New Article: Theology of Honor & Shame (by J Wu)

The recent edition of Themelios journal (The Gospel Coalition) published Jackson Wu’s article “Have Theologians No Sense of Shame? How the Bible Reconciles Objective and Subjective Shame.” This article clearly sets forth a biblical theology of honor and shame. I recommend this article because it is:

  1. free, no paywall!
  2. biblical and comprehensive, filled with biblical citations
  3. accessible and clear, easy to grasp
  4. a major corrective of the half-biblical misconceptions of honor and shame

Here is the article abstract: 

Everyone agrees shame is a pervasive problem; yet, in book and articles, we find writers often talk past one another. Missionaries and anthropologists speak of “honor-shame” cultures. Psychologists describe shame as an individual, emotional experience. Strangely, theologians typically say little about the topic. Christian scholars tend to treat guilt as “objective” and shame merely a “subjective.” This misunderstanding undermines our ability to develop a practical theology of honor and shame. Therefore, this article demonstrates how the Bible helps us have an integrated understanding of shame in its theological, psychological, and social dimensions.

The article explains 6 biblical problems that concern honor-shame…

  1. People have shamed God.
  2. People are shameful
  3. People feel shame.
  4. People shame others.
  5. People suffer shame from others.
  6. God will put people to shame. 

…then explains the 6 aspects of biblical salvation in honor-shame terms.

  1. God glorifies himself.
  2. God gives us a heart to honor him.
  3. God in Christ removes shame and restores honor.
  4. We get a new identity and belong to the Church.
  5. Because of a new identity, we no longer feel ashamed.
  6. We are able to honor God and others. 

I suggest you print out this article, sit down with a pen, and dive into Scripture with this article. 


Posted in Bible, Resources, Theology Tagged with: ,

Biblically, What Is Your ‘Name’?

Author and teacher Lois Tvarberg is co-founder of the En-Gedi Resource Center. This post is adapted from her recent book, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus 

International communications trainer Sarah Lanier has traveled the globe to teach about cultural differences. In her book Foreign to Familiar, she tells about how she handled some Arab boys who were taunting her with catcalls on the street one day. To their surprise, she turned and addressed them in Arabic, asking their names.

Startled, the boys identified themselves, wondering why she wanted to know. Because, she would tell their fathers about their behavior, and how they were being an embarrassment to their families. Horrified, the boys apologized profusely and pleaded with her not to do such a thing.1

Lanier asked the boys their names because she knew that their family’s public reputation, their “name,” was of critical importance in their society. Knowing this helps us decode a much misunderstood word in our Bibles, the Hebrew word shem, which overlaps with the English word “name” but is actually much broader. In older translations we often encounter the word “name” being used in odd ways. Grasping what shem actually means will often help us a lot.

Your Shem Is Your Communal Identity

The key to the puzzle of shem is to consider the Bible’s collective context, where a person’s identity within the wider community was of utmost significance. There, the word shem is much more about one’s identity within a community than the verbal label that a person bears, like “George,” “Bill,” or “Mary,” even though the word shem does mean “name” in that sense too.

Imagine that a stranger walks up to you and asks, “What’s your identity?” You could answer by saying “Mary Smith,” but your identity, your shem, is much bigger than that. In our culture, it comes from your education, your job, and how others perceive your status, your reputation, or your authority. To speak “in the name” of someone, biblically, is to speak by his or her authority.

To us, the word “name” usually brings to mind a person’s first name. Notice, though, that the name the Arab boys were far more worried about protecting was their family name. Their family’s shem (in the sense of their identity or reputation) was far more critical than their own.

Shem in the Bible

When you read the word “name” being used in an odd way in the Bible, you are likely encountering the word shem in its communal context, where honor and shame are everything. To have a “great name” is be well-known and influential, and to have a “bad name” is to be an embarrassment to everyone who knows you. This is why the word shem sometimes doesn’t even make sense translated as “name,” and is better understood as fame, renownreputation, authority, or honor. See how this clarifies these verses (ESV):

  • I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth (Zephaniah 3:20).
  • From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God. (Joshua 9:9)
  • …So they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me. (Nehemiah 6:13)
  • Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper…This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever. (Isaiah 55:13, NIV)

The Promise of a New Name

In collective, hierarchical cultures, one’s “name” is closely associated with honor and authority. When the Scriptures talk about God giving a person a new name, it denotes that they are being given a new status in society. Abram, a withered-up wanderer, becomes Abraham, father-of-nations! Sarai, a barren old matron, becomes Sarah, mother of princes! God changed their identity and gave them a new role in society, and it came with a change in name.

In a collective society, rejecting your family heritage will cost you dearly and even cause you to be expelled from your community. …

In many cultures, publicly accepting Christ means giving up one’s family, heritage, prestige, and any chance of success in life. This is why Christ promises to give a “new name” to his followers who refuse to deny him in the face of persecution (Rev. 2:17). In this world they may have forfeited their “name,” their reputation, for his sake. But when he comes to reign in glory, these are the people whom he will single out for acclaim. No more will they be known as outcasts but as leaders and princes, with renown to replace the shame they bore during their lives.


Posted in Bible, Communication, Culture, Relationships, Theology Tagged with: , , , ,

“Patronage”: A Quick Definition

For the upcoming Patronage Symposium we developed this document “Patronage—A Quick Definitions Sheet.” Since “What exactly is patronage?” was a common question that people asked in the patronage survey, I figured this resource would be worth sharing more broadly. 


This definitions sheet is for all participants to be familiar with the basic concepts and terms. This is of course a starting point. You should not feel bound by these definitions. Speakers may feel the need to clarify their precise nuance, local specificities, or otherwise disagree with these definitions. We should also note that various expressions, metaphors and language formulas are used in particular languages and cultures to evoke patronage expectations (e.g. father and son, shepherd and flock).

The Patron-Client Model and Terms

Patronage is a social model used to describe a certain kind of relationship. It is also often called benefaction. Patronage occurs in many forms and varies considerably. The use of models oversimplifies, but does enable us to make some general descriptions of the characteristics of patronage/benefaction.

Patron-client relationships are asymmetrical relationships which exist between more than one unequal party. What distinguishes patron-client relationships from other asymmetrical relationships, is that they are voluntary, so not formalised in law. There are (usually) no treaties or legal documents, but a set of informal reciprocal expectations. Patron-client relationships are usually not one-off exchanges, but relationships maintained over a period of time.

Patrons are the stronger party. They provide benefits (or favors) to the weaker party. These benefits may be in the form of finance, material aid or other material items, but they often also include non-material benefits, such as social capital, connections, protection and other things the weaker party requires.

Clients are the weaker party. They receive benefits from the patron, and reciprocate with other favours, such as the giving of gratitude; expressions of thanks, loyalty and obedience, as well as other things.

Reciprocity is a key feature of patron-client relationships, which are based in expectations of gratitude, obligation, faithfulness, allegiance, and honor.

Brokers are agents who function between patrons and clients. Patron-client relationships are rarely only between two parties. There are often intermediaries or a chain of patron-client relationships. Brokers are often a client of a patron, as well as a patron to their own clients.

3 Other Explanations

Hereare definitions from three academics that paint a similar picture of patronage:

1. A commonly-referenced description from a Roman historian and classicist:

“First, [patronage] involves the reciprocal exchange of goods and services. Secondly, to distinguish it from a commercial transaction in the market- place, the relationship must be a personal one of some duration. Thirdly, it must be asymmetrical, in the sense that the two parties are of unequal status and offer different kinds of goods and services in the exchange—a quality which sets patronage off from friendship between equals.” —Richard Saller, Personal Patronage Under the Early Empire (Cambridge, 1982), 1.

2. A functional, descriptive explanation by a missiologist:

“The patron, like a parent, is totally responsible for the welfare of his clients. … Clients in fact can ask a patron for whatever they think he may grant, but this is not considered begging—no more than Christian think they are begging when they ask God for help. Clients for their part, must be totally loyal to their patron. … The patron gains power and prestige within the society, and the client gains security.” — Paul Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries (Baker, 1986), 124.

3. A broad, generic definition by a biblical scholar:

Patronage is a form of exchange that is personal and that involves someone with superior status giving something to those with inferior status, leaving the inferior party owing honor and loyalty to the superior party.” — Zeba Crook, “Benefaction/PatronageOxford Bibliographies (June 2015).


Posted in Culture, Missiology, patronage, Resources Tagged with: , ,

7 Honor-Shame Papers @ EMS

There will be 7 sessions in the “Honor-Shame” tract at the national meeting of the Evangelical Missiological Society (October 12-14, 2018 at SIL in Dallas, TX). The track moderator Chris Flanders has pulled together some great presenters and topics. This event will definitely be worthwhile if you can attend. After many years of honor-shame being overlooked in missiology, this is a delight to see such a rich conversation taking place. 

Here are the paper titles:

  1. Avoid the Shame of a Message that is “Bad News” for the Eastern Mind (Mark Harlan, Dallas International University)
  2. Honor Shame Dynamics in Sub-Saharan Africa (Rick Calenberg, Dallas Theological Seminary, and S. E. Freeman, LogosLife International)
  3. Honor Restored: The Compelling Story of Creating an Honor-Shame App (Chris Sneller, Bridges International, Houston Baptist University)
  4. Conviction and Elenctics: Bringing Shame upon an Honored Missiological Paradigm (Chris Flanders, Abilene Christian University)
  5. Shame and Secularization: A Collateral Coalescence and Implications for Evangelism (Bud Simon, Asbury Theological Seminary)
  6. Secularization and Social Control in Alaskan Eskimo Culture: Shifting from Fear/Power to Honor/Shame (John Ferch, Western Seminary)
  7. The Impact of Honor/Shame Issues on Mission and Evangelism (Panel Discussion)


Posted in Uncategorized

Honor Is Not One Dimensional

Rich Y. (B.Th) has worked in the Arab world for eight years.

When I was new to the Arab world, I used to have a one-dimensional view of “honor” and a stock approach to discipleship with Arabs—“Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

However, as I have listened to Arabs, I have reached the conclusion that honor is multidimensional. It defies one-size-fits-all approaches to discipleship. That may seem obvious now, but it wasn’t at first.

2 Kinds of Honor

Habibollah Babaei of the Academy of Islamic Sciences and Culture in Qum, Iran, distinguishes between two kinds of honor—Al-Karamah and Al-’izzah. Arabs believe that God gives Al-Karamah to all humans at birth. It is the minimum honor people have. It is, therefore, unjust to degrade someone’s Al-Karamah. Al-’izzah, on the other hand, is different. It is the sense of having high self-esteem. It includes having a high standing and refusing to bow down to factors which would dishonor you.

Read more ›

Posted in Communication, Culture, Honor, Relationships, Shame Tagged with: , , ,

Honoring Covenant: The Key to Psalms

This post is excerpted from the introduction of Psalms: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase of 15 Psalms. To read the paraphrase of Psalm 23, click here.

Readers must interpret the Psalms within the social context of covenant. Yahweh formed a special, reciprocal relationship with Israel at Mt. Sinai. He promised to protect and exalt Israel among all the other nations. In return, the people of Israel were expected to honor God with loyalty and obedience. This socio-cultural framework of covenant informs the theology of ancient Israel. The message of Psalms, in honor-shame terms, is the honorable God faithfully keeps his covenant by honoring his people and by shaming their enemies. Most psalms either celebrate or lament this patron-client relationship between Yahweh and Israel.

Praise Psalms

When Israel experiences God’s covenant faithfulness and favor (e.g., a strong king, military victory, economic prosperity, international renown), they rejoice and honor God. Salvation in the Psalms is not just forgiveness of sins and entrance into heaven, but it also involves vindication of honor, restoration of status, deliverance from shame, and the humiliation of enemies. In response to this divine salvation, the psalmists honor God by recounting his faithful deeds. As God told Israel, “I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (50:15). Psalms of praise glorify God for his benevolence, patronage, faithfulness, covenant loyalty, favor, and generosity as a trustworthy covenant partner.

Lament Psalms

But when God’s people experience shame, they call upon God to vindicate their status and humiliate their enemies. In moments of shame, Israelites feel betrayed by their covenant partner. God’s apparent disloyalty jeopardizes the very relationship that defines Israel’s identify and value. Psalms of lament plea with God to remember the covenant and rescue his people from disgrace.

5 Theological Motifs

The Psalmists’ theological worldview centers upon God’s covenant relationship with his people and reflects honor-shame values. These five theological motifs pervade the book of Psalms.

1. The Honor of God. God is the ultimate source of honor. Humanity must look to God, not human strength, to be lifted up and honored. Yahweh alone blesses people with honor.

2. The Shamefulness of People. The book of Psalms portrays the default state of humanity as one of lowly shame. Compared to the eternality of God, humans are a shadow, a breath, withering grass, dirt. These metaphors symbolize the insignificance and innate shamefulness experienced by humans after the Fall.

3. Honoring the Faithful. Many psalmists petition God to notice and remove their shame. They expect God to vindicate their honor.

4. Honoring the King. The messianic psalms (2, 45, 72, 89, 110) envision the exaltation of David’s royal family above all other kings. God has honored the Davidic king as his favored son and appointed him to rule as his royal representative over the earth.

5. Shaming the Enemies. Imprecatory psalms ask God to shame enemies. The recompense for opposing God and his people is disgrace and humiliation. Many psalms request that God’s shaming judgment occur soon.

In sum, “honoring covenant”—in all sense of the phrase—is key to interpreting Psalms.



Posted in Honor-Shame Paraphrase, Uncategorized Tagged with: ,

CAUTION: Honor-Shame is “Unbalanced” and “Extreme”!!

“Watch out! Honor and shame can lead to unbalanced extremes!” At least this is the concern of some people when they hear about honor-shame. They worry that emphasizing honor-shame might lead Christians to neglect essential tenets of orthodox, biblical theology. For example, a recent article at TGC warns readers that “the proverbial pendulum can swing too far.” I too believe Christian theology must be balanced and biblical, but I find these concerns about “honor-shame” counterproductive. Ironically, such concerns actually demonstrate the importance of honor-shame. This post addresses three issues with such concerns that honor-shame might be unbalanced.

(To be fair, the vast majority of people view honor-shame as a biblical and positive perspective; such concerns about imbalance are not the dominant view. But the issue surfaces enough to require a response. For a direct response to the recent TGC article, see Jackson Wu’s helpful post “7 Dangers for Missionaries from Guilt-Innocence Cultures.”)

1. Who is Unbalanced?

 If you go into a seminary library, how many theology books assume a guilt-innocence paradigm compared to honor-shame? If you browse a sermon archive, how many sermons emphasize salvation as forgiveness of sins compared to union with Christ or honor from God? What is the ratio—10:1, 100:1? Where is the pendulum at the present time? In the middle? So, who is unbalanced? 

I find the concerns about imbalance ironic for this reason—people warn about “honor-shame” becoming unbalanced, but they don’t ask whether a dogmatic emphasis on a particular 16th century, German contextual theology is perhaps unbalanced.

In the picture above, the Western theologians are standing together on one end of the scale, while the handful of honor-shame advocates try to balance the scale. But the massive imbalance in Christian theology as a whole requires significant effort to rebalance. The goal here is not to re-tip the scales in favor of honor-shame but to balance a lopsided conversation. So we must honestly ask, where is the imbalance? Read more ›

Posted in Bible, Honor Tagged with: ,

4 Practical Ways To Use The Culture Test

Since being released in late 2014, people have found creative and strategic uses for The Culture Test. The following four stories shows areas where an awareness of guilt-shame-fear dynamics can be beneficial.

1. Theological Apologetics

Martin was a Kenyan Christian studying for his Ph.D. at a Lutheran seminary in North America. His attempts to explain the honor-shame aspects of the gospel were not highly regarded by his faculty. They were mostly Western Lutherans accustomed to a theology prioritizing legal imagery such as individual guilt, forgiveness, and innocence. So they had a hard time accepting honor and shame as a valid theological framework. Martin made his case from Scripture, but he also invited his faculty and fellow students to take The Culture Test. Then they discussed, “How might someone’s cultural orientation impact their interpretation of the Bible or theology?” The Culture Test served as a simply and neutral way for people to see their own cultural assumptions.

Read more ›

Posted in Communication, Culture, Ministry, Resources Tagged with: , , , , ,

Patronage Survey: Your Results

How do people Christian workers understand and engage patronage? Because 378 people completed the short patronage survey we now have a better idea of how people perceive patronage. This blog posts presents my summary of the data for the broader missions community. I trust this offers helpful insights.

Who took the survey?

What is your cultural-ethnic background?

  • 90% White/Western/European
  • 5% Asian
  • 5% other

What is your ministry context?

  • 57% Western, the majority culture
  • 12% Asian
  • 10% Western, a minority culture
  • 7% African
  • 4% Latin
  • 4% Muslim
  • 7% other

What were their opinions about patronage?

When people ask me for money, I feel….? Responses to this question had the starkest difference between Western and Majority World respondents, so I separate out their answers.

The most common Western responses (333 results):

  • awkward
  • conflict(ed)
  • obligation
  • annoyed
  • suspicious
  • guilty

The most common Majority World responses (39)

  • obligated
  • glad/want to help
  • suspicious

People self-rated their response to “When people ask me for money, I feel….?” as:


Note: In hindsight, I realize this question is not clear. People could read “biblical” either descriptively (Does patronage occur in the Bible?) or prescriptively (Should Christians today use cultural patronage?). I meant the latter, but suspect people read it as the former since the results show a very positive view of patronage.

How is patronage expressed in cultures?

What words are used for patron/age in your context?

  • Africa: boss, patron, sponsor
  • West: sponsor, donor, sugar daddy
  • Asia: older brother/sister, aunt/uncle, godparent, master
  • Latin: patron, boss (jefe)
  • Middle East: teacher, old brother

What areas of life does patronage affect in your context? (Number of mentions)



 How do people understand patronage?

How would you define patronage? People noted these 4 thought clusters to explain patronage:

  1. a relationship, a person
  2. helping, providing, supporting, giving
  3. power, status, obligation, loyalty
  4. return, mutual, benefit, exchange

Regarding patronage and evangelism, which statement best describes you?


God is a patron because…(according to people who answered “yes” to above Q) 

  • God gives and provides (by far the most common response)
  • God is the source of everything we have
  • God deserves loyalty from us
  • God possesses everything
  • God is Father/God cares for his children
  • God takes responsibility/initiates our relationship
  • God is sovereign and powerful

God is NOT a patronage because……(according to people who answered “no” to above Q) 

  • God does not expect any return
  • The term “patron” is too corrupted and negative
  • God gives freely, not manipulatively
  • God does not support others’ cause, just his own
  • I don’t think of God in these terms

What questions do you have about patronage?

People asked many insightful questions about patronage, as grouped below. This list was actually encouraging to read, as I address these very topics in my forthcoming book Ministering in Patronage Cultures: Biblical Models and Missional Implications (IVP, June 2019). I will also do a blog series answering each of these important questions.

  • When is patronage good/positive/healthy/biblical? And when is it bad/negative/unhealthy/ungodly?
  • What does biblical/redeemed patronage look like?
  • How does patronage differ from corruption, bribery, dependence, and patriarchy?
  • What is the definition of “patronage”?
  • What are Western examples of patronage?
  • What are real life examples of patronage?
  • What is a patron-focused gospel presentation for evangelism?
  • What are biblical stories of patronage? Where does it help hermeneutics?
  • How is God a patron?

A Story?

There were too many good stories to include, so I only mention a few themes. The first two were the most commonly expressed sentiments. The final three points were frequent scenarios people mentioned.

  1. “I now see how that situation involved patronage.”
  2. “I wish I know before that I was a patron in their eyes.”
  3. Relationships with house-helpers are missionaries’ most common experience of patron-client relationships, often in a positive way.
  4. For good and bad, people often have relationships end because of unmet patronage expectations.
  5. Patronage expectations in global contexts are tied to ethnicity. White skin implies patron(age).

Any surprises or insights from the above summary? Please share below in the comments section below.


Posted in Culture, Ministry, Missiology, Resources Tagged with: , ,

Psalm 23 (HSP)

This post is excerpted from the new book Psalms: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase of 15 Psalms.

Psalm 23 is a popular hymn that speaks about God’s generous, honoring patronage. David uses two common metaphors to convey God’s protection and provision for his people—God is both a shepherd and a host. These images worshipfully portray Yahweh’s patron-client relationship with his people. God is always faithful and benevolent.


Honor-Shame Paraphrase of Psalm 23

My patron is Yahweh.

He generously provides for my every need.

He gifts me the finest.

He brings me to the best places.

His perfect care delights my heart.

He gives wise guidance so that I’m never lost.

This lavish generosity makes his name great.1–3


Even when the clouds of shame and despair gather,

I do not worry,

because you, O God, have my back.

Your strong hand gives me complete assurance.4


You welcome me to a lavish banquet,

so everyone sees I’m your honored guest.

You exalt me to prominence;

your favor towards me reaches to the heavens.

Without any doubt, you faithfully provide for me every day.

You always extend hospitality and honor me with your presence.5–6

Learn more about the Honor-Shame Paraphrase or buy the book here.


Posted in Honor-Shame Paraphrase Tagged with: , ,

Psalms: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase (New Book)

Psalms: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase of 15 Psalms is now available to purchase ($3.99 Kindle, $8.99 paperback). Along with 1 Peter and Esther, this is the third title in the Honor-Shame Paraphrase series.

Psalms: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase of 15 Psalms renders the insights and cultural nuances of biblical writers into accessible, contemporary language. This book includes an extended socio-theological introduction Psalms, a bibliography for further research, and then a paraphrase of Psalms 8, 12, 15, 23, 25, 30, 44, 74, 75, 89, 96, 109, 113, 129, and 146.

When people want to learn about honor and shame in the Bible, I often suggest they read the book of Psalms. The reason for this is simple—honor and shame are profound emotions that people feel, not academic categories or cerebral ideas. People in all cultures use the figurative language of songs and poetry to express the deepest passions of their heart. This is the reason Psalms—a collection of 150 ancient Hebrew songs and poems—offers a rich perspective on honor and shame. This honor-shame paraphrase of Psalms captures these deeply personal and social realities.

Learn more about the Honor-Shame Paraphrase or buy the book here. Click here to request a free PDF copy for classroom use or public review. The next post will feature the honor-shame paraphrase of Psalm 23

Endorsements for the Honor-Shame Paraphrase

“The Honor-Shame Paraphrase series gives us a fresh look at an ancient perspective. As a paraphrase, each book nicely serves as a middle ground between a commentary and a translation. Accordingly, they aptly highlight diverse and subtle ways that honor and shame influence the biblical writers. One easily sees the care given to remain biblically faithful and culturally meaningful. I commend this series both as a useful tool for personal study and public ministry.”

Dr. Jackson Wu, professor to Chinese pastors, author of Saving God’s Face 

“Applying shame and honor as ever present realities in the ancient world, Jayson Georges powerfully accents the cultural values behind the words that would otherwise seem flavorless. His paraphrasing penetrates deeply into the intentions of the heart that often lay hidden from readers. We are exposed to life as it was lived, feelings as they were felt and hidden motives as they were brought to light. The biblical text breathes afresh with meaning.” 

Dr. Duane H. Elmer, Emeritus Distinguished Professor, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, author of Cross-Cultural Servanthood

“In a rapidly globalizing world cultural differences are confronting us daily. Not only have these cultural differences exposed a cultural bias in our daily lives, but they have also exposed the significant role culture plays in our approach to the Bible. The Honor-Shame Paraphrase provides a great resource that helps people understand how the Bible would have been understood in the Ancient Near East. I am both thankful and excited to recommend a resource that will help us understand the Bible.” 

Spencer MacCuish, President, Eternity Bible College

“This lively and engaging paraphrase of Esther, like all the biblical paraphrases in this series, seeks to illuminate and express key implicit cultural assumptions shaping biblical discourse.  Sumptuous food and fabulous feasting, role violations and status reversals, male honoring and female defiance, enemy plotting and counter-cultural female heroics are all displayed here as strands of a fascinating story of honor denied and honor bestowed.”

Dr. John H. Elliott, Professor Emeritus, University of San Francisco, author of 1 Peter, Anchor Bible Commentary 

Posted in Honor-Shame Paraphrase

Is Africa ‘Power-Fear’ or ‘Honor-Shame’?

People often assume Africa is a “fear-power” culture. The animistic and magical practices of African Traditional Religions (ATRs) reflect the values of fear-power. Although Africa ranks higher in the fear-power category than other regions of the world according to The Culture Test results, it is nevertheless reflects many aspects of honor-shame cultures.

Several African Christians confirm the pivotal role of honor-shame in their culture. Andrew Mbuvi, a native Kenyan and NT professor, notes

“The primary core values that underlie both the African culture and the biblical cultures is that of honor and shame. … There is thus no denying that honor and shame are at the core of the value system of African societies, just as in biblical cultures.”[1]

Professor E. Mahlangu of the University of Pretoria notes the hermeneutical potential:

“The African view of honor and shame could be an interpretive tool for reading the biblical text….Due to the various points of resemblance between the African and the first century Mediterranean cultures, it is indeed possible to approach the Bible optimistically.”[2]

After teaching about honor and shame in theology to Chadian pastors, one student said to me, “We are seeing how the Bible is so similar to African culture. You have opened our eyes. We must consider what this means for us Christians.”

Read more ›

Posted in Culture, Honor, Ministry, Missiology, Shame Tagged with: , ,

A Fourth Category of ‘Pain-Pleasure’?

Along with guilt-innocence, shame-honor, and fear-power, should there be a fourth category of “pain-pleasure”? This post considers the merit of this idea.

The Idea of Pain-Pleasure

Philosophers have long considered the feelings of pain and pleasure to be part of a continuum. In the 4th century B.C., Aristotle described the human inclination to move towards pleasure and away from pain, “We may lay it down that Pleasure is a movement, a movement by which the soul as a whole is consciously brought into its normal state of being; and that Pain is the opposite” (Rhetoric, book I, ch 11). Later philosophers such as Spinoza and Descrates hypothesized about nature of pain and pleasure. The moral theory of Utilitarianism based ethics on the pain or pleasure caused by an action. Modern scientists even research neurochemical realities to study the biological roots of pleasure and pain.

Read more ›

Posted in Bible, Culture, Ministry Tagged with: , , ,

The Meaning of ‘Fear-Power’—3 Options

The label “fear-power culture” has various meanings, depending on the perspective of the speaker. This posts explains the three ways people have defined “fear-power culture.”

1. Religious: Fear-Power as Spiritual Control

The worldviews of Majority World cultures, especially tribal religions, give special prominence to spiritual realities. People live in fear of unseen forces such as mana, curses, witches, and ancestors. Consequently, they seek spiritual power over those forces through ritual practices. This constant interaction with the invisible world is the religious aspect of “fear-power.” This is the most common meaning of the term.

Read more ›

Posted in Culture, Guilt, Honor, Shame, Spirituality Tagged with: , , , , ,

The Model of Guilt-Shame-Fear—A Short History

The idea of “guilt vs. shame” has a long history in 20th-century scholarship (see previous post). But how did the cultural model of guilt-shame-fear develop? Here is a super short history of the cultural trichotomony. 

In 1954, Christian anthropologist and linguist Eugene Nida in Customs and Cultures mentions, “We have to reckon with three different types of reactions to transgressions of religiously sanctioned codes: fear, shame, and guilt.” This is the first known mention of guilt-shame-fear, but Nida offers no further explanation. 

Psychologists in the 1960’s began to write about the internal aspects of guilt, shame, and anxiety. David Augsburger (Professor of Psychology/Counseling at Fuller) expounded the categories in several of his publications, including Conflict Mediation Across Cultures (1986). Here is his explanation:

“Anxiety, shame, and guilt are the normal and sequential control processes that emerge in the first, second, and third years of a child’s development in every culture. Each culture has its own balanced and its own integrative hierarchy of these internal controls. Tribalistic cultures are dominated by the fear/anxiety motive. Individualistic cultures generally seek to minimize anxiety and shame while socializing the child to have more of a guilt orientation, while many collectivistic cultures generally tend to encourage a shame orientation. … The three function together, although the intensity of each influence varies significantly from culture to culture.” (pp. 82, 126)

Charles Kraft’s Perspectives article titled “The 3 Encounters of Christian Witness” (adapted from his 1991 EMQ article) speaks about ministry approaches in terms of “truth,” “power,” and “allegiance” encounter. Doug Hayward reaches similar conclusions in “The Evangelization of Animists: Power, Truth or Love Encounter?” IJFM (1997). Though they do not use the language of guilt-shame-fear, the overlap with their categories is remarkable.

Roland Muller’s book Honor & Shame: Unlocking the Door (2001) expanded and popularized the notion guilt, shame, and fear cultures for Christian ministry. Though Muller’s book focuses on Muslim evangelism, it has notably influenced practitioners and missiologists.

My publication of The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (2014) sought to outline a biblical/systematic theology and some ministry approaches for engaging each culture type.

There you have it—a super short history of the guilt-shame-fear cultural paradigm! Any others works worth mentioning? Please share in a comment below.

Read more posts in this series “Guilt-Shame-Fear: Revisited“.


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A Quick Patronage Survey, Please!

Patronage is a common reality in global ministry, but it is rarely discussed in missiology. So unfortunately Christians struggle to navigate patronage. 

To help us learn more about people’s understandings and perceptions of patronage, please take this survey. There are many good reasons to take the survey; you can pick your favorite form of motivation:

  1. It’s short…4-5 minutes, maximum. 
  2. It’s revealing…the questions will prompt some learning reflection.
  3. You know those weekly blog posts from…consider them small gifts that create social indebtedness. Here’s your chance to reciprocate. Or perhaps, this is a way to make me indebted to you! 🙂
  4. I will make a summary of the data available to the greater missions community. The collective results will help clarify the current situation and issues related to patronage. This will allow the global missions community to collectively forge a more precise and more strategic path forward. For example, the results will help inform research topics and conversations at the upcoming Patronage Symposium future blog posts here at
  5. As a thank you, two respondents will be randomly selected to win a free book of their choice from this list: .

Thanks again for taking this short survey about patronage


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The Meaning of ‘Shame’—A Short History

Where do these categories of “guilt-shame” or “shame-honor” come from? Like all ideas, the notion of “shame” has developed over time. This post summarizes the main currents of shame research in the 20th century.

The Beginning: Ruth Benedict

The binary labels of “guilt-culture” and “shame-culture” is often credited to American anthropologist Ruth Benedict. Anthropologists contrasted “guilt” and “shame” in the early 1900’s, but Benedict’s book The Cross and the Chrysanthemum (1946) popularized the classification. World War II pitted Western militaries against an industrialized, non-Western power for the first time. To understand the mindset of their enemy in the East, the U.S. military commissioned Ruth Benedict to study and explain Japanese culture. Benedict explained how Western culture was controlled by internal conscience, whereas shame cultures like Japan use public opinions to sanction behavior. Her book was highly influential in the U.S. military, Western academia, as well as in Japan and China where translations become bestsellers. Once can hardly underestimate the influence of her book in this discussion. Even though anthropology after Benedict critiqued elements of her guilt-shame dichotomy, the categories continued to frame the discussion.


In the 1960’s and 70’s, cultural anthropologists such as Julien Pitt-Rivers of Oxford developed the idea of “honor-shame cultures” by researching Mediterranean cultures. Their research developed anthropological models such as challenge-riposte, patron-client, ascribed vs. achieved, kinship, purity, limited good, etc. These anthropologists explained the nuances of honor and shame in Mediterranean societies with great insight.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s a group of biblical scholars led by Bruce Malina and Jerome Neyrey began applying those anthropological insights to the New Testament. The Context Group, as they labeled themselves, used “social-science criticism” to expound the honor-shame aspects inherent to the New Testament. Their work was primarily academic, so focused on history and hermeneutics more than practical theology.

Several evangelical NT scholars in the 21st century like David deSiva and Kenneth Bailey leverage insights from the social sciences to interpret biblical texts. Their works are notably less dependent upon constructs of Mediterranean anthropologists of 50 years ago, and points towards pastoral applications of honor-shame.


In a separate field of thought, psychology began discussing guilt and shame in the 1970’s. So the psychology of guilt and shame is rather developed. Christian psychologists like David Augsburger (1980’s), Lewis Smedes (1990’s), and Edward Welch (2010’s) have adopted those insights for Christian ministry and counseling. Compared to anthropology, psychology views guilt and shame as personal feelings, not public social sanctions. They describe the emotional dynamics in an individual, not the social realities between people.

Psychologists typically view guilt as helpful and shame as hurtful. Consequently, Westerner’s perceive shame as mostly negative. So when anthropology defines cultural groups as “shame-based,” negative assumptions get unfairly attached to those cultures. 

This image here summarizes how “shame” has developed in research.

The conflation of anthropological and psychological definitions of shame is a common mistake. It is sloppy and lazy research to use psychological conclusions about shame when making a point about “honor-shame cultures.”

Today: #Shame

Since 2010, two realities have brought “shame” out from the psychologist’s office into mainstream conversation: Brene Brown and social media. Brene Brown is a shame researcher at the University of Houston. Her 2010 TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability” become the second most viewed videos on and YouTube. Her bestselling books Daring Greatly, The Gifts of Imperfection, and I Thought it Was Just Me offer inspiring stories and practical insights for overcoming shame. Brown proposes empathy, vulnerability, and community as the antidote to shame.

Social media has also introduced shame into mainstream Western culture, but more at an experiential than cognitive level. The explosion of “internet bullying” and “digital shaming” has directly exposed modern people to a reality long relegated to “traditional cultures”—disgrace, shame, honor, etc. Social commentators note social media creates a new “shame-culture.” For example, the March 2015 cover story of Christianity Today, “The Good News About Shame”, proposed “social media is leaving us more ashamed than ever—and more ready to hear the gospel.” The deluge of digital shame has sideswiped Western culture and forced us to reckon with a resurgence of shame.

Read more posts in this series “Guilt-Shame-Fear: Revisited“.


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Guilt-Shame-Fear & Other Cultural Models

There are many models that explain how global cultures differ. They all simplify reality in different ways. This post shows how the guilt-shame-fear paradigm compares to other well-known cultural models.

1. Hofstede’s 6 Dimensions

An organizational anthropologist named Geert Hoftstede began working at Europe IBM in 1965. He founded the Personal Research department for IBM in Europe, which provided a global platform for cultural research. From 1967-73, he conducted a survey of national values among 117,000 IBM employees. Hofstede’s subsequent analysis identified six dimensions where national cultures differ.

  • high-power distance vs. low-power distance
  • collectivism vs. individualism
  • weak certainty avoidance vs. strong certainty avoidance
  • masculinity (task focus) vs. femininity (relational focus)
  • long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation
  • indulgence vs. restraint

Although these binaries were not unique to Hofstede, his scientific research helped legitimate the categories by providing a quantifiable theory for cultural differences. His international bestseller Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind (1991) mainstreamed the cultural model in academic and business circles.

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The Value of Cultural Models

In 2015 I taught a course in Chad, Africa. I considered bringing gifts for the 12 Chadian students, but we had a very tight luggage allowance. The school director suggested instead that I buy a goat at the end of class for us all to enjoy. I loved that idea!

One morning the Chadian students gathered to butcher the goat for dinner that night. As I stood by watching, I tried hard to repress my shock. I grew up on a farm during my teenage years, so am somewhat familiar with how an animal “should” be butchered. But they cut the animal totally different! Even what they counted as edible was totally different! Everything except the hide went into one the cooking pot—meat, organs, unclean intestines, and even the skull.

Describing a culture is like butchering an animal—there are many ways to divide up a complex entity. A cultural model is a simple system for explaining cultural differences. Cultures are infinitely complex and complicated. However, people crossing cultures need simple categories to help them organize complex realities. So researchers have developed various models to explain cultures. Because cultures are infinitely complex, no particular cultural model in inherently “right” or “wrong.” There are infinite numbers of ways to slice up complex realities, as I learned in Chad.

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3 In 1: Integrating Guilt, Shame, and Fear

People often voice the concern that reducing cultures down to “guilt,” “shame,” or “fear” is oversimplifying reality—“Aren’t cultures a combination of these factors?” Most certainly. Cultures are too complex to be isolated into just three boxes. These are not three distinct categories, but factors that influence every culture to some shape. Guilt, shame, and fear are present in every person and every culture, but to differing degrees. The complexity and richness of human culture is not like Neapolitan ice cream with three separated flavors. This post explains how the three culture types overlap and integrate.

The phrase “guilt-innocence culture” is like the phrase “right-handed person.” When I say that I am right-handed, it does not mean I never use or my left hand (or don’t have a left hand!). The phrase simply indicates my primary preference. The categories are like caricatures—they highlight the most distinctive features to allow for easy identification.

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