Spanish version of The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet now available

March 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment

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 “Amor Del Padre” — the Spanish edition of The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet is now available. You can explore the pages of this resource at the Spanish page on the website for The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet. You may also click here to purchase.

Debi Clifton

I want to recognize Debi Clifton, Director of Global Outreach at Grace Community Church in Tempe, Arizona … Debi was responsible for the fine Spanish translation of The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet. I am grateful for her vital role in this project.
Debi has been a great encouragement to me in my journey of learning and sharing about the pivotal cultural value of honor and shame. Thank you, Debi!
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Spanish version of “The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet” coming soon

February 13, 2013 § Leave a Comment

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The Spanish version of The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet has gone to print. They will be available for sale in early March.

Many people believe that the Latin American culture has honor and shame as a primary value. Any yet, most Latin American Christians are not familiar with how to share the Gospel of Christ in “the language of honor and shame”. Learn more about this resource at the website for The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet.

 

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New free resource: Quick reference guide—how to read the Bible in the language of honor and shame

January 26, 2013 § 2 Comments

Read Bible honor and shame graphic

This free resource is a quick-guide to reading the Bible in the language of honor and shame. Developed by Werner Mischke, Director of Training Ministries, Mission ONE.

As part of the seminar I am leading tomorrow, I am making available this free resource. It’s an 8.5 x 11-inch document in black and white that can be easily reproduced and shared. This little resource is a reflection of what I have learned about the pivotal cultural value of honor and shame in the Bible. It also reflects what I do when I read the Bible to reveal the honor/shame dynamics present in the text.

The resource features:

  • Primary honor/shame dynamics in the Bible
  • How to read the Bible through the lens of honor and shame
  • Recognizing the broad spectrum of words related to honor and shame
  • Basic cross-cultural ministry skills related to honor and shame

Benefits:

  • Easily reproducible, print it out in black and white
  • Graphically rich, easy to read
  • Easy to share—cut it in half and give one to a friend, or send it as an email attachment
  • Convenient size, fits in your average-size Bible for quick reference

Download here.

The “honor-status reversal” motif in Scripture, part 1

January 18, 2013 § 2 Comments

Honor-status reversal is a major motif in the Bible

Honor-status reversal is a major motif in the Bible

According to the dictionary on my computer, a motif is “a distinctive feature or dominant idea in an artistic or literary composition.” I contend in this post that “honor-status reversal” is a major motif in Scripture.

One classic example in Scripture of honor-status reversal is found in the Apostle Paul’s description of our Lord Jesus Christ in Philippians 2:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11 ESV)

Jesus Christ was with the Father in the honor and glory of heaven in eternity past. His honor status was infinitely high. Christ was in His “pre-incarnate glory.”

But Jesus willingly allowed for his honor status to be reversed. He “emptied himself” … descending through the Incarnation … born fully human to the virgin Mary … “taking the form of a servant”.

He humbled himself further by dying, “even death on a cross”—the most shameful and ignominious destiny a man could endure. This was his humiliation.

But his destiny on earth was not the end of the story. The pre-incarnate glory and honor he once had in heaven, then willingly lost, was to be regained and then magnified as he rose from the dead and sat down at the right hand of the Father. Again, this is an example of honor-status reversal—also known as Christ’s exaltation.

It bears repeating:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:9–11 ESV)

The significance of these verses cannot be overstated. As Christians, we believe that the incarnation of Jesus Christ is the crux of human history. That it constitutes the most dramatic account of honor-status reversal has wonderful implications for cross-cultural Christian ministry.

Here’s another example of honor-status reversal from the words of Jesus:

“Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” (Luke 9:48 ESV)

Karl Reich, author of Figuring Jesus: The Power of Rhetorical Figures of Speech in the Gospel of Luke, explains honor-status reversal this way:

The very words “least” and “greatest” would automatically call up the thought of the Greco-Roman honor-shame system which was ultimately concerned with greatness. Malina and Rohr argue that this verse cuts at the very heart of of the honor-shame system. They write, “A squabble over honor status would be typical within any ancient Mediterranean grouping … Jesus’ reversal of the expected order challenges the usual assumptions about what is honorable in a very fundamental way.”

Referring to this verse, “And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Luke 13:30 ESV), the author continues:

… The pithy comment stays with the audience because of its compact and forceful nature and its enigmatic message. The transformation of polar opposites into their antithesis is unthinkable. The saying of the Lukan Jesus undermines the honor-shame system by proclaiming a reversal of roles.”

The dynamic of honor-status reversal occurs in Paul’s description of the incarnation in his letter to the Philippians. We have seen it briefly in the teachings of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. But it must be noted that honor-status reversal is present throughout Scripture. Otherwise it cannot be considered a motif. Consider:

  • Adam and Even were “sent out from the Garden of Eden”—they left the glory and honor of perfect fellowship with God and were shamed by their rebellion to live apart from the honorable presence with God. The honor of their fellowship with God was reversed to a permanent condition of guilt, fear and shame.
  • The story of Abraham is a story of a wealthy man who is called by God to leave the very source of honor—his father, his kinship, his homeland: “…Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen 12:1). But consider the immense honor he is promised by God: And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 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.” (Genesis 12:2-3 ESV). It is an honor-status reversal which is foundational to the revelation of Scripture—and the global purpose of God. See more on this at my blog post here.
  • The story of Joseph takes up a large portion of Scripture—Genesis 37–50—fully 14 chapters. Joseph was the favorite, most honored son of Jacob, and was sold into slavery, from which he rose to become the prime minister of Egypt. It’s a classic story of honor-status reversal.
  • The story of Moses in Exodus is also an account of honor-status reversal. A baby born into the oppressed minority society of the Hebrews is found by Pharaoh’s daughter—and then raised to eventually lead the Hebrews out of Egypt to the Promised Land.
  • The stories of Saul and David remind us that, on the one hand, a man of human-derived honor, stature and might like King Saul can be judged by God and lose his honor status—while on the other hand, God takes a lowly shepherd boy who had faith in the living God and raises him to become a mighty king whose honor in the eyes of the people greatly exceeded that of the prior king.
  • The story of Esther is another classic. A beautiful woman (Esther) from the minority culture of the Jews ends up rising in honor as she is chosen to be the wife of the king of Persia. When a plot to kill the Jews is hatched by the evil Haman, Esther’s uncle Mordecai asks Esther to courageously intervene with the king on behalf of her people, the Jews . The ESV Study Bible says, “The reader is clearly meant to laugh at the way [Haman’s] vanity traps him into having to publicly honor the very man he intended to kill (6:6–11), and his death on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai (7:8–10) is a classic case of a villain falling into his own pit.” We see here again—multiple examples of honor-status reversal!
  • The Beatitudes begin with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3 ESV). It worth rereading these verses. In every verse in this most beautiful series, Jesus is teaching that in his kingdom, there is a new way of living. This new way of living is not a dismissal of the need for honor—or a total rejection of the dynamics of honor and shame which permeated Greco-Roman culture. It is, rather, a proclamation that a new honor, a higher and permanent honor is now available to all as they live in God’s kingdom in loving submission to the most honorable King of Kings.
  • The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32) is considered by many as the most famous story ever told by the master story teller, Jesus. The younger of two sons has turned away from his family and his father. He ends up in the most degrading and shameful condition conceivable. He comes to his senses, decides to return home to his father. Rather than being rejected and scorned, the father greets him with kisses and weeping. He gives the lost son his prized robe. He provides sandals for his feet and gives him a ring for his finger, signifying the honor and authority of the family. Then the father calls for a huge village celebration to welcome home the lost son. (See more about this story at The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet.) Is there a more powerful example of honor-status reversal in Scripture?
  • In Revelation, the judgement of God constitues an honor-status reversal for the great and mighty city of Babylon. “And he called out with a mighty voice, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast” (Revelation 18:2). Numerous other examples of honor-status reversal also appear in Revelation. The Lamb that was slain is revealed as the conquering Lion of Judah (5:5–6) … the saints who were martyred are honorably clothed in white (6:11) … the once glorious, evil serpent, the devil, in finally conquered (20:1–10) … even the once-inglorious unredeemed peoples of the earth—represented by their kings—bring their glory into the new city (21:22–26). Again and again, we see honor-status reversal.

Have I made the case that honor-status reversal is a motif in the Bible? Even though I have not mentioned the many examples of honor-status reversal in the Psalms, the Gospels and the various New Testament epistles,  I hope you agree that it is plain from the examples noted above.

What is perhaps less plain and more difficult for many Christians to embrace, is that honor-status reversal is for believers, too. As followers of Christ and members of his body, the church, Scripture teaches that we are called to identify with our Lord to such an extent that our relationship with him leads to a magnificent increase in our own honor status.

This has a few key application points which I’ll be exploring in future posts:

  1. The increase in honor status for believers is embedded exclusively and totally in relation to Jesus Christ.
  2. When believers understand and experience an increase to their honor status through Christ, it enables them to resist the shaming techniques of people who are trying to coerce them to leave the faith.
  3. The increase in honor status for believers exists both in community (the church)—and in one’s individual relationship with Christ.
  4. The increase in honor status for believers is a strong catalyst for setting people free from the struggles of sin and shame.
  5. Understanding the dynamics of honor and shame and honor-status reversal can be a key for more effective cross-cultural ministry.
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Free presentation on honor and shame (and other resources)

July 11, 2012 § Leave a Comment

“Big Shame or Big Honor? Exploring the Dynamics of Honor and Shame in Cross-Cultural Partnership” — digital slide presentation

Note: Since this was first posted, a fuller list of resources is available on the HONOR-SHAME RESOURCES page for this blog. Click here.

This digital slide presentation is now available for viewing and free downloads. The corresponding video of the full presentation is available here. Presented at the 2012 COSIM conference, this teaching:

  1. Examines the key dynamics of 
honor and shame from a 
social-science perspective—
with examples from Scripture.
  2. Explores honor and shame 
as the pivotal cultural value of the Bible, and of most of the Majority World / 
unreached peoples.
  3. Examines applications 
to cross-cultural ministries 
and partnerships through understanding the dynamics of honor and shame.

You can use this slide presentation to:

  • Learn about the pivotal cultural value of honor and shame—both in the Bible and in many Majority World cultures.
  • Present the material yourself to your own friends and colleagues engaged in cross-cultural relationship-building.
  • Begin a conversation to explore the implications of honor and shame in your own cross-cultural relationships and partnerships.

Other resources on honor and shame:

  • Free 30-page article: Honor & Shame in Cross-Cultural Relationships: Understanding Five Basic Culture Scales Through the Cultural Lens of Honor and Shame—with Application to Cross-Cultural Relationships and Partnerships
  • 4lessons honor and shameFour 10-minute lessons on honor and shame. Click here to learn more. Here are four short lessons—10 to 15 minutes each—to introduce to you some of the
    principles of the pivotal cultural value of honor and shame in the Bible—and how it relates to building relationships—with God and across cultures.
  • Skit about honor and shame in refugee ministry. Give this to your friends who are dramatically inclined. And let them introduce the subject of honor and shame in building cross-cultural relationships—especially with refugees. Two skits compare relational skills. Funny and warm. Click here to download.
  • Gospel tract: Present the life-transforming message of Jesus Christ in the language of honor and shame—through the story of The Prodigal Son. Here is a gospel tract in development which may radically change how you share the gospel. Check it out here.

Three reasons to read the Bible through the “lens of honor and shame”

June 22, 2012 § 2 Comments

#1: When we understand that the ancient world of the Bible is characterized by the pivotal cultural value of honor and shame—we can better understand God’s Word. 

  • The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC) said: “Now the greatest external good we should assume to be the thing which we offer as a tribute to the gods and which is most coveted by men of high station, and is the prize awarded for the noblest deeds; and such a thing is honour, for honour is clearly the greatest of external goods … it is honour above all else that great men claim and deserve.” [1]
  • “Athenians excel all others not so much in singing or in stature or in strength, as in love of honour” –Xenophon [2] (c. 430–354 BC)
  • “For the glory that the Romans burned to possess, be it known, is the favourable judgment of men who think well of other men.” [3]–Augustine of Hippo (354–430)
  • “The ancients name love of honor and praise as their premier value.” –Jerome Neyrey[4]

So to be a faithful interpreter of the ancient texts of the Holy Bible, we benefit from being familiar with the cultural values of the world in which the Bible authors wrote—namely, the pivotal cultural value of honor and shame.

#2: As we read the Bible through the lens of honor and shame, we’ll see more readily that, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is not only remedying the guilt of persons—God is also covering the shame and restoring the honor of persons.

Notice these verses which address the covering of shame and restoration and even the elevation of honor of those wo follow Christ:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name,he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. –John 1:12–13 ESV

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? –John 5:44

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, –John 17:20-22 ESV

 …if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.  –Romans 10:9–11 ESV

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.  –2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 ESV

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. –2 Thessalonians 2:13–14 ESV

For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. –1 Peter 2:6-8 ESV

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. –Colossians 1:27 ESV

#3: As we read the Bible through the lens of honor and shame, we recognize that these same cultural values are vitally important to many Majority World peoples today. This helps people from the West and Majority World understand each other better—and build meaningful friendships more easily.

  • We (Westerners) become aware of the powerful motivation of “saving face”—protecting oneself (and the other person!) from embarrassment. We learn the art and the value of indirect communication.
  • We recognize that job title, age, and “position of authority” is just as significant as effectiveness or job performance.
  • We learn that kinship and family “name” can be much more important than it is to people living in highly individualistic societies. We learn to honor the family more deeply.
  • We develop the ability to value relationships as much as tasks, and that just being together is honoring of the people with whom we gather, and is as valuable as any accomplishment.
  • We learn to put team or group ahead of the individual—requiring us to submit our own desires to those of the community. This can encourage us to be more patient. When everything inside says, Stand up and speak and make your ideas known!—we instead exercise patience and calmness in honor of the larger group.

Since early 2009, I’ve been reading my Bible through the lens of honor and shame. I say this plainly:

As I journey in life as a follower of Christ—I have gained a better sense of my own honor before God as my Father, and have become more comfortable in relating to people from non-Western cultures. A big reason why is that I’ve been reading the Bible through the lens of honor and shame.

[1] See Jerome H. Neyrey: Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew (Louisville: Westminster Press, 1998) p.5
[2] ibid, p. 17
[3] ibid, p. 17
[4] ibid, p. 17

Seven bestowals of honor—when God called Abraham

June 15, 2012 § 1 Comment

Seven bestowals of honor

The Call of Abraham is found in Genesis 12:1–3. If we understand that blessing is an important way of bestowing honor in an honor-shame culture, then I contend that inside of this Call are seven bestowals of honor promised by God to Abraham.

First, let’s look at the verses:

1  Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

2  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

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.”

What Abram did in response to God’s call was a tremendous risk, and constituted a huge counter-cultural act of boldness. Why? Because it violated the traditional way that men accrued and preserved their honor: kinship, land, and livestock. Despite this great risk, consider these seven honor-laden rewards that Abram (who became “Abraham”) would receive by believing God’s promise and acting in obedience:

  1. “to the land that I will show you”—God was promising Abraham that, although he was to leave the honor of his father’s land, Abraham would gain the honor of another land. This was made plain in later revelations from God that this “promised land” was to be the land of Canaan (Gen. 15:18–21, Gen. 17:8).
  2. “I will make of you a great nation”—this was God’s promise that, although Abraham had no son, had no heir, and therefore had none of the highly-prized honor that comes by having a son to carry on his name—Abraham would nevertheless, according to God’s promise, be the father of a great nation. Further promises from God revealed that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of heaven (Gen. 15:5). God also said, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you” (Gen. 17:6). God’s promise to honor Abraham in this way is of inestimable value.
  3. “I will bless you”—this is God’s bestowal of divine favor on the man Abraham. In the economy of honor and shame, to be blessed by God Almighty (Gen. 17:1) constituted an enormous accrual of ascribed honor.
  4. “I will make your name great”—this was God’s promise that Abraham would gain a public reputation of great honor. Abraham would become a man of renown and glory in the “public square.”
  5. “so that you will be a blessing”—this is God’s promise that Abraham would become a benefactor. A man can only be a benefactor of blessing if he himself is a man of means; he must first himself be a person of wealth and honor if he is to be a means of blessing to others. God’s promise that Abram would “be a blessing” is another promise of honor.
  6. “I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonors you I will curse”—this is God’s promise to pay close attention to the social, public dimension of Abraham’s relations. As blessing is to honor, so also is cursing to dishonor; this is a vivid acknowledgment by God of the public nature of honor and shame. God is guaranteeing that He will not allow Abraham to be shamed by his enemies. Again, this is an extremely valuable bestowal of honor from God to Abram.
  7. “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”—this is God’s way of explaining the extent of the honor which is to accrue to Abram’s account. God promises that Abram’s honor will not be limited to his own family, local community or region. God promises that Abraham will ultimately have the weighty influence that extends to all the families of the earth—a global significance, global renown.

Again, from the cultural perspective of honor and shame, God told Abram to abandon the traditional source of honor (in that culture it was a truly unthinkable act; this was a huge risk) … in exchange for the honor that God himself was able to give.

God is establishing a prototype in Abraham. He is demonstrating that people who follow God exchange their traditional source of honor for honor that comes from one eternal source—God himself. This honor cannot be revoked or lost; the honor is embedded in God Himself, and revealed in His blessings.

Consider the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22—in which Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son. This represents the climax of a lifestyle of risk which Abraham lives out by faith in covenantal relationship with God—and which, in the end, is commensurate with the immense honor, inexpressible in value, granted him by God.

Would Abraham have taken such enormous risks had it not been for the utterly astounding set of promises made by God that Abraham would gain immeasurable honor from both God Himself and from the nations?

“Top-line, bottom-line” or “Glorious honor from top to bottom”?

The Call of Abraham in Genesis 12:1–3 is sometimes seen through the lens known as “top-line, bottom-line.” Proponents of this “top-line, bottom-line” view say that God gives to us his blessings (top-line); therefore, believers have an obligation, a responsibility, a duty—to share those blessings with the nations (bottom-line). We are blessed to be a blessing, as the popular missions song goes.

While the Call of Abraham covenant may be seen in this light (for, indeed, we do have an awesome responsibility!) I wonder whether this may be primarily a Western cultural reading of the passage. Could it be that the seven-fold bestowal of honor to Abraham suggests that there is no “top-line, bottom line” separation in the way that Abraham would have received and understood the promise? Could it be that every aspect of the covenant, including the responsibility to bless others—was an expression of great honor bestowed by God upon Abraham, and therefore an enormous, glorious delight?

I contend that from top to bottom, from beginning to end of the passage of Genesis 12:1–3, for Abraham to be included in God’s global purpose was an astounding honor. God’s promise/command that Abram would “be a blessing” is not just a delegation of duty; it is another facet of the magnificent diamond of honor by which Abraham would himself (through his descendants) become a most-honored benefactor to the nations. This is an extension of the divine patronage that originates in Almighty God himself—the ultimate Patron—for whose glory the universe was made.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29 ESV). We are Abraham’s offspring as followers of Christ! It follows that, in the spirit of God’s promise to Abraham, we as Great Commission Christians should embrace the sacrificial responsibility—as well as the eternal magnificent honor—of declaring his glory to the nations.

An important text from Timothy Tennent on honor and shame, courtesy of Google Books

June 10, 2012 § Leave a Comment

According to Timothy Tennent, “the term guilt and its various derivatives occur 145 times in the Old Testament and 10 times in the New Testament, whereas the term shame and its derivatives occur nearly 300 times in the Old Testament and 45 times in the New Testament.”

Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is … – Timothy C. Tennent – Google Books.

At the link above you can read a significant portion of a chapter from Timothy Tennent’s very impressive book; the chapter addresses the contrast between “Guilt/Innocence and Shame/Honor in Global Cultures.”

I believe the Christian Church in every culture and society has its blinds spots relative to some aspect of Christian truth and a biblical worldview. In the Western Church, is there a blind spot about the pivotal cultural value of honor and shame? The following quote from Tennent points to that being the case:

Since Western systematic theology has been almost exclusively written by theologians from cultures framed primarily by the values of guilt and innocence, there has been a corresponding failure to fully appreciate the importance of the pivotal values of honor and shame in understanding Scripture and the doctrine of sin. …

Bruce Nichols, the founder of the “Evangelical Review of Theology,” has acknowledged this problem, noting that Christian theologians have “rarely if ever stressed salvation as honoring God, exposure of sin as shame, and the need for acceptance as the restoration of honor.” In fact, a survey of all of the leading textbooks used in teaching systematic theology across the major theological traditions reveals that although the indexes are filled with references to guilt, the word “shame” appears in the index of only one of these textbooks. This omission continues to persist despite the fact that the term guilt and its various derivatives occur 145 times in the Old Testament and 10 times in the New Testament, whereas the term shame and its derivatives occur nearly 300 times in the Old Testament and 45 times in the New Testament.

This is clearly an area where systematic theology must be challenged to reflect more adequately the testimony of Scripture. I am confident that a more biblical understanding of human identity outside of Christ that is framed by guilt, fear, and shame will, in turn, stimulate a more profound and comprehensive appreciation for the work of Christ on the cross. This approach will also greatly help peoples in the Majority World to understand the significance and power of Christ’s work, which has heretofore been told primarily from only one perspective.

From Timothy C. Tennent: Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007) p. 92–93, (footnotes withheld)

We have a blind spot about “honor and shame”… here’s why

August 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment

honor and shame graphic

Timothy Tennent book

Timothy Tennent’s book—Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church is Influencing the Way We Think About and Discuss Theology—a valuable resource for Christians in cross-cultural ministry

Christians in America and the West have a hard time seeing the pivotal cultural value of honor and shame in Scripture. According to Timothy C. Tennent, there is a blind spot in our systematic theology textbooks:

Since Western systematic theology has been almost exclusively written by theologians from cultures framed primarily by the values of guilt and innocence, there has been a corresponding failure to fully appreciate the importance of the pivotal values of honor and shame in understanding Scripture and the doctrine of sin. Even with the publication of important works such as Biblical Social Values and Their Meaning and The New Testament World, systematic theologians have remained largely unchanged by this research.

Bruce Nichols, the founder of the Evangelical Review of Theology, has acknowledged this problem, noting that Christian theologians have “rarely if ever stressed salvation as honoring God, exposure of sin as shame, and the need for acceptance as the restoration of honor.” In fact, a survey of all of the leading textbooks used in teaching systematic theology across the major theological traditions reveals that although the indexes are filled with references to guilt, the word “shame” appears in the index of only one of these textbooks. This omission continues to persist despite the fact that the term guilt and its various derivatives occur 145 times in the Old Testament and 10 times in the New Testament, whereas the term shame and its derivatives occur nearly 300 times in the Old Testament and 45 times in the New Testament.

This is clearly an area where systematic theology must be challenged to reflect more adequately the testimony of Scripture. I am confident that a more biblical understanding of human identity outside of Christ that is framed by guilt, fear, and shame will, in turn, stimulate a more profound and comprehensive appreciation for the work of Christ on the cross. This approach will also greatly help peoples in the Majority World to understand the significance and power of Christ’s work, which has heretofore been told primarily from only one perspective.[1]

“This omission continues to persist …” Yes, that means there’s a blind spot.

The result? Seminaries in the West teach the Bible with an “honor and shame blind spot.” Pastors-to-be and leaders attending those seminaries acquire the blind spot. In turn, the blind spot has filtered into the common language and understanding of Christians everywhere in the West. Some of them, in turn, export the “honor and shame blind spot” around the world. Systematic theology textbooks from the West are used in seminaries all over the world … and the “honor and shame blind spot” is perpetuated.

Interestingly, the pivotal cultural value of honor and shame—as found in that Eastern book called the Bible—is also prominent in non-Western nations today. In the Majority World—consisting of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East—honor and shame is still a pivotal cultural value.

This has major ramifications for cross-cultural ministry efforts … for how we share the gospel of Jesus Christ … the kind of language we use … the degree to which our words touch each others’ hearts … for the depth of friendship between people in the West and people in the Majority World.

Honor and shame in cross-cultural relationshipsMy free 30-page article, “Honor and Shame in Cross-Cultural Relationships,” helps address this need. It is an introduction to the subject of honor and shame. The article helps you understand five basic culture scales through the cultural lens of honor and shame, gives examples from the Bible, and offers practical suggestions to Western believers so they can better understand their friends in the Majority World—for healthier cross-cultural relationships and partnerships. It is available by clicking here.

1. From Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007) p. 92–93, (footnotes withheld).

Concerning Ephesians 1:1: — an overview

December 8, 2010 § Leave a Comment

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
–Ephesians 1:1 ESV

This is the letter of a most honorable man, Paul the sent one, the apostle—representing the most honorable Person in the universe, Christ Jesus.

The letter is to “saints”—holy ones—believers living in a city called Ephesus in which was contained one of the wonders of the world—the temple of Artemis. It was a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city, one of significantly greater honor than other cities or smaller towns. The ESV Study Bible states:

An important port city on the west coast of Asia, Ephesus boasted the temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world). Just a few decades before Paul, Strabo called Ephesus the greatest emporium in the province of Asia Minor (Geography 12.8.15; cf. 14.1.20–26). However, the silting up of the harbor and the ravages of earthquakes caused the abandonment of the harbor city several centuries later. Today, among the vast archaeological remains, some key structures date from the actual time of the NT.

The grandiose theater, where citizens chanted “great is Artemis of the Ephesians” (Acts 19:29–40), had been enlarged under Claudius near the time when Paul was in the city. It held an estimated 20,000 or more spectators. The theater looked west toward the port. From the theater a processional way led north toward the temple of Artemis. In the fourth century b.c. the Ephesians proudly rebuilt this huge temple with their own funds after a fire, even refusing aid from Alexander the Great. The temple surroundings were deemed an official “refuge” for those fearing vengeance, and they played a central part in the economic prosperity of the city, even acting at times like a bank. A eunuch priest served the goddess Artemis, assisted by virgin women. Today very little remains of that once great temple beyond its foundations and a sizable altar, although the nearby museum displays two large statues of Artemis discovered elsewhere in Ephesus.

This is an epistle, a letter which from beginning to end—is reverberating with the values, both explicitly and implicitly—of honor and shame.

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