Shame and Guilt in Racial Reconciliation

The post is adapted from chapter #3 of  The Bridge to Racial Unity: Discussion Guide 2.0 from Be the Bridge ministries.

A personal awareness of racism and racial injustice can generate uncomfortable feelings of shame and guilt. In America’s individualistic and therapeutic culture, shame and guilt tend to be regarded with suspicion—or as tools for controlling others. Viewed this way, they can hinder the process of relational restoration. In the Bible, however, shame and guilt have redemptive potential. But our ability to appreciate such redemption requires a closer look at how culture shapes our responses to shame and guilt.

Our Cultural Responses

Western morality is based on individual guilt and innocence (for instance, a person who obeys the law is “good,” but one who breaks the law is “bad” and deserves to be punished). It reflects the assumption that the individual is the primary unit and source of identity, accountability, and status. For this reason, people from individualistic cultures struggle to grasp the concept of collective shame, or a morality based on communal honor. This is where individuals share responsibility in the preservation of a community’s integrity and reputation.

Communal honor exists somewhat in American culture. If your toddler pushes a kid at the park, for example, you apologize on his or her behalf. If a father makes a scene at a high-school football game in front of his daughter and her peers, she feels embarrassed. In general, however, when communal shame is aroused beyond the level of familial association, which frequently happens in conversations about racial inequality, it is rapidly countered with proclamations of individual innocence—“I didn’t do anything wrong! I’m not a racist!” The following story illustrates cultural differences in the way people handle collective shame and guilt.

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Videos from the Honor-Shame Conference

We are excited to announce that the videos from the 2017 Honor-Shame Conference are now available on this YouTube playlist

The plenary sessions and featured workshops are full-length videos (~1 hour). The majority of the workshops are short trailers (3–5 minutes) of the presenter’s main point. 

We are grateful for the opportunity to capture and share these significant contributions from our gathering in Chicago last month. The 28 videos will be on YouTube for public use, so feel free to share the word. 


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8 Tips for Doing “Honor-Shame Theology”

How can we develop an “honor-shame theology” for today? How might be better explain the gospel in honor-shame contexts? Here are 8 practical tips to help you better utilize honor-shame in global ministry.

This post summarizes part of my plenary talk at the 2017 Honor-Shame Conference. A full-length webinar video is available here.

1. Missions: From Evangelism to Discipleship.

Many Christian workers engage honor-shame for its evangelistic utility. Honor-shame most certainly does impact evangelism, but limiting its value to evangelism truncates our theology and undermines the important task of making disciples. Honor and shame transform our understanding of the gospel, from conversion message to discipleship life. As we understand the gospel rightly, honor-shame is not merely about cross-cultural communication, but a matter of ethics and kingdom living.  An honor-shame perspective enhances our gospel presentations by emphasizing the ethical and communal dimensions inherent to the gospel. So, use honor-shame to make disciples, not just more converts.

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New Infographics

In 2016 the ministry Global Mapping International released the missiographic “Culture’s Color, God’s Light,” which featured a global map of culture types (guilt, shame, and fear). The infographic has become GMI’s #2 most viewed infographic and has appeared in many resources. (In large part because they did an excellent job visualizing cultural dynamics!) 

Updated Map

I’m pleased to share that GMI has updated the map (see below) to include an additional 5,000 respondents (13,000 total) from Click here to read my original explanation and qualifications, which remain valid.

 Hi-res images of this map are available as PDF and PNG


GMI also recently posted Spanish and Portuguese translations of the infographic. Both available for free to use and share with others.

Your Help with Data Visualization?

Over 20,000 around the world have taken The Culture Test, and ~500 new people take the test every month. My desire is to steward this data by making it available in a secure, accessible, and aesthetic manner for missions research and strategizing. This means developing an online map where people can interactively segment and analyze the anonymous data (with Tableau Public, DataSeed, or a similar program).

So, do you have skills in “interactive data visualization”? I would love to collaborate with you on this project. Send me an email at Thanks!


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6 Ways Honor and Shame Make Disciples (Not Converts)

Jackson Wu (Ph.D., SEBTS) teaches theology and missiology to Chinese leaders. He blogs at

Honor and shame are essential for being and making disciples. They are more than mere labels used to describe culture and improve cross-cultural communication.

To explain my meaning, I wrote an article last year called “Does the ‘Plan of Salvation’ Make Disciples: Why Honor and Shame are Essential for Christian Ministry.” An honor-shame lens exposes potential blind spots in discipleship that can result from traditional gospel presentations. After all, our initial view of the gospel has disproportionate influence on the trajectory of our Christian life.

Here are six practical implications for ministry. How can understanding honor and shame improve efforts to make disciples, not mere “converts”?

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The Meaning of “Faith”

The latest issue of the magazine Modern Reformation includes my article “Talking About Faith in Non-Western Contexts.” This article explains the biblical meaning of “faith” in terms of patron-client relationships and recent New Testament scholarship.

The opening paragraphs are included below, and Modern Reformation has kindly unlocked the full article for 30 days for the general public, so click here to access and read the full article.  

Many Western Christians have a sub-biblical understanding of faith. “Faith” has been reduced to a person’s religious beliefs. Faith has become the mere intellectual assent of an individual to a specific set of religious doctrines or dogmas. This view of faith is not only incomplete when compared to how the Bible speaks of faith, it also is difficult for non-Westerners to understand when they are presented with the claims of Christ by missionaries.

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Communion, from an Honor-Shame Perspective

God is the “King of Glory.” God does not have honor. He is honor. Glory radiates from his very being. He is the One who bestows and grants honor upon us. God is the only source of honor.

David says, “My salvation and honor depend upon God” (Ps 62:7). Psalm 75 says, “It is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.” God alone ascribes status.

Our only hope for honor is from Jesus Christ—the Eucharist declares this subversive and radical fact. In taking the bread and cup, we say to each other and to the world, “My core identity and status does not depend upon gender, race, family, ethnicity, or any other cultural reckoning.” At the cross, all that is nullified. There is zero place for boasting or claiming status.

But the Corinthian church failed to understand that. Their pursuit of status distinction caused divisions and demeaned others. They claimed status based on oratory skills, benefactions, giftings, wealth and more. Their twisted pursuit of world honor destroyed community and nullified the cross of Jesus. And Paul tells them they are missing the entire point of the Lord’s Supper:

“When you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; …When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.” (1 Cor 11:21)

In the Corinthian church, richer Christians were not breaking bread with lower-class folks. Paul tells them, “You show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (1 Cor 11: 22). Their behavior was dishonoring. This runs counter to the very work of God in the Church. So Paul declares:

“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member.” (1 Cor 12:21–24).

The bread and wine declare the supremacy and ultimacy of God’s honor. We cast aside our false notions of worth and cling to the glory conferred by God. This enables unity in the Church (John 17:22). Communion is the most tangible expression of that unity. Communion—a tangible expression of our allegiance to a crucified (yet risen) person—counteracts all false boasting with Gods’ sovereign, shame-erasing grace. Paul explains this radical subversion of status:

[In his son Jesus and in us] God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, … in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:27–31)

In sharing the bread and cup of Jesus, we publicly declare our allegiance to Jesus Christ, and his cruciform redefinition of power, status, and victory. Communion is our boast in a humiliated savior.


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Raising Support in Honor-Shame Cultures: 5 Tips

As the global Church expands, there is a growing need for money to fund ministry. The Church in Asia, Africa, and Latin America has a vision for global missions, and this vision requires financial resources.

Traditional fund-raising models are often rooted in a white, Western cultural context, so might not suitably fund ministries in the rest of the World. These 5 tips could help with fund-raising in honor-shame cultures. These are just some ideas, not gaurantees.

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1 Peter 2:1–12 (HSP)

Here is an honor-shame paraphrase of 1 Peter 2:1–12. This is excerpted from the new book 1 Peter: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase, available as Kindle or PDF for $2.99.

Put away the habits of your shameful past: degrading speech, manipulation, wearing a mask, status envy, and belittling gossip. As new people, grow into your honorable identity. Crave the truth that will sustain you. You know the Lord will always be true to you.1-3

Identify with Jesus, a reliable rock. Though people rejected and humiliated him, God selected and honored him. As his followers, you are “bricks” in God’s new temple. You are esteemed people with special access to God; your sacrificial lives are gifts that bring honor to God through Jesus. This is what God foretold, “I’m building a new temple upon an honored cornerstone, and whoever stands with the cornerstone—Jesus—will never be ashamed.” In fact, those who hope in him receive true honor.4-7a

Some withhold their allegiance and reject Jesus as the foundational cornerstone of God’s new work in the world. The scandalous notion of a “crucified Lord” trips them up. They fall because they disregard his words and reject his royal proclamation, as expected.7b-8

But you are a specially chosen group, esteemed royalty with direct access to the king, an honored nation, and the people of God’s very own family! God has honored you beyond all measure so that you can publicly honor him before all people. He has given you eyes to see the truth of his glories. God has radically reversed your status! You used to be nobodies, complete rejects and disgraceful outcasts. But now, you are God’s own people, members of his prestigious family! You used to be completely disconnected from God’s benevolence. But now he has showered lavish favors upon you!9-10

You are cherished and honored by God. So even as outcasts in the minority, you must refrain from the fleshly impulse to establish your own reputation
 before others (because that actually demeans your worth before God).
Rather, make sure your behavior among the pagans is honorable.
 So, even though they scorn you and spoil your reputation, eventually they will see your respectable behavior and honor God
when he returns to publicly evaluate all people. Let me explain how you should act as the honorable people of God.11–12


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1 Peter: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase

My newest book is now available1 Peter: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase ($2.99).

Previous posts explain the cultural problem of all translations and how an Honor-Shame Paraphrase helps overcome the cultural gap

The epistle of 1 Peter explains the gospel in terms of honor and shame, perhaps better than any book in the Bible. In profound and practical ways, the apostle Peter teaches persecuted Christians how to follow and honor Jesus in the face of shame.

1 Peter: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase uncovers the social situation and theology of Peter’s letter. This paraphrase helps you discern anew Peter’s insights for theology, ethics, and ministry in today’s world. The book also includes a socio-historical introduction, theological summary, outline, and further resources. 

Buy now for just $2.99 on Kindle or PDF. You can click here to request a free review (for Amazon review, a journal, your blog, etc.) or exam (for classroom purposes) copy. 


“Here is an imaginative approach to First Peter . . . Georges captures well the cultural overtones and undertones of this ancient pastoral letter and its language of honor and shame. Lively paraphrase and imaginative dialogue between First Peter and two putative letters of a pastoral colleague in Cappadocia tease out the honor-shame nuances of this Petrine gem.”
—Dr. John H. Elliott, Professor Emeritus, University of San Francisco, author of 1 Peter, Anchor Bible Commentary

“Georges’ paraphrase helps us read 1 Peter from a fresh perspective. The Bible does not change, but our perspective on the biblical message can change. Georges understand this. His clear and simple prose sheds light on the pervasive influence of honor and shame within Peter’s letter. As a result, readers will gain a new appreciation for the relevance of 1 Peter for our daily lives.”
—Dr. Jackson Wu, professor to Chinese pastors, author of Saving God’s Face.

Your Response?

I am eager to hear your response, both positive and negative, to the Honor-Shame Paraphrase. So after you read the book please email at with your thoughts. 

This idea of an honor-shame paraphrase arose from the countless times I have heard Westerners says, “Wow, honor-shame cultures are soooo different…that blows my mind!” When I hear a comment like that, I wonder whether they realize the same cross-cultural dynamics occur in reading Scripture. I sense that people miss a lot when they read Scripture because they remain aware of the socio-cultural context, much like a short-term visitor to a foreign country.

People have positively received my previous attempts to paraphrase passages of Scripture (such as Matthew 5 in Ministering in HS Cultures). So this book is an effort to apply that approach to more of Scripture so people can grasp the cultural nuances. I feel like I am still working out the genre and form of “honor-shame paraphrase,” and that is why I’m eager to hear your responses. Thanks! 

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Last Call to Register: The Honor-Shame Conference

Final call to register for the Honor-Shame Conference, June 19–21 in Chicago. Because of space constants at Wheaton College, registration is capped at 270 people. Limited spots remain, so register now if you would like to join us. 

Check out the great line-up of workshop and plenary presenters


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The Honor-Shame Paraphrase

Reading the Bible across cultures can be difficult; however, the task is certainly not impossible. With cultural awareness, people today can accurately interpret the Bible by bridging the cultural gap between our world and the biblical world.

The Honor-Shame Paraphrase is a forthcoming book series that highlights the honor-shame dynamics of the Bible for modern readers. Each title makes explicit the implicit cultural assumptions of the Bible. This helps readers overcome cultural blindness. We show how original audiences heard the message in light of their shared cultural assumptions. This series will be ideal for personal devotions, teaching preparation, discipleship lessons, Bible studies, and ministry training.

The Paraphrase Method 

The Honor-Shame Paraphrase uses several strategies to express the cultural values and implications of the Bible. For example, we avoid clichéd religious words such as holy, Christ, and faith. These words are like dull knives: over usage has blunted their effect. So instead we use terms like entirely acceptable (holy), God’s exalted king (Christ), and complete loyalty (faith). These re-definitions rescue truth from familiarity and accentuate the honor-shame nuances of the original words.

The Honor-Shame Paraphrase also amplifies certain passages. This means inserting words or phrases in order to clarify the author’s main point or logical connection. The goal throughout is to make the original, honor-shame meaning of the Bible more obvious for readers who do not share the same cultural assumptions. This is similar to how Ezra and the Levites “helped the people to understand the law…They read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Neh 8:7b–8, NRSV).

Please do not equate this Honor-Shame Paraphrase with the actual Bible. This paraphrase is a socio-cultural exposition that seeks to illuminate (not translate) the Bible. The genre of paraphrase weaves together commentary and application to capture the message of the Bible in a fresh way (akin to Eugene Peterson’s The Message). In this way, we make academic research about biblical cultures accessible and informative for people today.

Before the actual paraphrase, we first explain the socio-cultural context of the biblical book. This section will introduce the key cultural dynamics—e.g., honor, purity, covenant, patronage, obligation, ancestors, hierarchy, hospitality—that are essential for understanding the book’s rhetorical, social, and theological strategy. These cultural nuances shed light on the meaning of the biblical message.

Something New, or Old?

The concept of honor-shame is not a “new lens” for reading the Bible but more like a shovel that removes centuries of residue. Honor and shame are inherent aspects of ancient cultures and biblical theology, not merely categories from modern anthropology. The Honor-Shame Paraphrase does not contextualize the Bible for a new setting. Rather it seeks to make the original meaning of the Bible more apparent for contemporary readers from a different culture. Nevertheless, the Honor-Shame Paraphrase does offer new biblical insights for life, ministry, and theology in today’s world.

The next post will introduce the first book in the Honor-Shame Paraphrase series—1 Peter.


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The Problem with Bible Translations: Your Culture

Anyone who reads the Bible today faces an unavoidable fact—Scripture was originally written in and for a culture different than our own culture. This makes the Bible difficult to understand.

Consider the meaning of these words: He whistled at her, and she winked back. This sentence probably brought to mind an image of two people flirting. Your mind intuitively used cultural assumptions to interpret the facial gestures as innuendos. But depending on your cultural context, winking could mean something entirely different: in Asia, it is an offensive gesture; in West Africa, parents wink at children as a signal for them to leave the room. Interpretation is based on cultural assumptions, so we must recognize that the cultural gap between the biblical world and us may cause different interpretations.

Different Assumptions

You’ve heard this statistic: 90 percent of communication is non-verbal. This suggests that most meaning is implicit. Every writer assumes the reader can “read between the lines,” so there is no need to state the obvious. As the example about winking illustrates, the sender and receiver of a message must share common cultural assumptions for communication to be effective. But when people from two different cultures try to communicate, meaning gets lost in translation. This explains why readers today might misinterpret aspects of the Bible—we don’t share a common culture.

Biblical Social Values

Biblical writers assumed their readers understood the implicit social values of honor-shame cultures, such as: patronage, hospitality, purity, ethnicity, family, reciprocity, etc. But modern readers don’t intuitively know the assumed cultural nuances of ancient societies. So we misunderstand (or simply miss) aspects of the Bible because of cultural blindness. This problem is acute for Westerners because their guilt-innocence culture differs significantly from biblical cultures. Modern Western values such as legality, individualism, egalitarianism, and rationalism influence how we read the Bible, but they were not prominent in ancient cultures. (Christians in the Majority World do live in honor-shame cultures that are similar to biblical cultures. But, unfortunately, the traditions of Western Christianity unduly influence their theology.)

Example: The Meaning of “Faith”

Cultural assumptions even affect the meaning of individual words. For example, the English word “faith” refers to someone’s personal belief about something. This meaning reflects the rationalistic and individualistic values of Western culture. However, the biblical notion of “faith” reflects relational and collectivistic cultural values. In the Old Testament, an Israelite’s “faith” is a commitment to their covenant obligation to honor Yahweh. Likewise, the New Testament word translated “faith” (Greek: pistis) suggests loyalty and fidelity to a relationship. Biblical faith is not merely “belief about God,” but “allegiance to God.” Western cultural values give the word “faith” a cognitive, individualistic meaning that distracts readers from the relational connotations of the biblical concept.

The next post will suggest how we might bridge the cultural gap—an Honor-Shame Paraphrase of the Bible.


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“Silence” and the Shame of the Cross

Dr. Philip D. Jamieson is President of the United Methodist Foundation (Memphis and Tennessee Conferences) and author of The Face of Forgiveness: A Pastoral Theology of Shame and Redemption (IVP, 2016).

I recently saw Martin Scorsese’s new movie, Silence (based on Shusaku Endo’s novel). It tells the story of the brutal suppression of Christianity in Japan during the seventeenth century.  Over 300,000 converts to Christianity had occurred by the end of the sixteenth century.  But Japanese leaders began to resist the faith when they began to perceive it as a threat to Japanese unity and as a cover for western imperialism.  The story follows the work of two young Jesuits who have secretly entered Japan in order to locate an older Jesuit missionary priest who is said to have renounced the faith.  The young priests refuse to believe the rumors and perhaps the climax of the story comes when one of them finally meets the older priest.  Muc h to the young priest’s (Father Rodrigues) horror, the elder Father Ferreira has indeed become apostate.  Ferreira tells Rodrigues that Christianity should never have been brought to Japan.  It had no place there and that the “swamp” of Japanese culture had rotted the young root of Christianity causing something else to grow which was not the true faith.  In spite of Ferreira’s assertion, there is much evidence to the contrary.  A number of Japanese Christians accept martyrdom for the truth of Jesus and sing hymns to him even as they are dying. 

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Teaching in Honor-Shame Cultures: 5 Must Knows

In 2001 I taught American literature at a university in Central Asia. It was my first year living overseas, and the experience of teaching cross-culturally caused many instances of culture shock.

I enjoyed the friendships with students, but I resented their ongoing attempts to honor me as a teacher. They always stood when I entered the room, called me “Dr. Professor,” and declined to answer my questions—these are all gestures of respect, but I didn’t receive them well! I was a typical young guy from California; my wardrobe was t-shirts, shorts, and sandals. But in Central Asian culture, teachers’ clothing should reflect their social importance—this means a three-piece suit, even in July. I begrudged these Central Asian habits of “social maintenance” in the classroom.

These small examples of culture shock are normal when teaching cross-culturally. With time, a better cultural understanding improved my relationships with students and increased my enjoyment of teaching. Here are five examples to help you understand and educate students.

  1. Education is for reputation.

In honor-shame cultures, people study to acquire status, not just information. Education is one of the best ways to “gain face.” People boast about their educational degrees, and parents gain prominence from their children’s academic achievements. The motive for many students (and their families) is to enhance reputation. This explains some of the pressure to attend prestigious schools.

  1. Teachers are revered.

In honor-shame cultures, teachers are near the top of the social hierarchy. Read more ›

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Exposing the Truth about Honor and Shame: The 4 Dimensions Christians Must Understand

This article, co-authored with Jackson Wu, was originally posted at Christianity Today on Ed Stetzer’s blog (Feb 16).

Shame is getting exposed, finally.

Commentators now observe how Western culture, especially the millennial generation, is becoming more shame-prone. Consequently, more Westerners are seeking release from the dis-ease of shame—that dreadful feeling of unworthiness and isolation.

Building on the popular books and TED talks from shame-researcher Brene Brown, evangelical authors like Christine Caine, Lecrae, and others have written books about becoming Unashamed. They share a common message: You shouldn’t feel ashamed, so stop listening to the condemning voices of others. For Christians who have known the gospel as simply the forgiveness of trespasses (i.e., salvation from our guilt), this news about salvation from shame can be truly liberating.

While this “gospel for shame” is true, it not entirely true.

The assumptions of Western psychology shape the common perception of shame as a negative, internal emotion of low self-esteem. This individualistic, subjective view of shame limits our reading of Scripture. So if we are going to expose shame, let’s expose it for what it really is.

In the Bible, honor and shame have multiple dimensions.

Shame, subjective and objective

Shame sucks. We humans often feel inferior for the wrong reasons: an abnormality, an embarrassing incident, or an abusive comment. God heals us from that subjective, personal experience of disgrace. But interestingly, sometimes shame can be good.

A sanctified conscience has a proper sense of shame (Mal 1:6–9). God wanted Israel to feel shame (Ezek 16:60–63), and Paul deliberately evoked shame among the Corinthians (1 Cor 6:5; 15:34). So, people aren’t created to be entirely shameless.

But, there is another, far more serious type of shame—objective, theological shame. As disloyal children, our sin despises (Num 14:11; 1 Sam 2:30; Mal 1:6), scorns (2 Sam 12:14; Prov 14:31), and dishonors (Prov 30:9; Rom 1:21–23; 2:23) our heavenly Father. People fail to honor God (Rom 3:23).

Moreover, our dishonoring sin brings shame upon ourselves. Recall Adam and Eve. They were naked yet unashamed, but then their disobedience made them feel unworthy of God’s presence. God said about Israel, “They sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame” (Hos 4:7). In the Bible, shame is far more than a psychological issue; it is a theological problem: God’s honor has been robbed, and humans are in shame.

The crippling shame we feel before other people is ultimately rooted in our objective shame before God.

Fortunately, Jesus solves the entire problem of shame. As a faithful son who honored the Father, he atones for our objective shame before God and liberates us from subjective shame. Paul and Peter both declare, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame” (Rom 10:13; 1 Pet 2:6; cf. Isa 28:26; 45:17).

Honor, objective and subjective

Not only does Christ remove our shame, he also restores our honor.

To use Reformed language, God imputes his own glory to us. Jesus said, “I have given them the glory that you have given me” (John 17:22; cf. Rom 2:10). Believers will be glorified and honored with Jesus (2 Thess 1:12; 2:14). Our status is transformed. God turns our “shame into praise and renown in all the earth” (Zeph 3:19). As Peter summarizes, “So the honor is for you who believe” (1 Pet 2:7).

The gospel changes believers’ group identity; we now belong to the people of God (Eph 2:10–20). This transforms our subjective sense of honor. We no longer need to “build a name for ourselves” (Gen 11:4) or do shameful things (Rom 6:21). Rather, we seek glory, honor, and praise from God (Rom 2:7, 29). Even Jesus explains true faith in terms of glory:

“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44)

Theological Implications

A fuller perspective on honor and shame makes our worldview more biblical. At the one level, understanding honor and shame as cultural values helps us interpret Scripture according to its original social context. In light of honor and shame, we can make better sense David’s adultery, the prodigal Son, and even Paul’s purpose in writing Romans.

But honor and shame are not just merely anthropological categories; they are foremost theological realities essential for an fully biblical view of theological doctrines, such as like the image of God, sin, Christ’s death, atonement, justification, and eternal judgment.

Practical Applications

A broader, more biblical perspective of honor-shame enables more holistic ministries. For example, honor and shame can influence the following areas of ministry:

Countless applications exist. As you look around, how might honor and shame influence your life and ministry?

To learn more, we invite you to join us at the 2017 Honor-Shame Conference at Wheaton College, June 19–21. This event brings together biblical scholars, theologians, missiologists, and practitioners for learning and collaboration on the topic of honor-shame.

Jackson Wu is a professor of theology and missiology for Chinese pastors in East Asia. He blogs at His books include Saving God’s Face and One Gospel for All Nations.

Jayson Georges is founding editor of His most recent book is Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures.

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Improving Anselm’s Atonement Theory

Anselm’s satisfaction theory (explanation here) has shaped Western atonement theory. Unfortunately, Anselm’s theology “went wrong” in two ways: (1) Anselm himself overlooked key parts of biblical theology, and (2) then latter theologians misinterpreted Anselm. 

Making Anselm More Biblical

Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo provides a helpful starting point for contextualizing the atonement in terms of honor-shame, but his satisfaction theory could be more biblical in key ways.

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Atonement for Honor-Shame Cultures

In terms of honor and shame, how does Christ’s death atone for sin? This question got answered 1,000 years ago by Anselm, a Benedictine monk and archbishop of Canterbury who developed the “satisfaction” atonement theory.

Anselm’s work Cur Deus Homo employs Scholastic rationalism to explain the atonement for the honor-shame context of medieval Europe. Anselm’s social context sheds light on his theology of the cross.

“The social history of Anselm was characterized by feudalism, with the landowner, or “lord,” living in peace with his vassals (or serfs) at the intersection of a carefully managed series of reciprocal obligations. The lord provided capital and protection; the serf provided honor, loyalty, and tribute. The stability of this social world rested on slavish fidelity and allegiance. In this context, Anselm’s understanding of the atonement reads as a kind of allegory, with the lord as the Lord and the serfs as the human family. “Satisfaction” for us, in our criminal-justice system, has to do with the apprehension and punishment of the guilty, while for Anselm and his contemporaries, satisfaction hinged on the fulfillment of certain obligations related to loyalty and honor. (Baker and Green, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, p. 22)

The remainder of this post summarizes Anselm’s honor-shame atonement theory.

Failing Our Obligation

For Anselm, the natural debt “which angels and men owe to God” is to “be subordinate to the will of God” (I:11). “When a rational nature wills what it ought to, it honors God— not because it confers anything on Him but because it willingly submits itself to His will and governance. But when it does not will what it ought, then it dishonors God from its own point of view” (I:15). Man honors God when he “keeps his proper place” by obeying (I:15).

Man owes glory and honor to God, but fails in this obligation. “Whoever does not pay to God this honor due Him, dishonors Him and removes from Him what belongs to Him; and this removal, or this dishonoring, constitutes a sin” (I:11).

Repaying Our Honor Debt

Sin creates this problem for man—“Everyone who sins is obliged to repay to God the honor which he has stolen” (I:11). Honor repayment is essential because “nothing ought less to be tolerated in the order of things than that the creature remove the honor owed to the Creator and not repay what he removes” (I:13). To clarify, human sin does not diminish God’s honor. “Nothing can be added to or subtracted from His honor, considered in itself. For His honor is, in itself, incorruptible and altogether immutable. … no one can honor or dishonor God as He is in Himself” (I:15).

The honor debt of our sin must be satisfactorily repaid because “God keeps nothing more justly than the honor of His dignity” (I:13). God is morally just because he rightly demands honor (not because he appeases wrath or punishes as required). God must save because he is “under the necessity of maintaining His honor. Indeed, this necessity is nothing other than the immutability of His honor—an immutability which He has from Himself and not from another” (II:4). God cannot forgive sin “apart from any repayment of the honor stolen from Him” (I:12). God is just and righteous because he requires the restoration of his honor. Justice for Anselm is when God rightly honors.

God can be honored through man in three ways, listed in order of divine preference: one, man perfectly submits to God’s will (the original plan); two, man somehow repays the dishonor caused by sin; or three, the sinner is punished. Though God desires perfect obedience, man is now under Satan’s bondage and incapable of obeying. Consequently, the honor debt of our sin that must be repaid, or “satisfied.”  

Christ Satisfies Our Honor Debt to God

Man is incapable of repaying his own honor debt because the good deeds or worship we offer to God is what we always owe him anyhow. Those honor payments can not be used to pay off previous honor debts. “If even when I do not sin I owe to God—in order to keep from sinning—myself and whatever I can do, I have nothing with which to make payment [of honor] for my sin” (I:20). For this reason, the coming of Jesus Christ, the God-man (i.e., deus homo) “was necessary for man’s salvation” (I:20). “This debt [of man] was so great that only God was able to pay it, although only a man ought to pay it; and, thus, the same [individual] who was divine was also human” (II:18).

Jesus Christ is a “complete satisfaction for sin” (II:4). For Anselm, this means Jesus’ sacrificial life pays off our debt of honor. “His life is paid to God for the sins of men” (II:18) as a gift that brings honor to God (not as a victim that absorbs wrath). Because Jesus was sinless he could “make payment for what is owed for the sins of the whole world” (II:18). So, he freely “gave Himself over to death for the honor of God” (II:18). Jesus was not required to die because his perfect obedience fulfilled his own duty of honoring God. Therefore, Jesus could voluntarily give to God his very own life as an above-and-beyond honor payment (II:11). “He paid on behalf of sinners that which He did not already owe for Himself” (II:18), namely the honor debt due to our Master. The giving of his own life was the highest honor he could offer to God. “A man cannot at all give himself to God to any greater extent than when he hands himself over to death for the honor of God” (II:11). Jesus’ life was an infinite gift of honoring sacrifice.

God Credits Jesus’ Honor to Us

Most of Cur Deus Homo explains why Jesus must save us (i.e., to repay the honor debt) and why Jesus could save us (i.e., he had extra honor to offer God). Anselm does briefly explain how Jesus’ honor-satisfying life accomplishes our forgiveness and salvation.

Because Jesus freely offered the great gift of his own life to God, the Father is obligated to reciprocate. “[I]t is necessary for the Father to reward the Son. Otherwise, the Father would seem to be either unjust…or powerless” (II:19). But since the Son needs nothing, God bestows the reward/return of Jesus’ gift upon man in the form of forgiveness of sin. Anselm asks rhetorically, “Or whom will [Jesus] more justly make to be heirs of the reward He does not need, and heirs of His overflowing fullness, than His own kinsmen and brethren (whom—bound by such numerous and great debts—He sees languishing with need in the depth of miseries), so that what they owe for their sins may be forgiven them and what they lack on account of their sins may be given to them?” (II:19) Jesus’ sacrificial life generates an excess of infinite honor which overflows into our accounts.

Anselm also sees the death of Christ as an example that inspires us to give our own lives for the honor of God: “it is much more the case that He gave an example, in order that no single human being would hesitate (when reason demands it) to render to God on behalf of himself that which one day he will summarily lose” (II:18; cf. II:19).


Anselm explained the atonement in an honor-shame culture. Though 1,000 years old, his theological ideas continue to offer insights for theology today. The next post will discuss how we might improve upon Anselm’s satisfaction theory.


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Does God Shame Christians?

God’s salvation causes shame. After God atones for your sins, then you will have shame. God wants his people to feel shame. 

In Ezekiel 16, God denounces Israel for becoming vile sluts and shameless whores. Then he says to them:

I will restore your [Judah’s] own fortunes along with theirs [Samaria’s], in order that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all that you have done. (Ezek 16:53–54)

I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God” (Ezek 16:62-63, see all translations).

Atonement Causes Shame

God’s salvation is primarily “shameful ➡ unashamed.” People outside of Christ have shame (Rom 1:21–23; 2:23; 3:23), and people who are in Christ have no shame (Zech 3:18–20; Rom 10:11; 1 Peter 2:7). This is great news! But, it is not the entire story. Biblical salvation is also “shameless ➡ ashamed.”

According to Ezekiel 16, God makes atonement, and then you will be ashamed. Our shame is the purpose and consequence of the atonement. Israel will feel disgraced after God renews the covenant relationship. Read more ›

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Can You Shame God?

Can you shame God? The biblical answer is yes.

Though this may initially sound sacrilegious, the fact that people shame God pervades scripture and profoundly impacts your relationship with God. People despise and scorn God. In other words, we fail to honor and glorify God. This idea appears throughout the Bible.

Torah (about Israel)

  • And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have done among them?” (Num. 14:11; cf. 14:222-23)
  • If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name—the Lord your God. (Deut. 28:58)
  • Then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and despise me, and break my covenant. (Deut. 31:20)

Excursus: The Meaning of “Despise.” The Hebrew word naats means to “show contempt,” (NIV) “spurn,” (NAS) or “reject.” David deSilva explains, “assigning a low value to something or someone, then treating that thing or person according to the standards appropriate for that assigned value, stands behind the term despise” (IVPDOTP, p 435). The word basically means, “to treat with low value.” It is our failure to recognize God as the King worthy of ultimate honor (Mal 1:14; cf. 1 Sam 2:30).

David (Sinning with Bathsheba)

  • You have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. (2 Sam. 11:27)
  • Because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die. (2 Sam. 12:14)


  • Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of the my God. (Proverbs 30:9)
  • Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. (Proverbs 14:31; cf. 17:5)
  • Whoever fears the Lord walks uprightly, but those who despise him are devious in their ways. (Proverbs 14:2)


  • They have abandoned the LORD. They have despised the Holy One of Israel. They have turned away from him. (Isa 1:4)
  • “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?” says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, “How have we despised Thy name?”  (Mal. 1:6)
  • For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts. But you profane it [God’s name] when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted. (Mal. 1:11)


Read more ›

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