September 25, 2019 January 3rd, 2020

Did the Apostles Proclaim an Honor-Shame Gospel?

Jamie Miller

As I was writing this article my wife and I were reading The Soul of Shame. I say “reading” but we were doing more than reading. We also shed tears and talked at length about how we had both listened to and transmitted shame to others, not the least of which were our three boys. We wished we had learned these truths twenty years earlier when we were first starting our family. It was a strange mix of sadness and hope as we considered our personal stories in light of God’s shame-shattering grand Story of redemption. Such is the nature of the spotlight that the honor-shame movement has helped shed on the atoning work of Christ. We come away with a deeper, broader appreciation of the ways that Christ has rescued us from sin. But, The Soul of Shame wasn’t the first or only book from the honor-shame movement that I’d read; nor was I always left with that same satisfying sense of having my defenses further conquered by the grace of Jesus. Especially when listening to missiologists speak on the topic or when reading books from the honor-shame movement in missions my reaction has been more mixed. While there are aspects that I agree with and value, other aspects have left me feeling something between uneasiness and genuine concern.

A Changing Gospel

My concern, from a missiological standpoint, revolves around the controlling interpretive role that the honor-shame movement grants to the target audience culture.1 Following Nida and Muller 2 the honor-shame movement divides the cultures of the world into three major groups: power-fear, guilt-innocence and honor-shame.3 They are not wrong for recognizing these different types of cultural outlooks. My concern stems, rather, from those in the honor-shame movement who believe that the content of the gospel should be dictated by the audience’s dominant cultural outlook. One’s missiology never strays far from one’s theology and the honor-shame movement’s ties to the Kaleidoscopic view of the atonement provides the theological framework for promoting a gospel that changes with the audience. Additionally, its connection to the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) fits well with their assertion that appropriation of the gospel is more about faithfulness than faith. What we find then is that the honor-shame gospel is malleable and “Conversion means granting loyalty and allegiance to a new group—God and His people.”4

The Greco-Roman World 

When studying the actual gospel-proclamation events in the book of Acts my concern becomes more acute as we face a curious question: Why didn’t Peter and Paul preach an honor-shame gospel to audiences from the honor-shame soaked Greco-Roman world? And, if they didn’t preach an honor-shame gospel, then what was the recurring theme(s) of their message and why did they feel compelled to proclaim it to honor-shamed focused audiences even when it caused people to stumble and be offended? 

To these concerns and questions, we now turn. While this article is very introductory, my hope is that it will help bring some clarity to the discussion in the missions community about what the gospel is and the role that culture plays in its proclamation. Specifically, since I have seen little critique of the honor-shame movement in the missions community, my hope is that this article might help us embrace all that is good within the honor-shame movement while also thinking critically about the areas where it falls short of the example laid out for us by the apostles as recorded in Acts.

The Kaleidoscopic Theory 

Jayson Georges, founder of the website, co-authored the book Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures with Mark Baker, who in turn wrote Recovering the Scandal of the Cross with Joel Green. In that book Baker and Green articulate the kaleidoscopic view 5 of the atonement. This theory states that “the idea that the Bible or the classical Christian tradition has ‘one’ view of the atonement is unfounded.”6

The kaleidoscopic view of the atonement7 makes some positive contributions to the atonement theory debate. Many of us would agree that no single view, whether it be the penal substitution, moral influence, Christus Victor, or healing theory, is able to capture fully the multifaceted grace of God demonstrated to us through Messiah’s death, burial and resurrection. But, the kaleidoscopic view of the atonement, as developed by Baker and Green, takes things to a point that many of us are not comfortable with 8 and opens itself up to concerns of being “potentially relativistic”.9 Reichenbach states that “one might legitimately wonder whether [Green] is a relativist when it comes to employing metaphors to explicate the atonement”.10 Of course, he then goes on to affirm that “Green, however, is not a relativist [in the full-blown sense of the word]”, but that he “treads a delicate balance between the normative role of the New Testament and its cultural forms, and the comprehending role of the interpreter’s cultural context.”11 This emphasis on the “comprehending role of the interpreter’s cultural context” is the weaknesses of the honor-shame movement’s roots in the kaleidoscopic view of the atonement and will bear fruit in its willingness to adapt the content of the gospel to the target audience.

Accommodating the Audience 

Perhaps seeing the atonement as a diamond12 where each facet sheds light on the whole but where no single facet could adequately refract the light by itself will help us understand the multifaceted nature of the atonement while at the same time revealing the weaknesses of the kaleidoscopic view of the atonement as it works its way out through the honor-shame movement. Briefly stated, when it comes to the proclamation of the gospel, the honor-shame movement is not only willing but feels compelled to spin the diamond of the atonement so that the facet thought to be most relevant to the target audience is directly in front of them. The “gospel” becomes whatever facet of the atonement that the messenger deems most relevant to his audience.13 Georges actually lays out a “familiar 4-step format to suggest the plan of salvation for each culture type.”14 He essentially changes the content of the “gospel” depending on his audience. While the audience may find this approach very relevant (what animist wouldn’t want to have “spiritual authority”, “access divine power” and be connected to Jesus who “is the warrior who restores our power”?15), we must ask ourselves if the New Testament ever records the apostles proclaiming such a “gospel”. In other words, do the apostles “spin the atonement diamond” to accommodate their audience? To that question we will turn, but first we must look at the honor-shame movement’s perspective on appropriation of the gospel.

The New Perspective on Paul 

Drawing the line between the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) and the honor-shame movement is a bit more circuitous than the line between the kaleidoscopic view of the atonement and the honor-shame movement; however, the NPP’s influence on the honor-shame movement is still palpable in several areas, not the least of which is the appropriation of the gospel.

“Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism is commonly regarded as the most influential book written on Paul in the last half-century”16 because it launched the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). In that book Sanders says that “on the point at which many have found the decisive contrast between Paul and Judaism—grace and works—Paul is in agreement with Palestinian Judaism. There are two aspects of the relationship between grace and works: salvation is by grace but judgment is according to works; works are the condition of remaining ‘in’, but they do not earn salvation.17 This is classic “back-loading” of the gospel.18

Justification by Loyalty 

N. T. Wright builds on Sanders and highlights loyalty to the covenant people of God as the criterion for what Sanders calls “remaining ‘in’”. Wright redefines faith (pistis) as loyalty. He says, “This loyalty (for which the Greek word was pistis) was the thing that demonstrated where God’s true people were to be found within the new creation that had come to birth at Easter. Here, at a symbolic level, we see part of the meaning of ‘justification by pistis’ [i.e., loyalty]: strange though it will seem to some, pistis is the badge that functions, within the Pauline worldview, as the sign of membership in God’s people.19 According to Wright’s theology, man is justified by loyalty.

The honor-shame movement uses the same sort of NPP language when speaking of appropriation of the gospel. Georges says, “You must give allegiance to Jesus to enter God’s family”.20 He goes on to say, “Conversion means granting loyalty and allegiance to a new group—God and His people.”21 Georges and Baker, right after citing N. T. Wright, write that, “While conversion is primarily a transfer of allegiance to Jesus, moral change remains an essential component of conversion...Along with repenting, a person must have pistis. This Greek word pistis (commonly translated as “belief” or “faith”) carries the sense of personal “loyalty,” or “fidelity,” to a relationship, similar to the Latin word fides. Biblical pistis is not primarily internal emotions or cognitive ascent, but a sense of relational loyalty—that is, faithfulness. A person’s pistis is a publicly demonstrated commitment to the group and its leader.”22 Under Baker and Georges’ version of the honor-shame paradigm, justification by faith (pistis) means justification by “a publicly demonstrated commitment to the group and its leader”. For many people it would be difficult to understand this as something other than justification by works.23

Having (1) looked at the honor-shame movement’s understanding of the gospel as a message that changes based on the target audience’s predominant cultural outlook and also (2) gained a better, if not brief, understanding of how the movement views appropriation of that message, we now turn to the New Testament to see if the apostles operated within the honor-shame framework when proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers.24

Do the Apostles “Spin the Diamond”? 

In the end, other than highlighting concerns that some of us have with the theology held by at least some segments of the honor-shame movement, tracking its theological family tree matters little. What matters most, and should be defining for us, is whether the New Testament records the apostles proclaiming an honor focused “gospel” to their honor-shame oriented, unbelieving audiences.25

Most of the gospel proclamation events that occur in the New Testament are recorded in the book of Acts.26 The question that arises when analyzing these events is why the apostles didn’t proclaim a gospel that said, “God values you and wants to honor you as His child. God created us with glory and honor, to live with harmony in his family,”27 or “Jesus Christ bore all your shame and restores honor. Jesus’ disgraceful death removes our shame and restores honor. By honoring God, Jesus allows you to rejoin God’s family.”28 Obviously we aren’t looking for those exact words. But, those were not the core themes that the apostles proclaimed as the good news in the book of Acts. Nor was it the message that they were commissioned by Messiah to tell the nations (Luke 24:47).

Two Options 

There are only really two options:29 Either their audience wasn’t an honor-shame society or else the apostles felt compelled to preach a message of forgiveness of sins in order to escape future judgment in spite of their audience’s honor-shame perspective.

Regarding the first option, David deSilva, Jackson Wu and others have convincingly demonstrated the prominent role of honor and shame in the Greco-Roman world. So, we can be sure that the apostles were addressing a culture saturated in honor-shame presuppositions and values. The only option we are left with is that the apostles understood their audience yet chose to stick to a message that was “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”30 They didn’t feel free to “spin the atonement diamond” until they came to a facet of the atonement that their audience felt was relevant for them. The diamond was already set in place. Their job was to walk their audience to a certain section of the atonement diamond, namely the forgiveness of sins. That was their commission by Messiah (Luke 24:47). Man needs forgiveness because this same Messiah will one day return and judge the world. Peter’s proclamation of the gospel to Cornelius in Acts 10 included these two recurring facets of the atonement diamond. Peter, after testifying to Messiah’s death, burial and resurrection, said to Cornelius, “[Jesus the Messiah] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”31 Those two facets of the diamond show up again and again throughout Acts when the gospel is being proclaimed to unbelievers (Acts 2:38, 3:19, 5:31, 10:43, 13:38, 17:30, 26:18, 31).32 In 1 Thessalonians where reference is made to when the gospel message was proclaimed to them as unbelievers (what we might call a retrospective gospel proclamation event), we discover the same theme of Jesus being the one “who delivers us from the wrath to come”.33 Paul reminds them of how he and others had been hindered “from speaking to the Gentiles [the gospel] that they might be saved”,34 which the context would tell us means, saved from the coming judgment/wrath. This salvation can only occur if man’s sins have been forgiven. This was the message the apostles were commissioned to proclaim by Messiah himself. They didn’t hide that truth in a spiritual treasure chest to be discovered later by post-Anselm western reformers while, in the meantime, proclaiming a more relevant and pressing honor-shame gospel to the pan-Mediterranean Greco-Roman world. To the contrary, we find that the New Testament records just the opposite. The apostles doggedly stuck to their commission by Messiah while it is the honor-shame gospel that is the recent “discovery”.35

Classifying Cultures 

No one would argue with the idea that cultures can be classified according to their dominant orientation whether it be honor-shame, power-fear, purity-pollution or innocence-guilt. But this perception of division as a way of classifying cultures may do us more harm than good. This is especially true when we see that classifying cultures as “different” carries with it the assumption that the gospel content itself must change depending on a culture’s dominant orientation or outlook.


Since the gospel proclamation events recorded in the New Testament revolve around the themes of “forgiveness of sins” and “rescue from coming judgment”, even though the apostles were speaking to audiences that we would consider to be honor-shame audiences (with a large dose of power-fear thrown in for good measure), wouldn’t it seem like a good idea to ask ourselves, “What cultural orientation do the gospel themes proclaimed by the apostles speak to?”36,37 I would like to throw out the possibility that more foundational than the classifying distinctions of innocence-guilt, honor-shame, power-fear and purity-pollution, is the debt-repayment orientation shared by all four of the above-mentioned cultural outlooks.38

An Animistic Context 

My own personal experience of church planting over the last ten years in a remote, animistic (power-fear) context bears this out, as does the experience of many fellow missionaries working in similar contexts where a common theme that new missionaries quickly discover is that, “nothing is free”. We don’t have the space to consider specific linguistic and cultural examples, but it is intriguing to me how well the Nema39 people, with whom the Lord has graciously granted us the privilege to work, were prepared for a debt-repayment presentation of the gospel in spite of the fact that animistic groups are considered to be power-fear oriented, nearly by definition. I don’t believe that the debt-repayment orientation only co-exists at a fundamental level in power-fear societies. Space does not allow for a full treatment of how debt-repayment manifests itself in honor-shame societies through the patron-client relationship40 nor how it plays out in innocence-guilt societies; although, it’s probably not hard for most of us to imagine how debt-repayment would play out in a legal setting. Even in the secular realm, books like Debt: the First 5,000 Years by David Graeber show that there is evidence that debt-repayment is a universally held cultural outlook with a very long history of exercising a formative role in cultures near and far.41 His quoting of the Satapaha Brahmana from the 6th-7th century B.C.E is but one example: “In being born every being is born as debt owed to the gods, the saints, the Fathers and to men. If one makes a sacrifice, it is because of a debt owing to the gods from birth … If one recites a sacred text, it is because of a debt owing to the saints … If one wishes for offspring, it is because of a debt due to the fathers from birth … And if one gives hospitality, it is because it is a debt owing to men.”42

Closing Thoughts 

The apostles didn’t spin the atonement diamond. Time and time again they helped walk unbelievers to one or two facets of the atonement diamond that we could call, as the author of Hebrews does, “the elementary doctrine of Christ”. Just because some elements of the atonement are fundamental and form the “door” through which one must pass (you can’t just pass through the wall or whatever point of the building you choose), that in no way minimizes the beauty of the all-encompassing, multifaceted atonement. It doesn’t mean that certain facets are more important or, returning to the house metaphor, that just because you must pass through the door it means that the door is the most important part of the house. It merely recognizes the New Testament precedent: it is we who need to move (repent) if we are to exercise faith. It is we who must embark on a journey and that journey must include enough of God’s Story for us to understand our need to be rescued from coming judgment. Our missiological theories, our understanding of worldview, our desire to be relevant may all tell us to “spin the diamond” so that we will be more effective in our proclamation of the “gospel”, but the gospel proclamation events in the New Testament don’t give us that freedom. We are not free, as the honor-shame movement would like us to believe, to develop a different plan of salvation for each culture type we encounter. We must walk our audience to a place in front of the diamond where “forgiveness of sins in order to save us from final judgment” are the facets most prominently in view. On the way there we must prepare them for what they will see. We must place the gospel within the larger narrative of creation, fall, redemption and restoration so that they come to see themselves as they really are, in need of rescue from imminent eschatological judgment. If we don’t take the time to prepare them for what they will see, what we show them will be “just noise” to them. But, that is not because we walked them to the wrong facets. It’s because we didn’t take enough time to prepare them to see the facets of the atonement (the gospel) that the apostles proclaimed to unbelieving audiences.

God’s Larger Story 

In our proclamation of the gospel, because it must be understood within the context of the larger Story of God’s complete revelation, we will include other facets of the atonement that are very relevant to our specific audience. But they will always be facets that “angle back from” the facets of “forgiveness of sins” and “salvation from future judgment/wrath”. Facets that speak to people from honor-shame societies are clustered very closely to these two facets, so it’s quite natural to be able to weave those themes into the Story we tell from the Old Testament and the life of Christ as we lead the unbeliever to a place where he feels the weight of his need for forgiveness in order to escape the coming judgement. We are absolutely free to remind our audience of how shame entered the world and how having our sins dealt with and becoming part of God’s family with a glorious, royal and reigning future restores our honor. But, those themes are supporting themes in God’s larger Story. Why? Because they weren’t the main themes proclaimed to the unbelievers by the apostles in the gospel proclamation events recorded in the New Testament. We are not free to proclaim as the gospel what the NT doesn’t. It doesn’t mean that, when telling God’s overarching Story, we cannot include honor-shame themes as one of the middle or outer rings of the bullseye, or, to go back to our metaphor, one of the adjacent facets of the atonement diamond. We can and should include them, just like we would highlight other facets of the atonement when preparing a power-fear or innocence-guilt audience to hear, understand and believe the gospel.

What I am proposing is that all cultures can understand cognitively and feel subjectively their need for a Savior to rescue them from coming judgement through the forgiveness of sins. This is true for two reasons: (1) “Although guilt, shame, and fear are three distinct cultural outlooks, no culture can be completely characterized by only one. These three dynamics interplay and overlap in all societies;”43 (2) The debt-repayment perspective is held by all three cultural outlooks: guilt, shame and fear. Not asking for payment for a debt owed (forgiveness) because someone already paid the debt is easily understood. What may not be so easily understood (and is why we MUST proclaim the gospel as part of God’s larger Story) is the relationship between sin and debt. I suspect strongly, that western missionaries that have tried to communicate a gospel of forgiveness of sins in non-western settings and have found it to be “only noise” to their audience discovered this to be the case because they hadn’t taken the time to walk their listener down the long preparatory Old Testament path that leads people to understand the cross as it was proclaimed by the apostles.

The honor-shame movement has done a lot help the church better understand certain aspects of the atonement that had for a long time gone unnoticed or, at least, under-valued. Their desire to proclaim the gospel in relevant ways is unimpeachable. Whether or not the gospel, as it was proclaimed by the apostles to unbelievers in the New Testament, survives the honor-shame movement’s handling of it unscathed is something some of us are concerned about. Hopefully, this article can help us appreciate the positive contributions made by those in the honor-shame movement while also thinking critically about how, when addressing people from other cultures, to preserve and communicate effectively the gospel that the apostles proclaimed.



1This statement may sound like it comes from someone who has had little engagement with other cultures. Most of my life has been spent in Latin America. My wife and I are dual citizens of a Latin American country where we grew up and now minister. Some of my earliest memories are speaking English in our home as well as Spanish and a minority language when playing with my friends. My mom tells me that when we were little my brother and I would often speak Spanish even when it was just the two of us playing together. Most of the last 20 years of ministry has been spent working with and under the Latin American church. Over the last 10 years we have been planting a church in a remote minority ethnic group. Having spent most of my life overseas working among both majority and minority cultures, I highly value the target culture and its interpretive role in communicating the gospel. However, I do not see it as having the controlling interpretive role that the honor-shame movement wants to give it. The culture affects the presentation of the gospel, but it does not determine the content of the gospel.
2Georges, Jayson. The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (p. 10). Timē Press. Kindle Edition.
3Some would add purity-pollution.
4Georges, Jayson. The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (p. 66). Timē Press. Kindle Edition.
5They don’t use the term kaleidoscopic view in their book, but in The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views Green’s view is called the “kaleidoscopic view”.
6Mark D. Baker; Joel B. Green. Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts (Kindle Location 348). Kindle Edition.
7Atonement in this article is being used in the broader theological sense for all that Christ accomplished through his death, burial and resurrection. Atonement, as it is used here, might be called “salvation” by some. Both English words have narrower biblical meanings but have been used as cover terms for the broad scope of Christ’s work on the cross.
8For one, they make no room for a penal satisfaction view of the atonement. They ask, “If, as we have seen, “assuaging God’s wrath” and “payment of the penalty of sin” are wide of the mark [as Green and Baker assume it to be], then how are we to understand the sacrificial death of Jesus?” – Mark D. Baker;Joel B. Green. Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts (Kindle Locations 733-734). Kindle Edition.
9See Gregory Boyd’s as well as Bruce Reichenbach’s responses to Green’s kaleidoscopic view of the atonement in Schreiner, Thomas R.. The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (Spectrum Multiview Book Series) (p. 197). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. Neither of them truly thinks that Green is a relativist, but both express concerns along those lines.
10Reichenbach makes this assessment and then immediately quotes from Green and Baker’s, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross. Of course, Baker went on to co-author Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures with Jayson Georges. Schreiner, Thomas R.. The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (Spectrum Multiview Book Series) (p. 197). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
11Schreiner, Thomas R.. The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (Spectrum Multiview Book Series) (p. 197). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
12For one instance of this analogy see:
13A significant part of the confusion about this topic arises because of the way words like “the gospel” are used synonymously with “salvation” or “atonement” (as used broadly by theologians). A good example of this and a window into Georges’ theology is when he states, “The gospel is a many-sided diamond, and God wants people in all cultures to experience his complete salvation. But despite the multifaceted nature of Christian salvation, Western Christianity emphasizes one aspect of salvation (i.e., forgiveness of sins), thus neglecting other facets of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (Georges, Jayson. The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (p. 13). Timē Press. Kindle Edition.) Georges calls the gospel “a many-sided diamond” and then goes on to speak of the “multifaceted nature of Christian salvation”; using “gospel” and “salvation” interchangeably.
14Georges, Jayson. The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (p. 56). Timē Press. Kindle Edition.
15Georges, Jayson. The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (p. 57). Timē Press. Kindle Edition.
16Westerholm, S. (2013). Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme (pp. 23–24). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
17Sanders, E. P. (1977). Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (p. 543). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
18“Back loading the gospel means attaching various works of submission as the means for achieving the final aim of our faith…” Dillow, Joseph. The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Destiny of Man . Paniym Group, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
19Wright, N. T. (2013). Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Vol. 4, p. 406). Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
20Georges, Jayson. The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (p. 66). Timē Press. Kindle Edition.
21Georges, Jayson (2017, updated version)
22Georges, Jayson. Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials (pp. 197-198). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
23Ironically, because of the NPP’s understanding of justification, this would likely not be considered a problem for its adherents. Wright says that “Present justification declares, on the basis of faith, what future justification will affirm publicly (according to 2:14-16 and 8:9-11) on the basis of the entire life.” (Wright, Tom. What St Paul Really Said (p. 129). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.) Wright also says, “The whole point about ‘justification by faith’ is that it is something which happens in the present time (Romans 3:26) as a proper anticipation of the eventual judgment which will be announced, on the basis of the whole life led, in the future (Romans 2:1–16). (Wright, N. T. (2005). Paul: Fresh Perspectives (p. 57). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.) In other words, the just life lived will provide actual, and not imputed righteousness, at the final judgment.
24It is important to note the limited scope of what we will be looking at here: the proclamation of the gospel to unbelievers. I am not addressing the multiplied ways in which the NT authors DO in fact reference honor-shame themes when speaking to believers about the atonement.
25The other aspect that needs to be evaluated in light of the NT’s recording of actual gospel proclamation events to unbelievers is whether that audience was called upon to appropriate that message by publicly demonstrating their loyalty to a group of people (the church) and to Jesus, as per Baker and Georges. That is beyond the scope of this article, but I believe it to be answered in the negative.
26The gospel being that which Paul defines in 1 Corinthians 15 as the message of Messiah’s death for sin, his burial and resurrection as prophesied by the OT Scriptures. Consequently, we can say that the “gospel”, in this sense, was not preached until after the resurrection. For that reason, we are not dealing here with the “good news of the kingdom” proclamation events in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
27Georges, Jayson. The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (p. 57). Timē Press. Kindle Edition
28Georges, Jayson. The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (p. 57). Timē Press. Kindle Edition.
29A third option would be that the apostles didn’t understand their audience; but I doubt that anyone reading this article would entertain that option as a valid one.
30The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 1:23). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
31The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 10:42–43). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
32There isn’t time to unpack the subtler, but not less real, references to coming judgment (and forgiveness that is needed to avoid it) in Acts 20:26 where Paul alludes to Ezekiel’s word picture of himself as a watchman placed by God to warn Israel of God’s impending judgment (Ezekiel 33:1-9).
33The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Th 1:10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
34The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Th 2:16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
35I think that Westerholm is worth quoting at length on this point as he ties it back to the book of 1 Thessalonians. “Doubts begin as soon as we push beyond the issue that Stendahl rightly identifies as pivotal to Paul’s mission—the terms by which Gentiles could be admitted to the people of God—and ask an even more basic question: What moved Gentiles to enlist in a community of believers in the first place? [the importance of becoming members of the community or “covenant people of God” is a key nexus between the NPP and the honor-shame movement] We do not need Stendahl to tell us that Paul did not crisscross the Mediterranean world offering peace of mind to people plagued by a guilty conscience. But nor are we to imagine that he attracted Gentile converts with offers of membership in the people of (the Jewish) God, or that he advertised easy terms of admission to the Abrahamic covenant; with or without circumcision, few Gentiles can have felt a pressing urge to join a Jewish community or enter their “covenant.” Paul’s message can only have won acceptance among non-Jews by addressing a need they themselves perceived as important—if not before, at least after they met him. On the nature of that need, his letters are unambiguous. Most scholars believe 1 Thessalonians was the first of Paul’s extant epistles to be written. Sent shortly after Paul established a community of believers in Thessalonica, the letter reflects from beginning to end the thrust of Paul’s message when he first arrived in the city. At any moment, Paul had warned his listeners, an outpouring of divine wrath would engulf an unsuspecting humanity and bring it sudden destruction (1:10; 5:3; cf. 2 Thess 1:5–10). Human sinfulness had all but reached its limit. Gentiles for their part had paid no heed to the true and living God while serving idols; their immorality was notorious and their conduct in general befitted darkness, not light (cf. 1 Thess 1:9; 4:4–5; 5:6–7). As for Jews, estrangement from God was signaled by their no less notorious history of rejecting his messengers: the prophets of old, the Lord Jesus but recently, and now his apostolic witnesses (2:14–16). Retribution [debt-repayment language which we will look at in a minute] for all would be swift and inescapable (5:3). Many people today—for reasons we need not explore here—do not take such a message seriously. Evidently, however, Paul’s first-century readers in Thessalonica had done so; the notion that a deity might be angered by their actions was nothing new, and divine displeasure was a dangerous thing. Jews and non-Jews [both from honor-shame cultures] alike had always been concerned to keep on good terms with the supernatural powers that influenced, or even controlled, their destinies. With such concerns, Paul’s message found a natural resonance. We may well wonder whether Stendahl can be right in suggesting that the question “How am I to find a gracious God?” has occupied people in the modern West, but it is inconceivable that he is right in denying such a concern to the people of antiquity—particularly if we think of those who responded to Paul’s message of pending doom. Whether or not it induced a harbinger of the introspection characteristic of later times is, in this regard, a red herring. With or without an introspective conscience, anyone who takes seriously a warning of imminent divine judgment must deem it an urgent concern to find God merciful. So much is clear. Conversely, nothing in the letter suggests that the relationship between Gentiles and Jews in the believing community was an issue in Thessalonica. If “the leading edge of Paul’s theological thinking was the conviction that God’s purpose embraced Gentile as well as Jew, not the question of how a guilty man might find a gracious God,” and if the latter question marks rather the concerns of the later West, then it must be said that Paul’s message to the Thessalonians left them in the dark about the core of his thinking while pointlessly answering a question that they were born in quite the wrong time and place to even dream of raising. The answer Paul gave to the question he is no longer allowed to have raised was that God had provided, through his Son Jesus, deliverance from the coming wrath (1:10; 5:9). This message of “salvation”—appropriately labeled a “gospel” (= good news)—had been entrusted to Paul (2:4, 16). To be “saved,” people must “receive” the gospel he proclaimed (1:6), recognizing it to be, not the word of human beings, but that of God (2:13). Such a response to the word of God signified a “turning to” the true and living God (1:9) and faith in him (1:8). Those bound for salvation were thus distinguished from those doomed to wrath by their response of faith to the gospel. The former are repeatedly identified as “the believing ones” (1:7; 2:10, 13), the latter as those who do not believe (or obey) the truth of the gospel (cf. 2 Thess 1:8; 2:12; 3:2).” Westerholm, S. (2013). Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme (pp. 4–6). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
36This is significantly different than the honor-shame’s procedure of classifying the culture according to their prominent cultural outlook and then adjusting “the gospel” to the audience. The approach I’m suggesting works in the opposite direction. It looks at the gospel proclamation events in the book of Acts first in order to help us think about the target audience’s worldview.
37It is also interesting to consider the following question, “What is man’s default position when it comes to being right with God or a god(s)?” Is it not some form of debt-repayment whereby he will gain favor with the god(s)? Does this not tell us something about the universal understanding of the concept of debt-repayment, particularly in the realm of religion? This is probably most clearly seen when mission efforts go awry. The result inevitably ends up being a works (debt-repayment) gospel.
38The debt-repayment perspective is not at odds with a penal substitutionary perspective of the atonement. Rather it is complementary and explanatory. The very act of carrying out the penalty of our sins is couched in debt-repayment language. Judgment, whether temporal or eschatological, in the Bible is often expressed using words and concepts like “wages” (Rom. 6:23, 2 Peter 2:13), “repay” (Heb. 10:30), “retribution” (Heb. 2:2) or “I will give to each of you according to your works” (Rev. 2:23) or even “treasure” in the negative sense (James 5:3). On the positive side are concepts like “ransom” (I Peter 1:18,19), “redemption” or “redeem” (Heb. 9:12) and “forgiveness” (see especially Jesus parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35). Even words like “reckon/charge” have an economic background (Philemon 18 and Rom. 5:13). All of these speak to this theme of debt-repayment when describing fundamental aspects of penal substitution. Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection rescues us from eschatological judgment; that future moment when we would have been otherwise “repaid” our “wages” of sin by suffering its eternal penalty.
39The name of the ethnic group has been changed because of the sensitive nature of the ministry.
40Interestingly enough, although many trace the legal oriented penal-substitution theory of the atonement to Anselm, his theory had this honor-shame oriented patron-client relationship as its basis.
41While I would far from endorse Graeber’s political stance, there is much to be said for his understanding of the formative weight that the concept of debt plays in societies around the world from ancient times. He writes, “What I want to emphasize, though, is the degree to which what we consider our core tradition of moral and political theory today springs from this question: What does it mean to pay one’s debts? Plato presents us first with the simple, literal businessman’s view. When this proves inadequate, he allows it to be reframed in heroic terms. Perhaps all debts are really debts of honor after all.” (Graeber, David. Debt – Updated and Expanded (p. 197). Melville House. Kindle Edition.) (See BBC’s interviews of Graeber regarding debt and religion/religious texts.)
42Graeber, David. Debt – Updated and Expanded (p. 43). Melville House. Kindle Edition.
43Georges, Jayson. The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (p. 15). Timē Press. Kindle Edition.

Jamie Miller

Jamie Miller

icon-angle icon-bars icon-times