The Gospel According to Patronage: A Summary
Here is a gospel narrative of salvation-history from a patron-client framework. This short summary summarizes Chapters 7–9 of my book Ministering in Patronage Cultures, where I develop a biblical theology of God, sin, and salvation in light of patronage. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, www.ivpress.com. Copyright (c) 2019. For more resources about patronage, visit https://honorshame.com/patronage/.
In the beginning, God created all things to display his power and glory. He is a patron-king whose benevolence and glory graces the entire earth. God pro- vides and protects the entire human family, and he expects their loyal obedience.
But the serpent tempted Adam and Eve to rebel against their patron. Satan promised they could become independent rulers instead of dependent clients. Humans disobeyed God, severing the patronage relationship. They dishonored the king and so faced the wrath of a slighted benefactor. The rebellion left the human family dis-graced, living without God’s benevolence and under Satan’s bondage.
Then God initiates a new relationship with Abraham’s family to mediate his glorious benefactions to the world. During the Exodus, God forms a special patronage relationship with Israel. According to the covenant, God would provide and protect Israel, and they should be loyal and obedient. God stays faithful to his special people, but Israel seeks patronage from human kings and false idols. They break covenant and dishonor God. Like Adam, Israel is dis-graced into exile. However, Israel’s unfaithfulness does not nullify God’s faithfulness. As a loyal patron, God keeps his promises of salvation.
The gift of God’s own Son is the greatest act of divine beneficence. Jesus leaves his glorious throne to lavish God’s favors upon disloyal rebels. He gives many benefactions—great feasts, liberation from dark forces, release from sins, protection from danger. In Jesus, the honorable patron is the perfect client. Jesus’ complete obedience glorifies the Father. He repays the honor debt of Adam, Israel, and all humanity. This satisfies the just requirement for divine honor and remakes the covenant relationship. Jesus’ death fulfills all of God’s promises. In Jesus, God is a faithful and true patron to his people. Jesus rises from death and becomes the Supreme Broker of divine benefits. On our behalf, Jesus intercedes to the Father and mediates divine favors from the Father.
People who pledge their allegiance to Jesus’ new kingdom receive God’s benefactions—spiritual power, liberation from bondage, and release from sin. The beneficiaries of God’s gift are not deserving clients; they are ungrateful sinners and rebellious enemies. To become God’s favored clients, people must renounce false patrons and be loyal to Jesus. God gifts us his very Spirit, which transforms us into loyal clients who, rightly and finally, do honor God. God’s new client-community embodies and mediates his radical generosity to the world. In the final day, God will gift complete life to those who glorify him and avenge all insults to his honor.
Thanks for this, Jayson,
Patronage-specific vocabulary Makes the gospel message a little unwieldy in English (an inherently guilt/innocence-based language). It’s like taking Christianese to a new level.
It made me wonder if our normal gospel message sounds as awkward in other languages that aren’t naturally geared to support the concepts.
Do other languages have easier and more natural ways of expressing things like “benefaction?”
I applaud the effort to tell Good News of the Kingdom in its original honor shame framework. However, upon reading your presentation, it contradicts an informed reading of the Hebrew Bible on several fronts. For example, the relationship between the GOD-KING and the human race was not severed (it was the GOD-KING who met Adam and Eve on the outside of the Garden). Also, there is no mention of wrath in the Genesis 3 account although shame is spoken of. Finally, there is no reason to conclude based on the narratives described throughout the OT that human beings are without the benevolence of the GOD-King. Paul says as much to those who questioned him in Athens. (Acts 17:22-31).
It seems like the words you have used in your presentation above (although understandably brief) attempt to employ honor/shame language while maintaining a western legal framework with the result being that the OT story of the GOD-KING and his gracious interactions with people across centuries is not taken seriously.
I’m wondering, does this presentation of the GOD News as you have described it resonate well with those in honor shame contexts? I am curious, how do they respond to it?
Thanks for considering these things.
Thanks for adding clarity and detail. The story of the post (from my book) was as attempt to summarize three chapters of theology into a short, useable narrative, so admittedly glosses over nuances. Yes, people humans are not completely severed from God’s gifts as you mention, but God’s people (OT and NT) do have unique access to God’s blessings by virtue of being in covenant relationship with him. And sinning against does result in some a break in relationship, and thus a dis-gracing of the person, as seen in Gen 3 and the exile narrative.
Great point; I’m glad you commented. A constant issue I faced in writing a book on patronage is figuring out how to best explain concepts in the English language, which inevitable assumes Western cultural values.
Here is what I say in chapter 1:
“The English language is a poor medium for discussing patronage. … Patron-client relationships are far less prominent in the English-speaking cultures. Since words derive their meaning from social contexts, and the English language is not naturally used in contexts of patronage, English words fail to capture the nuance and depth of social dynamics related to reciprocal relationships. Discussing patronage in English is like using ancient Latin to explain the internet—the words are not meant for such a task.”
Yes, other languages have concepts that better capture the notion of patronage and reciprocity because of the social context. For example, Koine Greek of the NT uses many words imbued with patronage meaning. And I’ve seen/felt this in the non-Western languages I’ve learned.
Interesting comment, Nate. What makes you say that English is an inherently guilt/innocence-based language?
Yes, the English terms “patron/client” reflect more Western economic values rather than “family relationships” which might be the focus in honor/shame societies. The term “family” also implies a relationship into which one is born and not one which you can choose to belong. At the same time “honor” and “shame” are not easily translated from other languages into English either. It would be good to hear how other cultures describe the patron/client relationship as well as honor and shame.