In this series, I’ve tried to help people consider how to introduce the concepts of honor and shame to others. Certainly, anything close to a full understanding of honor/shame will require more than a conversation or two. However, we have to start somewhere. In this post, I want to offer a few Scripture passages that helpfully introduce honor/shame from a biblical and theological perspective. If you have ready in your mind a handful of “go to” texts, it will be much easier for you to demonstrate the honor/shame are biblical concepts that must be taken seriously. Continue reading
Don’t understand what “losing face” means? Then watch this video.
How do we explain honor and shame to others in a simple, conversational way?
In the previous post, I highlighted a handful of ways that people misunderstand honor and shame. Today, I will suggest a few simple ideas to make your conversations about honor/shame go a bit more smooth.
I especially have in mind Western Christians, though much could be applied to others as well.
1. Simplify Your Language
Try to use as much day-to-day language as possible. Although the meaning of common phrases and idiom may not be exact, it will help people get the sense of your idea. So, among Westerners, we might choose to talk about “people pleasing” or getting people to “like” you.
Similarly, college and professional sports provide excellent illustrations of collective honor/shame. For example, people everyday wear the clothing of their favorite team and talk about how “we” won (or lost) a recent game.
Movie stars demonstrate one might be “famous” but not necessarily have character. Thus, they may have one form of (superficial) honor but not another kind based on moral behavior.
Of course, it’s always ideal to say things simply. However, that’s not always realistic. At times, you may need to use more anthropological terms to capture your broader meaning and help people connect diverse themes.
2. Start with familiar books
Sooner or later, you will want to take people to the Bible. Honor and shame are everywhere. Since you have a lot of places to choose from, I suggest quoting more familiar books and passages. Rather that quoting one of the minor prophets, show them Romans.
This was a big reason I focus on Romans in my book Saving God’s Face.
On the one hand, it will get people’s attention since they may have read some passages “a hundred times” but never noticed the presence of honor/shame. On the other hand, I figured that if I can show that Romans is an honor/shame book (despite its legal reputation), then I take away the biggest book that someone might try to use against me in conversation.
3. Start with familiar doctrines
Likewise, begin with big topics that others are comfortable discussing. Many Christians will not have a developed opinion on covenantal theology, spiritual gifts or certain ideas about eschatology. However, nearly everyone has given thought to other subjects like sin.
In a previous post about the “Romans 23 principle,” I show how Rom 1:23, 2:23, and 3:23 all explain unrighteousness and sin in terms of honor/glory/dishonor/shame.
In case it helps you, check out HonorShame.com. You will find a Theology Guide for Guilt, Shame, and Fear cultures. (My Chinese translation of it can be found HERE.)
4. Show the variety of metaphors in the Bible
It is not too difficult to prove that the biblical writers use the variety of metaphors to describe key topics such as salvation. By the way, even that term itself is a metaphor. People will readily agree that salvation is explained via redemption, adoption, new birth, justification, atonement, election, glorification, freedom, new life, resurrection, sight (not blindness) and others.
The point is simply this: point out the fact that the Bible not only uses a range of metaphors; furthermore, they serve diverse purposes. We should be wary of privileging any one metaphor at the expense of others without clear exegetical (interpretive) reasons.
Humility demands we and others be open to consider God’s purpose for including honor/shame, despite the fact that Western Christianity historically emphasizes legal language.
5. Show Related Themes and Terms
Let people know that honor/shame exist even in places where those two terms never actually appear. In particular, explain that an “honor-shame cultures” have a number of common characteristics.
For example, those who emphasize honor & shame will have a more collectivistic perspective. Their sense of identity will derive more from their group than from their individual distinctives. Thus, honor-shame cultures are traditionally concerned with boundary markers that distinguish insiders from outsiders.
Naturally, people will give greater respect to external authorities than will those who rely more on individual conscience to enforce adherence to universally applicable laws.
In addition, other terms are related to honor-shame, such as glory, someone’s “name,” disgrace, humiliated, boasting, praise, blaspheme, among others. Anytime we talk about glorifying God, we are at the same time talking about honoring God.
We need to keep in mind that honor/shame concerns worldview. People normally will not quickly grasp the magnitude and significance of the topic.
In some respect, explaining honor-shame is like talking about grammar…yes, grammar.
Why? Every English-speaking 5-year-old already grasp the main points of English grammar. This is because he or she uses it everyday! Of course, young kids don’t know that they intuitively learned grammar by virtue of their life experience.
In the same way, honor/shame are human concepts. We intuitively “get” their meaning even if we can’t articulate them as clearly as we might want. Yet, by making this knowledge explicit, we can make better use of it.
In the next blog post, I’ll offer suggestions for using the Bible to introduce people to honor/shame as theological concepts.
* This is a re-blog from my friend over at HonorShame.com. Notice there are only more 3 days left for you to get free access to this theology guide!!
By the way, I have translated the guide into Chinese. Click here to get it.
How can we reframe Christian theology for cultures of guilt, shame, and fear?
This Theology Guide systemically charts 40+ theological categories in the language and values of each culture type. For example, the section about God reads:
The complete chart covers prolegomena, God, sin, Jesus, and salvation. It is available for download here.
Over the next couple of months, I hope to make available multiple translations of this theology chart (Chinese, Russian, Spanish). I believe it is vital for all Christians to have a robust language for theology conversations. Would anyone be able/interested to help with Arab and Hindi translations?
This theology chart could form the basis for teaching or preaching lessons in your ministry. If you plan on teaching or preaching about God’s salvation for guilt, shame, or fear, I’d be delighted to give you a free .pdf copy of The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures, so you can prepare well.
Just email the event details (i.e., when, where, who)to info@HonorShame.com.
Do you have an idea for another theological category framed for guilt, shame, and fear cultures?
Have you ever talked about honor & shame with someone but felt like you and the other person were talking past each other? How can we fix that problem?
Well, let’s be realistic. If someone is really unfamiliar with how honor & shame work, there are no shortcuts on the way to understanding. The challenge is compounded if people have deeply ingrained preconceptions that are mere half-truths.
I especially have Westerners in mind. Why is it important to talk about honor/shame with westerners?
Put simply, Western missionaries and theologians still hold tremendous influence over the direction of the global church. Naturally, if a Westerner doesn’t feel the topic relevant for his or her own life, it will be more difficult to stress and apply HS in their ministry.
What can we do then?
In the next few posts, I will offer a few simple ways to engage people in conversation. I’m not going to offer a thorough defense of the importance of honor-shame in Scripture and world cultures. I’ve done that in many other places (like Saving God’s Face).
“Yes, that is a part of it.”
First of all, we need to be aware of the most common misunderstanding people have about honor and shame.
The difficulty here is that most people do have a correct yet partial understanding of honor and/or shame. We often have the bad habit of oversimplifying rich concepts.
Many people associate “honor” with knighthood and think of it as a relic of the Middle Ages. Ideally, this sort of honor reflects a person’s virtue. In actual fact, of course, many would settle for a good reputation by one means of another.
In my experience, this is the most common perspective people have of shame. It is a psychological feeling of unworthiness. Abuse and personal failures are a couple of reasons a person would feel shame. Undoubtedly, this sort of shame is a problem. It is a consequence of sin (whether one’s one or someone else’s). It can become an obstacle to one’s having faith.
Eastern (not Western?)
Some people regard honor-shame as an “Eastern” concept, in contrast to Western notions “law.” Therefore, Westerners do not see the relevance of honor and shame in their lives. Little do many realize that honor/shame are universal human concepts.
Other people cannot separate honor/shame from “honor killings.” “Honor” becomes a code word for pride and is seen in purely negative terms. In an East Asian context, many missionaries similarly frown upon the idea of “saving face.”
Subjective (not objective)
This point has overlap with prior conceptions of honor/shame. However, here I want to emphasize a very typical way that people verbally talk about honor/shame and so minimize its importance. Someone routinely says to me, “Shame is subjective, but law is objective.” The person then proceeds to explain why “law” (in his or her view) is more important or “biblical.”
Why have I begun a series with a list like this? Simply put, it’s hard to explain something to people when you can’t anticipate areas where they might have misunderstandings.
My friend over at honorshame.com has written a similar post that I encourage you to look at as well.
The most recent issue of Themelios came out today.
This month, you’ll find my review of Simon Chan’s most recent book Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up.
This book is sure to become a conversation piece for anyone concerned with theology and missions in the majority world (i.e. non-Western world).
I’d love to hear your own thoughts on it.
What do you think about his thesis?
Do you think he sufficiently defends it?
Might traditional theological perspectives of God be implicitly deistic?
Let’s not forget that deism argues that God started the world but has since left it to run on its own. God does not involve himself in human affairs.
When we think of deity has mainly to do with “what” God is, we might also too sharply separate the physical world and God’s realm. However, Rev 21–22 and Isa 65–65 are strong reminders that our ultimate hope is for the union of earth and heaven, i.e. God’s throne room (cf. Ps 11:4; Isa 66:1).
Many traditional apologetics and theologies create this sort of perspective when they dichotomize the “material” world and “spiritual” things. Similarly, when we say the Bible represents human nature and divine nature as different “substances,” we create our own apologetic problems and Christ’s nature becomes an apparent logical contradiction.
God enters our world!
By contrast, what happens when we see deity in terms of “divine identity” (my second post in the series)? Our exegetical problems go away and we stumble on to fresh insights.
For example, Richard Bauckham directs our attention to Phil 2:8–11
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
It is precisely because of Christ’s humility as a human that he receives the praise due only to the one true God. Notice the “therefore” in the sequence of thought.
Recall that one distinctive of the “divine identity” is that God engages in the things of our world!
We need to heed this warning: Traditional Christian assumptions about “deity” (being primarily about substance) may subtly oppose the Bible’s view of God.
I have a few questions for you.
Even if, philosophically speaking, there is a “material” difference between deity and non-deity, is it worth sacrificing the biblical emphasis on God’s divine identity?
What do you think?
Do we create our own apologetic problems?
Wish theologians would sum up their ideas in just 140 characters?
Well, this and next week, I am doing a theology series over on Twitter. I offer a concise summary of many Christian doctrines using an honor-shame lens.
Each day, I’ll suggest a simple explanation of 1–2 Christian themes while sprinkling in various passages that illustrate a theology in terms of honor and shame.
Look me up on Twitter: jacksonwu4china
Follow the hashtag: #honortheology
How do we contextualize the gospel among animists?
In the last post, I highlighted a possible danger to be aware of when presenting the gospel among many unreached people groups. In this post, I will suggest a more constructive approach.
How did people like the OT prophets contend with polytheistic beliefs in their own contexts? I think we see a pattern in their approach.
I offer the following suggestion when confronting the false “gods” of animistic peoples. Continue reading