How does the one gospel make sense for shame, guilt and fear cultures? Some people seem to feel they must argue for one against the others, as if the gospel was primarily about guilt and second about shame and fear. The truth is that we don’t have to choose. Within the gospel’s framework, we can see how it connects with people from each cultural perspective.
How the Bible Always Frames the GospelIn my recent book One Gospel for All Nations, I show how the biblical writers always present the gospel using at least one of three “framework themes” that arise from the overall narrative of the Bible. These themes include creation, covenant, and kingdom. (For a few explicit summaries of the gospel, see Rom 1:2–4; 1 Cor 15:3–4, 20–28; Gal 3:8; 2 Tim 2:8; cf. Isa 52:7)
These three framing themes are contrasted from “explanation themes.” These include, for example, ideas like justification, redemption, temple-imagery, etc. They clarify the significance of the gospel, answering key questions like “Who is Jesus?” “What has he done?” and “Why does he matter?”
To draw an analogy, framework themes are like the framework of a house. Explanation themes are like the plumbing, wiring, and furniture. Both are critical for making a house a home. They simply have different functions. The framework gives the gospel its firmness; the explanation themes allow for flexibility within our presentations.
By distinguishing framework themes from explanation themes, we can guard against both “cultural syncretism” and “theological syncretism.” We make sure that we allow the Bible to frame our gospel rather than cultural or denominational agendas.
What about Shame, Guilt, and Fear?People sometimes speak as if a culture were marked either by shame, guilt, OR fear. If fact, all cultures have all three characteristics. They are aspects of being human in the present age. Naturally, this raises the question, “How does the gospel’s framework connect to each of these cultural perspectives?”
Compare the graph below, which is adjusted from the above three circles.
Notice that each framework theme tends to emphasize a particular cultural perspective. Covenants lay stress on relationships and thus honor-shame are key issues. Kingdom language connects with ideas of power and fear. Creation highlights what is universally true thus the concept of guilt.
We don’t have to choose between a “gospel of shame” versus a gospel of guilt or fear.
Built into the one true gospel is a firm framework that speaks to each of these three major cultural themes. The model offered in One Gospel for All Nations helps us to understand how diverse gospel presentations still present the same core biblical message without compromise.
Accordingly, we can share the gospel in a way that is both biblically faithful and culturally meaningful.