Free honor-shame training webinar November 16th with visionSynergy

Webinar title: “Giving Honor: Key to Healthy Cross-Cultural Partnerships”

Healthy cross-cultural collaboration is vital to the witness of the gospel in a lost and fractured world (John 17:21). However, collaboration in partnerships or networks is a lot harder when questions about honor status—whether spoken or unspoken—create stress or division. Honor status is not a small issue; it impacts trust, leadership, who has a voice, who is validated, how success is shared, and more.

This webinar will bring to the surface the problem of honor competition, rivalry, and honor status—common in the New Testament church. We will examine the Spirit-empowered solution of “giving honor” (Rom 12:10, 1 Cor 12:21–26 )—across cultures and across different levels of social status. Together, we will explore various ways that “giving honor” can help make our own networks or partnerships more healthy relationally—and more fruitful for the gospel.

Presenter: Werner Mischke, Interim President, Mission ONE
Sponsor: visionSynergy
Date: Thursday, 16 November 2017
Time: 7am PST / 10am EST / UTC-8 (Convert to local time)
Duration: 60 minutes
Cost: Free

» CLICK HERE to learn more or register »

Synergy Commons (a ministry of visionSynergy) will be co-facilitating with me a five-day online group discussion (i.e. Burst group) on this topic following the webinar. More information will be provided by Synergy Commons as we get closer to the webinar. –Werner

Justification by faith is central to the mission of God to bless all the peoples of the earth; part 2

This blog post is part 2 of this series: “Justification by faith is central to the mission of God to bless all the peoples of the earth”. It is also the fourth blog post in a general series concerning how honor-shame helps us understand justification by faith.


In Paul’s letter to the Romans, the doctrine of justification by faith is tethered to the global mission of God—the blessing of salvation for all peoples. We looked at Romans 3:28–30 in the first post. In this post we consider Romans 4:16–18 in conjunction with Galatians 3:7–8. All of these passages deal with justification by faith and how this doctrine overlaps with the all-peoples mission of God.

First, Romans 4:16–18 …

[16] That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, [17] as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. [18] In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”

What is “it”?

The opening phrase is: “That is why it depends on faith”. What does “it” refer to? It refers to the fulfillment of Abraham’s promise through faith, specifically justification by faith. Robert Jewett writes:

… Paul contends that the fulfillment of Abraham’s promise (which is the subject of this paragraph in 4:13) comes ἐκ πίστεως (“by faith”). This formula harks back to the thesis of Romans drawn from Hab 2:4, that the “righteous shall live ἐκ πίστεως (1:17), which was elaborated in 3:25–30 and 4:5–12.[1]

So although the words justification by faith are not specifically mentioned in Rom 4:16, let us observe that the words from the justification-word-family are mentioned five times (justified, just, justifier, justify, justified) in Rom 3:24–30, referencing faith. They are all elaborating on the fact that it is “by faith, not works”. So the concept of justification by faith may be considered implicit in “it depends on faith”. One could paraphrase this, “That is why the fulfillment of Abraham’s promise depends on justification by faith”.

What is “the promise”?

Next question: What is “the promise” referred to in the phrase “in order that the promise may rest on grace”? This refers to the promise made in God’s initial call to Abram in Genesis 12:3—“I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” As stated in the prior post, the promise of God’s blessing-to-all-peoples-and-nations is repeated in 18:18, 22:18, 26:4, 28:14). The repetition of the promise indicates a forceful emphasis, a highly significant theme in the purpose, story, and gospel of God.

Why “guaranteed to all his offspring”?

First, let’s recognize that “all his offspring” refers to all the families/ethnicities/peoples of the earth—among whom innumerable believers will have placed their faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:29). The use of the word “all” (πᾶς) is significant throughout Romans. Jewett writes concerning Rom 4:16:

The word “all” (πᾶς) is crucial for Romans, having been employed nineteen times already in the letter, including the close parallel in Rom 4:11 referring to Abraham as the “father of all who believe.” The opening lines of the letter feature inclusive emphasis, addressed to “all those in Rome beloved of God” (1:7), praying for “all of you” (1:8), and serving a mission aimed at the obedience of faith among “all the Gentiles” (1:5), that offers salvation to “all who believe” (1:16). So in this chapter the “righteousness of faith” (4:13) in Abraham’s promise establishes an inclusivity of all faithful people, no matter what their ethnic or religious status may be. [2](Emphasis mine.)

Second, something about the nature of faith in Christ makes it possible, no, guaranteed—to go global! To further spell it out—we must see that the ancient promise of God to Abraham in Genesis naturally results in an honor challenge to the reputation of God. Here’s why: It results in an honor challenge because of the questions that the promise raises in the minds of all humans who would hear about this God and his utterly astounding promise to Abraham.

  • Will God make good on his promise? Is God actually able to deliver on what he promised to Abraham?
  • How exactly, is God going to fulfill his promise to bless all the families of the earth? What will be his means?
  • Could it be that the scope of God’s promise—to bless all the families of the earth, all peoples, all nations—is just hyperbole, mere exaggeration?
  • Was this promise a kind of boasting—God’s way of tricking Abraham, manipulating him into obedience?

Whatever the case, the honor and glory of God’s name is at stake, because the trustworthiness of his promise—across millennia and on behalf of all the peoples of the earth—is in question. Will the honor of God’s name be vindicated?

“Father, glorify your name!”

To further examine this, here’s an excerpt from my book The Global Gospel. I’m addressing the passionate declaration in John 12:28 of Jesus Christ to the Father—just before his being apprehended by the Roman authorities before his trial, flogging, and crucifixion.

When Jesus prays, “Father, glorify your name” [John 12:28], he is essentially saying, Father, vindicate your honor! Save your “face”!

Why would the death and resurrection of Christ vindicate God’s honor? Because it is the only way that God’s promise to Abraham to bless all the families of the earth could have come true. God’s credibility hinged on a means for all peoples to be blessed and redeemed. Yes, God gave the law to Moses and his people; yes, the law revealed God’s righteousness and holiness; but the law was lifeless in that it was totally unable to save (Rom 8:2–3).

There was only one way that God’s plan to bless all families—to reverse the curse among all peoples—could be guaranteed: through a heart-captivating faith that individuals and peoples everywhere would place in the name, honor, and finished work of Jesus Christ, a faith that transcends culture.

With regard to ethnicity this faith needed to be neutral, accessible to and affirming of all peoples. But with regard to ethics, this faith needed to be superior; that is, it needed to have the ability to truly transform people from the inside out, conforming them to the righteousness of the Son of God. Therefore, this faith would be a fulfillment of the covenant promise God gave to his people through Abraham (Gen 12:1–3), but the faith would be untethered from the works of the law specific to Jewish ethnicity and culture, such as circumcision.[3]

God is making sure (it is “guaranteed”, as in Rom 4:16) that all the families/peoples of the earth will be blessed, and that this family of families—which owes its existence to God—will be as universally broad and diverse as originally promised. This in turn gives God maximum honor and relational delight, the maximum praise he deserves.

One more passage to consider: Galatians 3:7–8

In Gal 3:7–8 (below), observe the links between a) justification by faith, b) “the Gentiles” and “all the nations”, and c) “the gospel”.

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

Without a doubt the context of this passage is the justification by faith of believers from all the nations/people groups. In the book of Galatians, one of Paul’s strategies is to use the doctrine of justification to expose the ethnocentric values of the Jews.[4] According to Jackson Wu, “The doctrine of justification explains who can be justified by explaining how one is justified. ‘All nations’ is the specific locus of the Abrahamic covenant. Faith simply explains how God undermines ethnic exclusivism and so keeps his promise.”[5]

Therefore, justification by faith in Jesus Christ is the only means for the promised blessing to be guaranteed to all the offspring (i.e., all peoples, ethnicities, nations). Why?

  1. Justification by faith is ethnically neutral and culturally fluid (no circumcision or other Jewish cultural traditions required!); it therefore guarantees that God’s honorific blessing can go to all peoples. No ethnic group is excluded. Every people group in all the world is included in the blessing-and-honor-Story of Jesus the Christ. Every tribe will be represented in the royal family (Rom 8:14–15; Eph 2:19; 1 Pet 2:9), with regal access to God the Father (Rom 5:1–2).
  2. Justification by faith leads to the ultimate honor—global worship unto God. God will be seen to make good on his promise; God’s reputation is preserved, his honor vindicated, his name glorified. The Triune God is lovingly worshiped by people from among all peoples, both Jew and Gentile—all ethnicities, tribes and nations (Rom 15:8–11).

Undermining ethnic exclusivism

Most Western and Reformed theology holds the doctrine of justification by faith to be a legal transaction by which God “reckons” individual sinners “not guilty” (Rom 4:3; 4:6, 8:1). The explanation of justification by faith in Grudem’s Systematic Theology is a great example of this legal-framework view.[6] I do not dispute its truthfulness.

Indeed, our personal faith in Christ—faith in his death and his resurrection—is the way that we as individuals have our sins forgiven, become part of the family of God, and are saved from the penalty of sin.

But to speak of justification by faith as a legal transaction only—a legal transaction for individuals—is to marginalize some hugely significant issues concerning social status and group-honor (or dishonor), peoples and ethnicity—in Romans and Galatians.

  • As Jackson Wu writes, “Faith simply explains how God undermines ethnic exclusivism and so keeps his promise.”
  • Jewett writes: “In Paul’s interpretation the God in whom Abraham believed is the same as the father of Jesus Christ who accepts and honors those who have no basis for honor, either in their religious accomplishments, their wisdom, or their social status.” … “[F]aith was the response of converts to the message that Christ died for the impious, and it led to their joining small communities of faith in which righteousness became a social reality as the dishonored were restored to honor, that is, to ‘righteousness.’”[7]

A gospel that speaks to elitism, tribalism, exclusivism

Elitism. Tribalism. Exclusivism. ‘My group is better than or different from your group; my group is superior and your group is excluded.’

Isn’t the issue of exclusivism, whatever the source, a huge problem in our world today? Corporate sin—whether it is along cultural, ethnic/racial/tribal, political, or other lines of social demarcation—seems ever present. These corporate sins concern our individual core identity and group identity … honor and shame … inclusion and exclusion. The question is often over All peoples? Or just some peoples?

The doctrine of justification by faith guarantees that the promised blessing of God travels to all peoples, to the ends of the earth; it is for the salvation-and-honor-in-Christ of persons from among all peoples, not just some peoples. This is not just the goal of the gospel. According to Gal 3:8 this is the gospel (or at least one significant part of it). The glory of God is at stake.


FOOTNOTES

1. Robert Jewett: Romans: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 328–9.
2. Ibid., 330.
3. Werner Mischke: The Global Gospel: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World (Scottsdale: Mission ONE, 2015), 244.
4. Ibid., 134.
5. Jackson Wu: Saving God’s Face: A Chinese Contextualization of Salvation through Honor and Shame (EMS Dissertation Series) (Pasadena: WCIU Press, 2012), 270.
6. In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem writes, “In this sense of ‘declare to be righteous’ or ‘declare to be not guilty’ Paul frequently uses the word to speak of God’s justification of us, his declaration that we, though guilty sinners, are nonetheless righteous in his sight. … In this sense of ‘justify,’ God issues a legal declaration about us. This is why theologians have also said that justification is forensic, where the word forensic means ‘having to do with legal proceedings.’” Wayne Grudem: Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (p. 724). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
7. Jewett, 314–315.

Justification by faith is central to the mission of God to bless all the peoples of the earth; part 1

I highly recommend, first of all, that you read the recent blog post at HonorShame.com: “The meaning of Romans 3:23”. The author‘s explanation of this often-quoted verse brings out the honor-shame dynamics in the context of Romans 1–3.

The author points to the fact that Romans 3:23 speaks to the sinfulness of peoples (Jews and Gentiles)—more than to the general sin of individual persons. The blog post provides helpful background information for my blog post below.

For the sake of convenience, a key paragraph from the HonorShame.com blog is provided below. (Remember, this is about the verse, Romans 3:23—“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”)

Simply put, all does not mean “every single, individual person.” Rather, all means “both Jews and Gentiles,” or “every ethnicity.” Or most succinctly, it means “all peoples,” instead of “all people.” The primary categories in Romans 1-3 are groups, not individuals. Romans addresses the relationship between two groups of people. Group A consists of ethnic Israelites, “the circumcised,” “the Jews,” “those under the nomos/Torah.” Group B is the Gentiles, “the uncircumcised, “the Greeks,” “those without nomos/Torah. So, when Paul says “all” he has in mind both of these groups—Jews and Gentiles. The use in Romans 3:23 means “all peoples” more than “every individual.”[1]


In Paul’s letter to the Romans, the doctrine of justification by faith is tethered to the global mission of God—the blessing of salvation for all peoples. We’ll look at two passages in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome—Romans 3:28–30 and Romans 4:16–18, plus Galatians 3:7–9. All of these passages deal with justification by faith and the all-peoples mission of God.

This blog post is part one. We examine Romans 3:28–30

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.

Explicit and positive

We start with the obvious. The verses contain a truth that is both explicit and positive concerning the all-peoples emphasis. God will justify persons from among both Jews (the circumcised) and Gentiles (the uncircumcised). Together, this represents all the peoples of the earth. God will bless all peoples. No people group is excluded from God’s blessing. It connects with God’s original promise to Abraham to bless all the peoples of the earth through his family (Gen 12:3, 15:5, 18:18, 22:18, 26:4, 28:14).

To emphasize the radical nature of God’s gift-of-salvation-offered-to-all-peoples, Apostle Paul asks: “Or is God the God of the Jews only?” (Paul is identifying the default Jewish attitude that God belongs to the Jews only—the basis for Jewish “boasting.)

Then Paul answers, “Yes, of Gentiles also”. Concerning this answer, Robert Jewett writes:

Paul contends that the relationship of the “Gentiles” and the “Jews” to God is now exactly the same … God is the God of both ethnic groups. The revolutionary equality of all nations before God that flows from the Christ event is emphatically stated by Paul’s response to the interlocutor’s question: ναὶ καὶ ἐθνῶν (“Yes, [God] also [belongs to] Gentiles).[2]

Note well the explicit-positive principle: All nations are equal before God. It is a revolutionary idea. Paul was articulating a Christ-centered gospel which was utterly fresh—a brilliant, positive hope in his world of the Roman Empire. It challenged the status quo of empire-adoring Romans … of ethnically proud Jews … and of culturally elitist Greeks. Can you hear this gospel speaking to our world as well?

Implicit and negative

And now, the not-as-obvious. There is an all-peoples emphasis in Romans 3:28–30 that is more implicit and negative. It is implicit in the phrase, “one is justified by faith apart from works of the law”. Jewett, commenting on Rom 3:28, writes:

God’s granting of righteousness through faith in the crucified Christ counters the seemingly universal tendency to claim honor on the basis of performance or social status. It eliminates claims of cultural or ethnic superiority.[3]

In the book Saving God’s Face, Jackson Wu also addresses the ethnic issues of Jew and Gentile in the doctrine of justification by faith as taught in Romans and Galatians. After a lengthy nuanced discussion covering various perspectives, Wu concludes:

“[T]his gospel message (Gal 3:8) inherently necessitates forsaking the primacy of ethnic identity. The gospel directly challenges ethnocentrism; it is no mere corollary or application.[4]

Wow. “The gospel directly challenges ethnocentrism; it is no mere corollary or application.” Do you hear the force of these words? Ethnic, tribal or national identity is to be secondary to the believer’s primary identity as citizen in God’s kingdom, family member in the household of God (Eph 2:19). I believe it is this, our most-honorable identity in Christ, that subverts ethnocentrism and is part of the core of the gospel.

What is the implicit and negative all-peoples emphasis? It is that faith in the crucified Christ “directly challenges ethnocentrism” and “eliminates claims of cultural or ethnic superiority”. Faith in the crucified Christ necessitates forsaking ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism, cultural elitism, racism—this is what we are to negate through the gospel.

It includes and excludes

Of course, the gift of salvation in Christ includes the personal gain of eternal life and the hope of heaven. But what if we embraced a fuller meaning of justification-by-faith in Rom 3:28–30 as described above? If we did, the gift of salvation might profoundly impact the believer’s relational world when it excludes from the believer—attitudes of cultural, national, tribal, or ethnic superiority.

An audacious thought: Could this all-nations, global gospel have prevented the 1994 genocide in Rwanda when a majority of the nation was considered Christian? Could this all-nations, global gospel have a profound impact today in America—in our deeply polarized social and political climate?

Every expression of elitism, racism, and nationalism will one day fall in submission to the Lordship of Christ. This is part of a gospel expressly designed by God to bless all the peoples of the earth.

Conclusion: Could it be that the Western, individualistic legal-framework gospel emphasizes personal conscience and individual conversion—while at the same time, it unduly marginalizes the relational, social significance of the all-peoples, all-ethnicities gospel? Is this because in Western theology, the common understanding of justification by faith is missing the ethnic, relational, or social dimension of what Apostle Paul intended?

Next post: Part two—Romans 4:16–18 and Galatians 3:7–9


FOOTNOTES

1. Robert Jewett confirms this exegesis: “To fall short is an honor issue and it resonates with the competition for honor within and between groups in the Greco-Roman world. . . . Despite the claims of Jews and Greeks to surpass each other in honor and despite their typical claims that the other groups are shameful because of their lack of wisdom or moral conformity, Paul’s claim is that all fall short of the transcendent standard of honor.” In Jewett: Romans: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 280.
2. Ibid., 299.
3. Ibid., 298.
4. Jackson Wu: Saving God’s Face: A Chinese Contextualization of Salvation through Honor and Shame (EMS Dissertation Series), (Pasadena: William Carey International University Press, 2013), 276–7.

Justification by faith is God’s means of salvation—to “exclude boasting”

An important passage for the doctrine of justification by faith is Romans 3:21–27.

[21] But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—

[22] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:

[23] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

[24] and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

[25] whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

[26] It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

[27] Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.

[28] For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

There is a relationship here between 1) justification by faith, and 2) boasting. The necessity of the first makes for the exclusion of the second.

In order to better understand this relationship we must first grasp the meaning of the word “boasting” in the intensely competitive social context of the Roman Empire. Robert Jewett says that “it is ordinarily overlooked that Rome is the boasting champion of the ancient world, filled with honorific monuments and celebrations of imperial glory.”[1]

In the social context of the Roman world, honor competition and boasting were as common as breathing. Scholars have a name for this honor-shame dynamic: “challenge and riposte”.

U.K. theologian John M. G. Barclay, author of Paul and the Gift, explains the intense rivalry and  widespread practice of “boasting” in the social world of Apostle Paul:

Paul lived in a face-to-face society where self-advertisement [boasting], rivalry, and public competition were a perpetual cause of tension in every day life. …

As recent research has emphasized, almost all social relations and Paul’s cultural context were both ordered and threatened by the competition for honor. In the absence of “objective” measures of quality (such as educational qualifications), a person’s worth was heavily dependent on his public reputation, a “dignity” energetically claimed and fiercely defended. The pursuit or defense of honor was, many ancient commentators claimed, the chief motivating force for action: “by nature we yearn and hunger for honor, and once we have glimpsed, as it were, some part of its radiance, there is nothing we are not prepared to bear and suffer in order to secure it” (Cicero, Tusc. 2.24.58). …

And challenge was, indeed, the very essence of this culture. Honor was derived from comparison, from placing oneself (or being placed by others) higher on some hierarchical scale, in which one person’s superiority means that another is comparatively demeaned. This made honor ever the subject of contest: indeed, the ordeal or test was the very arena in which honor was proved. In this environment, every claim to honor [boast] was a real or potential provocation, and every challenge required an active riposte. Honor was a precious but unstable commodity, requiring active promotion [boasting] and persistent demonstration in a court of opinion that continually looked on with a critical eye.[2]

So what does Paul mean when he says, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded” (Rom 3:27)? Two considerations:

  1. The commonplace social dynamic of boasting in the Roman world—normally considered honorable—is in reality, to be “excluded”. Curiously, this word “excluded” comes from the Greek word ἐκκλείω (ekkleiō), which means “to be shut out”. There is only one other place in the New Testament where this word is used—Gal 4:17. It is a shame term. Why? Because to be excluded is shameful. The irony is plain: The default social practice of making honor claims (boasting)—is actually shameful from God’s perspective!
  2. When Paul asks, “Then what becomes of our boasting?”, is he referring only to ‘we Jews’ who make honor claims (who are boasting) about the “works of the law” (Rom 3:28)? Or is Paul referring to the broader category of ‘we humans’? I believe the context demands that Paul cannot be only referring to Jews, because the preceding verses, Rom 3:21–26, clearly speak with universal intent. I like how Barclay puts it: “His point is to exclude from God’s reckoning not only one but any form of symbolic capital that might be taken to constitute a source of worth before God”.[3]

Ok, so justification by faith means no boasting. But what’s the point? Community!

Yes, justification by faith means that boasting is excluded—what not to do. But there is also an enormously positive intent in Paul’s overall message. Paul has in mind the social community of the church, the body of Christ. Keeping in mind Rome‘s default culture of honor competition, envy, and boasting, we turn again to Barclay, whose insights concerning Paul’s letter to the Romans harmonize with Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

The assembly of believers forms a new community of opinion, constituted by the gift to the unworthy. Within this community there arises, of course, an alternative system of worth, a new form of “symbolic capital”: here, some are to be honored as teachers of the word (6:6) and others given responsibility as “spiritual people” … insofar as they are attuned to the Spirit. But—and this is the second characteristic of Paul’s social strategy—the hallmark of this alternative system of value is that it is specifically directed against rivalry; the greatest honor is for those who work against the competitive spirit of honor itself. As we have seen nearly all of the characteristics catalogued as “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22–23) are directed toward the construction of community, from love downwards. … What counts among believers, according to Paul, is precisely the antithesis to arrogance and competition.[4]

The only kind of rivalry that is acceptable in the Christian community is to “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom 12:10). This “antithesis to arrogance”—this against-rivalry-ethic—is also plain in Romans 12:14–19.

Conclusion: By understanding the honor-shame dynamic of “challenge and riposte” and the prominence of “boasting” in the Roman Empire, we better grasp the doctrine of justification by faith. It is God’s means of salvation—to “exclude boasting”—which, in turn, leads to the creation of a loving community that abides in Christ, in unity, against rivalry.


1. Robert Jewett: Romans: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 295–6.
2. John M. G. Barclay: Paul and the Gift (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 433-4.
3. Ibid., 484.
4. Ibid., 435.

Does honor-shame help us understand justification by faith?

Justification by faith — an honor-shame dynamic

The doctrine of justification by faith comes primarily from Apostle Paul’s letters—to the “Romans” and to the “Galatians”.

Over the past several months, I have been reading Romans in my devotional time. I have come to believe that an awareness of honor-shame dynamics may give added clarity to the Bible’s meaning about justification.

So I am finally returning to my blog with a series of posts on justification by faith.

For the purpose of establishing a baseline of understanding about justification by faith, let‘s begin with two quotes from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

A right understanding of justification is absolutely crucial to the whole Christian faith. Once Martin Luther realized the truth of justification by faith alone, he became a Christian and overflowed with the new-found joy of the gospel. The primary issue in the Protestant Reformation was a dispute with the Roman Catholic Church over justification. If we are to safeguard the truth of the gospel for future generations, we must understand the truth of justification. Even today, a true view of justification is the dividing line between the biblical gospel of salvation by faith alone and all false gospels of salvation based on good works. [1]

Just what is justification? We may define it as follows: Justification is an instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.[2]

Here is another quote; it’s from Kevin Vanhoozer’s Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity(I am about midway through reading this book.)

Lutheran theologians came to view justification as “the article by which the church stands or falls.” Philip Schaff calls justification by faith the “material principle” of the Reformation and the sum of the gospel. It is essentially the retrieval of Paul’s doctrine that God declares us righteous on the merits of Christ alone through faith alone. … What we can say is that Paul is addressing not a Jewish legalism narrowly conceived but the more radical and widespread tendency of sinners to justify themselves, either morally or intellectually.[3]

Justification by faith is “absolutely crucial to the whole Christian faith” … “the article by which the church stands or falls” … the “material principle” of the Protestant Reformation … “the sum of the gospel”.

What I want to explore it this: Will an awareness of honor-shame dynamics in various Scripture passages concerning justification help us gain even more respect for this great doctrine—and deepen our motivation for love and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ?

Below is a list of topics I plan write about in the coming weeks. By God’s grace I’ll write one post for each of the twelve topics concerning justification by faith. In each post I will highlight a passage of Scripture that features the word “justification”, “justify”, or “justified”—and then apply the hermeneutical key of honor-shame to hopefully shed some added light on its meaning.

  1. Justification by faith is God’s means of salvation—in part to “exclude boasting” before God on the part of all humanity (Rom 3:23–27).
  2. Justification by faith is central to the honorific mission of God to bless all the peoples of the earth (Rom 3:29–30; Rom 4:16–18).
  3. Justification by faith relativizes the privileged status of “the circumcised”—the Jews (Rom 3:30).
  4. Justification by faith makes possible the elevated honor status of Gentiles by being included in the people of God (Rom 3:30; cf: Eph 2:19).
  5. Justification by faith makes possible the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham—to bless all the peoples of the earth, thus preserving God’s honor and glorious reputation (Gen 12:1–3; John 12:27–28; Rom 4:16).
  6. Justification by faith entitles the sinner to the royal honorific blessing—like King David himself—of having sins and iniquities forgiven (Rom 4:1–8).
  7. Justification by faith places the believer into the honorific family lineage of ancient Abraham, our “father” in the faith—with whom we are co-heirs (Rom 4:9-25, Gal 3:1–29).
  8. Justification by faith glorifies God (Rom 4:20), while exposing all human honor claims as false glory.
  9. Justification by faith places us into the honorific status of peace with God, thus honorific access to God—through the reconciling work of the regal Lord, the Messiah-King, our Savior Jesus (Rom 5:1–2).
  10. Justification by faith gives believers a new source of honor in Christ, and therefore a new present and future glory—for the honorific practice of “boasting” in God (Rom 5:1–11, esp. v. 2, 3, 11).
  11. Justification by faith is the way that grace reigns in eternal life over sin and death (Rom 5:12–21).
  12. Justification by faith is God’s way for believers to have their longing for honor and glory satisfied in Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 8:12–30)—–“provided we suffer with him” (Rom 8:17).

Justification by faith—indeed, it is a glorious and honorific doctrine.

I look forward to writing about justification by faith in the light of the Bible’s honor-shame dynamics. I anticipate learning much. May healthy conversations arise from our exploration.


1. Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (p. 722). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

2. Ibid., p. 723.

3. Vanhoozer, Kevin J.. Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Kindle Locations 2145–2153). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. For the phrase, “the article by which the church stands or falls”, Vanhoozer cites Johann Heinrich Alsted’s Theologia scholastica didacta (Hanover, 1618). Vanhoozer also cites Philip Schaaf’s Principle of Protestantism, 80.

Is the Honor-Shame Conference about evangelism and discipleship in America?

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Yesterday I received an interesting email from a missiologist/author/trainer. His question was about the Honor-Shame Conference, June 19–21, 2017 at Wheaton. He asked:

“… what percentage of the June conference will deal with the application of honor-shame thinking to evangelism and discipleship in America, and which presenters will be hitting it?”

As Coordinator of the Honor-Shame Conference, here (below) is how I responded to his question; the text has been edited for clarity in this blog post.


Overall, I think about 50% of the conference—and maybe more—is applicable to “evangelism and discipleship in America”. Of course this also depends on your context in America. There are so many different cultural contexts, so to generalize about “evangelism and discipleship in America” is fraught with the risk of over-generalizing and subjectivity. Having said that …

First of all, there is the hermeneutical grounding of honor-shame. The honor-shame paradigm is first of all about hermeneutics (Scripture interpretation)—and second of all about anthropology (better understanding of ourselves and other peoples).

We believe that through honor-shame, we are getting closer to the way the original authors and hearers of Scripture understood the Word of God. So this is first of all about good interpretation of Scripture; you might even say we are grounded in the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura. It is secondly about better contextualization.

The double-benefit of honor-shame

This points to a double benefit—better hermeneutics and better understanding of non-Western peoples. The double-benefit is inherent in the principle, “The gospel is already contextualized for honor-shame cultures”, quoting Jackson Wu. But even in saying this, I grimace a little, because it is not merely non-Western peoples who will better grasp the gospel through honor-shame; I so firmly believe that Western peoples also really benefit from a gospel that is infused by the Bible’s own honor-shame dynamics. We could discuss sometime the range of books that point to this reality.

So concerning the hermeneutical priority, let’s consider first the plenary sessions. In my opinion, about 80% of the content in the plenary sessions is about hermeneutics enhanced by honor-shame—how this is part of theology, how it relates to the gospel and to church life in America. (Click here to see the six plenary sessions in the Honor-Shame Conference.) If you look at these plenary sessions in totality—in my opinion—you are seeing an overall emphasis on the role of honor-shame in theology, Scripture interpretation, and the gospel. Also, in the list of workshops, one of the workshops seems to focus exclusively on hermeneutics—Dr. E. Randolph Richards: “Honor-Shame in the Gospel of John”.

Now let’s get beyond hermeneutics to whether the presentations address an “American” or Western audience:

Here are the workshops which I think which will relate specifically to an “American” or Western audience:

  • DJ Chuang: “Towards Erasing the Shame of Mental Illness”
  • Steve Hong: “Unlocking Evangelism in our Cities with an Honor-Shame Framework”
  • Jeff Jackson: “Honor-Shame as a Crucial Component of a Local Church’s Ministry to Current or Former US military Members and Their Families”
  • Mako A. Nagasawa: “How to Bring About Personal Healing and Social Justice Using Medical Substitutionary Atonement”
  • Robert Walter: “Grace in the Face of God: ‘Seeking God’s Face’ in Prayer as Cleansing for Toxic Shame”

The next list of workshops, in my opinion, are mostly rooted in cross-cultural ministry in overseas, non-Western communities. But I believe the relevance of these workshops is significant for many Americans and Westerners. There is cross-over impact here:

  • Sam Heldenbrand: “Honor, Shame, and the Gospel: Reframing the Messenger”
  • Dr. Katie J. Rawson: “A Gospel that Reconciles: Teaching About Honor-Shame to Advance Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation”
  • Randall Spacht, Lacides Hernandez, Juan Guillermo Cardona: “The 3D Gospel in Latin America”
  • Joyce Jow: “From Pollution to Purity: The Restoration of the Hemorrhaging Woman”
  • Dr. Steve Tracy: “Abuse and Shame: How the Cross Transforms Shame”

Because of the fact that there are so many non-Western peoples in the USA, there is a need for preaching, evangelism, and discipleship that is conducted without a Western theological bias (see this post about theological bias and contextualization). This makes all of the workshops relevant, because we have so many Asians, so many Latin Americans, so many peoples from Africa and the Middle East living among us.

I also suggest you read the 14-page Workshop Descriptions document to get a fuller understanding of the 28 workshops offered at the Honor-Shame Conference.


Conclusion

How do I summarize the points in my email to my friend the missiologist?

  1. America is increasingly a land of diverse peoples and cultures—and this represents a major Great Commission opportunity for the church. Understanding the double benefit of honor-shame—1) better Scripture interpretation, and 2) better contextualization of the gospel for people in honor-shame cultures—may represent a strategic advance for the Church. This is valuable for all Americans—whether their background is Christian, nonreligious, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or other.
  2. Come to the Honor-Shame Conference, June 19–21, 2017 at Wheaton!

The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet in Japanese—FREE copies available

Good news—200 copies of the Japanese version of The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet are available for free.

This is the booklet based on the Prodigal Son story (Luke 15:11–32) which allows you to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Bible’s own “language of honor and shame”.

Click here to visit The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet website page, to learn more about this resource. Note: you won’t see anything here about the Japanese version. But you will see all the pages, the drawings, the questions designed for interaction—and how we make a bridge to the atonement of Christ.

  • 20 pages, 4.125 x 3.5 inches, fits into a shirt pocket
  • Designed for interaction and easy conversation
  • Lovingly designed for people whose pivotal cultural value is honor and shame—to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ

My friends at First Baptist Church, Hendersonville have been involved in blessing many Japanese in Middle Tennessee. They took the English version of The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet … had the translation work done … had the new page-layout work completed in Adobe InDesign … and got it printed. From their print run, an extra 200 copies were left over—and these were recently given to Mission ONE. Many thanks to Mike McClanahan and the missions department at FBC Hendersonville!

So for the cost of shipping, you can get these 200 gospel booklets for no additional cost. Interested? Write to me at werner@mission1.org.

Available now—200 copies of The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet in Japanese.

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 HonorShame.com. 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”.

Christmas is good news about a King and His Kingdom

christmas-king-and-gospel-of-the-kingdom

“And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’”
–Luke 1:30–33 ESV

We are joining Christians all over the world in celebrating the miracle of the birth of King Jesus.

Christmas is a time to wonder. It was a divine miracle that Mary, the Jewish teenage virgin, conceived a baby boy who the angel said “will be called the Son of the Most High”. The little baby Jesus is none other than the King and Savior of the world. How can it be?!

Christmas is a time to celebrate. It is the fulfillment of Israel’s ancient story and the prophesy given to Israel’s King David (2 Sam. 7:16–17). This “Son” will reign forever, “and of his kingdom there will be no end”. All other kingdoms and earthly powers are under the ultimate rule of God. Therefore, no matter the social, political, or economic circumstances, by faith we as believers celebrate that our eternal honor and salvation is secure in King Jesus and his kingdom. Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Christmas is a time to worship. Jesus embodies beautiful humility—and regal eternal power. He is exactly the kind of Savior we need. He is the One we can relate to because of his humanity and vulnerability. He is also the One we worship—He is our Creator King and Savior—absolutely worthy of our loyalty. O come, let us adore him!

Christmas is a time for mission. As followers of Jesus, we serve in many ways with our various gifts and talents to extend the “gospel of the kingdom” to all the peoples of the earth. In fact, preaching “the gospel of the kingdom” is essential to fulfilling God’s global purpose (Matt 24:14). We want to be part of this unfolding drama—this great mission—of sharing the good news that Jesus is the King who fulfills the Bible’s ancient regal story! He is our Savior! He is the Lord!


NOTE: If you want to look up verses about the “gospel of the kingdom”, you can start here: Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 16:16; Acts 8:12; 28:31.

Will you join us for the inaugural Honor-Shame Conference?

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Registration is open!

You can now register for “Honor, Shame, & the Gospel“—the Honor-Shame Network Conference at Wheaton College, June 2017! The price of $309 is all-inclusive—the conference, lodging, meals and snacks. Register soon because the price increases every 50 registrants!

Workshops

We recently finalized the conference workshops. Along with 6 plenary sessions (David deSilva, Jayson Georges, Bobby Gupta, Jackson Wu, Steven Hawthorne, and Brent Sandy) there will be over 20 outstanding workshops from professors and practitioners from around the world! (Note: workshop list below is subject to change.)

  1. DJ Chuang: “Towards Erasing the Shame of Mental Illness”
  2. Rico Cortez: “The Function of the Day of Atonement in the Letter to the Hebrews”
  3. Sam Heldenbrand: “Honor, Shame, and the Gospel: Reframing the Messenger”
  4. Steve Hong: “Unlocking Evangelism in our Cities with an Honor-Shame Framework”
  5. Jeff Jackson: “Honor-Shame as a Crucial Component of a Local Church’s Ministry to Current or Former US military Members and their Families”
  6. Joyce Jow: “From Purity to Pollution: The Restoration of the Hemorrhaging Woman”
  7. Dr. Mark Kreitzer: “The Underlying Nakedness-Shame Motif in Scripture: Implications for Cross-Cultural Proclamation of the Gospel”
  8. Arley Loewen: ““Must Honor Clash With Humility?”
  9. Werner Mischke: “The Gospel of the Kingdom for a World of Violence”
  10. Martin Munyao, David Tarus: “Tribalism and Identity: Tracing ‘From Shame to Honor’ Theme in Africa’s Identity Theology to Reframe the Gospel for Kenya”
  11. Dr. Larry Persons: “Clothing the Gospel in the Language of ‘Face’”
  12. Dr. Wilson Phang: “The Other 2/3rds of the Gospel: Good News for All People”
  13. Dr. Katie Rawson: “A Gospel that Reconciles: Teaching About Honor-Shame to Advance Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation”
  14. Dr. E. Randolph Richards: “Honor-Shame in the Gospel of John”
  15. Nolan Sharp: “Samuel as a Narrative Resource for National Reconciliation in Honor-Shame Cultures”
  16. Dr. Sheryl Takagi Silzer: “How the Honor-Shame Dynamic Works in East Asian Cultures”
  17. Randall Spacht, Lacides Hernandez; Juan Guillermo Cardona: “The 3D Gospel in Latin America”
  18. Randall Spacht, Lacides Hernandez; Juan Guillermo Cardona: “Honoring Students of Honor-Shame Workshops through Empowerment”
  19. Dr. Tom Steffen: “A Clothesline Theology for the World: How A Value Driven Metanarrative of Scripture Can Frame the Gospel”
  20. Lynn Thigpen: “Redeeming the Poverty-Shame Limited Education Cycle through Gracing”
  21. Russell Thorp: “Filling Gaps in Ministry in Melanesia through Understanding Honor and Shame”
  22. Dr. Patty Toland: “Redeeming and Strengthening Honor and Shame Practices in Church Relationships”
  23. Dr. Steve Tracy: “Abuse and Shame: How the Cross Transforms Shame”
  24. Robert Walter: “Grace in the Face of God”
  25. Robert Walter: “Four Dynamics for a Harvest in Honor-Shame Societies”
  26. Jerry Wiles: “Honor, Shame and the Gospel in the Orality Movement”
  27. Dr. Dan Wu: “Wrestling with Honour: Clarifying What Honour Is through the Concept of the Public Court of Reputation”
  28. Richard Yaqoub: “The Good Shepherd and Arab Patronage: Using the Biblical Motif of God as Shepherd to Help Form a Christology in the Language of 21st Century Arab Patron-Client Relationships”

Please join us for the inaugural Honor-Shame Conference––a community to learn and work together for the sake of the gospel.