Book Title: Ministering in Patronage Cultures. Biblical Models and Missional Applications
Author: Jayson Georges
Publisher: IVP Academic 2019
Reviewer: Moyra Dale
Patronage has attracted increasing discussion in missiological writings in the last few years. From viewing it only as negative, promoting nepotism and favours, there has been more of an effort to understand it as a social structure, that can be either used well or badly. This has been paralleled by rethinking it in the Biblical context (a recent helpful contribution by John M.G. Barclay, in his book Paul and the Gift, draws on extensive anthropological writings to explain the reciprocal dynamics of patronage).
This book by Jayson Georges follows on from a symposium on Patronage held in Lebanon in 2018. Georges is well known for his work on Honour and Shame, and it is honour and shame that hold patronage in place (pp.13-15). Georges takes ‘a reciprocal, asymmetrical relationship’ as a working definition of patronage (p.10), noting the importance of each one of those three terms to correctly understand patronage. He notes that patronage is the primary socioeconomic system of many cultures. His book is in four sections.
Georges begins with the Cultural context, looking at the meaning and expressions of patronage, as well as misperceptions. He explains how patronage works, noting metaphors for patronage in different languages. Of these metaphors, the Arabic ‘shepherd’ throws into relief the use of shepherd language in the Bible. He explores the roles of patron, client and broker and how they may work out in different relationships. His section on misperceptions unpacks some western assumptions about how relationships should function.
He then goes on to look at Biblical models of patronage: the model of God in relationship to Israel, and of covenant as a relational agreement based on reciprocity: of Jesus and the Kingdom of God (including parables like the shrewd steward [Luke 16:1-13], that can be understood in the context of patronage): and how Paul related to the early church. This includes a helpful development of the NT reinterpretation of using patronage not to acquire authority or honour, but to respond in thankfulness to God (p.59).
From there Georges explores theological concepts within a patronage framework, looking at God as patron, and sin as ingratitude: His citation of Seneca’s description of ungratefulness as the greatest crime, greater than killers, thieves, rapists, and traitors (p.87), gives a vivid context to this understanding of sin. Understanding salvation as patronage develops the relational aspect of salvation, with the obligations of participants, both God and recipient. In this context he includes a helpful discussion of the theological concepts of Grace and of Faith, as emerging from the NT writers and readers’ understanding of these terms as they are used within the economic structure of patronage. “God’s grace is unconditional because it does not have any prior conditions, not because it is entirely free of any subsequent expectation.” (p.100)
Georges’ final section looks at the missional implications of engaging with patronage as a social structure, what it means in terms of relationships and of understanding the Christian life. What does it mean to function within social communal understandings of patronage? And how can patronage relationships be transformed to reflect a Biblical understanding of godly patronage, within our overall relationship with God as our ultimate patron? He offers principles to help those considering entering into a patronage relationship (117).
This book is a helpful unpacking of the topic, with a number of practical examples, including when people misunderstood patronage and got relationships wrong, as well as positive examples of engagement. He also does well in developing the non-material side of patronage, including social dimensions of honour and access: and invites the reader to find ways of enabling reciprocity in patron-client relationships that they may be involved in.
The most notable gap is the paucity of examples including women (Georges acknowledges this in his conclusion). This is the more surprising as patronage is a relatively gender-neutral social structure, as evidenced both in the work of Lyn Cohick (Women in the World of the Earliest Christians): and through the number of women who have become leaders of conservative, often highly gendered societies. Even just in recent years, this includes countries such as Turkey, Indonesia, Senegal, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Mali and Mauritius.
To enter a hierarchical culture is to enter patronage relationships, whether as client (with the person or institution sponsoring us, our landlord) or patron (with gatekeepers, house help, students). The examples Georges gives of patronage relationships and how to (or not to) negotiate them give weight and meaning to the theory, and the book could only have benefited from more examples and the implications for everyday life, as well as for discipleship and business relationships.
Georges’ discussion is introductory rather than exhaustive. I recommend it as an accessible beginning to thinking more about this important issue, with some of the tools to explore it more in our local contexts and relationships.
(c) When Women Speak… February 2020
Moyra Dale spent over two decades in the Middle East (particularly Egypt, Jordan, and Syria) with her family working in education, specializing in Adult Literacy (Arabic) and teacher training. She is an ethnographer whose research has included exploring adult literacy in Egypt and the women’s mosque movement in Syria through women’s accounts and understanding of their own lives and realities. Currently based in Melbourne, Australia, she writes, teaches, trains, and supervises students in Islam and cross-cultural understanding, with a focus on Muslim women.
Moyra holds a PhD in Education (La Trobe University) and DTh (Melbourne School of Theology).