Honor and Shame: Unlocking the Door

by Roland Muller (2001) 

This book explores and expounds upon a scriptural way to present the gospel to honor/shame cultures in a way that they hear and understand, making it more possible for them to respond. Enjoy these key learning highlights compiled by Sally Hinzie, UBA Church Consultant. 

There are three world views that form the foundation of every culture in the world.  They are guilt/innocence, fear/power, shame/honor. 

All three are illustrated in Genesis 3 as Adam reacts to his disobedience to God:

Guilt: Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so the sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:7)

Fear & Shame: He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”  (Genesis 3:10)

Guilt and Innocence

The guilt and innocence world view is found in the west – Western Europe, North America, and Australia.  The west looks at the world and asks, “Is it right or wrong?” or “Is he guilty or innocent.”  It is a world view with laws and consequences.  When one sins, a law is broken and there must be consequences. 

You can look at our Roman roots to see the foundation for this world view.  Roman law introduced us to the concept that the law was above everyone, even the lawmakers.  The legal systems in the west are still built around the basic Roman code of law. 

Many of the early church theologians were lawyers – Tertullian, Basil the Great, Ambrose, and Augustine.  Their interpretation of scripture was filtered through the background they had as lawyers.

This worldview is reflected in western methods of evangelism – for example, The Four Spiritual Laws, The Roman Road and Evangelism Explosion.

Scripture speaks to this world view; examples include the Mosaic Laws and Paul’s writings to a Roman culture.

Fear and Power

There are many people in the world today whose lives revolve around their interaction with the spirit world.  They are found in tribal areas in Africa, South America and the South Pacific.  However, many  animistic believers have moved to the cities and have taken their belief system with them – even in western countries.

They believe that the world is filled with gods, demons, spirits, ghosts and ancestors.  This belief system developed as their ancestors looked for meaning. "Why did my daughter die and her son live?  Why did the crops fail this year?  Why am I sick?  What do I need to do to get well?"  They blamed evil spirits for the bad things that happened.  Rites and sacrifices are performed to appease the gods and keep away the demons.  A witch doctor or shaman will rise up and control people through their fears. 

Missionaries have learned to share the gospel in such a way that it makes sense to those living in fear.  They see the power available through Christ is greater than the powers of darkness. 

Honor and Shame

The honor and shame  world view is found in Asia, including the Middle East and North Africa.  The 10/40 Window, where the most unreached people groups for the gospel are located, is found in this part of the world.  Historically, missionaries did not understand how to present the gospel in this context. 

In this world it is important to act honorably so that the honor of the family and tribe is upheld.  Act shamefully, then the family will react.  Shameful deeds are covered up.  If they cannot be covered up, then they must be revenged.  The Ummah (your family, clan, and tribe) is the glue that holds your world together.  If you lose your standing in the Ummah, you lose everything.

It is difficult for westerners to understand a culture that is based on shame and honor, not right versus wrong.  To a westerner, telling the truth is right and telling a lie is wrong.  In an honor/shame culture, the question is “What is honorable?”  If a lie protects the honor of the tribe, then it is fine. 

The Bible was written in an honor/shame culture.  It is filled with honor/shame stories.  Hannah’s song is a good example.  “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts up the needy from the ash heap;  he seats them as princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.”  (1 Samuel 2:8)

And the story of the exodus is another.  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.” (Leviticus 26:13)

All sickness puts man in a position of shame.  When Jesus healed, He not only gave them physical healing, but removed their shame.  He restored them to a place of honor.  

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Book Notes

Book Notes provide a brief, informal summary of content highlights.

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