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Review of Discipleship in Community: A Theological Vision for the Future

Mark E. Powell, John Mark Hicks, and Greg McKinzie. Discipleship in Community: A Theological Vision for the Future. Abilene: ACU Press, 2020. 192 pp. Paperback. $16.99.

“There are not two histories, one profane and one sacred, ‘juxtaposed’ or ‘closely linked.’ Rather there is only one human destiny. Irreversibly assumed by Christ, the Lord of History” – Gustavo Gutiérrez

Life is characterized by tensions that exist between contending ideas, philosophies, and politics. When these tensions are brought together in a dynamic engagement, they create new, exciting, and beautiful things. Engagement with these tensions enriches theology when they are superimposed on each other to bring depth; life begins to emanate hues of color that challenge a dualistic, black and white theology. In order to achieve depth, there ought to be interdependence and sensibility in communities of engagement. Participants in the life of the church must prepare for such enriching experiences. All these diverse hues challenge spiritual journeys, and they are indispensable for moving forward into the future.

Discipleship in Community is a collaboration of three professors who have eloquently engaged the subject of the future of Churches of Christ to prepare for improved discipleship. All three are experienced theologians who teach at Churches of Christ Universities: John Mark Hicks and Greg McKinzie at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, and Mark Powell at Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tennessee. These men love their heritage in the Churches of Christ. For this reason, the book proposes a theological framework that grapples with commitments arising from the Stone-Campbell Movement in order to invite readers to participate in a “life of simple, authentic discipleship” (11). Their proposals are ideal for engaging tensions as the church moves to the future.

The authors place discipleship at the core of the Stone-Campbell Movement instead of restoration. The authors take turns unpacking six theological convictions, proposing them as constructive commitments for Churches of Christ. Each author drafted two chapters with the input of the other two authors. Mark Powell wrote two additional chapters at the beginning and the end. Together, their purpose is two-fold: “to describe who Churches of Christ have been and propose a constructive vision for the future” (9). To begin, Mark Powell prompts the reader to set aside “the fundamental theological emphases of the Church of Christ” (16) and to exchange them for a “larger theological framework” (19). Indeed, this framework supports an obligation of promoting a spirit of mutuality and sensibility in church communities.

Additionally, these three authors use commitments that are not typical in the Church of Christ’s heritage, thus creating tensions with depth in the church’s tradition. For example, the use of sacraments is foreign to most Churches of Christ because of its connection to other traditions. This book addresses these types of tensions carefully to avoid causing harm to the church.

Tensions in theology characterize my life. I am a Mexican and a naturalized American who lives in Texas as a missionary of the church engaging my community. My upbringing was that of a typical Mexican-Catholic family who lived their profession faithfully. At a young age, my parents converted to Churches of Christ. From that point forward, I became a participant in the soteriological and eschatological work of the erroneous self-designation, “the one true Church.” Since then, I have increased my awareness of the type of ministry that encompasses a broader kind of work of the church, which is accurately described by Gutiérrez’s notion of “Lord of History.”1 I have lived in the middle of ideological tensions between secular history and my Hispanic heritage, unaware of the rich theologies that Latin origin contains. I have come to realize that the church ought to consider Robert Chao Romero’s Brown Church Movement.2 His call advocates a both/and versus an either/or philosophy of ministry embodied in the misión integral (integral or holistic mission) approach, rooted in Hispanic and Latino theologies like that of René Padilla and others.3 The Brown Church and misión integral provide a method for navigating tensions in belief that entail various hues of perspective, which are essential for the church to move into the future. Discipleship in Community proposes a viable framework for Churches of Christ, providing a conversation about theological tensions and emanating theological hues that enrich missiological meaning.

In this review, I wish to focus on chapter seven, “Participating in God’s Purposes: Mission,” which contains compelling arguments with substantial implications for missional theology. In chapter seven, the authors propose a renewal of Churches of Christ’s theology for authentic discipleship by moving from a restorationist to a missional reading of the New Testament for praxis. The authors pay attention to the high view of missions in the Stone-Campbell Movement. The chapter explains that the historical reading of the New Testament was bound to the colonization approach to mission of its time. But now, a missional reading must occur with others in community. In this chapter, the authors develop gospel and salvation concepts and the implications for Churches of Christ necessary to move into the future with a missional theology. They argue that the church ought to make this transition by placing mission over restoration. Indeed, it is a “powerful tension” (145) to place mission before restoration, but for Hispanics and Latinos among the Churches of Christ, this is liberating. Missionaries need to move from a rigid ecclesiology to a full contextual reflection considering their communities. In my experience, American ecclesiology is rigid in sending missionaries, who deal with intercultural stress in order to maintain this rigidity.

The chapter is logical in its approach to encouraging change. First, it places the soteriological view of Churches of Christ in contrast to the gospel’s biblical definition. By defining the doctrine this way, the authors highlight two core elements: God’s purposes and the church as participants in these purposes. These form the notion of the missional church the authors propose. Second, the authors argue that the definition of missional moves the church to its true vocation in the present world, the “fullness of the kingdom” (140). An excellent realization indeed! Third, the book correctly challenges the more traditional understanding that being senders is primarily about sponsoring cross-cultural mission work. The book argues a view that deserves attention, namely, the “return to Scripture in order to recapture the missional theology” (141). The Restoration Movement focused initially on evangelization according to a desire to restore the New Testament Church, and they missed the mission of God.

In this seventh chapter, the authors use the metaphor of a journey to explain how to implement the proposed change. At the end of the chapter, the suggested engagement includes six consequential practices: contextualization for a particular location, self-emptying of our traditions and preference, questioning not as an interrogation but as a tool to collect stories, translating as a way of continual recontextualization, participation for new experiences, and mutuality that challenges the presumption of who possesses the truth. In these practices, the implication is that God does not discriminate in regard to context. Ergo, the church should not discriminate either. We see these practices in Jesus’s ministry of the preference for the poor. The authors say, “Mission is not limited to but inseparable from the margins” (157). In this regard, adding more about these practices of not being limited to the poor would strengthen the discussion by adding necessary hues for a real community. I would recommend this book to others because of this proposed change.

The chapter closes by referring readers back to the journey metaphor they suggest to help the church move into the future: “the Father’s direction, in the Son’s way, by the Spirit’s guidance” (157). So, raising the bar in mission as a precursor for missional praxis is a tension that this book addresses appropriately for our tradition. As a Churches of Christ missionary, these concepts are like water for a thirsty pilgrim on this journey.

The book’s organization is well-designed and structured to fit the themes of intentional commitments for moving into the future. At the center of these commitments, there is a call for the church to value more highly and engage with “good theology,” setting the church “on mission” (23). The authors demonstrate an appropriate appreciation of the heritage and legacy of Churches of Christ’s tensions. Discipleship in Community seeks to lessen the traditional tensions within our churches and allows for more hues that further conversation integral to the mission of the church, considering the Lord of history with a sense of interdependence and sensibility in our community.

The Restoration Movement sought a method of interpretation that focused narrowly on the New Testament church’s markers. However, this book’s assertion of a more comprehensive framework is what Churches of Christ need for better engagement. I sense Hispanic churches will profit from this framework; the book ought to enrich conversations about the theological tensions found in Hispanic churches. For decades, elders and preachers have followed the narrow interpretation of the New Testament’s restoration that these authors note and has been a defining characteristic of Hispanic Churches of Christ. Following this narrow interpretation creates unnecessary tensions for Hispanic churches who unknowingly pay a high cost in developing this same interpretation. The spirit of collaboration (en conjunto) is negatively affected and devalued. One example of this high cost is that the rich history of God’s presence in Latin America has been obscured by the omission of nearly two thousand years of church history, typical of Restorationism, creating a gap between the first century and the twenty-first. The authors’ proposed commitments are useful for a new conversation that must occur in the community in order to be better disciple-makers. These conversations must happen because Churches of Christ must develop a healthy theology.

The book closes with three colorful responses gathered from experts in various fields addressing the topic of discipleship. Considering the book’s intention, a Hispanic reply would have brought another hue to the community proposed for the future. The work of the Holy Spirit to provide gifts as “he wills” (1 Cor 12:11) is essential to encourage community, and Hispanics are so gifted. Hispanic giftedness is vital for moving to the future of the church. Hispanic members of Churches of Christ know that there are considerable exigencies in current communities, such as ethnic tensions, that are relevant to a constructive vision for the future. Once again, some tensions deserve a both/and approach for integral mission under the lordship of Christ—instead of one-sided, either/or colonizing methodologies. Hispanic giftedness is a hue in absentia if restoration alone is at the core of discipleship.

Missionaries from the Restoration Movement have missed or ignored the gift of integral brown theology found in Hispanic churches. Different hues have existed with a potential that Churches of Christ theology has prevented from emerging. It is necessary to lessen tensions of mission and restoration under the lordship of the historical Christ and make discipleship genuinely sensible “betwixt and between”4 communities. Discipleship in Community is a valuable tool for Churches of Christ because it presents a framework that wills a simple life of discipleship grounded in theological commitments. These commitments are biblical and authentic. As life requires dynamic engagement, this book provides a framework that enriches missional theology in-depth with the hues necessary to move into the future. For me, the Brown Church perspectives on liberation and integration are essential for discipleship, and this book invites us to such a community of discipleship.

J. Omar Palafox

Ashrei (

Lubbock, TX, USA

1 Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, trans. Caridad Inda and John Eagleson (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018), 86.

2 Robert Chao Romero, Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and Identity (United States: InterVarsity Press, 2020).

3 See René Padilla, Misión integral: Ensayos sobre el reino de Dios y la iglesia (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Ediciones Kairós, 2019).

4 Robert Chao Romero, Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and Identity (United States: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 14, 21, 215.

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Review of Robert A. Hunt, Muslim Faith and Values: A Guide for Christians

Robert A. Hunt. Muslim Faith and Values: A Guide for Christians. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2019. 179 pp. $19.20.

The American anthropologist Clifford Geertz once noted that deep understanding of another’s point of view is less about description and more like “grasping a proverb, catching an allusion, seeing a joke…[or] reading a poem.”1

In a similar vein, Robert Hunt introduces Muslim Faith and Values: A Guide for Christians by noting that while descriptions of the religion of Islam are fairly straightforward, he has a more “ambitious intent” (ix). He wants to help fellow Christians develop deep appreciation for Islam and what makes their Muslim neighbors tick. To the extent that a book can, Hunt delivers on that promise and the result is remarkable. In 180 pages, he draws on years of careful study and personal experience to offer a concise and accessible introduction.

This is not a typical “Islam 101” introduction with tight categories and linear descriptions, and it certainly does not take a polemical or apologetic approach. Rather, Hunt invites readers to circumambulate the religion, like Muslims circling the Ka’bah, while he provides commentary on its various angles and corners. Sometimes he stops and ponders, other times he points out features and moves on, only to circle back to them later when relevant to other topics. He focuses on the ideals that undergird the details and offers valuable glimpses into the beauty, complexity, and sometimes troubled paradoxes of Islam.

Muslim Faith and Values is an updated edition of a 2004 publication of the United Methodist’s General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) and is formatted for study groups. Between the short introduction and concluding epilogue, six chapters address the following: Religion and Faith, The Oneness of God, Muhammad, The Quran, The Quranic Generation, and The Shari’a and Civilization. In addition to Hunt’s lucid presentations, each chapter is richly supplemented with thematic summaries, suggestions for further exploration, discussion questions, relevant passages from primary materials, brief selections from classical and contemporary scholars, excerpts of interviews, poems, and more. The book concludes with a glossary, maps, appendices, and a brief bibliography. There are also accompanying YouTube videos in which Hunt adds commentary and clarification. He also encourages readers to visit local mosques and invite Muslims into their gatherings to further expand or even challenge the book’s content. All considered, Muslim Faith and Values offers a wealth of resources for Christians to dive deeply into their explorations of Islam, as well as consider how such explorations challenge and enhance their own faith. In other words, the content and tone invite the opening of the reader’s imagination rather than a closing-in on basic details or essentialist understandings.

I found the first chapter, “Religion and Faith,” especially compelling. Rather than jumping into introductory material, the chapter provides snapshots of modern Islamic diversity as represented by influential leaders and scholars such as Mawlana Mawdudi, Sayyid Qutb, Ayatollah Khomeini, Fazlur Rahman, Said Nursi, Seyyed Nasr, and Ingrid Mattson. While the profiles would benefit from updated and more specific chronological references, they provide an important starting point for the book contrasting other approaches that caricature Islam as monolithic. Accentuating Islam’s complexity, the chapter concludes with a mystical love poem to God by none other than the Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and leader of the 1979 revolution which established Iran’s cleric-based theocracy (18–19). Significantly, this picture of diversity is immediately followed by the second chapter’s focus on the central notion of God’s oneness (tawhid) and its implications for Muslim experiences of religious and cosmic unity and coherence. I found the synergy and juxtaposition between these first two chapters enlightening.

The last chapter, “The Shari’a and Civilization,” is also effective although, interestingly, it is nearly twice as long as all other chapters. While the book in general is more impressionistic than precise, this chapter presents a fair amount of detail on the meaning, historical development, interpretive schools, and religious and sociopolitical implications of Muslim law. The material is relevant and well-presented, but the chapter’s comparative length and detail concludes with an uncharacteristically essentialist summary statement: “For Muslims obedience to God’s law is the essence of religion” (142). By contrast, the earlier chapter on the Quran is much shorter and provides only minimal details on the sacred text’s actual content, structure, style, and development. Hunt rightly highlights how Muslims experience the Quran more as a sign and event than as a mere book, and he effectively draws out the relevant aesthetic, esoteric, and cosmic dimensions. Nevertheless, readers learn less detail about Islam’s central text then they do about Sufi-oriented perspectives on its mystical power.

Sufi orientations also shape much of the chapter on Muhammad. The chapter presents the basics of the Prophet’s life and establishes his centrality to the core message of the religion. From there, the chapter emphasizes mystic traditions that depict Muhammad in almost messianic terms as the one through whom followers can achieve a mystical union with God or even the extinction of the self. While such traditions are important, readers are left on their own to wonder how they relate to other theological emphases such as Muhammad’s ordinariness, longstanding Muslim resistance to being identified as Muhammadeans, and key Quranic teachings: “‘I am only a human being like you. . . . So go straight to God.’ . . . Woe unto the idolaters” (Q 41:6).

Finally, it is worth noting that many of the contemporary sources referenced in the book are dated, especially those from the 1980s and 1990s. Hunt is clearly aware of more recent sources, but few are explicitly engaged. The target audience of small groups may not require such engagement, although it potentially limits the book’s value in academic settings. But even more generally, the book’s content would be enhanced by recent and evolving developments in Quranic hermeneutics, reassessments of the classical “consensus,” post-Caliphate political theologies, the study and legacy of West African pacifist traditions, engagement with the longevity and mulitplicity of American Islam, and others.

Nevertheless, Muslim Faith and Values is one of the best available resources for those wanting more than simplistic introductions or contentious polemics. Hunt delivers on his “ambitious intent” to provide Christians an opportunity to grasp something of the appeal and complexity of Islam. In doing so, he also opens opportunities for greater understanding of Christian faith, service, and neighbor-love.

In an unfortunate conclusion to this otherwise positive review, it must be noted that the book is littered with editorial problems. From the opening pages, there are typos, repeated words, misspellings, and misreferenced appendices. There are also a number of inconsistencies and outright errors with regard to the spelling of personal names and transliterated terms: Medina is rendered “Median” (p. 127); the hermeneutical term ijtihad is frequently misspelled; inconsistencies occur, sometimes even on a single page, between ‘Uthman/Othman, Khatijah/Khadija, Shari’a/Shari’ah, Shiite/Shī’ite, Tarik Ramadan/Tariq Ramadan, Fetullah Gulen/Fetulah Gulen, and others. These editorial oversights are distracting at best, confusing and misleading at worst.

John Barton

Director, Center for Faith and Learning

Professor of Religion

Pepperdine University

Malibu, California, USA

1 Clifford Geertz, “From a Native’s Point of View: On the Nature of Anthropological Understanding,” in Interpretive Social Science: A Reader, edited by Paul Rabinow and William M. Sullivan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 241.

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Review of Ajith Fernando, Discipling in a Multicultural World

Ajith Fernando. Discipling in a Multicultural World. Wheaton: Crossway, 2019. 284pp. $19.99.

Ajith Fernando’s Discipling in a Multicultural World provides an opportunity to be a disciplee, to sit at the feet of a mentor, and learn how to better follow Jesus in a challenging and diverse age. The specific aim of the book, however, is to equip disciplers to effectively mentor others toward Christian maturity by gleaning wisdom from Fernando’s four decades of ministry at Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. This discipler/disciplee reciprocity is, in fact, indicative of how this wonderful book envisions discipleship through humility and mutuality. For Fernando, the goal is not having disciples of one’s own but rather becoming and making disciples of Jesus in community. This is why he prefers the terms “discipler/disciplee” to “master/disciple,” the latter of which he reserves for Jesus alone (20).

From such postures, Fernando offers an insightful and personal account of the challenges and promises of Christian discipleship. In the tradition of Robert Coleman (who penned the forward), Fernando does not promote institutional programs as much as commitment to intentional and often messy relationships. He makes clear that the book neither provides a comprehensive study on multicultural ministry nor functions as a how-to manual. Rather, Fernando selects “a few key areas that need special attention today” and “reflect[s] on them biblically and practically” (16). In an endorsement for the book, Timothy Beougher captures the result: “Fernando has a scholar’s mind, a pastor’s heart, and a practitioner’s skill—all of which have been tested and proven in the crucible of multicultural experience.”

The book is organized into two parts. Part One (“Introducing Spiritual Parenthood”) presents Fernando’s guiding metaphor for discipleship. He explores the joys and vulnerabilities of spiritual parenthood (ch. 1), some of its challenges and pitfalls (ch. 2), its context in the “family” of the church (ch. 3), the delicacies of belonging to the “two families” of church and world (ch. 4), the realities of suffering and persecution (ch. 5), and warnings and encouragements to disciplers about ambition, temptation, and leadership (ch. 6).

Part Two (“How Christians Change”) offers reflections and anecdotes on spiritual growth and cultural engagement. Fernando draws on missiological and theological insights to address how discipleship evolves (ch. 7), the roles biblical teaching, personal example, and corporate worship play (ch. 8), prayer (ch. 9), sin, forgiveness, and honor (chapters 10 and 11), liberation and power (ch. 12), and holistic healing (ch. 13). The book ends with three short appendices—a list of topics for further exploration, a general index, and a Scripture index.

My assessment follows the book’s own style by offering a few selective considerations. I limit myself to four reflections which highlight specific strengths as well as offer some constructive criticism.

First, one of the book’s great strengths is Fernando’s ability to model both unwavering conviction and nuanced humility in a world that often assumes one must choose between the two. Beyond mere attitude, Fernando demonstrates how this both/and approach might work in the practice of discipleship. For example, while he emphasizes the spiritual dimensions of all human suffering and healing—even including reports of phenomena such as demon possession (234–35)—he also encourages disciplers to carefully discern when spiritual wounds have psychological dimensions that require trained specialists (245–46). His call to such discernment and his refusal to allow his principles to morph into caricatures of spiritual healing is characteristic of his entire presentation.

Second, Fernando provides astute insight into cultural themes that pose specific challenges and opportunities to discipleship in the modern world. For example, he frequently circles back to individualism and consumerism as challenges to Christian notions of community, submission, and sacrificial service. This forms part of his multicultural focus, since individualism and consumerism, while typically associated with Western cultures, increasingly characterize global contexts in which disciplers work, including Fernando’s own Sri Lanka. He also provides an insightful treatment of the themes of honor and shame and how to engage them biblically. He notes that Western cultures are themselves shifting toward an honor-shame orientation and away from a forgiveness-guilt orientation. While this shift reflects the waning of the West’s Reformation impulses, it also presents new opportunities to engage honor-shame themes pastorally and biblically. Through these themes and others, the book earns the “multicultural” in its title.

Third and more critically, while the parenthood metaphor works well for Fernando’s identity as a Sri Lankan man who ministers primarily among Sri Lankan youth, the metaphor could prove counterproductive in other contexts. For example, my first multicultural ministry was as a young, white, American missionary in Uganda where I found myself in discipling relationships with rural Africans, many of whom were my elders with life wisdom that exceeded my own. Beyond age and cultural differences, however, Uganda’s post-colonial environment also still echoed with Kipling’s infamous call for Europeans and Americans to “take up the White Man’s burden” and enact a civilizing mission among those he described as “half devil and half child.” In such contexts, a parent/child paradigm risks feeding a deeply embedded, paternalistic framework of white superiority, which would be a discipleship disaster.

My point here is not that the notion of parenthood has no currency in such contexts. I remember one old man, in a church that I helped plant, who took delight in calling me his “younger father.” Nevertheless, even after years in Uganda, I found a more helpful metaphor in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. My Ugandan brothers and sisters were not my spiritual children, but rather my fellow travelers. We led and followed each other, challenged and submitted to each other, served and forgave each other, communed, and occasionally asked one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” In short, the notion of fellow travelers upholds Fernando’s discipler/disciplee reciprocity while challenging the universality of the parenthood metaphor.

Fourth and finally, it is noteworthy that many of Fernando’s examples and anecdotes deal with the complexities faced by those who convert to Christianity from other religious traditions. In the chapter entitled “Belonging to Two Families,” he discusses how to help young converts interact with their non-Christian communities, communicate about their conversion, honor family commitments without compromising their new faith, and navigate delicate matters such as ancestor veneration, dietary practices, weddings, funerals, and “religiously objectionable practices” (82). Fernando is at his best as he deals with on-the-ground realities and engages them realistically and biblically. In a stirring discussion of 2 Kings 5, for example, he notes that Elisha does not prohibit Naaman, a commander of the Syrian army who renounced the god Rimmon and accepted Yahweh, from continuing to go into temple worship rituals when his job required it. With typical humility and nuance, Fernando concludes that Naaman’s example “may not lead to a binding principle, but it could give some hints on how to act in different situations” (82). On the other hand, his reflections on conversion and maturation often reflect a worldview paradigm that relies on a modernist, fact/experience dualism (232–34). Such discussions would benefit from a dose of post-Cartesian holism such as those found in James K. A. Smith’s emphases on embodied knowledge, desire formation, and “cultural liturgies.”1

With all this in mind, Discipling in a Multicultural World is a wonderful resource for anyone who cares about following Jesus and serving in his name. The opportunity to sit at Fernando’s feet and glean from his experience is a gift to the reader, the church, and the discipler and disciplee in all of us.

John Barton

Director, Center for Faith and Learning

Professor of Religion

Pepperdine University

Malibu, California, USA

1 See James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009).

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Review of Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker, Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials

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.

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Review of Audrey Frank, Covered Glory: The Face of Honor and Shame in the Muslim World

Audrey Frank. Covered Glory: The Face of Honor and Shame in the Muslim World. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2019. 221 pp. Paperback. $14.99.

Audrey Frank writes after having served for twenty years in Muslim communities. Storytelling frames her book’s central idea: how to contextualize the narrative of God’s salvation through redemption from shame’s captivity for Muslim women. This framing reveals much about both the book’s contributions and its limitations.

Beginning in its foreword, Covered Glory paints a bleak picture of Muslim women’s status. The author continues to use this picture throughout the book as the context in which evangelism can and should occur. To be born a Muslim woman, the book suggests, is to be born into shame. The gospel’s answer to this situation is restoration to honor through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.

Each chapter includes at least one story that explains and characterizes particular facets of shame and honor. Overall, this narrative method and its structure serve the book well. Frank establishes a clear, articulate description of shame, employing helpful formal terminology in understandable ways.1 Her use of naming to describe the trifold meaning of shame (feeling, position, and identity) is exemplary. For a Western audience, shame is often only associated with negative feelings. Frank demonstrates that it is far more complete and integrated, having negative effects on every part of a person’s identity, experience, and relationships within a community. Shame humiliates, separates, and disintegrates people from one another and themselves.

Rather than relying on technical terms and complex explanations, Frank chooses to make space for the stories themselves to teach and inform. There is an effortlessness about her writing, as Frank engages with a Western audience through the profound and irrefutable connection that story-telling yields. Most readers will have no trouble following her argument and will deepen their understanding of the basics of an honor-shame system.

In one particular story, Frank writes about how her camera was stolen. Very quickly, the culprit became obvious. When she and her husband inquired, the pastor who knew the culprit avoided and denied the accusation, covering for the person. For Frank, all of these actions read as dishonesty. Upon reflection, however, she realized that the pastor’s actions were more the result of culture than of morality. She writes, “[The pastor] was a follower of Christ, but that had not converted his worldview to a Western one. Nor should it. Too often, cross-cultural Christians confuse worldview with righteousness. From our Western, right-versus-wrong worldview, sin is to be confronted. From our pastor friend’s perspective, shame is to be avoided, and if that is not possible, it must be covered” (91).

This clear contrast between Western and non-Western perspectives is to be commended. Furthermore, the story-telling approach helps Frank build upon the perceptions and misperceptions of Westerners in order to nuance them. This is a strength of the book.

It is unfortunate that such careful nuance is not evident throughout the entire book. In another story, Frank attributes a Muslim friend’s “outward” efforts of obedience (exemplified by the wearing of the hijab) to an “inward” problem. Imani, Frank writes, thought that she needed to “earn” honor by demonstrating outward obedience. Frank’s answer for her friend is implicit: becoming a Christian means freeing her friend from the shame the hijab is meant to cover. When shame is equated with sin, wearing the hijab becomes sinful.

Yet, veiling is not clearly a sinful action. Clothing is a complex issue that connects to many other complex questions—of perception, of cultural understanding, of power dynamics, and of witness.2 Frank could have engaged her friend’s decision to become more culturally modest in another way. Rather than interpreting it as a problematic example of the “faith vs. works” dichotomy, she could have discussed it as an illuminating example of how the gospel of Christ freed Imani from striving against cultural limitations and carved out space for her to thrive in the midst of them.3 Instead, Frank’s discussion flattens the complexities of honor and shame into the individualistic narrative of sin and salvation that structures Western thinking.

In drawing readers into these and other intimate experiences of shame, Frank provides connection points. The particulars of those connection points need to be further explored, however, in conversation with real people. Generalizations may get a conversation started. But if conversation partners are not careful, they will short-circuit the mutual sharing and listening that Frank herself models throughout the book. Precisely because readers may connect so deeply with the stories’ emotional journies, they may walk away with a false sense of understanding the “Muslim woman’s experience,” as if all Muslim women share one experience. Readers—especially those who do not have relationships with Muslim people—will need to nuance their thinking.4

Those who use this book to lead discussions will want to address directly the ways in which the book’s stories and framing of Islam compare and contrast with their own perspectives. In the context of a group study led by a skillful facilitator, readers would be encouraged to confront their own cultural perceptions. On its own, however, the book does not address the Western cultural perceptions that are shaping its own voice sufficiently.

Kate Blakely

Professor of Cross-Cultural Ministries

Great Lakes Christian College

Lansing, MI, USA

1 See particularly Frank’s description of ascribed honor vs. achieved honor (72 ff.).

2 The New Testament addresses the wearing of head scarves or veils in a few different places. Interestingly enough, 1 Cor 11 can be read to support women wearing veils. Is that passage an indication that Paul wants women to “earn” their status before God by the “works” of veiling their heads?

3 This kind of testimony and witness—available only to women, children, and other people with low social status—is exactly the kind of witness described in 1 Peter, 1 Timothy, and 1 Corinthians. It echoes the submission of Christ, who willingly became a servant to all (cf. Phil 2).

4 Muslims are found on many different continents, and its adherents number in the billions, around 25% of the world’s population. Their experiences and cultural practices should not be flattened.

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Review of Te-Li Lau, Defending Shame: Its Formative Power in Paul’s Letters

Te-Li Lau. Defending Shame: Its Formative Power in Paul’s Letters. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. 276 pp. Paperback. $21.92.

Shame disrupts communities and assaults the individual. Conversely, our society has assaulted shame itself. The contemporary West, including Christian theology, ascribes little value to shame, dismissing it as evil and destructive. So what is a biblical view of shame and shaming?

In Defending Shame, Professor Te-Li Lau presents an extensive Pauline theology of shame. He draws upon a wide range of texts, both ancient and modern, to contextualize and hear from the apostle Paul in his honor-shame context. Lau employs moral psychology to explore Paul’s use of shame as “a pedagogical tool for Christic formation” (232). Paul uses shame to form the mind and conscience of Christians. A proper understanding of shame even accompanies biblical salvation.

Chapter 1, “Definitional Background,” introduces the key constructs employed throughout the book. Lau deconstructs the traditional bifurcation between “guilt” and “shame,” which anticipates a later point—Pauline shame involves notıons of both Western guilt and shame (207–13). In a key move, Lau distinguishes between retrospective shame (felt for past sin) and prospective shame (which restrains people from future transgressions). Paul employs retrospective shame to confront the Galatians and Corinthians, purposefully and publicly shaming them to induce moral change (Chapter 4). But in Philemon and Philippians (Chapter 5), Paul utilizes prospective shame “to inculcate in them a dispositional sense of shame that holds to a court of opinion centered on the mind of Christ” (147). Lau’s style is rather technical, drawing philosophical distinctions and tracing exegetical arguments with rigor. His insights, however, are always rewarding.

For such an expensive project, Lau is wisely selective. Two significant points were absent, however. Lau emphasizes the didactic function of shame in Greco-Roman philosophers to provide the cultural background for Paul but insufficiently discusses the Gospel traditions of early Christianity as a potential influence upon Paul’s view of shame. The teaching and actions of Jesus, embodied at the cross (151–52), shaped the early Christians’ subversive definitions of shame and honor. Lau provides no systematic discussion of Romans, a Pauline letter replete with explicit shame terminology and communal concerns.

Chapter 6, “Constructing Paul’s Use of Shame,” summarizes Paul’s understanding of shame. For Paul, shame is defined by the cross and transforms Christians’ consciences to assume the mind of Christ. Chapter 7 brings Paul into conversation with John Braithwaite’s popular criminological theory of “reintegrative shaming” and Confucian thought. Comparing and contrasting Pauline shame with these frameworks brings clarity to Paul’s theology, and offers the reader points of potential application.

The final chapter, “Contemporary Challenges,” confronts and corrects our fractured understanding of shame. With clear biblical support, Lau argues: biblical shame—not guilt—is the preferred emotion for inducing positive behavior; Pauline shaming is persuasive (not manipulative); and shame actually has the potential to sanctify believers and restore relationships by spotlighting our honor in Christ. Lau’s deft exploration of Pauline shame inspires readers towards the New Testament’s moral vision of a renewed conscience shaped by a divine court of approval. Shame must be rehabilitated as a moral emotion, lest we become shameless.

At some points, Lau seems overly bullish on shame. Before we lionize shame as a new moral hero, we must acknowledge that the fire of shame not only purifies but scorches. The prevalent misuse of shame explains the general reluctance to permit shaming. Shame is destructive, and so not a part of God’s preferred plan. Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed (Gen 2:28). Jesus scorned the shame of the cross (Heb 12:2). Paul was unashamed of the gospel (Rom 1:16). Those who believe in Christ will not be ashamed (Isa 28:16; Rom 10:11; 1 Pet 2:6). God does save with shame, as we see in the ministry of Paul. But, ultimately, he saves from shame. Lau’s insights on the former should not overshadow the latter.

Defending Shame, drawing from ancient, biblical, and contemporary literature, provides a trove of theological insights about moral shame. This biblical-philosophical theology of shame provides an indispensable framework for moral and community formation in today’s world.

Jayson Georges

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Review of Jackson Wu, Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes: Honor and Shame in Paul’s Message and Mission

JACKSON WU. Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes: Honor and Shame in Paul’s Message and Mission. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2019. 248pp. Paperback. $14.66.

Many Western scholars, through the traditional lens of theologians like Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, and Karl Barth, have largely argued that the chief emphasis in Romans is justification by faith. Jackson Wu (pseudonym) in his new book Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes provokes readers to question whether, by making justification the central point of Romans, Western academics have projected their individualistic cultural norms as well as Augustine’s and Luther’s moral struggles back onto Paul. Wu presents a fresh and broadened cultural outlook of Romans using an Eastern viewpoint, specifically the honor-shame dynamic inherent in East Asian cultures. He believes ancient biblical societies share more in common today with East Asia’s sensitivity to honor and shame than with Western individualism and equality. An East Asian perspective helps us see Romans as a circumstantial letter rather than only a piece of systematic theology—Paul garnering support for his Spanish mission, addressing issues of disunity and discrimination, and proclaiming the supremacy of Christ, amongst others.

Wu’s work is elaborately researched and extensively referenced, including Mainland Chinese illustrations only available from someone who understands the region from living there over a prolonged period. Even though Wu disclaims this is not a commentary (3), the Greek exegetical portions and brief discussions of the New Perspective on Paul complementing his Eastern approach could render some portions inaccessible to a lay reader. Other segments, however, are written like thought-provoking devotional reflections with homiletic and pastoral application, especially the concluding pages of most chapters and some of the discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Wu’s interdisciplinary work is a contribution to missiology, hermeneutics, cultural anthropology, and Pauline theology. This book is for the scholar or pastor interested in Paul’s magnum opus, the missionary trying to reach an East Asian people group, or even a curious Westerner, since “the desire for honour is basic to being human” (108). Personally, reading this book as a Chinese Malaysian trained in Western theological studies has caused me to rethink the perspectives and views taught to me.

After introducing the honor-shame framework in Chapter 1, Wu posits that instead of one central argument on justification, Paul has four main objectives in writing Romans. These are, (1) rebuking ethnocentrism, (2) addressing the Jew-Gentile and Greek-Barbarian divide, and (3) calling for unity in Christ, while (4) concurrently urging Spanish-mission support. Wu demonstrates how Paul calls the Gentiles and Jews to humility with tactful sensitivity to the Mediterranean culture using indirect speech to keep their honor without losing “face” (26). In the ensuing chapters, Wu re-orients the doctrines of sin, grace, law, salvation, atonement, sacrifice, and justification from a Western to a more nuanced Eastern understanding. For one, the doctrine of sin should be understood beyond the legal-guilt view that is so pervasive in Western thought; sin is more than just the legal-guilt aspect, but how it brings shame and removes honour. Paul is not just interested in “how” one is justified but “who” can be justified (86).

Wu provides a robust gospel when he poignantly highlights how Paul communicates God’s reversal and subversion in the world within an honor-shame framework. Paul “usurps conventional notions of honor-shame. . . . He reorients them” (35) according to God himself, who is the new standard of honor and shame instead of the world’s standards (45). Because we are saved from shame and for glory (127) and because justification is not only about the individual but also our social identity (94), Christians have compelling reasons for ethical living. Such a gospel is effective in countering the prosperity gospel or other forms of a partial gospel that do not demand sacrifice but only promise to bless.

Wu presents a gospel that is relatable to the East Asian person who typically finds foreign and unacceptable the typical Western desire to proselytize individuals to Christianity. In my brief missionary stint in East Asia, I received countless gentle rejections on the basis that Christianity is a Western religion incompatible with local culture. This book astutely displays how one book of the Bible is better understood by the Asian notion of “face,” honor/shame, filial piety, loyalty, tradition, hierarchy, collectivist identity, and reading between lines. To be able to explain the Christian narrative beyond a Western legal-guilt framework would be a better starting point for sharing the Christian faith in East Asian cultures.

Despite the book’s many important contributions, I was first marginally disappointed when Wu did not make further recommendations to replace the inadequately translated Chinese word for “sin” (罪 zui) in Chapter 3. Having been intrigued that zui insufficiently explains a wider understanding of shame, I was anticipating suggested words for consideration. Also, Chapter 11’s recommendation to submit to governing authorities is questionable since, as I write, chaotic protests against the Central Government are ongoing in Hong Kong. I am curious how a Hong Konger would respond to this chapter given the combination of the Chinese roots of tradition, relationship, and hierarchy with the Western influence of liberty and rights.

Finally, in Chapter 12, I was hoping that Wu would examine each Greek name and adjectival phrase attached to the individuals in Romans 16, as he does with certain words and phrases in other chapters. One paragraph highlights the prominence of women in Paul’s greetings as he “greets people across the economic and social spectrum—men/women, slave/free, Jew/Gentile” (187). A detailed exegesis of names would have further substantiated his overall thesis about inclusion. From the origins of the recipients’ names we can make educated guesses that some were born Jews and are now Jewish Christians while some are Gentile Christians; or that some names hold no affinity to circles of slave origin while others reveal otherwise. Such an examination could have further emphasized Paul’s insistence that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, rich nor poor, slave nor free in the early Christian community.

Overall, Wu has cogently achieved what he set out to do: “by reading Romans with Eastern eyes, we can discern key ideas and applications often overlooked or underemphasized by Western interpreters” (2). He has demonstrated how key Christian doctrines must include Eastern values, how Romans is to be read with a collectivist mindset, and how Paul wrote with considerations of “face” for his recipients. It has caused me to realize that, though Asian, I have read Romans and the rest of the Bible with myopic lenses that unquestionably assume Paul was a Western individualist. I have started to test and apply Wu’s honor-shame framework to other Biblical texts consciously and subconsciously. Now, I cannot unsee the biblical worldview that Wu has led me to appreciate, and it will likely affect the next Romans sermon I preach. These are marks of a successful book.

MAK Sue Ann

MPhil Candidate in Theology (New Testament)

Lady Margaret Hall

University of Oxford

Oxford, UK

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Review of Daniel Y. Wu, Honor, Shame, and Guilt: Social-Scientific Approaches to the Book of Ezekiel

Daniel Y. Wu. Honor, Shame, and Guilt: Social-Scientific Approaches to the Book of Ezekiel. Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplements 14. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2016. 219 pp. Hardcover. $47.50.

Wu is Lecturer in Old Testament and Biblical Languages at Moore College in New South Wales, Australia. He states his purpose clearly: “In this study, I explore how the concepts honor, shame, and guilt function in the book of Ezekiel, as well as in the wider contexts of their general use in anthropological or social-scientific approaches to biblical studies” (1). The book is a revision of his doctoral dissertation, which should provide sufficient warning about the technical, complicated material that is addressed. This book is intended for specialists.

In true dissertation style, Wu spends the first three chapters outlining his methodology. He assumes that his readers are familiar with the process and terminology used in social-scientific criticism while providing the usual literature review and critique of the major authors who have gone before him. Both anthropology and psychology are brought to bear on contemporary understandings of “shame cultures” and “guilt cultures,” with helpful reminders to “preserve the ‘otherness’—in a positive sense—of the text over the researcher” (27). Wu’s summary of social-scientific approaches and their usefulness for interpreting biblical texts is solid: “Thus, the goal in biblical studies should not be to escape the ‘culture gap’ between us and the biblical world, but to embrace it” (29). His prioritizing of the text over historical-critical methods like social-scientific criticism for the purpose of biblical interpretation is refreshing, though he seems to make just as much use of cultural categories as the anthropologists and psychologists he critiques.

Wu calls his approach to the text “contextual semantic analysis,” a form of critical realism with ethical implications:

It is therefore incumbent on researchers to make sure that we know responsibly—which includes attempting, as far as possible, to hear an author’s communication as they would want it to be heard, before we offer our own assessments and labels. . . . Readers and researchers must pay careful attention to their tendency not to listen hard enough before speaking, to assume mastery over the subject. The critical realism I am advocating seeks to move toward this by recognizing the reality of the text—it exists independently of me, my perceptions, and my opinions, and thus my perceptions and opinions of it are subject to its objectivity. (34–35; emphasis original)

After such promising statements, chapters 4–6 are somewhat disappointing. Wu’s “contextual semantic analysis” becomes a generic word study, revisiting standard lexicons and theological dictionaries as so many Hebrew and Greek students have done. Instead of starting with Ezekiel (per his description above), each chapter’s focus-word (honor, shame, guilt) begins with a standard review of how the unpointed Hebrew term has been used in the wider Old Testament (especially the Torah) before turning to specific instances in Ezekiel and a brief consideration of related terms. Each chapter ends by highlighting areas of agreement and disagreement between how the biblical text understands each term (according to Wu) and how social-scientific critics (specifically, a set of anthropologists known as the Context Group) view them. The most helpful aspect of these chapters is Wu’s suggestion to use more contemporary terms to better retain the larger semantic sphere indicated by his word studies (glory for honor, disappointment for shame, sin/consequences for guilt). Wu’s conclusions in Chapter 7 regarding how the Hebrew terms honor, shame, and guilt function in Ezekiel are similar to many (more approachable) commentaries.

Overall, Wu does not accomplish his stated goal. His summary is especially telling: “In essence, then, this study may best be summed up in the following terms: there are no guilt cultures or shame cultures. Or, perhaps more accurately, all cultures are shame cultures, and all cultures are guilt cultures” (178; emphasis original). It would appear that Wu’s real goal in the dissertation was to disprove the distinctions made by social-scientists between guilt and shame. Ezekiel’s use of the terms is simply a very detailed case-in-point. To further drive home this reality, Wu includes an appendix with a much shorter example of how the same approach can be used to interpret contemporary Evangelical understandings of atonement. Perhaps Wu is really trying to demonstrate how word study is more helpful than anthropology for biblical interpretation.

Melinda L. Thompson

Associate Professor of Old Testament

Graduate School of Theology

Abilene Christian University

Abilene, TX, USA

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Review of The Honor-Shame Paraphrase Series

The Honor-Shame Paraphrase Series. n.p.: Timē Press. eBook.

Jayson Georges.

1 Peter: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase. 2017. 28 pp. $2.99

Esther: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase. 2017. 28 pp. $2.99

Psalms: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase of 15 Psalms. 2018. 75 pp. $3.99.

Malachi: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase. 2019. 20 pp. $2.99.

Daniel K. Eng.

James: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase. 2018. 31 pp. $2.99.

One of the most powerful memories from my years working as a Bible translator in Papua New Guinea was the time when, looking for something different to read, I grabbed Bruce Malina’s The New Testament World off of my shelf. I had not looked at it since graduate school. However, as I sat there, in the middle of the jungle, reading about the cultures from which the Bible was written, and thinking about the notions of limited good, honor and shame, purity, and the role of kinship structures, I came to the shocking realization that the people in my village understood these concepts far more naturally than I did. Regardless of my years of theological education, my mind still went into default Western mode when reading the Bible. I had to force myself to override my assumptions about the social dynamics behind the text. But the people I worked with, most of whom had less than a 6th grade education, understood those dynamics instinctively.

Probably the most powerful cultural values of the New Testament era were honor and shame. Knowing one’s place in society, living up to the expectations of that station, giving respect and loyalty to those above you, behaving charitably to those beneath you, and keeping your reputation unstained before others, was all part of the biblical world, just as it is for the vast majority of cultures today. However, Western Christians, with our bent toward individualism and egalitarianism, have trouble identifying with those values, which means that Western Christians are apt to miss much of what happens between the lines of our biblical texts. This paraphrase was written to help Western readers fill in that cultural gap.

Jayson Georges is the publisher of this series and the author/paraphraser of four of the five published books. He has years of experience working with people from honor-shame cultures and, as a help to other cross-cultural workers, created the website In the series, which made its debut in 2017, we can now read the books of Esther, Psalms ( 15 of them so far), Malachi, 1 Peter, and James, the last authored by Daniel K. Eng. According to the website, more books are scheduled to be released soon, including Ruth, Obadiah, 2 Peter, Romans, The Parables of Jesus, and The Life of David. All of those published so far are available digitally; only Psalms is available in paperback.

In addition to bringing the elements of honor and shame to the forefront, and in an effort to move past the kind of theological jargon that causes people to read without engaging their minds, the authors avoid religious terms such as holy, Christ, and faith—tired words Westerners tend to misinterpret. Instead, and more in line with what would have gone made sense from the original readers’ honor-shame perspective, they use phrases like entirely acceptable, God’s exalted King, and complete loyalty. As an example, in 1 Pet 1:14 a very literal translation might be, “As children of obedience, do not be conformed to your previous, ignorant desires.” But the honor-shame paraphrase says, “Remember your status as obedient and loyal children of God. Do not resort to previous habits like deceptively saving face or aggressively defending your reputation – those actions reflect a distorted view of honor.”

The publisher underscores that the intention is not to present us with yet another English translation of the Bible but to give a “socio-cultural exposition that seeks to illuminate . . . the Bible” (Series Preface). The idea is less to bring us something new than it is to blow away the cultural fog that prevents modern Western readers from understanding what would have been assumed by the original readers..

Since we are dealing with a series of paraphrases, it may be helpful to look at an example to see how it compares with one of the more popular English translations.

Here is James 1:5–8 in the NRSV: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”

Now for the Honor-Shame paraphrase: “If anyone asks the Benefactor for wisdom, he will be glad to give it as a gift. But that family member must ask in loyalty to God alone, without wavering back and forth. Because someone who wavers and holds back from full allegiance to God is like an unpredictable wave, being tossed by the wind. That person has shown himself to be disloyal, and should not expect that the Benefactor will give him a gift. He has divided loyalties; he is a double-crosser. He cannot decide with whom his allegiance lies. He is two-faced and has no fidelity in anything he does.”

Notice the striking difference in the dynamics of the text. In the NRSV, God is just “God,” and that follows the Greek very closely. However, in the Honor-Shame paraphrase, God is twice mentioned as the Benefactor, an image of one who graciously and mercifully gives to those under his authority. Almost certainly, people in the first century would have viewed God in this light. Look also at the way the paraphrase treats faith and doubt. In the NRSV, our Western ways of approaching these terms throw us into the realm of emotions or cognition. “Ask in faith, never doubting.” This sounds like people must give themselves a pep talk to believe, unwaveringly, that God will answer their request in the affirmative, and if any doubt arises, God’s negative response will be on the doubter’s head. However, keeping the dynamic of honor and shame in mind, we find that the issue is not one of cognitive belief versus unbelief, but of allegiance versus faithlessness. The problem is not about involuntary doubts that nag at a person, but about a decision to recognize God as the only master worth following. The two understandings are worlds apart.

I am looking forward to collecting more of these paraphrases as they become available. I would especially like to see an Honor-Shame Paraphrase of one of the Gospels, although this will be a considerably larger task than the books that have been produced so far. However, just with the books that have already been published, I have found myself repeatedly thinking, “Of course! That’s exactly how they would have understood that back then!”

Anyone with an interest in more deeply understanding the implicit world behind the text as well as a perspective shared by most cultures today would do well to keep these titles on their electronic shelf. The Honor-Shame Paraphrase Series promises to open our Western eyes to the Bible in a way that no English translation or paraphrase has done.

Michael L. Sweeney

Professor of World Mission and New Testament

Emmanuel Christian Seminary at Milligan

Milligan, TN, USA

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Ten Years of Missio Dei: A Reflection from the Editor

This issue marks the tenth anniversary of Missio Dei. I take the opportunity to reflect on the labor of love that has made the journal possible and the meaningful work we continue.

A Labor of Love

I am proud of the rigor, inclusiveness, and significance of the work MD features. Perhaps chief among the journal’s virtues, however, is the fact that we provide content free of charge, as the board of the Missio Dei Foundation remains committed to an open-source model. To that end, everyone involved in the publication process donates their time and expertise. While the authors who submit their work are obviously indispensable, the unsung heroes of this story are the editors who have given thousands of hours to produce a decade of content. These champions of twenty-first-century missiology deserve to be celebrated.

Chris Flanders, associate professor of missions at Abilene Christian University, began as a content editor and quickly became MD’s assistant editor. His brilliant and energetic leadership stands behind some of our most robust issues to date, including the present one. There is no substitute for a generous partner who is a leading missiologist in his own right. We owe Chris a debt of gratitude.

MD contributors can attest (some with less enthusiasm than others) to the rigor of our editing process. Our content editors do an amazing job at everything from ensuring clarity of expression to cleaning up footnotes. The current lineup of content editors includes Nathan Bills (Lecturer in Theology, Heritage Christian College, Ghana), Jeremy Daggett (Missionary, Peru), Jeremy Hegi (Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity, Lubbock Christian University), Alan Howell (Visiting Professor of Missions, Harding University), and Martin Rodriguez (Associate Professor of Practical Theology, Azusa Pacific University). They give painstaking attention to the writing of others each issue amid their primary work in both ministry and scholarship. I continue to be astonished by these gifts. Nathan deserves special recognition as the only content editor who has been on board from the start. In the last ten years, he has become a Doctor of Theology (Duke Divinity School) and moved with his family to Ghana to serve African church leaders. All the while, he has helped MD authors put their work in the best light.

In like manner, our copy editors donate their outstanding talents. Danny Reese (Missionary, Angola), Nick Faris (MDiv, Director – Thoracic Oncology, Memphis, TN), and Stephen Mead (MDiv student, Abilene Christian University) do the tedious work of combing over each article to ensure it conforms to our style standards. In the early days (though no longer), we gave each author a list of minor corrections to their articles before publication. One memorably responded, “Wow, you guys are amazing.” I have to agree. Like Nathan, Danny has been at it since the first issue, working the whole time as a missionary. I have been humbled by his dedication to MD through the ups and downs of cross-cultural ministry.

I must also thank our deep bench of twenty regular consulting editors (to say nothing of the many others who have helped along the way). They are on call to peer review formal submissions but have also provided critical help in putting together themed content. These missiologists from across the Stone-Campbell tradition have played a pivotal role in serving our stated purpose: to be “a medium for exploring the rich tradition and ongoing practice of participation in the mission of God among churches of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, particularly Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and Churches of Christ (a cappella), in an open dialogue with Christian missiology” (

Our open dialogue with Christian missiology has come to fruition in the last ten years. Not only are many Stone-Campbell authors engaged at the leading edge of missiology, but an increasing number of submissions originate from missiologists outside the Stone-Campbell tradition. It seems to me this fact marks a significant development, which MD is privileged both to record and to promote.

Finally, our work could not continue without the financial partners who ensure our shoestring budget remains feasible. Special thanks are due, therefore, to our current sponsors, Harding University’s Center for World Missions, Mission Alive, Kairos Church Planting, as well as previous partners, Abilene Christian University’s Halbert Center for Missions and Global Service, Lipscomb University’s College of Bible and Ministry, Oklahoma Christian University’s Center for Global Missions, Pepperdine University’s Seaver College, and Lubbock Christian University’s Mission Link.

All of these contributions, from editors to authors to sponsors, confirm an essential truth about MD: it is a labor of love. We move into the next decade with a deep sense of gratitude and eager anticipation of what comes next. There is important work yet to do.

On the Horizon

So what’s next? In one sense, the work needs to continue as it has. Curating themed issues that address the concerns of twenty-first century missiology remains useful and timely. And the increasing number of unsolicited submissions we receive is a hopeful sign of things to come. As the work of Stone-Campbell missiologists proceeds and our conversation broadens, MD has an important role to play. I see two particular areas in which this work may bear fruit in the next decade. The first is the intersection—and, one might hope, the reconciliation—of mission scholarship and practice. The second is the emergence of an identifiable Stone-Campbell missiology.

The preface to the journal, which I wrote for MD’s first issue, explained our desire to defy the expectations a publication should be either academic or popular, either theological or practical. Certainly, some readers would prefer less technical jargon, fewer footnotes, and more easily digestible articles. Others may feel that the non-peer-reviewed content lowers the journal’s prestige or legitimacy. This divide, the gulf between church and academy, is deep and wide. But it is bridgeable. More, the need to bridge the divide and, eventually, to bring the church and the academy back into one household of faith is one of the most urgent tasks facing missiology today. MD is committed to this monumental work. I take hope from the fact that missiology occupies a liminal space. The raison d’être of missiology is the church’s participation in the life of the Triune God. This is true of all theology, but it is an inescapable truth for missiology, within which theory and practice live in a uniquely urgent relationship. Without the practices of mission on the ground, in specific contexts, missiology becomes a dead language. Without the care and critical insight of the discourse that we call scholarship, mission practices become deadly. The nature of this relationship compels the efforts of all involved to hold the two together for the sake of God’s mission.

Beyond publishing both scholarly and practical perspectives under one title, bridge-building entails a more proactive work. It calls for an architecture, which I offer as a metaphor for a shared missiological imagination in which two-way traffic between practitioners and theoreticians is conceivable. I admit, as agendas go, developing a shared imagination is scarcely more concrete. Still, coming together at the drafting table is a necessary first step. We must urge missionaries with little patience for the seemingly impractical, abstract, or overly technical discussions—for example, the analysis of honor, shame, and face in its full contextual complexity and scriptural depth—to embrace the insights of their collaborators across the divide. Conversely, we must relentlessly call scholars whose work often leaves us asking, So what? to attend to the practical needs of missionaries on the front lines. We need a persistent, intentional meeting of minds. Only in such an encounter can a shared imagination emerge.

Furthermore, this type of missiological bridge-building must be a shared labor. If we can imagine a way across the divide, constructing it becomes possible but not inevitable. We have words for this work—or at least for its chief technicians: practical theologian and pastor-theologian are the most common. Such vocations are vital because the work of bridge-building needs leadership. Many missionaries are called to engage local challenges that demand their full attention. And many scholars are called to study questions that yield to nothing less than complete concentration. These foci can be mutual gifts if those who live in the space between lead the way. Perhaps a journal can play only a small role by comparison. As a journal of missional theology and praxis, though, MD advocates for these bridge-builders. Let missional theologians and missionary-scholars abound!

The second area in which I see potential for important work is the maturation and expansion of Stone-Campbell missiology. I hesitate to speak for our sisters and brothers in Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and other branches of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Rather, I have in mind the stream of the tradition that is closer to home for me (and the MDF board members)—Churches of Christ (a cappella)—though I suspect that my comments here might represent others as well.

Regarding maturation, MD’s role is primarily one of documentation. The long labor of missiology programs at various universities, most notably Abilene Christian University and Harding University, is presently bearing a considerable harvest among Churches of Christ. Indeed, in a variety of ways, this work made MD a possibility. Between the increasing scholarship of students shaped by these programs and the work of missionaries likewise prepared for deeper, wiser engagement with the contexts to which God has called them, a missiological tradition is emerging out of the robust tradition of mission work that characterizes Churches of Christ.

The contours of this emerging missiology are as yet unclear. But as the work of documentation continues, clarity increases. A few marks stand out. Most notable is a remarkable breadth of concerns and emphases. Traditional cross-cultural evangelism, holistic ministry, local church participation, missionary care, environmental mission, interfaith dialogue, intercultural partnership, public theology, missional and neo-monastic ecclesiologies, and more have occupied the pages of MD. Another prominent mark, which I have already mentioned, is an ecumenical stance. This is evident not just in the publication of submissions from authors outside the SCM but also in authors’ broad scholarly engagement and in guest editors’ curation of issues through their rich networks of interlocutors. A third mark is the sophistication of the missiological historiography that is gaining momentum in recent years. This is undoubtedly a repercussion of the outstanding historical theology of Churches of Christ that has appeared in the last six decades, and I am encouraged and excited by the rigorous reflection now applied to the missionary heritage of the movement.

These marks characterize a healthy, hopeful missiological enterprise. There are, however, serious shortcomings to note. I would underline the most pernicious: the voices of women are appallingly difficult to come by. This fact is a symptom of far-reaching systemic problems that Churches of Christ, for one, have only begun to address. Former MDF board member Janine Morgan (Abilene Christian University) is the first female faculty member of a school associated with Churches of Christ who holds a terminal degree in missiology.1 Christian Churches/Churches of Christ are a little farther down the road, and we have been especially fortunate in two of our consulting editors, Kendi Howells Douglas (Johnson University – Florida) and Rochelle Scheuermann (Wheaton College Graduate School).2 For missiology, the overall failure to cultivate female missiologists is all the more troubling because, as in much of modern Christian mission history, the number of female missionaries has frequently been greater than that of male missionaries in Churches of Christ.3 As much as MD might celebrate our breadth and diversity so far, the conspicuously small number of women among our authors represents a major dimension of Stone-Campbell missiology yet to mature.4

Regarding expansion, the horizon of twenty-first century missiology unmistakably lies toward the south and east, and amid the migrant diaspora throughout the West, where Majority World Christianity is ascendant. Our recent issue on Majority World voices (MD 10, no. 1) is a nod in this direction, but little more. There is no telling how or at what pace Majority World missiology will reshape English-language conversations. The need is urgent, but the possibilities are fraught with the complex dynamics of the postcolonial rearrangement of power and intercultural communication.

One question, certainly, is the extent to which Majority World churches planted by SCM missionaries or otherwise connected with the tradition will adhere to, enrich, redefine, or diverge from that tradition. Living traditions, by definition, have both a historical coherence and a fuzzy boundary, both of which are always already contested. Perhaps the SCM—an indigenously American but also an innately missionary tradition—will prove malleable and fuzzy enough to grow into a truly inclusive and adaptive world-Christian movement. I do not think the evidence is in, though the question grows more pressing year by year. If there is any frontier of SCM theology at which this possibility will be tested, it is missiology. Because the question of who gets published is so close to the heart of this process, MD has a role to play here as well.

Editor’s Picks

I will end by highlighting some of the pieces that I consider significant in MD’s catalog. Many others are also worthy of sustained attention, but I have chosen one from each issue that represents the caliber of work we are privileged to host. To the reader who might have missed one or another, I say, Tolle, lege!

Soli Deo gloria.

1 See Janine Paden Morgan, “Pan-Handle Preachers and the Pope: A Study of the Cross-Cultural Dialectic and Missionary Identity Formation of the Churches of Christ in Post-War Italy,” MD 8, no. 2 (Summer–Fall 2017):

2 See Rochelle Cathcart, “Review of Susan S. Baker, ed., Globalization and Its Effects on Urban Ministry in the 21st Century,” MD 3, no. 2 (August 2012):; Rochelle Cathcart Scheuermann, “Paul G. Hiebert’s Anthropological Insights for Missionaries [1985]—Thirty-Three Years Later,” MD 9, no. 1 (Winter–Spring 2018):; Kendi Howells Douglas, “Christ Has Laid Hold of Me: A Review of Newbigin’s The Open Secret [1978],” MD 9, no. 1 (Winter–Spring 2018):

3 On Protestant missions more broadly, see Dana L. Robert, American Women in Mission: The Modern Mission Era 1792-1992 (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1997). Regarding Churches of Christ specifically, see Jeremy P. Hegi, “‘Stand for the New Testament order and trust God for the consequences’: Sarah Andrews and the emergence of Churches of Christ as a global Christian tradition, 1916-1961” (PhD diss., Boston University, 2020), 14,

4 On this note, a particularly notable contributor is Linda Whitmer, the Dean of the School of Intercultural Studies at Johnson University. See Linda Whitmer, “Review of Gailyn Van Rheenen, Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies, with Anthony Parker, 2nd ed.,” MD 5, no. 2 (August 2014):; Linda Whitmer, “Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? [1912],” MD 9, no. 1 (Winter–Spring 2018): In addition to the authors noted above, see, Kate Sullivan Watkins, “Review of Bryan P. Stone and Claire E. Wolfeich, Sabbath in the City: Sustaining Urban Pastoral Excellence,” MD 4, no. 1 (February 2013):; Jackie Halstead, “Encounter with God: A Theological Reflection on Missionary Care,” MD 6, no. 1 (February 2015):; Beth Reese, “Training for Transitions,” MD 6, no. 1 (February 2015):; Verna Weber, “Seven Reentry Challenges for Missionary Families,” MD 6, no. 1 (February 2015):; Emily Stutzman Jones, “Review of Lowell Bliss, Environmental Missions: Planting Churches and Trees,” MD 6, no. 2 (August 2015):; Becky Holton and Dale Hawley, “Missionary Care among US Churches of Christ: A Comparative Study of Supporting Churches and Missionary Response,” MD (Winter–Spring 2017):; Marnie Hoetmer, “Review of James K. A. Smith, How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor,” MD 8, no. 2 (Summer–Fall 2017):