Western theology sounds like a scratched DVD at times—it get stuck repeating the same words, and has a hard time telling the whole story. When the guilt-innocence meaning of theological terms is hard-wired into many us, we struggle to imagine alternative explanations of key Christian doctrines.
Many see honor and shame in passages of the Bible, but as a whole we do not convert those biblical truths into functioning theology. We must overcome this theological speech impediment. Honor-shame is not just some cultural or hermeneutical rubric, but a theological reality that informs all facets of God’s character and mission.
This series “Honoring Theology” will examine key theological terms and concepts for honor-shame contexts, such as:
- Glory (by Dr. Ken Bailey)
Imagine if Millard Erickson was born in Uzbekistan! Or, Wayne Grudem in Malaysia! Or, John Piper in Kuwait! Or, Tim Keller in Ethiopia! What would their theology look like? (I have no idea honestly, but just like the questions.)
Theological Methodology–2 Quick Words
One, these theological terms were originally used in an honor-shame context. An honor-shame reading frames biblical concepts within that cultural logic. So our task is not so much “contextualizing” the Bible as “de-contextualizing” our theology. For this reason, we’ll focus on what theological concepts meant to original authors and readers.
Two, all of the terms carry a broad range of theological meaning. A post of 500 words cannot explore the full meaning of any theological word/concept. So I’ll only highlight those facets most germane to honor-shame contexts. My aim is not to replace contemporary theological definitions, but enrich and expand them. Even then, we must remember the honor-shame dimensions are central to the biblical meaning of theological ideas, not merely a contemporary application on the periphery.
Past posts have explored an honor-shame theology of sin and Christ. At some future point we’ll explain more theological topics from an honor-shame vantage point, such as: joy, righteousness, justice, savior, sinner, judgment, forgiveness, heaven, truth, love, peace, grace, baptism, holiness, the Kingdom of God, repentance, faith, the Holy Spirit, etc. For those eager to jump the gun, these ideas are briefly explored on the final page of this SJT article.
And yes, the series title “Honoring Theology” is meant to be read both ways—I’m attempting to honor the subject of theology and proposing a theology which explains God’s transformational honor.
Read more in this series, “Honoring Theology“:
Fascinating, I’m definitely looking forward to this.
I know Reformed theology in particular tends to be very polarizing, but in my own studies I’ve learned to see the different shapes Biblical theology takes when you account for the collectivist and honor/shame dynamics prevalent in the biblical world. The Bible, having been produced by “high context” cultures, simply assumes these elements of culture.
Western theology really took off in an individualist, guilt oriented direction by the time it got to Thomas Aquinas and his synthesis with Aristotle, although Augustine and his own synthesis with Plato helped steer the ship in this direction in the 5th century. The Protestant Scholastics kept this same basic trajectory, even when they were exploring the nature of repentance and justification by faith.
Bring it on! I can hardly wait to read this series of posts.
Looking forward to reading about this from the point of view of helping translators in Africa find good equivalents for these words and concepts.
Ann, your comment is very interesting. English translations occasionally mis-represent (or completely miss) honor-shame dynamics in the Bible. I have wondered if various Bible translations done by Westerners have not properly noted the honor-shame aspect of various biblical ideas and words. And I know it is very hard to “update” Bible translations, especially when first or second generation Christians in various contexts are often defensive of new translations. I wonder, to what degree has the minimization of honor and shame been ossified in 20th-century Bible translations?
Would someone there be willing to dialogue with me on this? I’d really appreciate it. Email directly.
Yes, bravo. I appreciate Jayson’s comment: “we must remember the honor-shame dimensions are central to the biblical meaning of theological ideas, not merely a contemporary application on the periphery.” He’s not pushing a theological revolt here, but augmenting the faithful efforts of brothers and sisters from whom we benefit much. I think Daniel’s quick historical summary is right on (similar to Roland Muller’s historical analysis), a dynamic that has both fit into our context in Western civilisation as well as shaped it. Those social structures and perspectives are rapidly unraveling, and so I see this honor-shame awareness as not only helping advance the gospel among non-Western peoples, but helping us to reach the younger generations in Western cultures.
Thanks Daniel and Sean for the affirming and insightful comments. My thoughts are quite similar to what you expressed.