Jackson Wu and Ryan Jensen. Seeking God’s Face: Practical Reflections on Honor and Shame in Scripture. Houston, TX: Lucid Books, 2022. 220 pp. $18.99.
This book is a one-of-a-kind collection of short reflections on various biblical texts that highlight how honor and shame are present in each passage. The reflections provide an opportunity for readers to grow in their faith by looking at Scripture through this lens, whether or not they are familiar with discussions of honor and shame.
Authors Jackson Wu (Brad Vaughn) and Ryan Jensen both have first-hand experience as missionaries in Asian cultures heavily saturated with honor and shame dynamics. Wu was a missionary in China and has a PhD in applied theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He currently serves as the theologian-in-residence at Mission One and has authored several books about the subjects of contextualization and the intersection of Scripture and honor/shame. Jensen spent five years teaching in a Chinese university and recently completed his PhD in intercultural studies at Biola University.
The book begins with a short introduction that outlines several key terms and concepts related to honor and shame. Readers unfamiliar with these concepts will benefit from the brief discussion as they are highlighted throughout the rest of the book. Concise and clear explanations are included for terms such as honor, shame, face, collectivism, and reciprocity. The introduction clarifies common misconceptions about honor and shame and prepares readers to see Scripture and their own faith in a new light.
The rest of the book contains 101 separate devotional reflections on different passages of Scripture. Each chapter is organized in four parts: a brief quotation from the passage at hand, a short reflection highlighting how honor and shame are present in the passage, a few questions to guide the reader’s meditations, and a parting prayer. Scripture excerpts are drawn equally from Old and New Testaments.
While all the chapters have interesting discussions around honor and shame and give new perspectives on passages with which readers may already be familiar, I found the most impactful chapters to be those that challenged common Western understandings of faith and God. Many of the reflections nudge readers from Western cultures to reconsider how their faith is shaped by individualism. The authors help us to understand salvation and sin as Scripture does—involving communal relationships as much as our individual relationships with God.
Other impactful chapters were those that included personal reflections from the authors themselves, which helped bring home ideas of honor and shame and how they are prevalent even in modern Western culture. These discussions bring readers to consider themes of status, reputation, identity, and hospitality in relation to their own faith. Overall, the reflections redefine honor and shame for those who follow Jesus in ways that encourage meditation.
As the authors suggest, ministers can use the book as a reference tool to give them further insight into specific passages from which they may be teaching or preaching. As a long-term missionary in Thailand, I found myself highlighting ideas that would be helpful for teaching Bible studies with new believers. The best way to use the book, however, is as a daily devotional and prayer guide. Ministers and lay readers alike will benefit from reading, praying, and meditating on one chapter per day.
Since most Western Christians do not normally discuss their faith and the Bible in terms of honor and shame, these ideas can often seem distant and irrelevant. Many of the chapters leave the discussion of honor and shame in the world of the Bible without bridging the gap to the 21st century. Had the authors included clear connections to our world in every reflection, it would ensure that readers could more easily resonate with these unfamiliar concepts.
I recommend this devotional book for anyone who wants another tool to guide their prayer and devotional time. Readers will appreciate thinking and praying over these portions of Scripture through the lenses of honor and shame. The book impacts readers at the heart level and brings Scripture to life with practical reflections that both challenge and encourage readers to connect to God in new ways.