The First Missions Book on Honor & Shame
In 1975, missions professor Lowell Noble self-published the book Naked and Not Ashamed: An Anthropological, Biblical, and Psychological Study of Shame. To my knowledge, this was the first work of evangelical missiology that addressed honor and shame. This post recounts the book’s history.
When I first started researching honor and shame about 10 years ago, someone gave me a faded photocopy of this book. I was impressed by the author’s insight and foresight. The book is more practical than academic. And even more admirable than Noble’s clear insights was his determination to self-publish. In 1975, he paid in advance to print the books, then self-mailed individual copies from his house.
Noble never lived overseas himself (obit here). However, through teaching sociology and anthropology to mission students he came to see the importance of honor and shame, in both theology and global cultures. His book recounts Scriptural verses and themes related to honor and shame. Noble noted the preponderance of shame language in the Bible, especially compared to the lack of guilt language. Then he summarized the dynamics of honor and shame in various countries.
I suspect that Noble’s book may have passed through history unnoticed, but for a fortunate occurrence. The legendary Kenneth Pike, professor of linguistics at The University of Michigan and president of SIL, acquired the book and recognized its importance. (I suspect Noble and Pike were acquaintances, as they were teaching in Michigan 45 miles from one another.) Within a year of the book’s initial publication, Pike published a positive book review in Christianity Today (November 19, 1976), titled “On Guilt and Shame”.
My favorite line from Pike’s review: “And the Scripture? Lots of it, to show that in past ages God’s direct appeal was often to people to come to him for relief of shame—now, and forever.”
Considering the headlines of today, some 43 years later, I conclude with Pike’s own conclusion linking shame and presidential impeachment:
“The recent American scene should make it clear, I would add, that wide-spread perversion is little condemned—but that shame opens the way for dismissal even from high office. (Shades of the Watergate exit from our political Eden, with a flaming judicial sword preventing a return even to Washington!) This, in turn, allows for more open discussion about the moral will of God and his penalties—in the form of shame—for despising it.”