3 Questions: Honor, Shame, and the Gospel

Werner Mischke is author of The Global Gospel: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World (2015, Mission One) and serves as coordinator for “Honor, Shame and the Gospel: Reframing Our Message for 21st Century Ministry,” to be held June 19-21 in Wheaton, Illinois.

3 Questions

1. What led you to explore the concept of honor/shame?

I did a Bible study for first-generation believers in Lebanon in which I examined Philippians from an honor/shame perspective. It was very well received, so I began looking further into the topic. Two books were helpful to me at this point:

Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew, by Jerome Neyrey; and Honor and Shame: Unlocking the Door, by Roland Muller. It was Muller’s book that got the conversation going in the evangelical missions community in 2000. 

For me, these books made sense of the gospel. The concept has application to believers everywhere. If we properly understand the Bible according to its original cultural context we’re getting closer to how the original authors understood the word of God. Therefore we will preach and teach the gospel more authentically and in a way that is closer to the way the original hearers of Scripture understood it.

2. The honor/shame dynamic is often presented as an issue of contextualization, but you seem to be saying that it’s more fundamental than that.

The conversation about honor/shame is first about hermeneutics, second about missiology.

Honor/shame speaks to the secular pluralistic world in a significant way. The whole concept of sin and guilt based on the law is culturally tied to the idea of law as an expression of God’s righteousness. The Western world is moving away from this idea and toward a relationship-based society.

In Western theology we almost exclusively preach a gospel that addresses objective guilt before God, but the Bible addresses both the objective and subjective components of guilt and shame. Ephesians 2:11-22 tells us that the atonement speaks to the social dimension of what I feel in relationship to other people; thus the subjective component of shame as being excluded is also addressed through the cross.

3. What are your hopes for the upcoming conference?

Generally speaking we are moving toward normalizing honor/shame as a part of theological and missiological discourse.

Looking at the relationship between honor/shame and postmodernism, they fit together in an extremely significant way. Postmodernism relativizes Western hegemony; the honor/shame conversation in theology and missiology does the same thing. It forces us to acknowledge that Western theology is not culturally neutral but is influenced in part by Western values. We have moved away from colonialism in our methods but not our theology.

As a catalyst we want to be seeding new teams and collaborations to develop new ministry resources, ways of presenting the gospel, and training for cross-cultural ministry. We’re looking for new case histories, people writing about how to frame the gospel beyond just a legal framework. It’s not either/or, but both/and. The gospel addresses guilt and shame as problems of humanity.

To register, or for further information, please visit www.Honorshame-conference.com.