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”.

Book review: The 3D Gospel—Ministry in Fear, Shame, and Guilt Cultures


Let’s begin with an excerpt:

Western Christianity emphasizes the facet of biblical salvation most meaningful in its cultural context. Historically, two significant voices behind Western theology,
Augustine of Hippo (b. 354) and Martin Luther (b. 1483), were both plagued with an internal sense of God’s wrath toward their transgressions. So their writings explore how God forgives and acquits guilty sinners. While theology from Western contexts
addresses guilt and innocence, people in most Majority World cultures desire honor to cover shame and power to mitigate fear. … Despite the prominence of shame-honor and fear-power dynamics in global cultures, they remain conspicuous blind spots in most Christian theology. (p. 13–14)

These blind spots in Western theology are conspicuous, indeed. It is true not only with regard to global cultures, but also with regard to Scripture itself. This is where The 3D Gospel succeeds. In a brief volume (it’s also well-documented!), Georges exposes these blind spots and the reader becomes aware of how Scripture and the gospel address all three cultural paradigms—innocence/guilt, honor/shame, and power/fear.

Here’s what I like about The 3D Gospel, by Jayson Georges

1) The 3D Gospel is concise. It took me about two hours to read. It is simple but not simplistic; it‘s easy-to-read yet biblically rich and solid.

2) It explains culture differences simply. The explanations of various culture values—guilt/innocence, shame/honor, and fear/power—are clear and helpful.

3) It builds on the legal framework for the gospel. The book shows how the guilt/innocence (or legal) framework for the gospel is biblically true—but not the only gospel framework. The gospel is more multifaceted that we normally realize.

4) It’s well organized. The excellent comparisons charts and lists help clarify the way guilt/innocence, shame/honor, and fear/power presentations may be developed from the Bible—so that the gospel may better resonate with various cultures.

5) It magnifies the Word of God. The 3D Gospel makes the reader think, Wow, now I understand better how the Bible speaks so powerfully to all cultures!

The 3D Gospel offers material which every short-term mission trip goer, every long-term missionary, every Christian worker, will find immediately useful.

And in light of the rapidly increasing cultural diversity of our own cities and communities in North America, I also hope this book will be read by many, many pastors. The preaching of the gospel in North America would be greatly enriched if pastors would receive the insights of The 3D Gospel.

Another excerpt from The 3D Gospel

The 3D Gospel in Ephesians

Paul wrote the book of Ephesians to explain “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (3:8), which involves each of these three components of salvation (italics added below).

Guilt-Innocence—“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (1:7a). God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (2:5).

Shame-Honor—“In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (1:5). “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (2:19, cf. 2:12-13).

Fear-Power—“That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at this right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion” (1:19-21).
“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (6:10-11).[1]

The 3D Gospel has much value, because we Western evangelicals tend to have unnecessary rigidity in the way we understand and articulate the gospel. We often fail to realize that our own theological perspectives are not culturally neutral.

One minor critique

I deeply appreciate The 3D Gospel. I also have one critique: The author of The 3D Gospel does not reveal the overlap in Scripture between honor/shame and power/fear.

Consider the above-quoted passage, Ephesians 1:19–21. Georges rightly indicates that this verse addresses the concerns of power/fear cultures, categorizing this as a ‘power/fear verse’.

But he makes no mention of the fact that when Christ was raised from the dead and seated at God’s “right hand”, this is also an expression of honor/shame. The phrase “seated him at his right hand” is a striking example of the honor/shame dynamic of “body language”.[2]

When Apostle Paul wrote these verses in Ephesians he referred to Psalm 110:1—“The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” This is a reference to the power and the honor of the coming Messiah-King. Moreover, the phrase, “I make your enemies your footstool” is also an expression of the shaming of God’s enemies. This “footstool” idea is reflected in Ephesians 1:22, which contains the phrase, “he put all things under his feet” (cf. Ps 8:6). In the Ancient Near East and Roman Empire, honor and power were significantly synonymous.

I believe, therefore, that Ephesians 1:19–22 speaks just as much about the honor of the King, as it speaks of his power.

Of course, this kind of nuance requires more words. And the author intended The 3D Gospel to be an easy enriching read; in this regard, Georges succeeds admirably. So perhaps my critique is a bit unfair.

Like a diamond, The 3D Gospel is a treasure

Jayson Georges has made a valuable contribution to the discussion in the Christian world concerning the gospel. The 3D Gospel is an elegant introduction for those who want to understand basic cultural differences in our world while also exploring biblically faithful—and multifaceted—ways to understand and communicate the gospel.

We can and must build on the Western innocence/guilt framework of the gospel to include the Bible’s own emphasis on honor/shame and power/fear. Jayson Georges’ The 3D Gospel helps show the way.

Click here to learn how to get single copies or bulk orders of The 3D Gospel.

1.  Jayson Georges, The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures, 2014, p. 12.

2. For more on the honor/shame dynamic of “body language” and the extensive use of the honorific words “right hand” in the NT, see chapter 1.6 in The Global Gospel, pages 118–121.

Is the gospel more relevant than we ever imagined?

Wu One Gospel book coverBook review: One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach to Biblical Contextualization, by Jackson Wu

Early on in his book, Jackson Wu asks, “Are we biblically faithful if our gospel message is not culturally meaningful?” This sets the tone for the entire book in three ways.

Relentlessly pointing to Scripture

First, Wu constantly refers back to the Bible and the overall testimony of Scripture as the foundation for how we understand the gospel of Jesus Christ; this challenges common evangelical assumptions which reduce the gospel to a series of propositions.

Relatedly, Wu challenges the commonly understood idea that systematic theology is the apex of theology and Christian scholarship; he calls the reader to re-examine the primacy of “biblical theology” (and its more narrative emphasis) over and against systematic theology (and its more propositional emphasis). One result of this is that the gospel is understood more in the light of the Old Testament narrative, and as more than a series of propositions. He proves this from multiple Scripture passages which contain the words “gospel” / “good news”.

Proposing a process for contextualization

Second, Wu offers a practical alternative to contextualization by proposing a systematic process; this is enormously important. Wu shows that contextualization is not simply an add-on for cross-cultural workers. No, contextualization actually begins with interpretation. I believe Wu’s approach may represent a paradigm-shift for the way most Christians and pastors think about theology and the gospel. Wu demonstrates conclusively—the way we think and do theology is unwittingly influenced by our own cultural values. And the fact that this has largely gone unexamined in the world Christian movement implies an urgent need—both to be faithful to Scripture, and to share the gospel in a way that is truly relevant to the host culture.

Note: Regarding Wu’s proposed contextualization process, I agree with Wu that his approach is practical. This does not, however, make it easy, and he says as much. The book includes diagrams and charts which help to make this contextualization process clear. But I think this material is truly innovative, and thus, difficult to follow at times. I want to reread these chapters in order for this to better sink in. Wu suggests that the process be applied in a theological or missional cross-cultural community of believers. Sounds good. But let’s also realize how unusual and difficult this is. This is where the book seems to point the reader to a standard of theological or missiological practice which seems extremely difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, Wu points us in the right direction and for this he is to be commended.

Articulating the gospel for Chinese culture

Third, Wu demonstrates how to meaningfully articulate the gospel for the Chinese cultural context. He uses the honor/shame dynamics common to Scripture and East Asian societies. Wu lovingly and carefully shows how the gospel can beautifully relate to the Chinese context. What is the impact on the reader? I was left with a strange thought: Wu’s contextualization of the gospel for the Chinese culture is actually more closely aligned with the overall testimony of Scripture than any presentation of the gospel I have ever seen before. It is a strange thought, contrary to my Western Christian sensibilities. But it makes sense in light of the fact that the Bible is an Eastern book rooted in the honor/shame cultural values of the Ancient Near East.

Moreover, this gospel-for-the-Chinese context also carries with it additional gravitas for Christians everywhere. Why? Because about 80% of the world’s people are collectivistic (like the Chinese context) rather than individualistic (as in the Western context). Therefore, anyone doing ministry among the collectivistic peoples of the Majority World has much to gain from Wu’s perspective.

Humility and hope

I was left with two impressions—humility and hope. This book challenges many evangelical assumptions about doing theology, presenting the gospel, and preparing for cross-cultural ministry. It has the effect of humbling the reader. “God help us! We have so far to go!”

But I also felt a strong hope. How exciting it is to ponder the fact that the Bible’s own honor/shame dynamics are closely aligned with the world’s least-evangelized peoples and populations. This book puts fuel on the fire of the global church to continue her work of blessing the nations through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One Gospel for All Nations by Jackson Wu shows how the gospel we present can both be more faithful to Scripture and more relevant—perhaps more relevant than we ever imagined.