An Emergency Landing (a joke)

Here is a joke that’s been circulating on 微信 (WeChat). One of our Chinese friends sent it to us. I’ll first write the Chinese, then give a simple translation:

FLYING DOWN AIRPLANE SLIDE一架客机迫降海面上,空姐让乘客从滑梯下海,乘客不敢。于是空姐求助机长。 见多识广的机长说:

你要对美国人说这是冒险;
对英国人说这是荣誉 ;
对法国人说这很浪漫;
对德国人说这是规定;
对日本人说这是命令!

空姐为难地说:可他们都是中国人。
机长笑了[阴险]:那更容易啦,你告诉他们这是免费的!
 
An airplane needed to make a forced landing into the sea. The flight attendant wanted the passengers to slide down the emergency blow-up slide, but the passengers were unwilling. So, the flight attendant informed the captain who advised:

to Americans, you need to say that this is dangerous;
to people from England, you need to say this is a matter of pride;
to Germans, say that this is a rule;
to Japanese, tell them it’s a command!

The flight attendant, slightly embarrassed. said: But they are all Chinese people.
The captain smiled slyly: Then it’s even easier. Tell them that it’s free!

What’s the Difference Between “Contextualization” and . . . ?

I sometimes get asked to distinguish a few key missiological terms.

These words often appear in missiological and theological literature. Various books and articles go into more detail than I do in this post. Nevertheless, I hope this offers some clarification without getting too technical.

contextualization (meaning?) Continue reading

A story from a reader in Indonesia

p14556I’m always so thankful to hear stories from people as they discover ways that honor and shame impact their ministry. I recently received the following message from one reader who lives in Indonesia.

I had a fun “wow” moment this week that I wanted to share with you. I am an American recently moved to SE Asia. Today my language tutor (a believer) told me that there are two words in his language that mean “to forgive.”

One of them has the connotation of forgiving with all the consequences removed while the other does not. The second is used for example with your children, “I forgive you but you are still going to experiences the consequences for your choice.”

The first is used to describe God’s forgiveness. I mentioned that was really interesting to me because in a Western Christian culture, we rarely describe God’s forgiveness as removing all consequences unless we are talking about salvation specifically. For example, you fornicated, God forgave you, but you still have an STD as a consequence of your disobedience. He replied, “Well, you have to understand that when we say God forgives us and removes all consequences, it means he takes away all of our shame.”

I was quite floored by how even in the language structure itself there is an understanding that the consequences of sin is shame. Very foreign to me coming from a guilt/innocence angle of the Gospel, but I am learning….

The verbs are memaaf – to forgive, and mengampuni – to forgive with no lingering consequences if you want to look into them further.

I know others have had similar experiences. If you do, send them my way. I would love to hear them.

CRU uses honor-shame in “Jangled”

Campus Crusade (Cru) has released a short 6-minute film intended to be an evangelistic conversation starter. It’s called Jangled and it’s excellent.

Jangled imageClick on the picture on the link here to check it out.

They also have a few suggestion conversation questions. The questions only serve as a springboard. I look forward to hearing what you think.

(Thanks to HonorShame.com for the notification about Cru’s short film)

Why is Sin Considered a “Debt”?

Sin is debt. That’s how the Bible describes it. Why?

DEBT pictureI’ve given a lot of attention lately to the doctrine of the atonement. One key motif that arises again and again is debt. People are accustomed to using this kind of language, such as when someone says, “Jesus paid our debt.” In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray in this way,

“ . . . forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt 6:12–15)

It was in Saving God’s Face that I first suggested we owe God an honor debt. If a publisher is interested, I hope to publish something more comprehensive about the atonement. For now, in this post, I’ll limit my focus to a particular question––Why is sin considered a debt.

If we don’t understand the logic behind this language, I don’t think we will fully unpack the implications. I can see various ways that this imagery could shape our theology and open doors for contextualization.

How Do We Become Debtors

Let’s brainstorm the various ways one become a debtor. Here are a few––

1. We borrow things from people (我们跟人借东西).

Matthew 18:23–25, “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.”

2. We receive something from a person under the expectation that we should give something else in return. In human relationships, this is simply reciprocity (互惠主义).

This is not necessarily to be thought of as a “pay back.” At some level, all close friendships have this to some degree. We help one another, expecting that one day they too will be there for us. I’m not suggesting that we are all calculating how we will barter favors. However, people understand that relationships require give and take.

With respect to God, he graciously gives us many things. Such gifts are obviously not conditioned on our obedience. However, it is a moral expectation that we respond with gratitude and honor.

3. We owe for damages done to someone’s property ( . . . 欠赔偿费).

In an accident, one might destroy someone’s car or other property. We become liable for the damages.

Exodus 21:35, “When one man’s ox butts another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and share its price, and the dead beast also they shall share.”

4. We owe someone some sort of affection, concern, or respect (…欠人情债).

We could list various relationships, like parents and child, husbands and wives, friends, etc.

Malachi 1:6, “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor?”

5. We have a duty or obligation of some kind (我们欠本分).

This kind of debt applies to relationships between authorities and their subordinates, whether a king, an employer, etc.

Rom 13:7–8, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. 8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

As a side note, the word “to owe” (ὀφείλω) is a part of the same family of words that convey the idea of “debt.”

Naturally, certain images will speak more strongly to certain people. I often say to people that we want to do the best we can to think the Bible’s thoughts after it. We need to understand the why behind various metaphors. By grasping the internal logic of various themes, we can more clearly communicate the gospel. Accordingly, we can know both our freedom and our limits when it comes to contextualization.

What do you think?

Any other ways that we become debtors?

What are some initial implications for theology and ministry?

_________________

Photo Credit: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Reply to Doug Coleman (Part 3) — Defining “Law”

This post is the third in a series replying to Doug Coleman’s thoughtful questions about the meaning of sin in view of honor and shame.

Here is Doug’s first post. Then, click here for his follow-up response.

For my first reply, click here. For my second post, click here.

what-is-sin-608x208Doug is correct when he says, “If we are to honor God, we must know what that means.” Therefore, in this post, I address this question: “How do we help people understand how sin expresses itself in concrete ways?

God’s Revelation Makes Sin Concrete

Simply put, we do this by teaching the entire Bible. Because the essence of sin is the contrast of God’s character, people need to see what the Lord is like as he has revealed Himself in concrete ways in history.

The relationship between God and Israel becomes a microcosm for understanding both who God is and how people relate to Him, whether in a right or wrong way. By analogy, we may think that we can sing pretty well when taking a shower, . . . and then we listen to people like a Whitney Houston and Celine Dion only to realize we fall far short of excellence.

I think we may in fact make it more difficult for some people to grasp what sin is when we simply say that it is “breaking God’s law” or something similar.

On the one hand, people don’t know who this God is. They don’t understand his character. What kind of God are we talking about? What sort of actions and attitudes do not reflect his worth? Many Westerners assume the Christian God whenever they talk about “God.” We can’t make that other people share this view.

On the other hand, people have different assumptions about the meaning of “law.” They may think laws are too abstract and mere tools that powerful people use to oppress the common people. Also, in a culture that emphasizes relationship, they may not see the significance of keeping a “law” when in fact laws are supposed to help people. In other words, talking about “breaking God’s law” may come off irrelevant because they don’t see how this affects relationship.

img-rape-gavelOnce again, we need to establish a better biblical context if people are to understand the character of God and the significance of the Law.

The Law is Specific

This brings me to my final point in response to Doug’s comments.

Paul speaks of sin’s existence before the Law was given. He rightly notes that Rom 5:13–14 refers to the Mosaic Law, not just any law. (I wish more people realized this as well because it would change the way people read the Law throughout Romans).

However, he adds, “In a non-technical sense, God’s command to Adam and Eve surely could be described as a law.”

Doug suggestion directly hits on a tendency that I want to resist––treating every command as though it were using a law-metaphor. We know this from everyday experience. A mother and father can give a command, but we don’t call it a “law.” This is a mixing of metaphors. When doing theology, we need to be slow to claim a law framework when it’s not actually there.

Disobedience to an authority is disrespectful, dishonoring, and a disruption to the relationship.

Do we overthrow the law? By no means!

So, to paraphrase Paul, “Do we then overthrow the law by honor and shame? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law!”

Why? Like any metaphor, even legal language is context specific. The significance of a term depends on a broader context. Accordingly, I can’t be accused of opposing or trivializing the law-metaphor. In fact, I want to redeem the law-metaphor, as it is understood within a biblical context.

When reading the Bible from an honor-shame perspective, we are freshly reminded that the Mosaic Law is an ancient covenant. Therefore, it describes who God is, establishes the collective identity of Israel as God’s people, and expresses what constitutes honorable (or shameful) behavior.

God is a king, not merely a judge. A king is a judge, but a judge is not necessarily a king. I too often see people reduce the “law” to a general set of rules, according to which God judges people “guilty” or “innocent.” God is reduced from a king to a mere administrator of juridical law.

In other words, God’s law becomes merely legal, not regal.

When we actually teach the Law as a covenant, we will be overwhelmed with issues of honor and shame. We see the relational significance of breaking covenant by the way that writers describe it. For example, in Ezekiel and Hosea, Israel’s unfaithfulness is compared to an adulteress and is even called a “whore.”

Breaking covenant is breaking a relationship. People in honor-shame cultures get that idea. This is why biblical theology is so important.

When we understand the law from this perspective, we are reminded that the law is made for people, not people for the law.

Honoring God in relationship––that’s the goal. Everything less is sin.

Reply to Doug Coleman (Part 2) — Defining “Dishonor”

In a previous post, I responded to Doug Coleman’s question about the meaning of sin, including how “missing the mark” relates to shame and law language. In his reply, I think he really gets at the crux of the matter. Given the feedback I’ve heard from readers, I suspect having this conversation in public helps answer similar questions that other people also have.

dishonor_by_motivationalrapist-d2yn4v4First of all, I agree when Doug says,

So, I’m not suggesting that sin is simply a matter of law-language. (At the same time, it is not something less, or other, than this.) It seems that Jackson and I agree on this point.

We should appreciate the way metaphors work in parallel such that they do not always need either to be ranked or set in contrast. By analogy, we wouldn’t do this with a particular woman’s role or identity as a “mom” and a “wife.” They are both true from a certain perspective. Context would decide whether she is called one or the other in a given circumstance. Similarly, we would not say there is a tension between saying she is a “woman” and a “mom.” One presumes the other.

To use a biblical example, sin is sometimes described as burden to bear (Lev 10:17; Num 18:22–23) or a debt (Matt 6:12, 14–15; Luke 7:40–49). Sin is not something less or other than a burden or debt; that however doesn’t suggest that every time we talk about sin, we have to prioritize these metaphors over all others in order to be biblical.

Defining “Dishonor”

Doug’s comments (below) get at the core issue here. He writes,

. . . this still leaves a critical question undefined: How do we know if we have dishonored God? At a very practical level, what does it mean to dishonor God? By what standard is that determined?

In the end, this matters most because if we’re not clear on this point—defining “dishonoring of God”—a gospel message using honor/shame terms could be heard only in terms of how a particular culture defines and describes honor and shame.

…Ultimately, my point here is that dishonoring of God must be defined, and it must be defined biblically. Whether we define it in respect to the law or in respect to God’s character or nature, there is still a standard (a “mark” if you will), something that makes the act, attitude, or thought sin or evil, and therefore dishonoring to God. If we are to honor God, we must know what that means. And the content must be biblical. I think we agree here, but I want to be sure.

Doug’s point is spot on. We do not want contemporary norms of honor and shame to replace a more biblical perspective.

A measure of grace has to be given when trying to formulate a “definition” of a word. With that said, it’s possible to say that “sin” is anything that does not reflect the character and worth of God. Jayson’s reply in the comments section provides a list of ways that one might express this idea.

love does not dishonorThis would be consistent with passages that people have a hard time explaining, such as when someone unknowingly and unintentionally does wrong (like touching an unclean thing yet is considered to have sinned, Lev 5:2–3; cf. Lev 4:22, 27).

Likewise, we can understand the symbolism of offering a “sin offering” due to a woman’s menstruation (Lev 12:6; 15:30). God is pure. Sin represents impurity and defilement, thus something of less or no value.

Does Sin Depend on Culture?

Though culture does not ultimately determine what is honorable and shameful, we must recognize that people in different contexts do have their own ways of conveying honor to God. In contrast, certain actions may be regarded as shameful regard for God. In those instances, a person may sin because they do not act according to their faith.

Take Rom 14 for example. In vv. 1–2, Paul clearly shows who he regards as right (“strong”) and wrong (“weak”) on the debatable issue of diet. In vv. 5–6, he even says the weak brother (who misunderstands the truth) nevertheless can glorify God:

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

Paul is even more to point in Rom 14:23: “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

In other words, there are instances where someone doesn’t break any explicit “law” or rule yet does not act in faith towards God. Consequently, they do not honor the Lord. For them, it is sin, even if a person was technically allowed to do something (like eat meat).

To put is another way, one “sins” in this case because he or she dishonors God, not because of “guilt” by breaking any specific law command.


**This post is long enough for now. I’ll continue my response in the next post. I’ll address the question, “How do we help people understand how sin expresses itself in concrete ways?”

The Genesis of Contextualization

It is very possible that we do not honor biblical authority precisely by forcing an overly literalistic interpretation on the text.

Why? A “literal” reading (from our perspective) may in fact overlook the biblical audience’s cultural context. Accordingly, we might impose our assumptions onto the text, resulting in interpretations that ignore the writer and audience to whom God originally revealed Himself.

ILOVELITERALISMIn The Lost World of Adam and Eve, Walton clarifies what it means to affirm the Bible’s authority. (He elaborates on this topic more fully in The Lost World of Scripture.) He says:

“The authority and inerrancy of the text is, and has traditionally been, attached to what it affirms. Those affirmations are not of a scientific nature. The text does not affirm that we think with our entrails (though [the Old Testament] communicates in those terms because that is what the ancient audience believed.) The text does not affirm that there are waters above. The question that we must therefore address is whether the text, in its authority, makes any affirmations about material human origins. If the communication of the text adopts the “science” and the ideas that everyone in the ancient world believed (as it did with physiology and the waters above), then we would not consider that authoritative revelation or an affirmation of the text” (TLWAE, 20–21).

As ministers of the gospel, biblical authority is foundational. If we desire to contextualize the gospel in a way that is biblically faithful and culturally meaningful, we must honor the Bible’s authority.

This is the genesis of biblical contextualization.

If we truly want to acknowledge the Bible’s authority, then we must be mindful of the original cultural context from which the texts comes from.

I suggest that Walton’s comments about biblical interpretation are helpful for cross-cultural workers, who seek to contextualize the gospel.

A Cross-Cultural Perspective

It is critical for contextualization that we have a cross-cultural perspective.

Keep in mind that we also “cross cultures” when we study history. Cultures in history are just as different as are two modern cultures on opposite sides of the world. When people think about contextualization and “crossing cultures,” they typically think “horizontally,” i.e. about global cultures, as when a Russian travels to South Africa or a German moves to Thailand.

cross cultural 2If missionaries want to do biblically faithful contextualization, they will need to cross both “horizontal” and “historical” cultures.

In other words, we need to know world cultures AND we need to know ancient biblical cultures.

I try demonstrating an example of this sort of contextualization in Saving God’s Face.

 Culture is a “Filter”

Already, in Saving God’s Face, I argued that contextualization begins with interpretation, long before we get to the work of communication and application. Whether one agrees with Walton’s view of Genesis or not, his work highlights the importance of exegesis, biblical theology and worldview.

We all come to a text from a vantage point. Our particular cultural lens acts as a “filter.” Culture is not “authoritative” in the way the Bible has authority. Nevertheless, culture inevitably helps or hinders us. It either enables us or prevents us from seeing what in fact is in a text.

I’ve heard people dismiss this claim by saying that we can simply go back and red ancient literature in order to have an ancient worldview. Well, yes, I agree in part (as I’ve said above). However, we can never totally read the ancient documents with ancient eyes. Our own culture filters when we see when we read Josephus, Philo or any number of ancient writings.

This is a major aspect of my model of contextualization, which I propose in my forthcoming book (due out next month), called One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach of Biblical Contextualization.

Reply to Doug Coleman (Part 1)

Over at Doug Coleman’s blog, he raises a good questionreply-97622_640 about recent discussions of honor and shame. I think others have similar concerns. This post is my response.

Here is an excerpt from Doug’s blog post:

At one point in the video below, Jayson Georges discusses theological issues related to honor and shame. He notes that “Western” theology tends to define sin as “missing the mark,” but Jayson goes on to suggest that Scripture views sin more in a relational or covenantal context. “Sin is disrespecting God,” he says. “Sin rejects God’s honor and pursues a worldly honor.”

….My concern lies in the seemingly vague way in which sin is described as dishonoring God or His name. The question that immediately comes to mind for me is, “How have we dishonored God or His name?” And my thoughts always circle back around to the matter of “missing the mark.”

For example, think of Adam and Eve in the garden. Did they dishonor God? I think so. How? By missing the mark God had established. God gave them a clear, specific command, and they disobeyed. As a result, they were guilty, ashamed, and afraid. But the sense of shame, guilt and fear all resulted from the fact that they missed the mark. It seems that the problem was not a vague dishonoring of God, but a very specific dishonoring of God by disobeying His specific command….

I agree that Jesus’ atonement takes away our shame. But how? If “missing the mark” is indeed an essential aspect of the definition of sin, then Jesus takes away the shame we deserve because we have missed the mark. He takes away the shame of our sin, the shame resulting from our dishonoring God by our sin.

First of all, I disagree with the way that both Jayson (from honorshame.com) and Doug link “missing the mark” and law-language. In my opinion, “missing the mark” is the far more vague wording. There is nothing inherently legal about this archery imagery. Keep in mind that we are dealing with metaphors.

bigstock-Missing-the-target-300Discerning if and how different metaphors relate is not easy.

What I have argued previously (and I think Jayson would say) is that dishonor is the core problem that makes sin the evil it is. As Paul conveys in Romans 1:18—23, dishonoring God is the essence of unrighteousness. Although Romans 1 is a long tirade against sin, Paul never once appeals to law breaking. In Romans 2:23–24, Paul’s grammar itself reinforces the point as well. Breaking a law is but one way that people dishonor God.

We also shouldn’t forget Romans 5:13–14. Paul says

…or sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

Sin existed even when there was no law.

Which Metaphor?

Explaining sin via law depends on our using a broader, royal metaphor whereby God is king. Though an utterly important truth, this is not the only metaphorical description of God. For example, God is elsewhere described as a father and shepherd.

Not only that, honor-shame language also perfectly suits royal imagery. Citizens are supposed to honor the king. Laws are simply explicit statements about how people should honor the king. Conceivably, someone could think of a way of dishonoring a king that does not direct break a stated law. Yet, no one would argue that the king will tolerate such shameful behavior on a technicality.

In a presentation called “Is Our Theology Enslaved to the Law?“, I illustrate how honor-shame serves as a very flexible paradigm that includes legal and familial metaphors.

Shame is Two-Faced

Finally, there is one more issue that I think is relevant here. Shame is both the fruit and the root of sin. Shame is both a subjective and an objective reality.

In other words, our sin shamefully reckons God unworthy of honor. Sin brings shame upon God’s name. This is not merely a subjective, psychological problem. This is a publicly manifest evil. As a consequence, people become shameful in God’s eyes (i.e. objectively). Furthermore, sin result in humans experiencing shame (subjectively).

Recognizing these two dimensions of shame may help to allay people’s concerns about what shame is in relation to sin.


I really appreciate Doug’s sincerity in raising these issues.

Sometimes, I find that people are defensive and therefore a bit combative when they sense that traditional ways of thinking are being challenged. Doug is a first-rate missiologist. I would encourage people interested in contextualization or who work among Muslims to check out his dissertation, which was published in the EMS dissertation series under the title A Theological Analysis of the Insider Movement Paradigm from Four Perspectives: Theology of Religions, Revelation, Soteriology and Ecclesiology.

Reading the Bible “Literally” or Contextually?

When reading John Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve, a number of questions are sure to arise. Throughout this review series, we have seen Walton challenge many of the conventional assumptions people have about the Bible and how to interpret God’s word.

4612251_origHow should culture influence our interpretation of the Bible? Well, which culture do you mean? Ancient culture? Our church culture? The culture we presently live in?

One can feel tension emerge whenever these questions come up.

Do we interpret everything “literally”?

The word “literal” is problematic because it connotes different things to different people. For the sake of space, I’ll explore what it might mean to interpret Gen 1–3 “literally” according to the many people understand “literal.”

For many readers, we absolutely must interpret the Bible “literally,” which means the world was created in 144 hours (6 24-hour days), God used dust to create the first man “Adam,” and He cut into that man’s side in order to make Eve from a rib.

Before people get defensive, I would urge them to ask how one would interpret literally the following sentence:

“Whenever I think of 911, I get sad and angry.”

Literally speaking, “911” is a number that sits between 910 and 912. Interpreted in this way, we would naturally ask, “Why are you afraid of 911 but not 912, 632, 53 or other numbers?”

911_attacksOf course, we all know that “911” signifies far more than the sum of 900 and 11. Most people immediately recall the events on September 11, 2001, the day when terrorists used planes to attach the United States. This is why “911” is able to stir a variety of feelings, including anger and sadness.

It is worth mentioning that “911” can also refer to the phone number that Americans use whenever they face an emergency. Therefore, “911” could remind people of the day their father died of a heart attack. Perhaps, a son or daughter had to call “911” when they saw their parent lying on the floor.

In these examples, what does it really mean to interpret “911” literally?

Reading Genesis in Cultural Context

The meaning of words and images depend on context. How someone in one culture uses a phrase or metaphor may not correspond to the way people in another time and place use that same language.

When we overlook this seeming obvious point, we will inevitably misinterpret the Bible. This is beautifully illustrated in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. You can read my review of it by clicking here.

Walton urges readers to read Genesis from the perspective of its original ancient context. He puts it well when he says,

We therefore recognize that although the Bible is written for us (indeed, for everyone), it is not written to us. (19)

As some have put it, when we read the Bible, we are reading other people’s mail. Biblical scholars remind us of a principle that is easily forgotten: we assume our worldview is equivalent to that of the biblical writers. If we do, we will inevitably misinterpret Scripture.

literal interpCan’t it be both?

One might ask, “Can’t Genesis have functional or symbolic value while still being literally true?”

Yes. But it can’t simply be assumed.

Just as Walton makes effort to prove that Genesis gives a functional account of origins, so also interpreters must prove that Genesis gives a material creation. ( I talked about these options in a prior blog post).

In dialogue, we should be respectful and take care not to “demonize” others. There is no reason to question a person’s character or concern for the Bible simply because they hold a “functional” view of origins or does not interpret Gen 1 in terms of literal 7 24-hour days.

Walton’s book shows that exegesis can drive those conclusions, not the desire to appease non-believers or evolutionary scientists.

In the next post, I will consider Walton’s suggestion about how to read Genesis in a way that honors biblical authority. Then, I’ll explore some implications for contextualization.