The concept of honor/shame, and its implications for ministry have gained increasing attention in recent years. Jayson Georges explains the concept via the HonorShame.com web site. Jackson Wu wrote his PhD dissertation on the concept and has published a number of articles on the topic. This past week, Ed Stetzer shared several guests posts on his blog looking at honor and shame. (The third post is here, with links to the other two.)
I was first exposed to the concepts of guilt/innocence, fear/power, and honor/shame years ago. These have been helpful in my own life and ministry in a number of ways. Anthropologically, it helps me understand some of the motivations and actions of the people to whom I am ministering. I’ve also been helped to pay closer attention to biblical language regarding honor and shame. And I’ve been helped to see the gospel and its implications in a broader way, and think about how that might speak to cultures in which honor and shame is a dominant paradigm.
While I’ve have spent some time thinking about this topic over the years, I can’t say that I’ve arrived at firm conclusions on some of the related issues. So this post is not intended as a criticism or critique, but a sincere question for brothers teaching on the honor/shame paradigm.
At one point in the video below, Jayson Georges discusses theological issues related to honor and shame. He notes that “Western” theology tends to define sin as “missing the mark,” but Jayson goes on to suggest that Scripture views sin more in a relational or covenantal context. “Sin is disrespecting God,” he says. “Sin rejects God’s honor and pursues a worldly honor.”
I’m encouraged when Jayson further says that sin and shame are not entirely synonymous. My concern lies in the seemingly vague way in which sin is described as dishonoring God or His name. The question that immediately comes to mind for me is, “How have we dishonored God or His name?” And my thoughts always circle back around to the matter of “missing the mark.”
For example, think of Adam and Eve in the garden. Did they dishonor God? I think so. How? By missing the mark God had established. God gave them a clear, specific command, and they disobeyed. As a result, they were guilty, ashamed, and afraid. But the sense of shame, guilt and fear all resulted from the fact that they missed the mark. It seems that the problem was not a vague dishonoring of God, but a very specific dishonoring of God by disobeying His specific command.
Why does this matter? I think Jayson is right when he says that how we define man’s problem will affect the solution that we offer. In God’s economy, the penalty for their sin, their “missing the mark,” was death. We know that ultimately sin required the death of Jesus in order to provide salvation.
I agree that Jesus’ atonement takes away our shame. But how? If “missing the mark” is indeed an essential aspect of the definition of sin, then Jesus takes away the shame we deserve because we have missed the mark. He takes away the shame of our sin, the shame resulting from our dishonoring God by our sin.
If so, I think this needs to be a clear aspect of gospel presentations in honor/shame contexts.