Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures

Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures

Title:               Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials

Author:           Jayson Georges and Mark D Baker

Publisher:      IVP Academic, 2016

Review by:     C. Hine


How should we understand the cultural scripts of honour and shame? What is honour and what is shame? Are they biblical themes? What happens when we read the Bible through the lenses of honour and shame?


Jayson Georges, founder of spent several years working in Central Asia, where he learned a lot through his mistakes and misunderstandings borne out of a lack of knowledge and awareness about the cultural norms of honour and shame. Mark Baker worked in Honduras before becoming a professor of missions and theology. The book reflects both authors’ experience and scholarship.

It is an exciting book because of its exploration and fresh reading of the Bible through the lenses of honour and shame. Their work builds on that of scholar-practitioners like Kenneth Bailey with his reflections on scripture through Middle Eastern eyes. This book goes further than other books, however, in the conversation between practice and scholarship, which is refreshing and applicable to anyone interacting with peoples whose primary cultural framework is honour and shame.

Divided into three sections, different disciplines are brought together: cultural anthropology that explores the heart and the face of honour and shame, biblical theology examining the Old Testament and life of Jesus, and practical ministry. The very real issues of befriending and sharing the good news of Jesus with those who live in a world framed by honour and shame are explored in different ways through these three sections. So, for example, patronage is explored as one of the faces of honour and shame and then applied later in issues of discipleship in honour-shame cultures.

Georges and Baker make the point that honour and shame are not the only ways to view and understand the world. What they helpfully do, however, is provide insights into areas that clash from these different ways of viewing the world. Is it lying and deception, or is it indirect communication? Is it laziness or event focused?

The chapter on relationships is a must read for anyone living in an honour and shame-oriented society, for anyone considering it, and for those whose neighbours might come from such a cultural understanding. It builds on a fundamental understanding that relationships are at the centre of life and ministry, but so often the logic and values of our default cultures mean we create hurt and barriers, often by shaming people. They say: ‘Considering the dual realities that God is on a mission to honour people, and that honour always comes through relationships, mediating God’s honour intentionally is a vital component of Christian witness’. (135) The chapter gives excellent perspectives on issues such as conflict and reconciliation, the patron and client relationship, hospitality, gifts, guests and so much more. It is a chapter I wish I had read before I went overseas. I may have made fewer mistakes.

Defining honour and shame is a challenge that the authors acknowledge. Honour and shame are abstract ideas that relate to feelings rather than objects. People feel honour and shame rather than describe its meaning. They describe honour as the value of a person, in their own eyes and in the eyes of their society. They explain honour as inherently communal and relational.

Shame is about being despised and rejected by the community, with a shamed person feeling humiliation, disapproval and the loss of status. There are many sources of shame: improper behaviour, undesirable difference, or association with someone or something that is shameful. It means exclusion from participation in society.

A wonderful contribution of this book is the reflections offered on reading the Bible through an honour and shame lens. It provides extensive references and paints layers of the theme through the Old and New Testaments. Understanding sin in ways that include honour and shame means that the interpretation of salvation is also inscribed with richer meaning. The book explores how Jesus both pays the guilt cost of sin and touches shame, washes with honour, bears shame and bares honour.

Unique to the way this book deals with honour and shame is its call to us to come to Jesus and have the shame in our lives dealt with. The chapter on spirituality is rich in helping readers see the consequences of their own sense of shame, while inviting them to walk with Jesus.

The practical section that takes up much of the second half of the book is replete with applications. They deal with areas like evangelism, discipleship, conversion, ethics and community. These are key issues in mission today.

This book makes an additional contribution. It could be used as a study guide, and would be particularly beneficial when used on location where people can explore the realities of their context, not just theory. The authors have added questions at the end of each chapter to stimulate personal learning in context. This is value added in the book.

Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures is essential reading for all people who are committed to loving their neighbour, be that in their home location or overseas. It is an excellent addition to the books that are presently available. It advances the literature on the Bible and honour and shame, as well as on mission and ministry in cultures of honour and shame.

I would have loved to see some exploration of honour and shame as experienced by women, however Georges and Baker provide a good foundation for someone else to explore this important way of organising society and its impact on those who experience it in particular ways.

450 450 When Women Speak

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