Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 11 (2020)

Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker. Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016. 295 pp. Paperback. $15.49.

During a global pandemic, one has time to read and reflect deeply. Finding things that are worth the time and energy such mental focus requires is a true delight. Such is the case with Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures.

Readers of this study will hear a number of voices as Georges and Baker guide them along what many would construe as controversial terrain. Though clear allusions abound, the quotations and direct references to Paul Hiebert, David deSilva, Christopher Wright, N. T. Wright, Chris Flanders, Kwame Bediako, Robert Brenneman, Timothy Tennent, Jackson Wu, Ruth Benedict, and many other scholars undergird and clarify the authors’ helpful insights. In addition to good research, the authors share numerous illustrations at every turn, mostly from personal experiences. The case studies will most help students of missions and anthropology in their understanding of the principles being explained.

My wife and I lived and worked in Chile among the poor to middle-class for eight years, and while reading, numerous faces and personal encounters rose to the surface of my memory. I could hear the voices of people whom I have known in ministry: Eduardo, Marisol, Mireya, Shanqi, and Yuki. This connection of my story with this book was pivotal in my appreciation of what could otherwise become just one more intellectual sojourn.

An exceptional quality of this book is the constant attention to balance in discussing the relatively new insights (for Western Christians) regarding honor-shame paradigms. A helpful analogy was given early (19), wherein discussing the three culture types of fear, guilt, and shame, a comparison is made to a right- or left-handed person. In the same way that right-handed people use their left hands for many things, honor/shame simply indicates a functional primary preference. A person living in an honor-shame culture does not jettison traditional court-room thinking about guilt, but it may not be their guiding consideration. As someone who was educated with a hermeneutic that is inherently suspicious of new approaches to traditional perspectives, I approach certain subjects with a measure of skepticism. Thankfully, the Word of God does not change. However, our meager and limited perception of humanity calls for a never-ending quest to see the glory of God through the thousands of cultural facets that have existed since Gen 11. It is easy to be skeptical (dare I say systemically skeptical?) of things that we do not understand. Our journey toward a greater understanding of what it means to be human is wonderfully assisted by Georges and Baker.

The chapters helpfully follow a logical sequence moving from anthropology to theology to practical ministry. In our urgency to see the gospel go to the ends of the earth, we missiologists are often guilty of being overly pragmatic and giving less attention to the important underpinning issues of theology. To their credit, Georges and Baker do not glide past some of the thorny issues in order to get to the “practical stuff” concerning honor-shame understandings of Scripture. Instead, early in the book, we see a focus on Christology and a clear understanding of the Old Testament. Their treatment includes addressing the elephant in the room for the honor-shame conversation: views on the atonement. The book does not pretend to be more than what it is—an introduction—but as with any good study, the doors to a deeper understanding are clearly marked for further investigation.

One of the features of this book that I found to be immediately helpful is an appendix of key Scriptures regarding honor and shame. Inductive study is the seedbed of biblical theology, and this approach is especially helpful to a textual understanding of this critical topic.

The second appendix, a collection of the stories of Scripture that clearly feature honor-shame paradigms, pairs well with the first. They are helpfully grouped under broad themes and, together with the biblical inductive material, provide a fertile ground for study and meditation.

These same issues of understanding have long been pursued by those serving cross-culturally in foreign settings. Today, as the world continues to rapidly diversify from Sendai, Japan, to Seneca, Missouri, insights such as the authors’ become imperative points of consideration. Even with an uneven understanding, effective ministry in a rapidly diversifying Western context demands a deeper understanding of the thinking of every culture that we encounter.

In our new era of global theology and its burgeoning contribution to, if not leadership of, the “self-theologizing”1 international church, we are fortunate to have the voices of two missiologists that can guide those of us coming from a Western context into majority world ways of thinking. Such presentations as this will greatly contribute to both a deeper understanding of ourselves as well as tools and bridges that can bring about effectiveness and culturally agile ministry.

Christopher DeWelt

Director of Intercultural Studies

Ozark Christian College

Joplin, MO, USA

1 See Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic: 1985), ch. 8.