Overcoming The Myth of Shame

Eddie H. Park  (MDiv, Talbot) is a teaching pastor at EvFree Fullerton and former investment banker. His book The Shame Myth is available for $0.99 (today only, Kindle pre-order version).

Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. ~Brené Brown

The Myth

Shame is simply looking bad in front of people. Looking bad specifically in front of people that are important to you. It could be in front of the opposite gender, maybe the same gender, your boss, your family, an authority figure. It might be someone that you respect. It might be someone older than you or someone younger than you. It’s this idea of you don’t want to look bad in front of them. That’s not so bad, right?

The Problem

Screen Shot 2017-01-17 at 7.06.23 AMIt causes us to be afraid. It restricts us from being authentic. It restricts us from being completely vulnerable and experiencing true intimacy in our friendships, in our relationships. Even with our coworkers we become so timid, so afraid to come out of our shell that we always play it safe. We never take risks. We never say what we’re thinking. We keep our opinions to ourselves. We mute ourselves. Mute ourselves to the point where we become these bland white bread, plain Jane type of figures, and we look just like the rest of the people because we don’t want to be the nail that sticks out.

The Reality

Shame destroys you. It corrodes you. It causes you to go down a destructive path, whether it be acting out like engaging in affairs, succumbing to addictions, drugs, or it can go the other way where you just go into isolation, depression, loneliness. That’s the destructive pattern of shame. It damages our relationship with people. It damages our self-image. It damages our ability to go beyond who we think we are.

There are three things that can grow out of shame: secrecy, silence, and judgment. When you add these ingredients of secrecy, silence, and judgment into your life and you have shame, then the shame will grow exponentially to cover every facet of your life. It will shape you. It will shape your character. It will shape the way you think. It will shape the way you think about others. It will influence the people you meet, the things you do, who you date, who you marry, how you raise your children.

In severe examples of shame, especially in my culture, which is Korean and heavily influenced by Confucianism, the feeling of shame is intensified. I would even say it’s stronger than Western individualistic culture because the consciousness and the burden of shame are not at an individual level in Asian collectivist cultures. For a culture like Korean, shame bears the weight of a collective society. When you’re feeling shame, you’re not just feeling it on behalf of yourself. You’re actually feeling that you’re letting down the whole society, the family, or your entire organization, and this, unfortunately, had led to many suicides.

Back in college, two young Asian men that were in my business program committed suicide. One was on his way to a large accounting firm and the other had a job secured at a major influential company. They both killed themselves. Something made them feel that they were unworthy to be alive.

Step #1: Becoming Aware

A simple life map is a really good way to identify your events of shame. You can do a short one by dividing your life up into certain developmental stages (ages 0-6, 7-13, 14-21, etc). Then within those buckets, within those segments, identify the most painful event that happened in that portion of your life map. Then after you have written it out, I’m sure you have a couple uncertain or not and see which is the one that is the most painful for you. Also, which is the one that you feel like no one can know. If anyone knew this one, then they would reject you. They would never accept you.

Then you must take an interpersonal risk and be open and vulnerable to someone you trust and let them see you for who you truly are. 


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Posted in leadership, Ministry, Shame, Spirituality

Register for Early-Bird Discount: The 2017 Honor-Shame Conference

Register now for the  Honor-Shame Conference (June 17-19, 2017 at Wheaton) to save $40. This discount is only for the first 100 registrants, so the price will increase soon.


This event will help you go deeper into the topic of honor and shame through collaborating, networking, and learning. Key topics will include: patronage, evangelism, discipleship, leadership, spirituality, contextualization.

Visit HonorShame-Conference.com to learn about the schedule, speakers, and pricing. REGISTER NOW.


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The 5 (Unwritten) Rules of Honor-Shame Cultures

During my years in Central Asia, I always dreaded being pulled over by a policeman. No matter how much I tried to demonstrate my innocence according to all the traffic rules, the officer usually showed little interest in concepts like guilt, laws, or justice.

Then one day, I saw a driver who had been pulled over yell out his family name to the policeman. The officer waved him on and even apologized for the inconvenience! What happened? This decision came from a different “rule-book”—the cultural code of honor and shame.


Westerners frequently gripe, “Honor-shame cultures don’t believe in rules.” They actually do, but their rules are mostly unwritten! Here are five common rules that shape life in honor-shame cultures. Chapters 2 and 3 of Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures explains more honor-shame rules.

Failing to understand these values can create significant stress for cross-cultural workers—and not just because of unfair traffic tickets! To meaningfully engage people with the Gospel, we must understand how the cultural values of honor and shame function, especially since they run counter to most Western cultural values.

1. Family defines everything.

In collectivistic societies, identity is defined by the group you belong to. When two people meet, one of the first items of conversation is figuring out which family, clan, or village the other person is from. Since honor is a shared commodity, what one person does brings honor (or shame) upon the entire community. Children are taught from an early age how to bring honor to the family, and people are expected to be loyal to their community, even at personal cost.

In Western cultures, family is much more of a voluntary association. At the age of 18 or so, young adults are encouraged to venture out from the home to “find themselves” or “establish their own lives.” Read more ›

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Posted in Communication, Culture, ethics, Resources

4 Benefits of Learning about Honor & Shame

Why learn about honor and shame? Here are four benefits.

1. Hermeneutics

I once saw a Turkish person read Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15). He read the opening verse about the son asking for his inheritance, closed the Bible, and declared, “That would never happen. Nobody could shame their father like that.” Honor and shame are essential for interpreting the Bible. People trained on the topic often say, “I now see honor and shame all over the Bible, as if I’m reading a new book!” The Bible was written in honor-shame cultures, so this is not surprising. The word “shame” appears twice as often as “guilt” in scripture, and many stories of God’s salvation center upon the restoration of status from shame to honor. Honor and shame also enrich our theology of key doctrines, such as sin, salvation, atonement, and hell.

2. Relationships

Learning the cultural script of honor and shame enables us to meaningfully communicate honor to people. Though several years of living in Central Asia, I learned how food, gifts, indirect communication, and patronage could be leveraged to build kingdom relationships. Perhaps more importantly, I finally realized all the ways I was inadvertently shaming friends, neighbors, and employees! When honor-shame is the default operating system for life, failing to play by the code causes relational friction.

3. Spirituality

Shame terrorizes all people, regardless of cultural background. The fear of disgrace is not limited to Arab or Asian cultures. Shame was a part of the fall in Genesis 3 and therefore shame affects the entire human family. Addressing honor and shame in ministry training allows Christians to see how they personally struggle with shame. Shame and false honor are driving forces in our lives, even for Western Christians in ministry. Before proclaiming God’s salvific honor to unbelievers, we must appropriate God’s honor for ourselves.

4. Ministry

Honor and shame are inherent to the gospel and essential for the Christian mission. Jesus Christ dismantled shame and procured honor for the human family. The church now continues the mission of God to bless all nations with God’s honor. This socio-theological reality impacts all facets of biblical mission. We spotlight three examples. Evangelism explains that all people stand ashamed before God, so all must abandon their pursuit of worldly honors and receive the honorable status of God’s Son. Discipleship empowers Christians to resist cultural disgrace and live for the glory of God’s name. Effective development increases people’s social capital, not just material wealth.

Honor-shame is indispensable for reading the Bible, building relationships, growing spiritually, and ministering fruitfully. Without a basic understanding of it, our cultural blindness threatens to compromise the gospel and limit the power of God’s salvation.

Originally posted at the International Missionary Training Network

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Posted in Bible, Communication, Honor, Relationships, Resources, Shame, Spirituality, Theology

Free Resources from Honor-Shame

HonorShame.com released several free resources in 2016, all towards the aim of “mainstreaming a biblical missiology for honor-shame contexts.” Feel free to share these resources with others. You can forward this email, or click here to share via Facebook.

Global Insights—This 3-page document “GLOBAL INSIGHTS for Leading and Ministering in Honor-Shame Contexts” compiles the very best reflections from the recent online learning forum at Synergy Commons.

8 Guidelines for Fruitful Relationships—A free PDF of chapter 7 “Relationships” of Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures.

La Prueba Cultural—TheCultureTest.com is now available in Spanish too. 

Infographic: Cultural Vantage Points—Cultural differences are obvious. Cultural biases are dangerous. Learn about yours.

A Global Map of Culture Types—”Culture’s Color, God’s Light” is an excellent infographic from Global Mapping International.

Training Videos—Teaching by Jackson Wu and David deSilva.


Three other things in closing: 

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10 New Books about Honor & Shame in 2016

The topic of honor-shame continues to gain ground in the publishing world. The year of 2016 featured many new releases on the topic. These could be some last minute Christmas gift ideas! 🙂

For Christians involved in ministry and theological education, these works can be highly relevant.

Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials, by Jayson Georges and Mark Baker (IVP Academic). For a summary, click here

The Way Thais Lead: Face as Social Capital, by Larry Persons (Silkworm). For people working in East Asia, especially Thailand, I can not recommend this book enough. Persons has completely rewritten his Fuller Ph.D. dissertation for a general audience. An insightful, field-researched examination of “face-based” leadership. 

Honor, Shame, and Guilt: Social-Scientific Approaches to the Book of Ezekielby Daniel Wu (Eisenbrauns). The Ph.D. dissertation from an evangelical Chinese-Australian, this book biblically integrates the OT concepts of honor, guilt, shame. Wu emphasizes Hebrew semantics with keen insight.

The Face of Forgiveness: A Pastoral Theology of Shame and Redemptionby Philip D. Jamieson (IVP Academic).

Notable Secular Research 

Honor and shame are frequent topics in academic research. Theses books by philosophers, a historian, and a sociologist enhance our understanding of the topic. Each has been featured in a blog post at HonorShame.com (see “click here” links below). 


Honor in the Modern World: Interdisciplinary Perspectiveseds. Lauri Johnson and Dan Demetriou (Lexington Books). My summary here.

Honor Bound: How a Cultural Ideal Has Shaped the American Psyche, by Ryan Brown (Oxford University Press). Click here for my review/critique/recommendation.

The Sacred Mirror: Evangelicalism, Honor, and Identity in the Deep South, 1790-1860, by Robert Elder (University of North Carolina Press). Click here for the author’s summary post.

Popular-Level Christian Spirituality

Also, the world of Christian published released four books in 2016 titled Unashamed. (Four different books from four different publishers have the same name—I feel like that deserves some comment or joke, but can’t think of one). They are all written as for popular audiences—as in “Brene Brown for Christians.” I have not read any of these, but Amazon reviews are very positive. For an review of these books and insightful response our the current anti-shame zeitgeist, read this excellent Christianity Today commentary.

Click here for a list of recommended resources on honor and shame.


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Top 10 Honor-Shame Posts of 2016

Here are the top blogposts from HonorShame.com for 2016. Merry Christmas!


10. Does Christ Impute Honor?

9. Infographic: How Cultures Clash

8. An Olympic Lowlight

7. The 3 Kinds of Honor

6. 12 Proven Facts About Honor Cultures

5. 6 Keys for Relationships in Honor-Shame Cultures

4. A Global Map of Culture Types

3. How Trump Thinks Like Jesus

2. Did Bathsheba Seduce David?

1. How Do Lives Matter?

Also check out the Top 10 posts of 2015 and 2014.


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Honor in the Modern World

The new book Honor in the Modern World: Interdisciplinary Perspectives explores the role of honor in modern societies. This book addresses the important question: How can honor be compatible with liberalism?

Here is the book description:

honor-is-modern-worldAfter a century-long hiatus, honor is back. Academics, pundits, and everyday citizens alike are rediscovering the importance of this ancient and powerful human motive. This volume brings together some of the foremost researchers of honor to debate honor’s meaning and its compatibility with liberalism, democracy, and modernity. Contributors—representing philosophy, sociology, political science, history, psychology, leadership studies, and military science—examine honor past to present, from masculine and feminine perspectives, and in North American, European, and African contexts. (View Table of Contents here.)

Honor in the Modern World features presentations from an academic conference and costs $100 (kindle is $80), so is mostly for researcher audiences. Nevertheless, I profile this book to highlight three things:

1. Honor is becoming more prominent in academia. Though interdisciplinary conversations take time to develop, I believe Christian practitioners can greatly benefit from ongoing research in the sciences. Our understanding of honor and shame should not be limited to the insights of social anthropologists, but should include sociologists, neurologists, ethicists, political scientists, historians, and more.

2. Conversations need Christian and theological voices. The articles in this volume contained great insights, but felt ungrounded at times. A chapter on the theological basis (perhaps in Abrahamic religions) would have positively enhanced this book. In our liberal and secular society, Christians can contribute to the common good with a cogent and winsome articulation of God-centered honor. This task would not be easy, especially since most of the negative examples of honor and shame come from the realm of religion.  

3. The modern world needs honor. The current world order is fractured. The notion of nation-states structures our politics, and global capitalism defines our economic interactions, but those law-oriented systems appear incapable of addressing global issues (e.g., refugees, technology, employment, climate change, etc.). Honor can be positively employed in many areas of our modern world.

Good Quotes

Ambivalence about honor, especially among intellectuals, is driven in no small measure by confusion over what honor is supposed to be. Indeed, in English, the word “honor” is not only ambiguous, but contronymic (connoting opposite ideas). (p 1)

[Martin Luther] King and other leaders promulgated the idea that going to jail as a result of protest activity was a badge of honor. … Jail became a badge of honor for civil rights activists because fro them going to jail was proof of “human dignity,” as [Frederick] Douglas had said. (81–82)

Honor is often overlooked in contemporary study of politics, but it is a powerful engine of political agency and potent source of freedom and political reform. It combines a proud sense of what one owes to oneself with high and principled ambition. (82)

One who cares not for moral excellence to begin with will of course want to hide his wickedness beneath a veer of acclaim. By contrast, the truly honorable person’s public persona is an expression of his actual character; he wants other people to recognize the genuine virtues that his life displays. He cares about being viewed favorably, both in terms of his own good, and because he cares about the values his life stands for and their relation to the good of society. (122)

Women, more often than men, marry “up,” meaning that in many honor cultures both the social and economic standing of a family depends upon successfully protecting, controlling, and managing the public perception of its women.


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Posted in Resources

Honor & Patronage Among Church Leaders

Patricia Toland (Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies, Biola University) has served in Africa and Latin America since 1990 mobilizing the Latino church and training Latino Missionaries. She also lectures, trains, and ministers internationally to missionaries on the field and in universities.

Church and ministry leaders in Latin America work together and share a deep mutual trust. It is amazing to watch. They have a bond that is exceptional. I observed close friends work together for years.


Then suddenly they no longer spoke nor worked together again. With no forewarning the leadership team came against one of their peers. They refused to meet and discuss the issue though asked repeatedly for the opportunity. The excluded leader had no clue as to the offense even after a year.

The Good Part of Honor

Honor cultures provide a wonderful basis for tight knit relationships. Honor allows for mutual trust and the ability to operate freely without checking every detail with other leaders. It allows leaders to develop skills and form their own groups of ministerial leaders. Mutual trust allows churches to form solid ministerial teams that flow and function with ease.

Honor between church leaders often functions with patron-client principles in Latin America. There is mutual protection, provision of needed materials, respect, mutual help and sacrifice to see another complete their project. This bond involves going the second mile for each other, and filling in when one cannot be there. It is based on a strong back and forth relationship that freely gives and repays favors which edify and strengthen their relationships and is void of seeking reputation and prestige. Serving one another without keeping account is witnessed when the leadership team practices biblically healthy honor.

The Bad Part of Honor

But sometimes honor goes awry. When it is no longer biblical but includes cultural traits or the fallen nature of man, then the leadership team ceases to function in such a manner. The patronage relationship is ruptured. The mutual protection and support disappear as leaders begin to discredit the unfavored one. Favoritism among leaders can turn into a closed system that locks others out despite their spiritual giftings. Leaders can choose friends or people to whom favors are owed rather than those God has gifted and matured for ministry. Leaders can exclude peers at the slightest hint of a shaming attitude, behavior or mistake. They offer exclusion and shame, not restitution nor restoration. Damaged reputations are made known in the Christian community so there is no entry into a different church to either attend or minister.

When leadership teams switch from biblical honor to cultural honor, seldom does the leadership team regain a healthy functioning of honor. The ingrained cultural default patterns make self-evaluation shameful. In addition, seldom are Latinos able to distinguish between Biblical and cultural honor. So leadership teams function using a syncretism of both biblical and cultural practices.

Biblical Honor

Pastors and leaders who are able to maintain biblical honor in their churches explain that it means consciously keeping Christ in the forefront as the motivation for serving, not seeking prestige or reputation. Biblical honor entails keeping short accounts with God and evaluating inner motivations frequently, especially if a person has a leadership position for long time. Biblical honor includes giving an account to others to help one maintain pure motivations.Biblical honor means frequently reviewing the biblical meaning and function of honor in the church, so that everyone resists the cultural default mode of honor for self gain.

Both honor and shame can be used in godly ways among church leaders to edify, fortify and restore or to motivate a person to get right before the Lord to keep serving.


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Posted in Communication, Culture, leadership, Ministry

A Complete Picture of Salvation

During a workshop about honor and shame, Kyle Wiebe of Create Taiwan drew “Perspectives” as her notes.

Though simple in form, I found myself staring and analyzing the images that portray honor-shame, power-fear, and innocence-guilt. I suspect others would fine the drawing fruitful for devotional or teaching purposes, so wanted to share. Click here to get a PNG. 



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Unthankfulness = Sin. So, Happy Thanksgiving!

The English word “thanksgiving” means food and football. The biblical concept is far different. screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-8-28-18-pm

In honor-shame cultures, the ideology of patronage structures most relationships. This means clients are morally obligated to express thankfulness and gratitude to patrons. The failure to properly reciprocate grace is disgraceful and immoral.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-8-33-47-pmThis belief was widely held in Greco-Roman world of the New Testament. Listen how the Roman philosopher Seneca (4 BC – AD 65) denounces ingratitude in his book about patronage (De Beneficiis):

  • “Homicides, tyrants, thieves, adulterers, robbers, sacrilegious men, and traitors there always will be; but worse than all these is the crime of ingratitude.” (1.10.4)
  • “He who does not return a benefit sins.” (1.1.13)
  • “Not to return gratitude for benefits is a disgrace, and the whole world counts it as such”. (1.1)
  • “Ingratitude is something to be avoided in itself because there is nothing that so effectually disrupts and destroys the harmony of the human race as this vice.” (4.18.1) 

This contemporary of the apostles considered ingratitude the worst crime, a horrific vice, a sin, and universal disgrace. This widely held belief in Greco-Roman cultures does not define biblical theology, but philosophers like Seneca do illuminate the social thought world of early Christians. This unthankfulness is not just forgetting to say “thank you” when someone passes you the carrots at dinner time, but failing to return favors or be loyal in relationships. 

The biblical theology of sin incorporates a key feature of patronage relationships—ingratitude is sinful and evil. God has showered benevolence upon his creation, but people have responded as ungrateful clients. Humans have been disloyal to the heavenly patron. Sin in the Bible is not simply transgressing a legal code, but also despising and dishonoring God, not giving him honor for his gifts. People fail to repay God’s gracious salvation with thankfulness, praise, and honor as they ought.

Sin, in essence, is acting as an ungrateful and disloyal client towards God. Here are three biblical passages. 

1. King David

When Nathan rebukes David, he says,

Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? (2 Sam 12:7–9)

This passage only makes sense in the conceptual framework of patronage. For explanation, read here.

2. Romans 1

Romans 1–3 depicts sin as human ingratitude and God as the dishonored benefactor.

Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. (Rom 1:20–23)

3. Hebrews 6

This famous passage speaks of people who have benefited by God’s generosity. They have experienced God’s gifts and received his grace(s). But they have “fallen away” from God’s benevolence. Trampling upon the gift of God’s salvation is tantamount to re-crucifying God’s son and “subjecting him to public disgrace” (6:6, NIV). Their disregard for God’s gifts/promises insults their benefactor.

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt. (Heb 6:4–6)


Old Testament and New Testament authors interpret sin through the conceptual metaphor of patronage. Sin involves being an ungrateful and unthankful client who dishonors the generous patron, God. 

The idea of sin as bad clientage echoes a prominent Old Testament motif—spiritual forgetfulness. Israel, like all people, suffered form “soteriological amnesia.” The human mind so easily forgets the benefits and blessings of God’s salvation. The sinful heart often responds to God’s favor with complaining (“This is not a good gift!”) or anxiety (“What about tomorrow!”).

Ungratefulness demeans the generosity, trustworthiness, power, and ultimately honor of God. For this reason, many Psalms recount God’s salvation and faithfulness (cf. Pss 78, 105, 106). God’s people must not forget his favors.

To keep from becoming ungrateful clients before God, we must recall Ps 103:2—“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits.”


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Posted in Honor, Sin, Theology

Shame & Honor—Are They “New” Ideas?

Sandra Freeman has served with her husband in Botswana since 2001 doing discipleship and business mentoring. She blogs at “Edge of the Kalahari.”

Someone recently expressed concern about honor and shame, saying they are normally cautious about new ideas. I agree it is a good thing to be cautious about new ideas, but there is historical precedence for focus on honour and shame.


Here are some examples from Christian writings in the past five centuries. They show that honor-shame is not a new idea in Christian teaching and the life of the church down through the ages.

1. Matthew Henry (1662-1714)screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-3-29-31-pmHis famous commentary brings the concept of honour and shame into his comments. His note on Luke 8 is of particular interest because there is no mention in the passage of shame.

“There is no relief for souls under a sense of guilt, and fear of wrath, but to go to Christ, and call him Master, and say, I am undone, if thou dost not help me. When our dangers are over, it becomes us to take to ourselves the shame of our own fears, and to give Christ the glory of our deliverance.”

Note also his comment on Acts 14:8-18:

“….being more concerned for God’s honour than their own. God’s truth needs not the services of man’s falsehood. The servants of God might easily obtain undue honours if they would wink at men’s errors and vices; but they must dread and detest such respect more than any reproach.”

2. Thomas Watson (1620-1686)—In his book on The Doctrine of Repentance, the Puritan writer devoted a whole section in Chapter 4 to the issue of shame, which he calls the “fourth ingredient for repentance.” He says about sin, “It is a great shame not to be ashamed” and speaks of the day of judgement in terms of shame.

3. Hymns—Historical hymns mention shame and the honour/glory we share in Christ through the cross:

  • On a Hill Far away/The Old Rugged Cross (1913)
    •             “The emblem of suffering and shame”…. “Despised by the world”
    •             “its shame and reproach gladly bear” … “his glory forever I’ll share”
  • “Oh the bitter shame and sorrow”…. “none of self and all of thee” (1874)
  • “Beneath the cross of Jesus” (1868)
    •             “my sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross”
  • “Savior I now with shame confess”… “I lived to the desires of men” (~1750 by Charles Wesley)

4. Reverend James Henley Thornwell (1812–62)—The southern preacher addressed undergraduates at South Carolina College in the 1840’s, saying, “Never, never be ashamed of the gospel….never be ashamed of a crucified Saviour and an indwelling spirit….let not an atheist’s laugh or a skeptic’s jeer deprive you of the richest honour that God can confer on man…the honour of sharing with His own Son in the glory of His Heavenly Kingdom” (ch 1). The historian Robert Elder says southern evangelicals in the 1800’s argued that true honor “came from God and could only properly be judged by His people, who were to endure and even welcome the shame of the world as honor before God” (In The Sacred Mirror).

5. Charles Simeon (1759-1836)—The famous English preacher said, “What should we do if we have already attained that honour. Remember that the eyes of all are upon you and that God’s glory in the world is very greatly affected by your conduct” (from Challies, “Falling Stars”). Simeon’s terminology for motivation for a godly life was the position of honour we have in Christ and the preeminence of God’s glory in the world.

6. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1900’s)—The German theologian spoke about shame in his book on Ethics.

7. C S Lewis (1900’s)—His 1942 sermon ‘The Weight of Glory’ is all about honour. He said, “In the end that face which is the delight or terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised.”cs lewis shame honor quote


The dynamic of honour-shame did seem to wane in the latter 20th century. So this honour-shame concept might sound “new” to our ears in the 21st century evangelical Western church, but it’s not a “new” idea at all.

Why did the mention of honor and shame fade and now recently re-emerge? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.


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Posted in Bible, Theology

Why Grace Is Hard for Me as an Asian American

There is a great post at TGC by Jeremy Yong (D.Min., SBTS), the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Hacienda Heights in southern California—”Why Grace Is Hard for Me as an Asian American.” 


He discusses the nature of gifts/grace in his Asian-American culture, then shares three thoughts to help readers appreciate the freeness of God’s gift and know our true obligation to the Lord Jesus.

  1. God’s grace can never be repaid.
  2. God deserves eternal praise.
  3. The obligation to glorify him is good.

Be sure to read the full post. Yong has great insights about reciprocity/grace for Christian theology and living. And read the related post “The Meaning of God’s Grace” by Dr. John Barclay.

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REGISTER NOW: The 2017 Honor-Shame Network Conference

You can now register for “Honor, Shame, & the Gospel“—the Honor-Shame Network Conference at Wheaton College, June 2017! The price of $309 is all-inclusive—the conference, lodging, meals and snacks. Register soon because the price increases every 50 registrants! screen-shot-2016-11-10-at-3-50-09-pm

This event will help you go deeper into the topic of honor and shame through collaborating, networking, and learning. Key topics will include: patronage, evangelism, discipleship, leadership, spirituality, contextualization.  

To learn more, visit www.honorshame-conference.com or download this PDF flyer. After you register, click attend on the Facebook event to let friends now.


We just finalized the conference workshops. Along with 6 plenary sessions (David deSilva, Jayson Georges, Bobby Gupta, Jackson Wu, Steven Hawthorne, and Brent Sandy) there will be over 20 outstanding workshops from professors and practitioners from around the world!

  1. DJ Chuang: “Towards Erasing the Shame of Mental Illness”
  2. Rico Cortez: “The Function of the Day of Atonement in the Letter to the Hebrews”
  3. Sam Heldenbrand: “Honor, Shame, and the Gospel: Reframing the Messenger”
  4. Steve Hong: “Unlocking Evangelism in our Cities with an Honor-Shame Framework”
  5. Jeff Jackson: “Honor-Shame as a Crucial Component of a Local Church’s Ministry to Current or Former US military Members and their Families”
  6. Joyce Jow: “From Pollution to Purity: The Restoration of the Hemorrhaging Woman”
  7. Dr. Mark Kreitzer: “The Underlying Nakedness-Shame Motif in Scripture: Implications for Cross-Cultural Proclamation of the Gospel”
  8. Arley Loewen: “A Cruciform-Shaped Honor in Ministry”
  9. Werner Mischke: “The Gospel of the Kingdom for a World of Violence”
  10. Martin Munyao, David Tarus: “Tribalism and Identity: Tracing ‘From Shame to Honor’ Theme in Africa’s Identity Theology to Reframe the Gospel for Kenya”
  11. Dr. Larry Persons: “Clothing the Gospel in the Language of ‘Face’”
  12. Dr. Wilson Phang: “The Other 2/3rds of the Gospel: Good News for All People”
  13. Dr. Katie Rawson: “A Gospel that Reconciles: Teaching About Honor-Shame to Advance Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation”
  14. Dr. E. Randolph Richards: “Honor-Shame in the Gospel of John”
  15. Nolan Sharp: “Samuel as a Narrative Resource for National Reconciliation in Honor-Shame Cultures”
  16. Dr. Sheryl Takagi Silzer: “How the Honor-Shame Dynamic Works in East Asian Cultures”
  17. Randall Spacht, Lacides Hernandez; Juan Guillermo Cardona: “The 3D Gospel in Latin America”
  18. Randall Spacht, Lacides Hernandez; Juan Guillermo Cardona: “Honoring Students of Honor-Shame Workshops through Empowerment”
  19. Dr. Tom Steffen: “A Clothesline Theology for the World: How A Value Driven Metanarrative of Scripture Can Frame the Gospel”
  20. Lynn Thigpen: “Redeeming the Poverty-Shame Limited Education Cycle through Gracing”
  21. Russell Thorp: “Filling Gaps in Ministry in Melanesia through Understanding Honor and Shame”
  22. Dr. Patty Toland: “Redeeming and Strengthening Honor and Shame Practices in Church Relationships”
  23. Dr. Steve Tracy: “Abuse and Shame: How the Cross Transforms Shame”
  24. Robert Walter: “Grace in the Face of God”
  25. Robert Walter: “Four Dynamics for a Harvest in Honor-Shame Societies”
  26. Jerry Wiles: “Honor, Shame and the Gospel in the Orality Movement”
  27. Dr. Dan Wu: “Wrestling with Honour: Clarifying What Honour Is through the Concept of the Public Court of Reputation”
  28. Richard Yaqoub: “The Good Shepherd and Arab Patronage: Using the Biblical Motif of God as Shepherd to Help Form a Christology in the Language of 21st Century Arab Patron-Client Relationships”

Visit https://honorshame-conference.com/ to learn more and register.


Posted in Uncategorized

The Gospel of Honor…according to White, Southern, Antebellum Evangelicals

Robert Elder (PhD, Emory) is Assistant Professor of History at Valparaiso University. His book The Sacred Mirror: Evangelicalism, Honor, and Identity in the Deep South, 1790-1860 (UNC Press, 2016) explores the role of honor-shame among antebellum southern evangelicals. This is adapted from chapter 1.

Historians of the American South often claim that as evangelicals spread their message through the region in the late-18th and early-19th centuries they encountered significant resistance from southerners immersed in a culture of honor.


The historical reality was more complex than simple opposition between evangelicalism and southern culture. Instead of jettisoning honor and shame, southern evangelicals tried to redefine them by employing biblical definitions of honor and shame drawn from books like Hebrews, which describes God as the only source of true honor and urges the early Christian community to view the shame or scorn of the world as honor before God (David deSilva has described this aspect of Hebrews and other biblical texts in wonderful detail).

Redefining Honor

It is clear that preachers in the evangelical movement during this period shared with their audiences the assumption that honor was desirable and shame was to be avoided. To argue otherwise would have been radical, indeed. Instead of rejecting honor and shame, evangelicals sought to redefine the concepts that shaped the traditional social relations of their friends and neighbors, filling old wineskins with new wine. Indeed, it was precisely the fact that evangelicals tried to redefine these concepts, rather than simply rejecting them, that caused much of the friction between evangelicals and their antagonists. Read more ›

Posted in Uncategorized

Cashmere­—The Kyrgyz Honor

Sy Belohlavek, director of June Cashmere, explains how honor frames the vision and structure of an enterprise in Kyrgyzstan.  

Recognition is the acknowledgement of someone’s existence and validity. This honor is acclaim for an achievement or ability. There is a kind of internal frustration when one intuitively senses they have something worthy of recognition, but do not experience public affirmation because their worth goes unnoticed. Over time this can lead to a sense of shame generated by the absence of respect.

The Kyrgyz people have been living as nomadic shepherds in the isolated mountains of Central Asia for centuries. This harsh environment projects grandeur and majesty, and it produces some of the finest cashmere (i.e., the downy undercoat of goats) in the world.


Until recently Kyrgyz cashmere was unknown and unappreciated. The international market forced rural farmers to sell their elite fiber at discounted prices to Chinese traders. This scenario created an opportunity to perfect and magnify the God-given honorable element of Kyrgyz life.

June Cashmere is a commercial enterprise that produces and sells cashmere knitting yarn, but the enterprise is motivated by, and predicated upon, a distinct awareness of the disparity between (1) the actual value of Kyrgyz individuals, communities, and culture and (2) the recognition accorded by the broader world based on its values. June Cashmere, in a concrete albeit small way, realigns notions of honor to promote flourishing.

screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-3-28-48-pmThrough direct personal relationships and business interactions in rural Kyrgyzstan, we’ve seen their pride in their nomadic lifestyle and simply “being Kyrgyz.” The products and marketing of June Cashmere emphasize these noble features for the broader world.

June Cashmere works directly with shepherd families and village co-ops so locals receive 30-35% higher prices. The quality of their cashmere has also opened doors among elite European mills and high fashion companies. In addition to increased income, many Kyrgyz have enjoyed a renewed sense of healthy pride in their identity because their natural resource is becoming internationally recognized (and even featured by high-end boutiques in New York City).

The mission is to “raise global recognition of Kyrgyzstan’s rural communities, industrious shepherds, and the world class animal fiber they produce.” We want the world to recognize this supremely honorable aspect of Kyrgyz culture. Scripture says that we will bring “the honor and glory of all ethnicities” into heaven (Rev. 21:26). Perhaps Kyrgyz  believers will be wearing cashmere—their symbol of honor—into heaven.  

The first collection of high quality, 100% Kyrgyz cashmere yarn is now available at www.JuneCashmere.com



Posted in Culture, Ministry, Relationships, Resources

INFOGRAPHIC: How Cultures Clash

We all judge other people cultures according to our own cultural values. This is fine when two people share the same culture. But when people from two different cultures interact, using your own culture to judge others can be disastrous.

The cultures of the West and East are different—that is obvious. But most cultural problems arise when Westerners and Easterners radically misperceive those cultural differences.

The infographic “Cultural Vantage Points” identifies cultural differences in six areas of everyday life. But more importantly, we also note how those cultural values seem immoral to people of the other culture. Cultural differences are easy to note. Cultural biases are much harder to sniff out, and that is the danger. 

cultural vantange points infographic


3DMockUp NoShadows SmallBelow is a short explanation of the infographic. Chapter 3 of Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures details these cultural values from a biblical vantage point. Click here to download a hi-resolution .jpg of this free infographic. Feel free to share, print, or post.

RELATIONSHIPS: Equality vs. Hierarchy

Western culture is egalitarian. Everybody is equal, regardless of age, status, or position. We’re all buddies! But to Easterners, ignoring social distinctions is disrespectful and rude. People should “know their place” in society!

Eastern culture is stratified. The older people are more respected and admired. There is a social hierarchy, a status-based pecking-order. For Westerners, this perceived oppression limits people’s freedom and personal expression. Such inequality is injustice!

TIME: Task-Focus vs. Event-Focus

Westerners use time to complete a task. They “save time” and “spend time” as efficiently as possible. For Easterners, focusing exclusively on the task at hand is unkind and demeaning to others.

Easterners are event-focused. People have unlimited time for relationships. For Westerners, staying 3 hours for tea is inconsiderate. People should respect my time!  

SPEECH: Honesty vs. Harmony

Westerners speak to communicate truth. They “get to the point” and “don’t beat around the bush.” For Easterners this style is rude and makes people lose face.

Easterners value harmony in communication. You avoid saying “no” because that doing so would disrupt relationships. For Westerners, focusing on face instead of facts seems like deception and lying.

MONEY: Independence vs. Patronage

Westerners try to be financially independent. We raise our kids not to be dependent, because that indicates a moral deficiency. For Easterners, an unwillingness to share resources comes across as stingy and even immoral.

Easterners share resources through patron-client networks. The wealthy provide security and stability to people in exchange for loyalty and praise. For Westerners, these “financial friendships” seem like corruption.

FOOD: Efficiency vs. Hospitality

Westerners view food as an unavoidable nuisance, an interruption of our day. So we eat “fast-food” as we drive to a meeting or work at our desk. For Easterners, this food-efficiency neglects rituals of ethnic identity, like having special foods or eating with family.

Easterners value hospitality. They share food generously, making sure to honor their guests. For Westerners, the expectations of lavish feasts are ostentatious and onerous.

ETHICS: Guilt-based vs. Shame-based

Westerners regulate social behavior with guilt. The government creates and enforces laws. And children are socialized so their conscience feels guilty for breaking rules. For Eastern cultures, people who disregard social decencies have no sense of shame (i.e., shameless), even if they are 100% innocent before the law.

Eastern cultures regulate behavior with shame. Relationships and public opinions determine what is right and wrong. Children are taught to bring honor to their family or tribe. For Western cultures, this contextual ethic appears lawless—people ignore the laws and do whatever they want.


Do you have an example of misjudging the other culture, or having your actions been misjudged by the other culture? Did this infographic prompt an ah-ha moment for you? Please share below in the reply section.

Click here to download a hi-resolution .jpg of this free infographic. Feel free to share, print, or post.

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Posted in Communication, Culture, ethics, Relationships, Resources

How Christians Should Vote

Are you a “values-voter”? Well, so is everyone else! We all vote according to “values.” The real issue is—What values should determine your vote? As Christians head to the polls on Tuesday, honor should be a leading value in how they vote.


Granting honor is a biblical command. “Honor everyone” (1 Pet 2:17) “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom 12:10b). We fulfill these commands primarily through personal relationships. But in a globalized and hyper-connected world, one aspect honoring everyone involves casting a vote that will create the most honoring structures and systems for society. Our vote should nudge human culture towards God’s honor system. I’m not alone in this idea.

Daniel Darling (V.P. of Communication at the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) spoke of the new “Human Dignity Caucus”—a renewed group of Christians voting according to the value of human dignity. Dignity, which plays out in a variety of social issues, is the new topic for “single-issue” voters. If our political posture is rooted in a biblical theology of Imago Dei, then we are truly “pro-life,” in the fullest possible sense. This pro-life ethic is “applied to a wide range of issues, wherever the human dignity of the vulnerable is compromised.” For the “human dignity caucus,” an assault on honor anywhere is an assault on honor everywhere.

In other words, Christians should vote for the candidate who will best implement God’s design of moral justice. Biblical justice is not just punishing wrong, but making the world right. In Psalm 72 Solomon prays God would allow him to rule with justice. This meant: “defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!” (Ps 72:4). Biblical leaders protect the status of the marginalized; they recognize everyone’s innate dignity and fight against shaming forces in society: unequal housing, gender discrimination, climate relocation, income inequality, or religious persecution.

What candidate will establish the most honoring policies? Whose policies will lead to the least amount of human shame and marginalization? This is biblical justice. We should elect the politicians who legislate for the greatest amount of honor across society. Joe Carter, an editor at The Gospel Coalition, agrees, “We have a duty to elect politicians who have a robust view of human dignity.”

Christians should consciously vote to overturn the shaming forces of our culture. There are many sources of shame, but social structures are one of the most prominent sources. We should vote towards a just, honoring, and dignified society in all sectors: unborn, courts, prisons, economic system, immigration, race, women’s rights, terrorism, military, employment, education, etc. “Perhaps reforming the social, economic and legal institutions that systematically humiliate people can do more to prevent violence than all the preaching and punishing in the world” (James Gilligan, Violence). Which candidate will reform social systems to acknowledge human dignity and enhance our innate honor as God’s unique image-bearers? 

Honor/dignity, I propose, is the issue that should determine how Christian’s should vote.

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Posted in Culture, News

FREE CHAPTER: 8 Guidelines for Fruitful Relationships

FreeDownloadInterVarsity Press is making Chapter 7 “Relationships” of Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures available as a free PDF download. Feel free to download, read, and share this resource. 

Mark and I glad to offer this chapter. It includes over 20 case examples from 15 different global cultures, so should be practical and helpful for many people in ministry.

This chapter highlights the “8 guidelines for relationships” in honor-shame cultures.

  1. Use a cover.
  2. Reconcile symbolically.
  3. Be a client.
  4. Guest well.
  5. Share gifts.
  6. Be a patron.
  7. Be clean.
  8. Give face. 

You can to freely download, repost, and share this resource. 


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6 Keys for Relationships in Honor-Shame Cultures

For people to understand, you must speak their language. Obvious, huh?

But most Westerners ignore this basic rule of communication in their cross-cultural relationships. To meaningfully communicate love and honor to people, we must use the cultural “grammar” of honor-shame in relationships. These 6 keys can help you tangibly incarnate God’s love and honor in honor-shame cultures in a way that makes sense to them.


For more principles about relationships in honor-shame cultures, download the free PDF “Ministry Relationships,” Chapter 7 from Ministering in Honor-Shame CulturesThe chapter features 20+ examples from 15 different countries to illustrate all 8 guidelines for ministry relationships in honor-shame cultures.

1. Use a Cover

Addressing an issue in honor-shame cultures can be tricky. To avoid “losing face,” consider using a cover. A cover is an indirect way of making a request to minimize conflict and avoid exposing others’ shame.

Here are two basic examples: Instead of asking someone, “Why are you late?” with an accusing tone of voice, simply ask, “Are you okay?” When you must decline an invitation, consider using a “relational yes.” Instead of directly saying no to their invitation, you can affirm the relationship with a polite euphemism, such as “Oh, thank you!” The purpose of a cover is not to avoid the problem but to avoid unnecessarily shaming people. This preserves relationships while addressing the issue. 

2. Reconcile Symbolically

FreeDownloadIn the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32), what does the father say when the son returns home? Nothing! He reconciles the son through two symbolic gestures: clothing and food. The father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.” This announces restoration far louder than any words ever could.

When you offend someone, consider non-verbal ways to repair the relationship. For honor-shame cultures the problem is often loss of face, so reconciliation happens when face is restored (not just when restitution is made). Hosting someone for a nice meal or publicly praising them would be interpreted as sincere honor and reconciliation. And when people wrong you, don’t demand a verbal eye-to-eye apology; allow for a symbolic apology.

3. Be a Client

In Central Asia I was trying to take a roll of carpet on the airplane with us. The check-in attendant said it was too heavy for the small plane. (But $50 would lighten the load somehow!) My mom was traveling with us, so I leaned over the counter and whispered to him, “Please help me. My mom is visiting our country for the first time. She bought this carpet as a gift for us, and I will be embarrassed if we can’t get it home. I am afraid she will be upset or think badly of our country.” He was pleased to help.

 Becoming a client can resolve a situation. This means creating a patron-client relationship, wherein you are the client requesting help from a patron. People relish helping others because it displays their connections and clout. Being a patron enhances their honor, so don’t feel bad for making your request known as a client. 

4. Guest Well

Do you know how to be an “honoring guest”? Believe it or not, receiving honor as a guest actually gives honor to the host. Receiving indicates they possess an honor to grant you, which makes them feel secure and equal in the relationship. And don’t just hoard the honor for yourself. Reciprocate by being incredibly grateful; lavish thanks on them for their generosity and hospitality. 

Westerners feel uncomfortable eating an honorable portion or taking gifts (especially from “poor” people). But, not receiving prevents hosts from fulfilling their obligations, and they sense shame. Not receiving hospitality indicates the host has nothing of value to offer you and suggests they are socially inferior.

 5. Share Gifts

Westerners minimize giving to avoid dependency or paternalism. But the honor-shame grammar interprets this as “no gift means no relationship.” Gifts are the invisible glue that bind people in relationships.

Gifting in honor-shame cultures can establish a variety of relational models, so it is important to know what a gift means. A gift to a superior functions as a client’s thanks to a benefactor. If the recipient is a social equal, a gift reaffirms your common group membership and peer relationship. But giving a gift to a person unable to repay establishes you as a patron helping a client (This may create an overwhelming sense of obligation to repay. So it may be better to not give some gifts because people are so calculated about keeping things balanced.) Gifts can carry different significance in different contexts. By properly understanding these social undercurrents, we can steward resources to appropriately honor people of all classes.

6. Be a Patron

Whether they realize it or not, Westerners are viewed as patrons in developing contexts. Their wealth and status make them the new “Big Man” from whom people come to expect things. This role leads to relational confusion, tension and stress in relationships with nationals.

Christians are never obligated to fulfill expectations of patronage, but we are freed from sin to serve others through socially accepted channels, like patronage. A patron is not some sugar daddy just doling out money, but a respected person in the community who solves problems. Patronage is a model for long-term relationships (even though the exchange is not symmetrical). This relationship can sometimes be a means to exemplify God’s kingdom. Yahweh and Jesus utilized patronage to mediate salvation to the world.

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Posted in Communication, Culture, ethics, Ministry, Relationships, Resources

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