Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker, Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials, IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL, 2016. 291 pp., incl. three appendices, endnotes, and two indices. $24.00. ISBN: 978-0-8308-5146-1.
This important work by Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker begins with a rather startling quote from a Muslim immigrant in Germany claiming that “there is nothing in this entire world that you need to protect more than your honor. Because you’re nothing without your honor. You’d be dirt, just dirt and nothing else. If someone tried to take my honor, then I’d do anything to get it back. Literally anything” (11). For most Western readers, this will sound a bit strange, if not extreme, and that is precisely why this study deserves attention.
According to the authors, there are three primary cultural “types” present in the world: (1) power-fear culture, where people are terrorized or threatened by the unseen spiritual world and seek power to overcome it; (2) innocence-guilt culture, shaped by individualism and relying on personal conscience, justice, and laws for regulating social behavior; and (3) honor-shame culture, characteristic of collectivistic societies where shame and exclusion are applied to people who fail group expectations, and where honor is awarded to loyal members of the community. All societies, claim the authors, share concepts and elements of the three cultural types, although favor is generally granted in specific contexts to dominant tendencies of one type over the others.
Why is this important to gospel communicators and engaged members of the global Christian family? The authors set forth four reasons. First is the predominance of honor-shame perspectives in global cultures. According to Georges and Baker, no less than eighty percent of world cultures—throughout most of Asia, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America—run on honor-shame operating systems. North Americans and Western Europeans are “the odd ones out” with only a “minority share of the global market” (19). Secondly, this has—or should have—a significant effect on global Christian realities as church demographics shift southward. Western theology, we are reminded, “does not exhaust the full meaning and application of biblical truth. [It] itself is not ‘wrong,’ but simply incomplete and limited by cultural blinders” (22). Thirdly, the surge of immigration into Western contexts compels those who live there to become more conversant in the worldviews of their new friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Multiple illustrations are offered by the authors as examples of how misunderstandings and awkward social situations could have been avoided or navigated more smoothly with increased awareness of these cultural differences. And, in the fourth place, the world’s honor-shame cultures—homelands to Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism—present an ongoing missional challenge and opportunity for the church in its embodiment and witness to the good news of Jesus Christ. Accordingly, “a biblical missiology in honor-shame terms may be strategic for fulfilling the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations” (21).
The structure and content of this book assist readers in delving more deeply into honor-shame perspectives and implications. In Part One, Georges and Baker explore the theme through the lens of cultural anthropology, highlighting the “heart” and “face” of honor-shame cultures. Part Two examines Old and New Testament texts relevant to the topic, such as the national lament found in Psalm 44: “You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples” (43, italics added by Georges and Baker). It is the authors’ firm conviction that “biblical theology consistently addresses honor and shame because the cultures of the biblical world revolved around those values. The dynamics of honor and shame saturate the biblical texts and shape the narrative of salvation history” (68). Part Three turns to six themes central to practical ministry matters, developing in more depth implications for spirituality, relationships, evangelism, conversion, ethics, and community. Three appendices round out the study with helpful lists of key scriptures, biblical stories, and recommended resources on honor and shame perspectives.
For readers of the Anabaptist Witness journal, it is worth noting that Mark D. Baker, one of the authors of this volume, is himself a member of the Mennonite Brethren branch of the Anabaptist family. He served for ten years as a mission worker in Honduras and is currently professor of mission and theology at Fresno (Calif.) Pacific Biblical Seminary. Joining him is Jayson Georges, who has spent nine years in Central Asia doing church planting and microenterprise development. Together, they are primarily concerned about the church’s witness in today’s world and aim to lead readers in a paradigm shift “to see God’s world and God’s Word through a new lens” (30). If this is your first encounter with honor-shame issues and cultures, their contribution in this publication will do just that.
James R. Krabill lives in Elkhart, Indiana, and has served without shame for over four decades in various capacities with Mennonite Mission Network—earlier Mennonite Board of Missions—despite the fact that younger generations no doubt wonder how he couldn’t manage to “get a life.”