Understanding the Shame: A Review of “Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures”

honorshameNow and then I run into a book that I wish I had read years ago. Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures by Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker is one of those books. Reading it has explained and helped me to understand some of my experiences while ministering and living in Latin America and Central Asia. Both Georges and Baker are well qualified to write on the subject. They have lived in such cultures, made mistakes, and adapted to the reality. They have the academic credentials to look back, to study, to analyze, and to teach the rest of us.

What Is In The Book

The authors divide the book into three parts. The first part is Cultural Anthropology. It describes honor-shame cultures and points to the challenges they pose for Westerners. They explain the communal and relational nature of morality in these settings where “…what is best for relationships and honors people is morally right; what shames is morally wrong.”

Part two examines the Biblical theology of honor and shame. This section is very helpful. Western emphasis on judicial guilt before God and aversion to shame may blind us to the Bible’s teaching on these themes. That blindness is particularly concerning when we remember that cultures in the Bible were likely honor-shame cultures. The atmosphere of the Bible is one of honor and shame, and we miss much of the meaning when we miss these themes.

Part three deals with practical ministry in honor-shame cultures focusing on spirituality, relationships, evangelism, conversion, ethics, and community. While it may be tempting for the cross-cultural worker desperately seeking answers to jump to this section, it is best to do the work of understanding. Too often we skip to best practices without understanding the reason for the practice. The book concludes with three appendices dealing with pertinent Biblical passages, Bible stories, and recommended resources.

Who Should Read It and Why They Should

The Good News is that Jesus takes away our shame as well as our guilt. This book should help Christian cross-cultural workers. It is useful for them no matter if their focus is evangelism, church planting, discipleship, or humanitarian relief. This book will help them to understand and to adapt to their host culture. As I wrote earlier, I would have loved to read it 20 years ago. Besides this audience, I think anyone working cross-culturally in an honor-shame based culture would benefit. It would also be helpful for pastors and mission leaders in the United States leading churches to engage the immigrant communities around them or to send short-term teams around the world. This book is one of the most importantly practical books that I have read in the area of missiology. This

(Full disclosure: I received an advance review copy from InterVarsity Press in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

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Understanding the Temple: A Review of The Temple and the Tabernacle

IMG_0771The Temple and the Tabernacle: A Study of God’s Dwelling Places from Genesis to Revelation is an excellent resource for pastors and Bible teachers. J. Daniel Hayes, a dean of the School of Christian Studies at Ouachita Baptist University, is the author. I will not make my usual list of strengths and weaknesses simply because there were no weaknesses evident. Instead, I will share what I liked about the book and why I think it is important to read.
What I Liked
Despite having dealt with such a magisterial topic, Hayes is surprisingly brief. If you have read my other reviews, you know that I am not a fan of long books. Brevity is a sign of excellent organization and clarity of language. Hayes’ writing is a model for those who, like me, are trying to master the craft. The book is easily assessable to most readers who are familiar with the Bible beyond a cursory understanding.IMG_0772
The structure of the book follows a chronological narrative of the temple as representing God’s presence with His people. While some may object to seeing the Scripture as a story because they think it is a capitulation to post-modernism, the fact of it is clearly evident. Many themes and images serve to unite the narrative of the Bible—the temple being one. Like all of those, the consummation of the imagery is found in Jesus who is God’s presence with His people and will be for eternity. The book includes photographs and diagrams that are helpful for picturing the physical elements of the tabernacle. The final chapter with implications of the truth discussed in the book is worth the price but read the rest of it so you can see how the author got there.
Who Can Use This Book
Though accessible and readable, the book is not for everyone. Some familiarity with the Bible, particularly the connections between the Old and New Testament would be helpful. This book is an excellent reference for Bible teachers, Sunday-School teachers, and pastors.

(Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

 

 

Christians* in a Pagan Empire

I see the panic in some people’s eyes. I see the confusion.  They seem to be saying, “What happened? I thought we were a Christian nation.”

The point of this blog post is not to debate if the Founding Fathers of the  United States of America founded it as a Christian nation. The answer to that question seems to depend on the perspective from which one begins. Clearly, in the early 1800s, Christianity in its Protestant and comparatively speaking, evangelical form, had an enormous influence over the direction of the country. What some stand in shock of today, the loss of that influence, began gradually in the late 1800s, but it has accelerated exponentially in recent years. In other words, we shouldn’t be shocked.

Also, we should not panic. On one hand, we should not retreat from the public square, build walls around what remains of us, and scream and shout at those outside. The Pagan Empire that I refer to in the title is not the USA but rather the Roman Empire. Christianity has been in this situation before today. In fact, it thrived there. It may thrive again if we prove ourselves to be faithful, which brings me to the other hand.

We must not give in to the temptation to compromise with the world, to heed the call to “modernize” or “post-modernize” or whatever philosophy rules this month. So-called progressive Christians who encourage us to compromise with the world so that we can continue to have a voice are terribly deceived. First of all, to compromise Biblical truth in exchange for worldly influence (yes, some conservative, fundamental Christians are guilty of this as well) is not progress but regression. Also, historically, such assumptions have proven false. Sociologists Peter Finke and Rodney Starke in their book, The Churching of America 1776-2005, point out that the churches that thrived in the USA were “aggressive churches committed to vivid otherworldliness.”(Finke and Starke, 2005, p. 1) They also assert that those churches and denominations that “rejected traditional doctrines” and “ceased to make serious demands of their followers” declined.

So, the the first step for Christians and churches to thrive in our present situation is to accept it for one it is. We are one voice among many competing voices, some of which also claim to speak for Christianity. We live in a pluralistic nation, but we do not accept pluralism. (For a more in-depth discussion of that last sentence please find and read the book that I reviewed here.) Yet, we have the right to speak (at least for now) and to proclaim the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us do so faithfully and boldly. And let us learn from Scripture–from those who came before us–how to live as Christians in a “pagan” world.

Over the next several days or weeks (I don’t know yet), I will write blog posts about Scripture passages that speak to how we should relate to government and society, even when both stand against us. Today, I dealt with the first step we must take–accept reality for what it is. We do not live in a Christian nation, nor do Christians have the influence that they once enjoyed.

Our priority is to share the Gospel and make disciples. But the Bible says other things about how to relate to those around us. What will follow are steps that have no particular order. I hope to write a blog post on each one.

  • Pray for leaders, for our nation, and for the church.
  • What the Bible says about paying taxes.
  • What the Bible says about obeying laws.
  • What the Bible says about doing right to all people.
  • What the Bible says about the priority of obeying God above all others.
  • What happens when the price for following God is high.

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*Yes, I am using Christian here to refer to conservative, evangelical Christianity. Yes, I know there is a broader meaning. I do not mean to exclude so much as not to have to explain what I mean in every paragraph.

The African Study Bible

One of the most exciting developments in Christianity has been the shift of its geographic center from the West to the Global South or Majority World if you prefer. Christianity is no longer primarily a religion of the West. Most Christians are now Latin American, East Asian, and African. With the spread of Christianity comes the need to address new issues. In the coming years, we can expect to see more biblical and systematic theology develop outside of the West.

Already, it is developing. The African Study Bible, written by Africans for Africans, is one such development. Based upon the New Living Translation, this resource could be very important to growing church in Africa.

The ASB’s supporters say, “Designed to grow the faith of African church members, teach them to evangelize their communities, and apply a biblical worldview to their society, the ASB uses the New Living Translation and includes 2,400 plus features such as application notes, stories and proverbs, touchpoints that link Africa and the Bible, learn notes that explain basic theology, and major theme articles that apply the Bible to key issues. Oasis plans to initially release the ASB in English with French and Portuguese translations in development. Oasis is also developing a full-featured app of the study Bible.”

The hope is to release the Bible by the end of this year. To find out more, you can learn about the Kickstarter campaign to launch the ASB from this video. You may support the campaign by donating here.

A Review of The Catholic Enlightenment

The Catholic Enlightenment by Urich L. Lerner is a book in which I thought I would have no interest. After all, I am a conservative, Protestant evangelical, and what interest could I have in a movement within the Roman Catholic Church back in the 18th century? I was wrong. Lerner’s book proved to be one of the most interesting religious history books that I have read, and I have read many.

Weaknesses

Honestly, I have to stretch to find any. If I could suggest one, it would be that Lerner assumes readers are more familiar with the Enlightenment than perhaps many are. He has written a few books on the subject of Catholic interaction with the Enlightenment, and I am sure most readers who pick up this book to read understand the background. However, I cannot help but feel for the poor college student who will be assigned this book for reading.

Strengths

O, if only evangelicals wrote this well. His sentences are works of art without a wasted word. Lerner has a passion for this subject, and it comes through. He treats the material with balance, willing to reveal the good and the bad of the Roman Catholic Church and the struggle of some of its members to engage the Enlightenment. Lerner brings to light lost voices–voices that spoke for equality, democracy, and human rights with the context of their Catholic faith. He reveals the lost history that many assume not to have been a part of Roman Catholic history. In so doing, he shows that many of the thoughts that came out of Vatican II and are now reflected by Pope Francis have been present in the Roman Catholic Church for centuries.

Recommended?

Would I recommend this book to others? It depends on the reader. The book is not for everyone. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in how Christianity engages culture. Missiologists will find it worthwhile both for that reason and for elements of local theology. As Christianity increasingly encounters a hostile culture, debates will grow as to how to do so without compromising faith. This book provides insight on that subject.

Full Disclosure: Oxford University Press provided me with a free copy for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.

When My Heart And His Word Disagree

This morning I studied Psalm 57. Psalm 57:7 in the English Standard Version reads:

My heart is steadfast, O God,
My heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!

Those words struck hard. My heart is not steadfast. I doubt. I worry. I despair. Like the words of the hymn, “Prone to wonder, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.”

How can a heart be steadfast? David had every reason to feel as I did this morning when he wrote this Psalm. In fact, he had more reason. He, the man anointed to become king, was hiding in a cave from jealous King Saul. David likely wrote this Psalm around the events of either 1 Samuel 22:1 or 1 Samuel 24. God anointed David for kingship, but instead, David was hiding like a criminal. The quickest way out was to compromise his beliefs and to kill God’s anointed King. He would not do so. Despite his circumstances, his heart was steadfast. How could that be? A few other verses point us toward understanding.

I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me.
He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness. (vv. 2-3)

For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. (v. 10)

David’s heart was steadfast because of his faith in the steadfastness of God. God would be faithful to fulfill His promise, His purpose for David’s life. David trusted in God’s constant love and perfect, unchanging nature. David had faith because even hiding in a dark cave he could see the light of God’s faithfulness. When I was younger, I used to have a poster hanging above my bed. It was a picture of a tall mountain with words written above, “Our faith does not rest in our feelings: it rests in the unshakeable character of God.”

Steadfast hearts do not come from willpower or training. They come from resting in God and His unchanging love.

 

 

Are Voters Ready to Ask the Question?

Ask The Question by Stephen Mansfield challenges voters and the media to take the religion of presidential candidates seriously. He encourages citizens to dare ask how the religious beliefs of candidates shape them as individuals and how those spiritual ideas shape their policy position. Mansfield is the author of other books dealing with politics and presidents: The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama. In this book, Mansfield deals with the faith of past presidents, past candidates, and a potential president. He gives examples of how faith shapes each person.

Mansfield deals with a variety of religious positions ranging from conservative evangelical to progressive mainstream. Mansfield treats each one with respect and objectivity. He assumes religious sincerity on the part of each candidate. Thus, he models the point that he is trying to make. Reporters and voters tend to believe statements of faith by candidates are political posturing. Such assumptions particularly happen when the candidate holds views that the reporter or voter finds distasteful. Some conservatives carry the assumption that all liberals are godless and discount the sincerity of their faith. Some liberals still assume that evangelicals are uneducated and easily manipulated leading them to believe that conservative candidates use religious rhetoric for purely political purposes.

Another key point that Mansfield is our postmodern era makes the question of religion more important rather than less important. He points to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln as past examples of “nones.” Mansfield both would have been considered as such because they were not members of an organized religious group. Both had strong religious and spiritual understandings. Postmodernism makes labels meaningless today. One must not just know a candidate is Baptist or Roman Catholic. One must understand the full spiritual foundation of the candidate and how it influences their policy decisions.

This book is an important one to read. Hopefully, more voters and reporters will take the book’s advice and ask the question.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy from Baker Books for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)