Book review: Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures

Jayson Georges and Mark Baker have co-authored an outstanding book: Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials (IVP, 2016). The book is equally valuable theologically and missiologically.

Following a helpful introduction on how the volume is structured, the book has three sections. Part one is Cultural Anthropology (34 pages). Part two is Biblical Theology (50 pages). Part three is Practical Ministry (100 pages).

Scholarly and practical

The authors are both scholars and seasoned practitioners. Theological insights are blended beautifully with numerous personal stories from the authors’ service in honor-shame cultures. Mark Baker (PhD, Duke) is Professor of Mission and Theology at Fresno Pacific University. Jayson Georges (MDiv, Talbot) is the founding editor and primary blogger of The cross-cultural ministry stories from Georges come primarily from living with his family in Central Asia as missionaries; for Baker, his cross-cultural ministry context is Central America. I found the balance of the theological and the practical to be beautiful, powerful, even arresting at times.

For pastors and teachers

The numerous theological insights of Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures means that it is not just for people ministering in honor-shame cultures. Rather, this is a book that gives so many insights into Scripture, every pastor and teacher of the Word of God would benefit.

The section Biblical Theology is broken into two chapters—“Old Testament” and “Jesus”. The section opens with this compelling paragraph (p. 67):

People long for honor, and God acts to honor all peoples. As much as humans obsess about honor, God cares even more about human honor. A key feature of God’s mission is to restore status to the human family. From Genesis to Revelation, God honors his people. To only view the concept of honor-shame as an exegetical tool for reading biblical texts misses the forest for the trees. Honor and shame are foundational realities in God’s mission and salvation that flow through the entire Bible. By honoring his people, God himself reaps glory as the source of true honor. Ultimately, the story of the Bible is about God’s honor and God’s face, not just ours.

The chapter on Old Testament examines a variety of passages to highlight their honor-shame dynamics. The first part is on The Fall—the degree to which shame is integral to sin, both as a cause and an effect. This is foundational. The remedy for sin must be understood as more than a remedy for guilt. Baker and Georges show how the writers of Scripture reveal that salvation is both a return to innocence from guilt through forgiveness—and also a progressive reality of status reversal from shame to honor before God. Using numerous Scripture references and helpful diagrams, the presentation is both clear and conclusive.

The chapter on Jesus deals with several key features of his life and ministry through the lens of honor-shame. The chapter covers Jesus’ honorable life and teachings:

  • Jesus redefines honor in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • Jesus touches the shameful and unclean, saving and healing them, lifting them out of their isolation and shame.
  • Through the Prodigal Son story—Jesus reveals God as a father who longs to cover the shame and restore the honor of his shameful sons.
  • Jesus conquers sin and shame through the ignominious Cross followed by his resurrection.

Again, Baker and Georges are clear and convincing in exegeting the text to reveal a myriad of honor-shame realties and theological implications.

For cross-cultural workers and educators

The largest section of the book (100 pages) is Practical Ministry. The six chapters are: Spirituality, Relationships, Evangelism, Conversion, Ethics, and Community. Although this section has the most stories from the authors’ cross-cultural ministry experiences, Scripture is woven all throughout these chapters. In a sense, the theology-teaching value of this section is simply amplified by the practical stories.

One of my favorite chapters in this section is Ethics. I so appreciate this sentence: “A leader with Honor is not seduced by honor” (p. 208). Many Christian leaders are leery of learning about honor-shame in Scripture and ministry because they believe it will lead to ethical compromise. Baker and Georges show that the opposite is true. When Christians embrace Jesus’ new honor code, they are able to live ethically superior lives. As loyal followers of Jesus, filled with God’s honor in Christ, they become servant leaders who are able to absorb shame, suffer persecution, and live out of an honor surplus which comes from knowing our Lord Jesus Christ.

Every cross-cultural worker—every cross-cultural ministry educator or trainer—will be well served by using and applying this outstanding book.

Around the world—and across the street

Missionaries, cross-cultural workers, and intercultural studies educators-trainers will find this book helpful. It’s a book plainly addressed for Christians doing ministry “over there”.

But with our cities and neighborhoods becoming more and more multicultural, isn’t the audience for this book far, far broader? There are vast cross-cultural ministry opportunities locally—among international students, immigrants working alongside us in business, refugees, and unreached peoples—most of whom are from honor-shame cultures. In this challenging, even perplexing, local context—how can Christians more wisely engage in the Great Commission? In Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, Baker and Georges have provided outstanding theological and practical guidance; I give it my highest recommendation.

NOTE: Learn about the Honor-Shame Conference, June 19–21, 2017 at Wheaton College. Our theme is “Honor, Shame, & the Gospel: Reframing Our Message for 21st-Century Ministry”.

3 thoughts on “Book review: Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures

  1. Gary Sweeten Reply

    It looks like a great addition to understand the depth of sin and the answers in Christ. I would suggest that many sub groups in America respond more to shaming than to guilt. The Scots Irish for example. The contemporary name for shame is “low Self Esteem”.

    1. Werner Mischke Reply

      Gary … thanks for your comment. Biblically, shame is so much more than than low self-esteem. The Bible teaches that shame is both subjective and objective. Because of sin, we are objectively shameful before God, that is, we dishonor God (Ez. 16; Rom 2:23 and many other passages).

  2. Shah Afshar Reply

    Hey Werner, unless if you’re raised with it, it’s very difficult for a westerner to understand the kind of shame a Middle Easterner experiences in life. As one who was born and raised into it, I’ve struggled with shame all my life. As you know, shame is NOT what we do, but who we are. I can feel guilty for lying to my mother, but be ashamed of the lowlife that I am who lies to his own mother. Yes, there’s a very fine line between the two, but they’re not the same and often it has very little to do with low self esteem, although shame can create that. Anyway, this is my 2 cents worth.

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