My new site for ministry resources in Chinese!

I’m thrilled to announce that I have started a separate website specifically for Chinese readers. The web address is

If you go there, you will find various Mandarin resources, including:

A few gracious readers were kind enough to translate a few of my blog posts. I simply don’t have the time to do it myself. Accordingly, I don’t know how often I’ll be adding new posts in Mandarin. It will depend on the generosity of others like yourself.

Let others know about Thank you to those of you who encouraged this site into being.

Chinese translation of “Saving God’s Face” (for FREE)


Do you have Chinese friends who should read Saving God’s Face?  Now they can!

I’m excited to announce that my first book has now been translated. The Mandarin title is


Also, I am giving it away for FREE!!

I was granted exclusive rights over the distribution of the Chinese translation. I am thankful to the book’s publisher, William Carey International University Press, who graciously handed me these rights as a ministry to the Chinese church. So, you can download and distribute the book legally and freely!

To download it, click here.

For those of you who are not familiar with Saving God’s Face, you can check out my publications page, where I have links to a number of book reviews. Here is a short summary.

In short, Saving God’s Face helps readers use an honor-shame perspective to contextualize theology. By “honor and shame,” I refer to concepts like “face” and “collective identity.” After reading this book, you will better understand the meaning and significance of contextualization. I clarify how honor and shame shape Chinese culture as well as the cultures found within the Bible. Ultimately, the book develops a contextualized understanding of the doctrine of salvation, specifically focusing on the atonement and justification by faith.

Let others know about this free resource by posting this announcement on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and whatever other platform you have. Thank you for your encouragement and for supporting the Chinese church.

Thoughts on David Garrison’s reply to my article on CPMs

Last October (2014), Global Missiology published two articles I wrote concerning Church Planting Movements (CPMs).

  1. There Are No Church Planting Movements in the Bible: Why Biblical Exegesis Missiological Methods Cannot Be Separated
  1. The Influence of Culture On the Evolution of Mission Methods: Using ‘Church Planting Movements’ As A Case Study

As one might expect, I have received a lot of feedback. People tend to have strong opinions when it comes to CPMs. In this post, I will offer a few follow-up reflections on the discussion and particularly on Garrison’s reply article.

CPM thinkingCommon Ground

First of all, I am thankful for Garrison’s kindness to interact with my on this important topic. As brother in Christ, it’s not surprising that we would share some common ground. Garrison and I share a common desire to see God bring about church planting movements across the world. We want people to know Jesus!

In addition, we would love to see churches formed that are marked by the kind of characteristics he mentions, like extraordinary prayer, obedience to God’s word, and indigenous leadership.

I would even suggest that Garrison’s reply in no way contradicts the point of my argument. In fact, I was a bit surprised to read the following comment:

“The more appropriate question we should be asking is: Are Church Planting Movements consistent with the teachings and practice set forth in the New Testament?”

This question is ambiguous. One can interpret “consistent with” in two ways.

(A) “consistent with” could simply mean that CPMs “do not contradict” the Bible.

(B) “consistent with” could indicate that CPM-theory reflects the explicit teaching of the Bible.

IF we limit CPM-theory only to the 10 principles he states in his article, this (A) is true. But, of course, that is a terribly minimalistic standard. As best as possible, we want our methods to grow out of the actual teaching of Scripture, not confusing the results seen in the Bible with the methodologies we suppose will bring about those outcomes.

My article challenges assertion (B). When I talk about CPM-theory, I’m not talking about general principles. After all, who would disagree with these 10 principles in general? The rub comes in the application, which is why I address how people (1) measure CPMs and (2) advocate for CPMs from Scripture.

Lingering Concerns

Garrison seems to misunderstand me when he suggests that I argue, “Church Planting Movements do not appear in the Bible, and therefore are unbiblical or extra-biblical.” He then says that the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible, yet we believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The problem is that I don’t make that argument. I’m not concerned with a specific term.

Radical TogetherMy main point in the first article (“There are No Church Planting Movements in the Bible”) concerns how people use the Bible to affirm arbitrary measurements and methods associated with CPM-theory.

If we excuse the loose use of Scripture, we not only risk misrepresenting God’s word and teaching bad interpretation skills, we also blur the line between description and prescription.

If someone wants to describe what God is doing now, then there is no reason to invoke Scripture as if it were normative to produce such high numbers of believers at such high rates.

We begin to grant biblical authority to man-made strategies.

I think we would do well to heed David Platt’s warning in Radical Together:

“We begin to discover our dangerous tendency to value our traditions over God’s truth, just as Jesus warned. We find ourselves defending a program because that’s what worked before, not because that’s what God has said to do now. We realize how prone we are to exalt our work over God’s will, our dreams over God’s desires, and our plans over God’s priorities.” (p. 14)

I think Platt’s words apply quite well to many church planting methods that, practically speaking, seem to define success almost exclusively in terms of rapid numerical growth above all else.

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:

对英国人说这是荣誉 ;

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 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:

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?”