerable for the sake of others, we’re often tempted to make it all about us.
Vulnerable for Others
Apart from Jesus, we focus on self. Even in Christian circles, we take credit for our ministry, gifts, talents, and vulnerability. We can even use vulnerability in twisted ways to manipulate and control.
Rooted in Jesus, however, we don’t have to play those games. And because we don’t need to be perfect or right or “vulnerable” to be loved, we are freed to be truly vulnerable.
Jesus offers us a model of vulnerability—not as emotional release or pious performance but as risktaking for the good of others. He did this in ordinary acts: he walked dusty roads, got tired, rebuked abuses of power, and touched lepers and bleeding women. Jesus was most vulnerable when he bore our sin in suffering, humiliation, pain, and alienation from God the Father on the cross, but he did it “for the joy set before him . . . despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). He made himself vulnerable to purchase our redemption.
Jesus shows us that vulnerability is so much more than individual emotional unburdening. Vulnerability exists for the good of the community.
Vulnerable for the Gospel
If vulnerability is part of how relationships participate in the drama of redemption—not for ego, but for others—then it can never be an end in itself. It must never be the telos of a relationship or a barometer for intimacy. Instead, we need to be vulnerable for the sake of the gospel.
Fifteen years ago, some friends and I made our way through Tim Keller’s study on Galatians. We grew closer, not because we shared our deepest secrets, but because we meaningfully risked exposure to God himself within community. We grew in our understanding of grace, we committed to our church, and we shared our lives.
Today they are still some of my dearest friends. Word-centered vulnerability was a vehicle for the power of the gospel. When understood rightly, vulnerability can be a powerful tool to bring many into God’s kingdom—a kingdom where we can risk everything for others because Jesus risked everything for us.