Honor, Shame, and Hindus

Can you remember when the Good News message of Jesus really made sense to you? What do you remember? How did you feel? For me I remember experiencing peace, understanding, love, forgiveness, acceptance, and hope. Naturally, we would want others to experience something similar in a relationship with Jesus. But what if what is Good News to us isn’t necessarily Good News to somebody else, especially from another culture?

A mentor once said, “If I’m presenting the Gospel in a way that makes perfect sense to me, then I’m not communicating clearly cross-culturally.” As Western Americans, we are different and the minority compared to the Majority World culture. This also can be true in terms of the cultural context the Biblical story takes place. Even though in the West we like to think that we are the “Guardians of Pure Doctrine”, we might actually have a disadvantage and blindspots because of our Western cultural perspective.

Two books that have really challenged me this past year are The 3D Gospel by Jayson Georges and The Global Gospel by Werner Mischke. The authors present the idea that different cultures around the world experience the Gospel message in different ways. Among Guilt, Shame, and Fear cultures, building relationships and the way we share the Gospel needs to look different.

Innocence/Guilt cultures are described as western, individualistic, and judicial. Honor/Shame cultures are described as eastern, collectivistic, and communal. Power/Fear cultures are described as tribal, animistic, and spiritual. People and cultures around the world are a wonderfully mixed blend of all three, but with a dominant expression. Americans tend to be heavily Innocence/Guilt while most Asians (including the first-century Jewish culture of Jesus and Indian Hindus) are heavily Honor/Shame in their culture.

It is argued that Honor/Shame is the dominant world culture and also a major theme in the Bible. Georges and Mischke would say that 65-80% of the world’s cultural operating system is Honor/Shame. From Genesis to Revelation the story is about God’s glory, God’s kingdom, and His fame (aka honor) among the nations. Honor/Shame is also the dominant culture of the people and places in the Biblical narrative. Because Western culture resonates more with the Innocence/Guilt aspects of the Bible and the Gospel, this can lead to blindspots in our own understanding and interpretation of the Bible. This can also lead to blindspots when we are communicating the Gospel cross-culturally. Where somebody will most likely feel guilt for their sin and look for forgiveness in the West, in the East people may feel shame for their sin and look for ways to restore their honor.

In Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden, they responded with feeling guilt, shame, and fear. The beauty of the Gospel is that addresses the issues of sin for all three cultures. Because of what Jesus has done on the cross, we are made innocent through forgiveness, our honor is restored, and we have power through the Holy Spirit.

In Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians he uses all three aspects of salvation with innocence, honor, and power. “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” ( Ephesians 1:18-19).

The more I have learned from The 3D Gospel and The Global Gospel, the more I have been transformed in my own understanding of the Gospel. The past several months the Scriptures have come alive in all new ways as I’m seeing aspects of Honor/Shame and Power/Fear which I wasn’t aware of before. I’m seeing a fuller more holistic Gospel message that is being broadened beyond my Western Guilt/Innocence lenses that I naturally wear. I’m learning to be more conscious of how people from other cultures operate in their worldview and what that means for relationship building and spiritual conversations.

At the upcoming Rethinking Forum in July we will explore these ideas deeper. I will share more from my experience and learning of how these ideas specifically relate to people from Hindu culture. We will also think about practical steps to take and adjustments we can make based on how Honor/Shame influences us as we walk alongside our Hindu friends as they discover Jesus.


Robert will be presenting at the 2018 Rethinking Forum in Chicago.

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