Super Duper “Unashamed”

Last year Christian publishers released 4 books titled “Unashamed.” These are Christian efforts to speak to a popular topic in Western culture—the longing to be free of shame and to “be myself.” 

While inspiring and encouraging, these books assume the distorted, Western definition of shame—i.e., an individual’s low self-esteem. Their solution could be summarized as, “don’t worry about other’s judgments.” But, unfortunately and ironically, this message fosters the very individualism that causes our shame-inducing isolation. The antidote to shame is not isolation, but community. This is where a collectivistic view of shame points towards to a fuller (and biblical) sense of salvation.

This 4-post series Exposing Shame will explore the complexity of biblical shame. 

The first post introduces an excellent article at Christianity Today by Tish Harrison Warren: “We’re So Unashamed We Wrote a Book on It. Three of Them, Actually: Christians still need a better understanding of the complexity of shame.” 

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Her comments offer many great insights. Here are 4 key paragraphs from the heart of the article.

As Christians, we need a more nuanced definition of shame that acknowledges and resists the destructive aspect of false shame and self-hatred, but that also rejects defining shame solely within the moral framework of what Philip Rieff and Robert Bellah called “therapeutic individualism.” As Bellah noted several decades ago, this sort of “therapeutic attitude denies all forms of obligation and commitment in relationships.” A more nuanced definition of shame is necessary for the flourishing of both individuals and the rich communities necessary for their formation.

There is more than mere semantics at stake here. If we as a church do not learn to discuss shame properly, we will either fall into creating a church culture of destructive shame (as Christian communities have certainly done in the past) or, on the other hand, we will end up endorsing a wholesale moral autonomy and radical individualism.

Understanding shame as solely a negative interior experience of the individual can feed a hyper-individualism that leaves us isolated and, consequently, more prone to unhealthy shame. The primary solution to shame that is offered by many Christians is gospel-focused “self-talk,” and we see this solution in this year’s Unashamed books. We speak “good news” of our belovedness to ourselves, and in some cases, this can start to seem like a more spiritual version of the old SNL Stuart Smalley sketch: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me.”

But as Andy Crouch reminds us, as helpful as positive self-talk may be, the solution to shame can’t be found in the individual. The remedy to shame is “being incorporated into a community with new, different, and better standards for honor. It’s a community where weakness is not excluded but valued; where honor-seeking and ‘boasting’ of all kinds are repudiated; where servants are raised up to sit at the table with those they once served; where even the ultimate dishonor of the cross is transformed into glory, the ultimate participation in honor.”

Posts in this series Exposing Shame explore the complexity of biblical shame:

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Posted in Culture, ethics, Resources, salvation, Shame, Spirituality, Theology, Wesetern

Lausanne Article: “Honor & Shame in God’s Mission”

The latest issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis includes my article “Honor & Shame in God’s Mission.”

This short primer (1,600 words) is available online for free, so functions as a 5-minute introduction to honor-shame. The article explains: (1) the meaning of honor & shame, (2) how honor & shame feature in missio Dei/salvation-history, and (3) how honor & shame can inform contemporary ministry.


For other free, online articles about honor and shame, visit the recommended resource page.


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Posted in Bible, Honor, Missiology, Resources, Shame

A Better Definition of Honor-Shame Cultures—”Connection”

How might we define “honor-shame cultures”?

Many people implicitly associate “honor-shame culture” with “violence.” Westerners perceive honor-shame cultures as aggressive and combative. This reason (proposed in my prior post) is because the Western mind perceives honor-based violence as “senseless” and “incomprehensible,” unlike the legalized violence of Western cultures.

A better definition of “honor-shame culture” would be “connection.” The reality that “everything is connected” offers a fruitful way to understand how honor-shame cultures actually work. The word connection means: link, relationship, interconnection, interdependence, bond, attachment, contact, friend, ally, relative.

The worldview of every culture must address three areas: identity, causality, and morality. Honor-shame cultures approach each worldview question through the prism of connection, an approach that is quite different than Western culture.

1. Identity: Who Am I?

Every culture must define the meaning of “human.” What is our fundamental basis of a person? Read more ›

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Posted in Culture, Honor, Relationships, Shame

New Site: is a new website/ministry. The free site is a secure digital forum for Christians from a Muslim background to fellowship with each other globally and locally. Learn more from their extensive FAQs.

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I highlight because it an innovative ministry example that purposefully addresses honor-shame issues. Here is their explanation of the name “Real Honour”:

Muslims normally grow up in an honour-shame culture. They receive honour from fellow believers if they conform to the expectations of their Muslim community. Accordingly, great shame is associated with leaving Islam.

The Bible’s message of love and justice was revealed into an honour-shame culture. God desires all humans to live in a unique honour-shame culture on His terms. When Adam and Eve broke God’s terms, shame entered their lives, accompanied by spiritual death. That death led to suffering, pain and physical death.

Out of a profound love for His creation, God initiated a way for people to be cleansed of their sins, to have shame removed and honour restored. Since this unique way originates from God and is not dependant on people, it leads to real honour.

The site is currently pre-registering participants and will launch in spring 2017. So feel free to pass the world along to Muslim background believers.

Read more such examples of “Putting Honor Into Action.”


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A Western Bias: “Honor-Shame Cultures are Violent”

“Cultures of honor and shame are violent.” This common assumption is a myth rooted in a pejorative cultural bias.


Westerners often define honor-shame cultures by their violent retaliation against personal slights. People in honor-shame cultures are sensitive about their reputation, so they use aggression to maintain honor. This violent portrayal of honor-shame is widespread. Here are two examples:

  • The book Honor Bound (written by a research sociologist and published by Oxford University Press) portrays honor cultures as dominated by male violence, such as domestic abuse and aggressive revenge.
  • Some NT scholars (esp. Malina, Neyrey) have popularized anthropological models to explain honor andshame. But their models—e.g., limited good, philotimeo, challenge-riposte, envy, male-female divisions—assume honor-shame cultures are highly agonistic and competitive, as though all of life is an aggressive, unbridled honor-grab.
  • An influential sociology article explains, “members of honor societies are expected to display their bravery by engaging in violent retaliation against those who offend them . . . Not to fight back is itself a kind of moral failing.”

The reductionist definition of honor-shame culture as singularly violent reflects a Western cultural bias. To say “honor-shame cultures are violent” is ridiculous stereotype, akin to saying, “Black people are thugs” or “Muslims are terrorists.”

Yes, violence is an aspect of honor-shame cultures, but violence is not the defining feature of their moral system, as many a Westerner supposes. It is dangerous and unjust to define an entire social group by a few extreme outliers. Remember, violence is present it all cultures. Violence is ultimately rooted in spiritual separation from God, not merely in cultural or psychological dynamics. Read more ›

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New Training Video about Ethics and Discipleship

Transforming Honor” is a new training video about biblical ethics, morality, and discipleship in honor-shame cultures.

My aim with this video is to (1) transform Western misconceptions about honor cultures and (2) transform honor into a positive source for moral change. The 33-minute resource is geared for Christians in cross-cultural ministry, and draws from chapters 10 & 11 of Ministering in Honor-Shame CulturesEnjoy!

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 To download, click here. For more free videos related to honor & shame, visit the Video Gallery


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Posted in Communication, Culture, ethics, Honor, Ministry, Missiology, Resources, Spirituality, Wesetern

Stetzer, Moreau, & Kärkkäinen at the Honor-Shame Conference

Three leading missiologists will join us at the Honor-Shame Conference (June 19-21) at Wheaton.


Ed Stetzer is the Billy Graham Professor of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, Executive Director of the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, and blogs at The Exchange at He will offer the Opening Welcome.

Scott Moreau the Academic Dean of Wheaton College Graduate School, Professor of Intercultural Studies, and editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly. He will join us during an evening event. 

Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen is the Professor of  Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, and prolific author in missions and theology. He will join us remotely with a short video and prepare a theology paper for attenders.

Because of their commitments, they can only join us for a brief period (not the entire event). Nevertheless, were grateful for their visible affirmation of our gathering. Their willingness to participate, albeit briefly, affirms the importance of honor and shame.

Register for the Honor-Shame Conference here.


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Giving Indirect Advice (A Folktale)

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 4.08.41 PMA great way to acquire wisdom for cross-cultural wisdom is to watch the wise. I’m always amazed by Central Asians who handle problems with cultural savvy—they can influence people in such honoring ways. Unfortunately, Westerners often struggle to navigate thorny issues in relationships: How to say “no”? How to give indirect advice? How to response to people who abuse your generosity?

This book Once There Was, Once Twice There Wasn’t includes 50 folktales about Nasreddin Hodja. He is a “wise fool” who talks his way out of a problem in culturally savvy ways. As I read it, I thought to myself, “This is a great resource for learning about honor-shame cultures!” The humorous stories offer insights about relational issues common in collectivistic cultures. The author Michael Shelton kindly allowed me to share the folktale “One is More than Two,” about giving indirect advice. 

“One is More than Two”

“The drum sounds sweeter from a distance” ~ Turkish proverb

It has been said that a wise counselor is honored but the wisest counselor is unnoticed. And so it was when the clever Nasreddin Hodja managed to cloak his advice in such a way as to preserve the domestic happiness of his friend Mehmet.

The sharp-eyed Hodja was the first to notice when the thrifty Mehmet began spending long afternoons at the bazaar instead of at home in his fields. “Wherever the leaf flutters, there is wind,” he reasoned, “There must be a reason behind this new habit.” And it wasn’t long before Hodja discovered that reason in the looks that he saw passing between Mehmet and the young daughter of a certain merchant. Read more ›

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5 Reasons the West is Becoming More Shame Based

“Young people these days are becoming more shame based.” The previous post showed how data from collaborates this common observation. But this observation naturally evokes the “why?” question. Why is Western culture becoming more shame based? Here I identify are five factors.


  1. Multiculturalism. Since 1965 most immigrants have been from non-European background, especially Latin America and Asia. In 2010, forty million people in American were foreign born. So, the face of America is no longer white. New cultures introduce new values, such as honor and shame, into the melting pot. Whether through personal relationships or popular media, Americans today encounter people from honor-shame cultures more frequently than in previous decades. The migration of honor-shame cultures into the West would naturally impact Western culture and morality.
  1. Postmodernism has transformed our perception of knowledge and morality in the 20th century. Postmodernists look upon ideologies, truth claims, and narratives with skepticism and distrust. Postmodernism deconstructs “laws” and “rules” as dominating and oppressive cultural systems. When people view moral codes as culturally relative or politically motivated, then their conscience does not feel “guilty” for transgressing moral codes. Moral relativity undermines notions of absolute guilt or moral standards.

Public confidence in the American justice system and law enforcement has been undermined by recent attention on videos of police brutality and documentaries like O.J.: Made in America or 13th. This attention leads to guilt by association—all notions of law, including biblical commandments, are viewed with suspicion and relativized.

  1. Civil Rights Movements have employed shame to influence public policy. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. sought to expose the moral hypocrisy of Southern leaders during the civil rights movement. He wanted people to see the images of white police harming Negros, because that would undermine the moral credibility of segregationists. The civil rights movement shamed shameful racism by exposing the immorality of Jim Crow laws.

More recently, the lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender (LBGT) community has used shame to spur political and social change. The pride movement has labeled acts of intolerance as shameful. People who do not accept the sexual orientation of others are denounced as “bigots” and “homophobes.” With many Americans in favor of LBGT rights, people increasingly experience a greater sense of shame (both personally and publicly) for such “intolerance” and “exclusion.”

  1. Identity Politics gets people to support policies based on the interests of their social group. Identity politics creates tribalism—people supporting “their person” simply because he will help “us.” Though many people denounce identity politics as divisive, history proves it is a strategic tool for rallying the masses and getting power.

Donald Trump embodies identity politics (as have liberals). His campaign platform invigorated white nationalism. The tribe of white evangelicals by in large supported him as well. The tribalism of identity politics is about securing honor for your own clan and diminishing the status of outsiders; the tribalism of identity politics is not about moral rightness or the innate merit of public policies.

  1. Social Media creates an ever-present digital community before whom we must manage our face. Social media extends Satan’s oldest lie—we are what others think we are, not who God made us to be—into more of our life. To cover their shame, people project a “face,” get new “friends,” build “community,” or “make a name for ourselves” (Gen 11:4), and even degrade others. Lives have been ruined by the outrageous shaming ploys of internet bullying or Twitter takedowns. Through social media we experience new levels of humiliation in the court of public opinion. The dawn of social media has introduced new sources of shame in our lives.

These five realities have introduced shame into American culture, for both good and bad. These contribute to the general shift away from guilt and toward shame in Western morality.

What Will the Future Hold?

I suspect these factors–multiculturalism, postmodernism, civil/human rights movements, identity politics, and social media–will only become more prominent in Western culture. If that hypothesis proves true, the need for explaining the gospel as release from shame (both objective and subjective) will become more missiologically strategic for ministry in the West.

What do you think—why is the West become more shame-prone?

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The Rise of Shame in America

Younger people in the West are becoming more sensitive to shame.


Western culture as a whole, not just particular segments, appears to be shifting from guilt and toward shame. The Christianity Today cover article “The Return of Shame” noted how “shame is becoming a dominant force in the West.” This observation is not entirely new. In 1946 Ruth Benedict, the WWII anthropologist who popularized the “West=guilt; East=shame” distinction, observed, “But shame is an increasingly heavy burden in the United States and guilt is less extremely felt than in earlier generations.”

Is The West Becoming More Shame-Prone?

But, is this observation true? Yes. Data from collaborates that shame is becoming a more dominant factor among younger people. The chart below shows how shame increases as age decreases.

ascent_of_shame Read more ›

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Microaggressions and “Reverse Honor”: America’s Latest Moral System

A new moral system has emerged in America. It is shaped by the language of privilege, class, bias, inequality, tolerance, and inclusion. This new moral system has taken definitive expression in the issue of microaggressions.


Microaggressions are “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership.” Microaggressions are indignities that communicate insults. They are unintentional put-downs, an action or word that suggests otherness or abnormality, a reminder that you are different. Microaggressions subtly shame others. Following are some common examples:


  • To an Asian, “Where are you really from?”
  • To a bi-racial person, “What are you?”
  • To a black person, “Wow, you don’t talk like a black person!”


  • A ministry video that features only white people.
  • Non-Hispanics wearing sombreros (aka “cultural appropriation.”)
  • A building named after Woodrow Wilson.

You may be thinking, “Seriously! When did those become wrong?” To get a better sense of microagressions, watch this skit: “What kind of Asian are you?”


The New Moral Culture

Microaggressions began as a topic of sociological study in 1973. But within the last few years microaggressions have evolved into “an approach to morality that is relatively new to modern America” (p. 3). Every “moral system” has a way of defining and correcting deviant behavior. Here is how microaggression morality works as a moral system.   Read more ›

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Spring Courses for Honor & Shame

Screen Shot 2017-01-20 at 4.35.46 PMI will be teaching an intensive course “Theology of Honor & Shame,” May 15-17 at Eternity Bible College (Simi Valley, CA). This 2-unit course is also listed for credit through Western Seminary. The morning session (9am-2pm) will be seminar discussions on various topics related to honor and shame: e.g., patronage, HS in historical theology, “face,” Romans, 1 Peter, HS in American culture, spirituality. The evening session (6pm-9pm) will be general lecture about honor-shame in cultures, Scripture, and ministry. For more info, visit


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Also this spring, Dr. Tom Steffen is teaching a course “Honor & Shame” at Moody Bible Institute-Spokane, on Tuesdays, Jan 31–May 23. 



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Set of 30 Bible Stories about Honor & Shame

Biblical writers communicated God’s honor for the shamed through stories. Narratives recount how God saves his people from disgrace and displays honor.

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-5-11-10-pmHere is a story set of 30 biblical narratives that address honor and shame. For a more complete list , see “Appendix 2: Biblical Stories Addressing Honor-Shame” in Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures.


Creation (Gen 1-2)—God creates his honored vice-regents from lowly dust, crowing them with honor and glory (cf. Ps 8).

Adam and Eve (Gen 3)—God’s children disobey him, inducing feelings of shame and expulsion from God’s presence.

Cain (Gen 4)—After being disregarded by God, Cain’s face falls and status envy prompts him to kill his own brother.

Babel (Gen 11)—Humanity strives to build a name for themselves and exalt themselves to the heavens.

Job (Job 19, 42)—After Job’s entire family rejects and alienates him, God restores his fortunes and social standing.

Abraham (Gen 12:1-3)—God calls Abram to a position of grand prominence: a great nation, abundant family, divine blessing, mediation of universal blessing, etc.

Read more ›

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Posted in Bible, Communication, Evangelism, Ministry, Missiology, Resources

Guilt-Innocence Cultures are WEIRD

Guilt-innocence cultures are W.E.I.R.D.—Western, Education, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.

In 2010, three cultural psychologists published an article titled “The Weirdest People in the World?” The authors explain that most psychological research in conducted on a small, unrepresentative subset of human population—W.E.I.R.D people.

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The article shows how behavioral scientists have published claims about human psychology and behavior, but their samples are drawn mostly from WEIRD people, whom researchers assume represent of all human populations. This subpopulation hardly represents humanity; they are unusual—frequent global outliers. So, we should not project social truth about WEIRD people upon all people in all cultures.

This fascinating article is long and technical, but has definite implications for global theology and cross-cultural ministry. Here is the main take away—WEIRD people are…weird, because they are both numerically rare and culturally different. Follow along to trace the implications.

1. WEIRD people are numerically rare (like guilt-innocence cultures).

People from WEIRD societies are “among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans.” In the maps below, you notice that WEIRDness (education, industrialization, wealth, and democracy) is limited to North America, Western Europe, and the Aussies/Kiwis down under.

Educated—Dark Green (UN education index, 2007. Black=no data)

Industrialized—Blue (CIA list of “developed countries”)


Rich—Dark Blue (per capita GDP, IMF)



Democratic—Dark Green (Democracy Index, 2015.)


These maps show that high levels of education, wealth, and democracy is concentrated in a few places on the globe—mostly “Western” countries. You also notice the four maps above correspond to guilt-innocence cultures, displayed in blue in the map below.

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This shows that guilt-innocence cultures are WEIRD (i.e., Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) and weird (by virtue of being globally rare).

2. WEIRD people are culturally different (like guilt-innocence cultures).

WEIRD people think and behave differently. Their cognitive and moral processes are rather peculiar. They hardly represent standard human thinking or behavior. WEIRD subcultures “may often be the worst populations from which to make generalizations” (p. 79). Empirical data from diverse disciplines indicates the WEIRD “sub-population is highly unusual along many important psychological and behavioral dimensions” (79). Basically, they don’t represent the typical human being.

Here is why WEIRD people are weird—they are independent, autonomous, and analytical. Jonathon Haidt, in The Righteous Mind, offers this generalization: The WEIRDer you are, the more you see a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships (p 96).

Consequently WEIRD philosophers have “mostly generated moral systems that are individualistic, rule-based, and universalist. That’s the morality you need to govern a society of autonomous individuals” (p 97). Since WEIRD and non-WEIRD people perceive and interpret the world differently, it makes sense they have different moral orientations. WEIRD morality is based on individual rights and fairness; non-WEIRD morality is more socio-centric and community-based, focusing on people’s obligation to play assigned roles in a group. In short, the moral reasoning of WEIRD people is rather peculiar in a global context.

Conclusions & Applications

This critique of the behavioral sciences—generalizing aspects of a one subculture to all of humanity—is also true of Christian theology. Both fields over-confidently universalize their own experience.

The authors of “The Weirdest People in the World?” conclude with several suggestions that apply to global theology and missiology.

  1. Include voices from across diverse populations. Don’t assume “they” think like “us”; go find out. Don’t generalize or assume representativeness. The conversation must broaden. This means creating new structures to facilitate this new conversation.
  2. Label particularity, lest you imply universality. People must identify the specific group about which they are making statements. For example, The NIV Study Bible or ESV Study Bible could take their cue from the African Study Bible, and rename A Western Study Bible or A Study Bible For First-World Problems. Another example: there has been a proliferation of books about global theology, but they treat Western theology as “historical theology,” not an “ethnic theology.” Why do Western theologians write Systematic Theology, but Asian theologians write Water Buffalo Theology? Suppose the seminary course “Systematic Theology” was relabeled “Western Theology.”

To summarize, if you are Western, then recognize that your culture, your theology, and your gospel are…WEIRD. 


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Posted in Culture, ethics, Shame

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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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 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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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 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— 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 (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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