As I was writing this article my wife and I were reading The Soul of Shame. I say “reading” but we were doing more than reading. We also shed tears and talked at length about how we had both listened to and transmitted shame to others, not the least of which were our three boys. We wished we had learned these truths twenty years earlier when we were first starting our family. It was a strange mix of sadness and hope as we considered our personal stories in light of God’s shame-shattering grand Story of redemption.
Such is the nature of the spotlight that the honor-shame movement has helped shed on the atoning work of Christ. We come away with a deeper, broader appreciation of the ways that Christ has rescued us from sin. But, The Soul of Shame wasn’t the first or only book from the honor-shame movement that I’d read; nor was I always left with that same satisfying sense of having my defenses further conquered by the grace of Jesus. Especially when listening to missiologists speak on the topic or when reading books from the honor-shame movement in missions my reaction has been more mixed. While there are aspects that I agree with and value, other aspects have left me feeling something between uneasiness and genuine concern.
A Changing Gospel
My concern, from a missiological standpoint, revolves around the controlling interpretive role that the honor-shame movement grants to the target audience culture. 1 Following Nida and Muller, 2 the honor-shame movement divides the cultures of the world into three major groups: power-fear, guilt-innocence and honor-shame. 3 They are not wrong for recognizing these different types of cultural outlooks.
My concern stems, rather, from those in the honor-shame movement who believe that the content of the gospel should be dictated by the audience’s dominant cultural outlook. One’s missiology never strays far from one’s theology and the honor-shame movement’s ties to the Kaleidoscopic view of the atonement provides the theological framework for promoting a gospel that changes with the audience. Additionally, its connection to the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) fits well with their assertion that appropriation of the gospel is more about faithfulness than faith. What we find then is that the honor-shame gospel is malleable and “Conversion means granting loyalty and allegiance to a new group—God and His people.” 4
The Greco-Roman World
When studying the actual gospel-proclamation events in the book of Acts, my concern becomes more acute as we face a curious question: Why didn’t Peter and Paul preach an honor-shame gospel to audiences from the honor-shame soaked Greco-Roman world? And, if they didn’t preach an honor-shame gospel, then what was the recurring theme(s) of their message and why did they feel compelled to proclaim it to honor-shamed focused audiences even when it caused people to stumble and be offended?
To these concerns and questions, we now turn. While this article is very introductory, my hope is that it will help bring some clarity to the discussion in the missions community about what the gospel is and the role that culture plays in its proclamation.
Specifically, since I have seen little critique of the honor-shame movement in the missions community, my hope is that this article might help us embrace all that is good within the honor-shame movement while also thinking critically about the areas where it falls short of the example laid out for us by the Apostles as recorded in Acts.
The Kaleidoscopic Theory
Jayson Georges, founder of the HonorShame.com website, co-authored the book Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures with Mark Baker, who in turn wrote Recovering the Scandal of the Cross with Joel Green. In that book Baker and Green articulate the kaleidoscopic view 5 of the atonement. This theory states that “the idea that the Bible or the classical Christian tradition has ‘one’ view of the atonement is unfounded.” 6
The kaleidoscopic view of the atonement 7 makes some positive contributions to the atonement theory debate. Many of us would agree that no single view, whether it be the penal substitution, moral influence, Christus Victor, or healing theory, is able to capture fully the multifaceted grace of God demonstrated to us through Messiah’s death, burial and resurrection.
But, the kaleidoscopic view of the atonement, as developed by Baker and Green, takes things to a point that many of us are not comfortable with. 8 Reichenbach states that “one might legitimately wonder whether [Green] is a relativist when it comes to employing metaphors to explicate the atonement.” 9
Of course, he then goes on to affirm that “Green, however, is not a relativist [in the full-blown sense of the word],” but that he “treads a delicate balance between the normative role of the New Testament and its cultural forms, and the comprehending role of the interpreter’s cultural context.” 10 This emphasis on the “comprehending role of the interpreter’s cultural context” is the weaknesses of the honor-shame movement’s roots in the kaleidoscopic view of the atonement and will bear fruit in its willingness to adapt the content of the gospel to the target audience.
Accommodating the Audience
Perhaps seeing the atonement as a diamond 11 where each facet sheds light on the whole but where no single facet could adequately refract the light by itself will help us understand the multifaceted nature of the atonement while at the same time revealing the weaknesses of the kaleidoscopic view of the atonement as it works its way out through the honor-shame movement.
Briefly stated, when it comes to the proclamation of the gospel, the honor-shame movement is not only willing but feels compelled to spin the diamond of the atonement so that the facet thought to be most relevant to the target audience is directly in front of them. The “gospel” becomes whatever facet of the atonement that the messenger deems most relevant to his audience. 12
Georges actually lays out a “familiar 4-step format to suggest the plan of salvation for each culture type.” 13 He essentially changes the content of the “gospel” depending on his audience. While the audience may find this approach very relevant (what animist wouldn’t want to have “spiritual authority,” “access divine power” and be connected to Jesus who “is the warrior who restores our power”?), 14 we must ask ourselves if the New Testament ever records the Apostles proclaiming such a “gospel.” In other words, do the Apostles “spin the atonement diamond” to accommodate their audience? To that question we will turn, but first we must look at the honor-shame movement’s perspective on appropriation of the gospel.
The New Perspective on Paul
Drawing the line between the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) and the honor-shame movement is a bit more circuitous than the line between the kaleidoscopic view of the atonement and the honor-shame movement; however, the NPP’s influence on the honor-shame movement is still palpable in several areas, not the least of which is the appropriation of the gospel.
“Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism is commonly regarded as the most influential book written on Paul in the last half-century” 15 because it launched the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). In that book Sanders says that “on the point at which many have found the decisive contrast between Paul and Judaism—grace and works—Paul is in agreement with Palestinian Judaism. There are two aspects of the relationship between grace and works: salvation is by grace but judgment is according to works; works are the condition of remaining ‘in,’ but they do not earn salvation. 16 This is classic “back-loading” of the gospel. 17
Justification by Loyality
N. T. Wright builds on Sanders and highlights loyalty to the covenant people of God as the criterion for what Sanders calls “remaining ‘in.’” Wright redefines faith (pistis) as loyalty. He says, “This loyalty (for which the Greek word was pistis) was the thing that demonstrated where God’s true people were to be found within the new creation that had come to birth at Easter. Here, at a symbolic level, we see part of the meaning of ‘justification by pistis’ [i.e., loyalty]: strange though it will seem to some, pistis is the badge that functions, within the Pauline worldview, as the sign of membership in God’s people. 18 According to Wright’s theology, man is justified by loyalty.
The honor-shame movement uses the same sort of NPP language when speaking of appropriation of the gospel. Georges says, “You must give allegiance to Jesus to enter God’s family.” 19 He goes on to say, “Conversion means granting loyalty and allegiance to a new group—God and His people.” 20 Georges and Baker, right after citing N. T. Wright, write that, “While conversion is primarily a transfer of allegiance to Jesus, moral change remains an essential component of conversion... Along with repenting, a person must have pistis. This Greek word pistis (commonly translated as “belief” or “faith”) carries the sense of personal “loyalty,” or “fidelity,” to a relationship, similar to the Latin word fides.
Biblical pistis is not primarily internal emotions or cognitive ascent, but a sense of relational loyalty—that is, faithfulness. A person’s pistis is a publicly demonstrated commitment to the group and its leader.” 21 Under Baker and Georges’ version of the honor-shame paradigm, justification by faith (pistis) means justification by “a publicly demonstrated commitment to the group and its leader.” For many people it would be difficult to understand this as something other than justification by works. 22
- This statement may sound like it comes from someone who has had little engagement with other cultures. Most of my life has been spent in Latin America. My wife and I are dual citizens of a Latin American country where we grew up and now minister. Some of my earliest memories are speaking English in our home as well as Spanish and a minority language when playing with my friends. My mom tells me that when we were little my brother and I would often speak Spanish even when it was just the two of us playing together. Most of the last 20 years of ministry has been spent working with and under the Latin American church. Over the last 10 years we have been planting a church in a remote minority ethnic group. Having spent most of my life overseas working among both majority and minority cultures, I highly value the target culture and its interpretive role in communicating the gospel. However, I do not see it as having the controlling interpretive role that the honor-shame movement wants to give it. The culture affects the presentation of the gospel, but it does not determine the content of the gospel. ↩
- Georges, Jayson. The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (p. 10). Timē Press. Kindle Edition. ↩
- Some would add purity-pollution. ↩
- Georges, Jayson. The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (p. 66). Timē Press. Kindle Edition. ↩
- They don’t use the term kaleidoscopic view in their book, but in The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views Green’s view is called the “kaleidoscopic view.” ↩
- Mark D. Baker; Joel B. Green. Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts (Kindle Location 348). Kindle Edition. ↩
- Atonement in this article is being used in the broader theological sense for all that Christ accomplished through his death, burial and resurrection. Atonement, as it is used here, might be called “salvation” by some. Both English words have narrower biblical meanings but have been used as cover terms for the broad scope of Christ’s work on the cross. ↩
- For one, they make no room for a penal satisfaction view of the atonement. They ask, “If, as we have seen, “assuaging God’s wrath” and “payment of the penalty of sin” are wide of the mark [as Green and Baker assume it to be], then how are we to understand the sacrificial death of Jesus?” – Mark D. Baker; Joel B. Green. Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts (Kindle Locations 733-734). Kindle Edition. and opens itself up to concerns of being “potentially relativistic.” 23See Gregory Boyd’s as well as Bruce Reichenbach’s responses to Green’s kaleidoscopic view of the atonement in Schreiner, Thomas R. The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (Spectrum Multiview Book Series) (p. 197). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. Neither of them truly thinks that Green is a relativist, but both express concerns along those lines. ↩
- Reichenbach makes this assessment and then immediately quotes from Green and Baker’s, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross. Of course, Baker went on to co-author Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures with Jayson Georges. Schreiner, Thomas R. The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (Spectrum Multiview Book Series) (p. 197). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. ↩
- Schreiner, Thomas R. The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (Spectrum Multiview Book Series) (p. 197). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. ↩
- For one instance of this analogy see: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/the-multifaceted-diamond-of-christs-atoning-work/ ↩
- A significant part of the confusion about this topic arises because of the way words like “the gospel” are used synonymously with “salvation” or “atonement” (as used broadly by theologians). A good example of this and a window into Georges’ theology is when he states, “The gospel is a many-sided diamond, and God wants people in all cultures to experience his complete salvation. But despite the multifaceted nature of Christian salvation, Western Christianity emphasizes one aspect of salvation (i.e., forgiveness of sins), thus neglecting other facets of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (Georges, Jayson. The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (p. 13). Timē Press. Kindle Edition.) Georges calls the gospel “a many-sided diamond” and then goes on to speak of the “multifaceted nature of Christian salvation”; using “gospel” and “salvation” interchangeably. ↩
- Georges, Jayson. The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (p. 56). Timē Press. Kindle Edition ↩
- Georges, Jayson. The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (p. 57). Timē Press. Kindle Edition. ↩
- Westerholm, S. (2013). Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme (pp. 23–24). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ↩
- Sanders, E. P. (1977). Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (p. 543). Philadelphia: Fortress Press. ↩
- “Back loading the gospel means attaching various works of submission as the means for achieving the final aim of our faith…” Dillow, Joseph. The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Destiny of Man. Paniym Group, Inc.. Kindle Edition. ↩
- Wright, N. T. (2013). Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Vol. 4, p. 406). Minneapolis: Fortress Press. ↩
- Georges, Jayson. The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (p. 66). Timē Press. Kindle Edition. ↩
- Georges, Jayson (2017, updated version) ↩
- Georges, Jayson. Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials (pp. 197-198). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. ↩
- Ironically, because of the NPP’s understanding of justification, this would likely not be considered a problem for its adherents. Wright says that “Present justification declares, on the basis of faith, what future justification will affirm publicly (according to 2:14-16 and 8:9-11) on the basis of the entire life.” (Wright, Tom. What St Paul Really Said (p. 129). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.) Wright also says, “The whole point about ‘justification by faith’ is that it is something which happens in the present time (Romans 3:26) as a proper anticipation of the eventual judgment which will be announced, on the basis of the whole life led, in the future (Romans 2:1–16). (Wright, N. T. (2005). Paul: Fresh Perspectives (p. 57). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.) In other words, the just life lived will provide actual, and not imputed righteousness, at the final judgment. ↩