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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Posted in Communication, Culture

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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Posted in Culture, Relationships, Resources

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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Posted in Culture, Honor, Shame, Wesetern

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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Posted in Culture, Honor, Shame, Wesetern

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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Posted in Culture, Honor, Shame, Wesetern

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.

Screen Shot 2017-01-17 at 5.42.51 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 9.43.59 AM

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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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 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 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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Top 10 Honor-Shame Posts of 2016

Here are the top blogposts from 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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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

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