In The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer offers powerful insights about the role of shame in sin and honor in salvation. The following quotes are from Chapters 8 and 9 of the book, which is available for free in PDF and Kindle.
Chapter 8 “Restoring the Creator-Creature Relation” examines how giving honor to God is the essence of our relationship with him.
“We owe Him every honor that it is in our power to give Him. Our everlasting grief lies in giving Him anything less. The pursuit of God will embrace the labor of bringing our total personality into conformity to His, and this not judicially, but actually. I do not here refer to the act of justification by faith in Christ. I speak of a voluntary exalting of God to His proper station over us and a willing surrender of our whole being to the place of worshipful submission, which the Creator-creature circumstance makes proper.
“The world of fallen men does not honor God. Millions call themselves by His name, it is true, and pay some token respect to Him, but a simple test will show how little He is really honored among them. Let the average man be put to the proof on the question of who is above, and his true position will be exposed.
“Let no one imagine that he will lose anything of human dignity by this voluntary sellout of his all to his God. He does not by this degrade himself as a man; rather, he finds his right place of high honor as one made in the image of his Creator. His deep disgrace lay in his moral derangement, his unnatural usurpation of the place of God. His honor will be proved by restoring again that stolen throne. In exalting God over all, he finds his own highest honor upheld.
“In our Lord Jesus Christ this [divine law of reciprocal honor] was seen in simple perfection. In His lowly manhood He humbled Himself and gladly gave all glory to His Father in heaven. He sought not His own honor, but the honor of God who sent Him. If I glorify myself, He said on one occasion, my glory is nothing; it is my Father that glorifies me. So far had the proud Pharisees departed from this law that they could not understand one who honored God at his own expense. I honour my Father, said Jesus to them, and ye do dishonour me.
“This God-above-all position is one not easy to take. The mind may approve it while not having the consent of the will to put it into effect. While the imagination races ahead to honor God, the will may lag behind and the man may never guess how divided his heart is.
“God will unveil His glory before His servant’s eyes, and He will place all His treasures at the disposal of such a one, for He knows that His honor is safe in such consecrated hands.
“The whole course of the life is upset by failure to put God where He belongs. We exalt ourselves instead of God, and the curse follows.
Chapter 9 “Meekness and Rest” explores how Jesus resolves the multifaceted problem of shame.
“[T]here is the burden of pride. The labor of self-love is a heavy one indeed. Think for yourself whether much of your sorrow has not arisen from someone speaking slightingly of you. As long as you set yourself up as a little god to which you must be loyal, there will be those who will delight to offer an affront to your idol. How then can you hope to have inward peace? The heart’s fierce effort to protect itself from every slight, to shield its touchy honor from the bad opinion of friend and enemy, will never let the mind have rest. Continue this fight through the years and the burden will become intolerable. Yet the sons of earth are carrying this burden continually, challenging every word spoken against them, cringing under every criticism, smarting under each fancied slight, tossing sleepless if another is preferred before them.
“[The ‘meek’ man] knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring. He rests perfectly content to allow God to set His own values. He will be patient to wait for the day when everything will get its own price tag and real worth will come into its own.
“For sin has played many evil tricks upon us, and one has been the infusing into us a false sense of shame.
“Apart from sin, we have nothing of which to be ashamed. Only an evil desire to shine makes us want to appear other than we are.
To learn how other Christian thinkers in history have addressed honor and shame, visit http://honorshame.com/blogposts/#Theology_History.
The latest issue of Asian Journal Pentecostal Studies focuses on “Biblical Refections on Shame and Honor in Asia.” The entire issue can be downloaded for free at http://www.apts.edu/aeimages/File/AJPS_PDF/18-1Rev-Interior-file-vol-21-1.pdf. The articles include:
People often ask me about good sermons on the topic of shame, but there are not very many.
Recently I’ve listened to an amazing 6-part sermon series “He Covers Our Shame” by Dr. Beau Hughes at The Village Church of Denton, Texas. The sermons are first-rate into terms of biblical explanation and spiritual application. They are available to download and stream at the church website: http://thevillagedenton.church/resources/sermons/series/he-covers-our-shame/
The six sermon titles are:
I strongly recommend these sermons for all Christians, especially those seeking a biblical understanding of shame and honor. Another good sermon is John Piper’s “Battling the Unbelief of Misplaced Shame.”
Have you listened to a good sermon on shame (and honor)? Please share the link below in the comment section.
John Chrysostom, the archbishop of Constantinople (353–407), was famous for his eloquent preaching (the moniker Chrysostomos means “golden-mouthed”). His eighty-eight exegetical homilies on the Gospel of John read much like a social-science commentary. I will explain a few ways that honor and shame shaped his interpretation of Scripture. This post three areas where honor and shame influence Chrysostom’s exegesis.
Chrysostom references honor-shame dynamics to expound the theology of the incarnation in John 1:1–14. Chrysostom says that John opens with the pre-existence of God’s Word because “he knows that men most honor the eldest of beings which was before all” (2:7).
Chrysostom was adamant that the language of “son” does not imply inferiority to the Father. John used this expression son because he was “very confident that between Father and Son there was an equality of honor” (5:2).
Chrysostom describes the incarnation (“the Word became flesh,” John 1:14) as a king conferring honor upon the lowly. “For the high when it associates with the low touches not at all its own honor, while it raises up the other from its excessive lowness; and even thus it was with the Lord. He in nothing diminished His own Nature by this condescension, but raised us, who had always sat in disgrace and darkness, to glory unspeakable. Thus it may be, a king, conversing with interest and kindness with a poor mean man, does not at all shame himself, yet makes the other observed by all and illustrious.” (11:1).
Chrysostom uses the metaphor of wedding (cf. Mt 22 and 25) to explain John 1:13 (“Who were born, not of blood, not of the will of the flesh, but of God.”) The wedding invitation is “so great an honor,” but we behaved with insolence (10:3). God “honored us with all other honor; but we…have offered insult to him” (10:3). Because we acted unworthy and defiled our garments as invitees, “it is to honor the marriage and guests, that [God] drives off those bold and shameless persons” (10:3).
Chrysostom read John as stories about people honoring or shaming Jesus. He says the opponents “use every artifice to destroy the honor of the Son of God… seeking eagerly to pull down Him whom they say they worship.” But their opposition to Christ will “fill their faces with shame and their souls with punishment” (3:2). In contrast, the apostle John was “not ashamed of the dishonor of his Teacher” (10:2).
Chrysostom interprets Jesus’ miracle at the wedding in Cana (John 2) in light of honor and shame. He notes how the wedding hosts failed to properly respect Jesus—they “invite[d] Him not as some great one, but merely as an ordinary acquaintance” (21:1). Nevertheless, the famous Jesus attended the wedding not looking “to His own honor, but to our benefit” (21:1).
Chrysostom says that Jesus’ comment to his mother—“Woman, what have I to do with you?”—was not disrespectful or insulting, but was to “procure her the greatest benefit”(21:2). “Though [Jesus] was careful to honor His mother, yet He cared much more for the salvation of her soul,” which comes through giving honor to Jesus. Had Mary expected to “always be honored by Him as by a son,” then Jesus could not change his mother’s thoughts from “his present lowliness to his future exaltation.”
And why did Jesus say, “My hour has not yet come,” but then perform the miracle? Chrysostom proposes, “He did it to honor His mother, that He might not seem entirely to contradict and shame her that bare Him in the presence of so many” (22:1). After the wedding, Jesus escorts his family home to Capernaum where he spent a few days “to honor his mother” (23:1). Contemporary exegetes might contest Chrysostom’s cultural insights, but he would likely agree with our attempts to read Scripture in light of honor and shame.
Chrysostom’s homilies exhort listeners to appropriate God’s honor. The God who assigns honor is more honorable than mortals. For Chrysostom, the text of John (especially in Johannine passages where people reject Jesus) should refashion our “honor code.” These quotes illustrate Chrysostom’s reflection on the nature of honor.
“Beloved, let us…be sensible of the nobility which has been given to us by God; let us despise vulgar applause. For nothing is so ridiculous and disgraceful as [vainglory], nothing so full of shame and dishonor. One may in many ways see, that to love honor is dishonor; and that true honor consists in neglecting honor, in making no account of it, but in saying and doing everything according to what seems good to God.” (3:6)
“For if we should even desire to attain this honor, we shall then attain to it, when we seek that which comes from God alone. For, He says, “Them that honor Me, I will honor” (1 Sam 2:30). … If then we desire to obtain honor, let us shun honor, so shall we be enabled after accomplishing the laws of God to obtain both the good things which are here, and those which are promised.” (3:6)
“Look up straight to God: He will praise you, and the man who is approved by Him must not seek honor from mortals. Mortal honor often arises from flattery or hatred of others, and brings no profit; but the decision of God is free from this inequality, and brings great advantage to the man whom He approves. This praise then let us follow after.” (4:4)
“If an earthly king approves you, you make no account of the many, though they all deride you; but if the Lord of the universe praise you, do you seek the good words of beetles and gnats? For this is what these men are, compared with God, or rather not even this, but something viler, if there be anything such. How long do we wallow in the mire? How long do we set sluggards and belly-gods for our judges? (76:3)
Overall, Chrysostom’s homilies on John provide a historical model for hermeneutics and homiletics from an honor-shame perspective.
 H. R. Stander, “Honour and Shame as Key Concepts in Chrysostom’s Exegesis of the Gospel of John,” HTS 59, no. 3 (2003): 899–913.
 All citations from John Chrysostom, “Homilies on the Gospel of John,” in From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Charles Marriott, revised and edited by Kevin Knight, vol. 14 (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1889), <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/240111.htm>.
The Patronage Symposium will be limited to ~40 people to foster substantive discussions. To request an official invitation, please complete this form by February 10.
This 5-minute video by Richard Yaqoub (a co-organizer of The Patronage Symposium) is a wonderful explanation of patronage in the Bible and ministry. The contextual explanations of Ezekiel 34 and John 10 are particularly insightful.
Dr. John Barclay, Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at Durham University and author of Paul and the Gift, tentatively plans to join us at The Patronage Symposium, presenting on “How does the Christ-Gift Alter the Operations of Patronage? Theological reflections from the New Testament.” The participation of such a renown New Testament scholar will establish a strong biblical foundation for the conversation on patronage.
To learn more about The Patronage Symposium, visit http://honorshame.com/patronage/.
Honor and shame are innately social and cooperate realities. For this reason, an honor-centric morality prioritizes relational harmony and communal edification, as seen in Pauline theology. John Barclay says, “Paul’s redefinition of honor thus gives prestige to such traits that promote social cohesion and mutual construction” (2014, 313). Victor Furnish explains, “For [Paul], moral action is never a matter of an isolated actor choosing from among a variety of abstract ideas on the basis of how inherently “good” or “evil” each may be. Instead, it is always a matter of choosing and doing what is good for the brother and what will upbuild the whole community of brethren” (2009, 233). First Corinthians offers an apostolic case study of an honor-centric ethic, which approaches morality different than the West’s guilt-based paradigm.
The formation of God’s covenant community is Paul’s moral vision and ethical telos. Richard Hays notes, “The ethical norm, then, is not given in the form of a predetermined rule or set of rules for conduct; rather, the right action must be discerned on the basis of a Christological paradigm, with a view to the need of the community and the community’s identity as God’s covenant people” (Hays 1994, 37). So for example, when certain Corinthians approach the issue of idol-meat as an individual right, Paul reframes it as a matter of community construction (1 Cor 8).
Western theologians and missionaries often assume that “guilt-based” morality is ethically superior. This, I believe, is a dangerous assumption.
A guilt-based approach to ethics has several shortcomings that limit its moral effectiveness, particularly in collectivistic contexts. These limitations do not invalidate Western ethics as “wrong” or “unbiblical.” The notion of individual guilt is indeed essential, but not sufficient, for moral change. By noting these four shortcomings of guilt-based morality, I hope to show where Christians could incorporate honor-shame insights in developing a biblical morality.
Paul deNeui is Professor of Missiology at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. He recently edited Restored to Freedom from Guilt, Shame, and Fear: Lessons from the Buddhist World (SEANET 13; William Carey Library, 2017; TOC here). This post is an excerpt from his introduction.
Anxiety is common to every culture. The expression of it and restoration from it are also determined by every culture. What brings relief in one context may only aggravate anxiety in another. Those working interculturally face this challenge when the solutions that worked in their home contexts fail to bring desired results in the new location and often cause further damage.
The hidden inner differences of our various worldview lenses best reveal themselves in times of crises, when we don’t understand why “the other” doesn’t respond as we do. A teachable moment? Yes, but learning in the midst of crisis is difficult at best. Unfortunately, the usual result of such unguided cultural encounters is a reinforcement of prejudicial stereotypes on both sides. What would happen if intercultural workers were to prepare themselves proactively for the inevitable and view future encounters of differing worldviews as enriching experiences rather than cultural time bombs waiting to explode?
Anxiety is given expression from out of the worldview where it is born. For many cultures, fear-orientation, guilt-orientation, and/or shame-orientation are major impacts upon the shaping and expression of individual and communal-held worldview. …
Freedom “from” brings with it the positive side of these three orientations: the freedom “to” empowerment, honor, and innocence. We use the word “restoration” believing that it is God’s intention to restore all that were lost through fear, guilt, and shame back to the original freedom to power, honor, and innocence of relationships with the Creator, with humanity, with self, and with all of creation. To that end, we join our voices with that of the Psalmist,
Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
Jackson Wu says patronage is “the most overlooked aspect of honor-shame cultures.” I believe patronage is also the most frustrating aspect of cross-cultural relationships. In other words, patronage is an issue we must address.
In recent decades secular anthropologists and biblical scholars have analyzed the dynamics of patronage in Majority World cultures. But regrettably, missiologists and missionaries continue to overlook this pivotal reality.
For this reason, we are hosting The Patronage Symposium October 2018 in Beirut, Lebanon. This meeting will gather leading thinkers and practitioners from diverse contexts to develop a multi-disciplinary, biblical, and relevant missiology regarding patronage. To facilitate meaningful interaction, the gathering will be limited to ~40 people, so be sure to register here for an invitation.
By the quality and quantity of people who have already registered for an invitation, The Patronage Symposium promises to be an excellent event. For more information visit http://honorshame.com/patronage.
Do you know someone who should (or would like to) participate in this event? Please forward this to them.
One of the most popular posts here at HonorShame.com is the infographic “Culture Vantage Points: How West and East (Mis)Perceive Each Other’s Cultural Values.”
Since many people use it as a teaching resource, I developed this black/white version that is easier to print and distribute. (You may share freely, no permission required). Download the JPG file here. The color version of this infographic and complete explanation are available at www.HonorShame.com/culture.
Here are the top blogposts from HonorShame.com for 2017.
Guest Samuel Albert is Editor in Chief of www.ChristianMusicAndHymns.com.
The Bible has a whole vocabulary to do with shame, reproach and disgrace. There are over 10 Hebrew words that translate these words into English, but they have been almost evacuated of meaning. This means that we have to read the texts about shame in the Old Testament carefully, taking account both of their original social context and of our own. The key ideas with regard to shame are disgrace and exposure. Disgrace is the loss of approval, of status and of respect. For example, the ways in which the Nazis treated their concentration camp victims were designed to disgrace them and to deny their humanity. Mockery and ridicule are calculated to demonstrate that the victim is worthless.
However, shame is also what we feel when we are exposed. Some things were not meant for public display. Smedes argues that privacy is essential to our mystery, sacredness and identity as human beings. Our society, with its obsession with eroticism and its addiction to pornography, has lost its sense of shame just as it has lost its bearings with regard to guilt. The ideas of disgrace and exposure combine in the biblical metaphor for shame, which is the lifting of a woman’s skirts or the cutting of a man’s clothing, especially so as to expose private parts. Such was the utter disgrace that Jesus endured when crucified naked on a Roman cross. He endured the shame of the cross and was honored by God raising Him from the dead and exalting Him.
Today, matters which were regarded by former ages as shameful and to be ‘hushed up’ are now staple fodder for journalists. It is exposure for exposure’s sake, whether or not it is in the public interest and serves the common good. While it is trite to criticise the media for their prurience, if gossip did not sell, it wouldn’t be printed. If Shameless did not attract an audience measured in the millions, it would not have been recommissioned for a third series. Fallen human nature is curious for knowledge of damaging things about other people. This both panders to our desire to know secrets and gives us the luxury of looking down on others who have been caught acting in such reprehensible ways. Christians ought to be conspicuously different in this regard. We should be more discerning about what we read and listen to. We should be prepared to ask the question: what practical business do I have in knowing this about that person? The social elements in shame of disgrace and exposure are the driving force behind ASBOs (Anti-Social Behavior Orders) which are the government’s current weapon of choice in the fight against petty crime. But such orders presuppose the existence of a moral community to which the perpetrators of antisocial behavior are answerable. The very legalism of the mechanism and anti-relational aspects of the criminal justice system militate against their effectiveness.
In a society with a stronger shared morality and better relationships such shameful/dishonorable behavior, particularly among young people, would be dealt with through more informal mechanisms. There would be relational means of positively reinforcing what is honorable and negatively reinforcing what is shameful. The decay of these ‘unofficial’ mechanisms requires less efficient substitutes in the form of increased use of contracts (such as those recently proposed for council tenants), more law, and more police. Shame can be destructive, if it leads to feelings of worthlessness and if it is a stigma which can never be lifted. What is the Christian alternative?
The Bible teaches that one of the primeval forms of sin is pride. Appeals to honor can disguise pride and self-reliance. Honor can become a means by which human beings seek to establish their identity on the basis of how they are seen through the eyes of others; the Christian knows that their identity is given to them by God. Although Christians are careful and charitable with regard to the honor of others, Christians are able to hold lightly to their own honor because they find their identity, their sense of self-worth, in God. Instead of depending on the approbation of the social groups to which they belong, Christians can be secure in their identity as people deliberately and uniquely created by God and loved by God. Our identity is given to us by God not by the media, nor by the public, nor even by our close personal relationships.
Please considering joining us at the:
Patron-client relationships were foundational in the world of Scripture. Plus, the dynamics of status, benefaction, generosity, reciprocity, loyalty and gratitude remain foundational in societies today. Yet the realities of patronage remain ignored in theological and missional conversations.
This symposium will gather leading thinkers and practitioners from diverse contexts to develop a multi-disciplinary, biblical, and relevant missiology regarding patronage. The format will feature presentations followed by group interactions for beneficial outcomes.
The following presenters have verbally committed to participating in The Patronage Symposium. If you are interested in presenting a workshop, please complete this form.
Jayson Georges, founding editor of HonorShame.com
The all-inclusive cost of $299 includes all conference fees, 3 nights lodging, and all meals at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, plus airport shuttle. All participants must arrange and pay for their own travel to Beirut, Lebanon.
Participants should plan to arrive on Oct 2 and depart after 3pm on Oct 5.
Day 1 (Oct 3, all day): Listening –This day will focus on hearing local paradigms and taxonomies for patronage. Dr. Martin Accad will moderate the morning discussion with Arab leaders about patronage. The afternoon session will present models of patronage in other global contexts (i.e., African, Asian, Latin), then conclude with Dr. deSilva’s presentation on patronage in the early church community.
Day 2 (Oct 4, all day): Reflecting — How can Christians embody and proclaim the gospel in patron-client contexts? The second day will focus on theological and missional issues related to patronage, especially practical issues such as business development, leadership training, church relations, etc. This day will feature seven workshop presentations along with collaborative discussions.
Day 3 (Oct 5, until lunch): Synthesizing — The final morning session will synthesize the symposium and develop actions points for further development.
To enable deeper interactions, the symposium will be limited to ~40 participants. To request an invitation, complete this short application form by Janurary 15, 2018. For further information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A long time ago, the king of Persia was a man named Ahasuerus. His glorious kingdom included 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia. (verses 1–2)
In the third year of his reign the king hosted a royal banquet for all his officials—the governors, ministers, and generals. The celebration was epic. For 180 days king Ahasuerus paraded his magnificence before everyone. His glory and honor were on full display. Everyone awed at the king’s splendor and majesty. (3–4)
After the six-month celebration for his officials, king Ahasuerus hosted another grand banquet for all the people in the capital of Susa. Everyone, from government officials to rural peasants, feasted in the king’s palace for seven full days. The spectacular event displayed all the king’s splendor: white curtains, blue wall hangings, purple linens, silver rings, marble pillars, and more. The people sat on gold couches, danced on pearl mosaics, and drank from golden goblets. At the king’s order people ate mounds of fancy food and drank barrels of exotic wine. The opulence reflected the king’s glory. He generously treated everyone like royalty, and they praised his benevolence. At the same time, Queen Vashti hosted another royal banquet for all the women of Susa. There was no end to the king’s extravagant generosity towards all his subjects. He sat proudly atop the hierarchy of honor. (5–9)
By the seventh day of feasting, the king was reveling in his glory. So he summoned Queen Vashti into his presence to display her royal beauty for all the people to admire. This made Queen Vashti feel degraded like a concubine, so she disobeyed the king and refused to come. Her public defiance insulted and infuriated the king. He completely lost face before all of his guests. (10–12)
The king gathered seven loyal advisers from his inner council, asking, “The queen has publicly defied my order. According to the laws of Persia, what is the consequence of not honoring the king?” (13–15)
One advisor said to the king, “The queen’s blatant disrespect not only wronged you, the king, but it wronged all Persian leaders. All the women will hear about Vasthi’s refusal to honor you and so likewise dishonor their own husbands. Her contempt threatens the entire social order of Persia. All the wives will despise their husbands, who are your officials. There will be no end to the disrespect and chaos in your kingdom. This will diminish your royal authority and undermine the social order. As the king wishes, you may issue a decree to expel Vashti forever from your presence. Then you can give her royal position to a virtuous woman who will respect you. When such a decree is announced throughout your kingdom, all the women will know their place and honor their husbands.” (16–20)
The king liked this proposal to reassert his authority and preserve the honor of his officials. He issued royal letters to all the provinces declaring that every man be honored as the head of his household. This would ensure the stature of King Ahasuerus and his administration. (21–22)
Readers often misinterpret Scripture for a simple reason—our culture is very different from the ancient cultures of the Bible. For example, Westerners are often “blind” to the social dynamics of honor and shame.
The Honor-Shame Paraphrase helps you understand the Bible according to its original cultural context. We highlight social nuances to unlock the meaning of Scripture in insightful and accessible ways. This series is ideal for personal devotions, teaching preparation, ministry training, Bible studies, and life groups.
This paraphrase of Esther unlocks the subtle plot dynamics of this intriguing and theologically rich narrative. Thanks to providential circumstances, Jewish exiles in Persia escape complete humiliation and gain an honorable status. The socio-historical introduction explains key honor-shame motifs such as feasts, social hierarchy, and status in the story of Esther.
“This lively and engaging paraphrase of Esther, like all the biblical paraphrases in this series, seeks to illuminate and express key implicit cultural assumptions shaping biblical discourse. Sumptuous food and fabulous feasting, role violations and status reversals, male honoring and female defiance, enemy plotting and counter-cultural female heroics are all displayed here as strands of a fascinating story of honor denied and honor bestowed.”
—Dr. John H. Elliott, Professor Emeritus, University of San Francisco, author of 1 Peter, Anchor Bible Commentary
“The Honor-Shame Paraphrase series gives us a fresh look at an ancient perspective. As a paraphrase, each book nicely serves as a middle ground between a commentary and a translation. Accordingly, they aptly highlight diverse and subtle ways that honor and shame influence the biblical writers. One easily sees the care given to remain biblically faithful and culturally meaningful. I commend this series both as a useful tool for personal study and public ministry.”
—Dr. Jackson Wu, professor to Chinese pastors, author of Saving God’s Face
“Applying shame and honor as ever-present realities in the ancient world, Jayson Georges powerfully accents the cultural values behind the words that would otherwise seem flavorless. His paraphrasing penetrates deeply into the intentions of the heart that often lay hidden from readers. We are exposed to life as it was lived, feelings as they were felt and hidden motives as they were brought to light. The biblical text breathes afresh with meaning.”
—Dr. Duane H. Elmer, Emeritus Distinguished Professor, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, author of Cross-Cultural Servanthood
“In a rapidly globalizing world cultural differences are confronting us daily. Not only have these cultural differences exposed a cultural bias in our daily lives, but they have also exposed the significant role culture plays in our approach to the Bible. The Honor-Shame Paraphrase provides a great resource that helps people understand how the Bible would have been understood in the Ancient Near East. I am both thankful and excited to recommend a resource that will help us understand the Bible.”
—Spencer MacCuish, President, Eternity Bible College
The dynamics of honor and shame influenced the events of the Reformation, especially in the early years. This post sheds light on the social context surrounding the theological controversies that shook the Western world 500 years ago.
Luther’s 95 Theses and subsequent writings spread like wildfire in Germany. Luther garnered quite a following from his fellow Germans. For example, his journey to the Diet of Worms (1521) was celebrated by great fanfare in one town after another. However, the strong support Luther received was largely for political reasons.
The people of Germany felt plundered and disrespected by the Pope. In an era when politics and religion were inseparable, Luther’s writings fueled a national independence movement. The Germans were eager to throw off the oppressive and degrading shackles of their Italian overlords from Rome.
Even at the Diet of Worms when Luther defended his theology, he blatantly appealed to these nationalistic sentiments. “Property and possessions, especially in this illustrious nation of Germany, have been devoured by an unbelievable tyranny! Should I recant at this point, I would open the door to more tyranny and impiety.”
Germans found Luther to be their champion standing against the tyranny of Rome. He would deliver them from the shameful oppression and restore their status. In this German political context, Martin Luther and his theology found sanctuary.
Rome’s strategy against Luther was classic name-and-shame. Rome tried many tactics to squash Luther’s voice and put out the flames of open revolt against Rome’s authority. For example, representatives of Rome claimed that Luther was conceived when the devil raped his mother in an outhouse. Their smear campaign against the German monk reflected a crude political campaign more than a theology debate. Here is the edict issued against Luther after his famous trial at the Diet of Worms. Note language for shaming Luther and his community.
“This devil in the habit of a monk has brought together ancient errors into one stinking puddle and has invented new ones. … He lives the life of a beast…. Luther is to be regarded as a convicted heretic. When the time is up, no one is to harbor him. His followers are to be condemned. His books are to be eradicated from the memory of man.”
Martin Luther spared no derision against the Pope. He referred to Rome as “Babylon” and the “anti-Christ,” mostly because the Roman church claimed she herself (not Christ) was the agent of salvation. However, even several years into the controversy Luther maintained a high degree of respect for Rome and desired church unity. In a letter drafted for Pope Leo in January 1519, Luther writes:
“The honorable Sir Charles, chamber secretary to Your Holiness, … very harshly accused me in the name of Your Holiness of lacking respect for and being rash toward the Roman church and Your Holiness, and demanded satisfaction for this. Hearing this, I was deeply grieved that my most loyal service has had such an unhappy outcome and that what I had undertaken–to guard the honor of the Roman church–had resulted in disgrace. …
I cannot under any circumstances recant anything if I want to honor the Roman church–and this has to be to my primary concern. Such a recanting would accomplish nothing but to defile the Roman church more and more and bring it into the mouths of the people as something that should be accused. See, Father, those whom I have opposed have inflicted this injury and virtual ignominy on the Roman church among us. With their most insipid sermons, preached in the name of Your Holiness, they have cultivated only the most shameful avarice.”
In this letter, Luther shows a keen sensitivity to the underlying problem of the controversy he instigated—the apparent disgrace of the Roman church. But in a masterful way, Luther attempts to reframe the narrative—he only seeks to bring honor to the Roman church, and the true source of shame is the envoys sent from Rome to oppose Luther.
Reformation theology arose in a particular social context shaped by honor-shame dynamics in key ways. To understand the theology of the Reformation, we must take note of the context of the Reformation.
Christian Burkhardt is a pastor at Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, CA. His two poems aim to awaken our “Longing to Belong” and direct us on how to be fully satisfied by seeking God’s face, as we were “Made for Glory.”
What if we are more than the thoughts inside our heads?
More than independent agents, as the philosophers have said
What if we can’t disconnect so easily from the past?
What if the failures of our fathers cause shame and pain that lasts?
Our slates weren’t blank when we stepped onto the stage
And our own missteps and errors have spilled ink across our page
What if that is why we try so hard to recreate
a sparkling self-image from the old one that we hate?
What if that is why our social scenes are apt to change?
We love our individuality, but shun those we find strange.
We’re longing to belong, terrified of being known
For if they really got to know us, our careful cover would be blown
We were made for deep connection, but we can’t leave the shallow end
To brave the deeper waters to find a truer friend
So we settle for the superficial, for underneath that thin veneer
We’re all quietly wondering what in the world we’re doing here.
What if our attempts to cover up our faults
Are the echo of a longing for a glory that was lost?
We were made for glory by a Master hand
Lifted up from the simple sand
In the grace of a Father who called us by name
We were made for glory, but our heads were turned
By a fork-tongued liar, who promised we would learn
Deeper truths, reach higher heights, if we struck out on our own
We took the bait and turned our backs on the goodness God had shown
We turned from glory to seek our own
Our eyes opened, but our radiance gone
What a fall from glory! What a fall from grace!
Sent from God’s presence, hidden from his face
No family, name, or home
Longing to belong
Terrified of being known
He came from glory, from the Father’s side
The Prince of Heaven, come for his bride
But we turned our faces from him, for we found that in his light
Our masks were insufficient to keep our shame from sight
He came with such a spark
But we’d grown accustomed to the dark
Away, away, we cast him aside
The King of Glory, crucified
Yet he was raised in glory and seated at God’s right!
His obedience to death was precious in God’s sight!
And from his honored position, King Jesus now declares
That He has made a way, his glory now to share
We were made for glory, and we can again
Know the honor of being called God’s friend
But we cannot serve two masters, for it is impossible
To seek the honor come from God, and still try to seek our own
Renounce false honor claims! Pledge allegiance to the King!
And you will share the glory of the kingdom He will bring
Not longing, but belonging; adopted by the Lord
You’ll see his face and bear his name; home forevermore.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
That is how most English Bibles translate Romans 3:23. Western Christianity typically interprets these words as, “Every individual person has done something wrong and not lived up to God’s perfect moral standard.” This statement may be theologically true, though not true to Paul’s intention. The individualistic and moralistic meaning that most Westerners assume was not Paul’s main point here.
When you consider the verse’s various contexts—historical (e.g., Jew-Gentile tensions, imperial Rome), cultural (e.g., collectivistic, honor-shame), and rhetorical (e.g., the preceding chapters defining sin as dishonor, the preceding verse critiquing ethnic privilege)— a different meaning emerges.
Here is an honor-shame paraphrase of Romans 3:23 that captures the intent and implications of Paul’s sentence: “And the reason [that God does not privilege one ethnic group over another] is because all peoples, both Jews and Gentiles, have become dishonorable since they have failed to properly honor God.” Here is an explanation. Read more ›
Since first announcing the videos, we have added these four presentations to the YouTube playlist:
Many presenters have kindly agreed to make their PowerPoint/Keynote presentations and workshop notes publicly available. All of these resources are in this Dropbox folder. You can download, view and use these resources as you please in your ministry and teaching. When using these resources, please do cite them as you would any published resource.