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Posts Tagged: Culture

Honor and Shame are Objective (Not Merely Subjective)

Oct. 21, 2015By: Jackson WuAuthor Bio

Many Christians think honor and shame are simply subjective categories. I believe the Bible disagrees. Scripture uses the concepts of honor-shame to convey objective realities. 

Unfortunately, this observation often gets overlooked. In recent weeks and months, I’ve seen this time and time again. I regularly receive pushback from people who think shame and honor are nothing more than psychological and anthropological terms.

Honor = Glory = Objective Reality

If you care about what the Bible says, I urge you to set aside that assumption for a moment and consider a few passages that challenge conventional thinking.

honor-and-shame-0011. Hebrews  

Hebrews 3:3 is unambiguous. 

 “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses––as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.” 

Note two observations. First, the writer says that a house (not a person) has honor. Second, The verse treats glory (doxÄ“s) and honor (timÄ“n) as functionally synonymous terms. 

2.  John’s Gospel 

Jesus’ use of honor-glory is illustrative. In John 17:22, Jesus prays to the Father, 

“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.”

Likewise, in John 8:49–50, 

“Jesus answered, ‘I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor [atimazete] me. Yet I do not seek my own glory [doxan]; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.’” 

Again, glory is treated as an objective reality, not a subjective feeling. Also, via contrast, (dis)honor is correlated with glory. (I point this out because some people try to forge a sharp wedge between “honor” and “glory” despite biblical evidence to the contrary. 

3. Habakkuk 2:16

“You will have your fill of shame instead of glory…Drink yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory.

First, the passage treats shame and glory as objective realities that can be gained and taken away. Second, note that the writer contrasts shame and glory (and I doubt many people will say glory, which God possesses, is a mere psychological feeling in God’s mind).

Why are Honor and Shame Objective?

One’s honor or shame is objective in two respects.

1. A person or thing’s honor and shame describes his/her/its worth or some characteristic.

The basic idea is evident in Hebrews 11:24–26, which says, 

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” 

Moses’ disgrace or lack of honor is described in terms of “wealth” [plouton], something that has value in itself. It is more than a mere feeling.

To think of it another way, something is considered “shameful” if it is worthy of shame, censure, rebuke, etc. From this perspective, shame can be objectified in the same way Peter objectifies the emotion of fear in 1 Peter 3:6. He writes,

  “do not fear anything that is frightening” [m
Ä“ phoboumenai mÄ“demian ptoÄ“sin]. 

The latter phrase speaks of some thing (object, person, situation) that is regarded as being worthy of fear. 

2. A person’s reputation or social “worth” is assessed by others (or even another person).

Honor and shame like guilt as relative to some standard or measure existing outside an individual. For instance, relative to some law, I may be objectively guilty of an offense regardless of whether I have guilt feelings.

In the same way, God’s people would agree that those who have Spiritual fruit (i.e.  love, joy, peace, patience, self-control….) enjoy an honor/glory relative to Christ. Yet, relative to the world, otherwise godly attributes like humility are deemed humiliating, shameful, or dishonorable. 

In short, having honor or shame in one respect depends on an outside (objective) standard rather than an individual’s psychological (subjective) feeling.

Are We Ashamed of Honor?

What do we do with these observations?

1. Self-reflection

I suggest that people humbly do some self-reflection to consider whether they have overlooked the significance role of honor and shame within the Bible. Might cultural or denominational biases create this blindspot?

To assist you, check out my article “Why the Church Has Lost Face” (in the Jan 2015 issue of Mission Frontiers).

2. Reading

Do some further reading on the subject. A number of resources have come out recently that appeal to different audience; some are introductory, some go deeper into theological debates. On my blog, various posts and resources can help. 

Also, here are a few books to start with:

ï Saving God’s Face: A Chinese Contextualization of Salvation through Honor and Shame

Don’t let the word “Chinese” deceive you. Only one chapter speaks exclusively to a Chinese context. Most of the book develops a theology of salvation for (any) honor-shame context. While not a light read, it is overtly theological and exegetical for those who want to see interaction with the broader theological community.

The next two books are written for a more general audience and so introduce a variety of concepts. They purposefully do not engage in rigorous exegesis and theological debate.

ï The Global Gospel

ï The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures

3. Honor-Shame Language

Intentionally read Scripture with an eye for honor-shame related issues. Don’t forget that you may need to reframe how you have thought about certain topics, like God’s glory.

For instance, John Piper like Jonathan Edwards has rightly proclaimed that God is most passionate about His own glory. Amen. Yet, we could just as well borrow a Chinese expression and say that God is passionately seeks His own “face.”

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How Do You Distinguish Americans?

Jun. 22, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio
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One Reason Cross-Cultural Small Talk Is So Tricky

Jun. 19, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio


From Erin Meyer:

It was my first dinner party in France and I was chatting with a Parisian couple. All was well until I asked what I thought was a perfectly innocent question: “How did the two of you meet?” My husband Eric (who is French) shot me a look of horror. When we got home he explained: “We don’t ask that type of question to strangers in France. It’s like asking them the color of their underpants.”

Read the whole thing here.

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Six Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Give a Compliment

May. 27, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

David Livermore has a helpful post on how to navigate giving culturally intelligent compliments.  I think many of us assume or take for granted how compliments and feedback are received in different cultures. The next time you want to offer some feedback, ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. Livermore_pic_c8cdd975daWhat’s the nature of your relationship? (e.g. your history together, your roles within the organization, etc.)
  2. Should the compliment be directed to the individual or to a group? (if this is a “typical” Chinese person, a compliment directed more toward the person’s ‘in- group’ would likely be better received than just directing it toward the individual).
  3. How explicit should the compliment be? (again, if this individual fits Chinese norms, an indirect approach will likely be better).
  4. What are you affirming? (character, performance, reputation, etc.)
  5. What is the ideal context for sharing the compliment? (private vs. public, written vs. verbal, etc.)
  6. Do the cultural norms for compliments apply to this individual? (Don’t assume that all things said about Chinese preferences apply to this individual. You have to get to know him/her as a person.)
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On Adrian Peterson, Spanking and Public Morality

Sep. 22, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

To be a fan of MN sports is to endure torture. We are considered the state of hockey - yet Texas took away our professional hockey team. The baseball team was good for a few years in the 2000s, but never won a playoff game. The basketball team has the longest playoff drought in the league and was run by probably the worst General Manager in history until he was fired last year. And our dear football team, when we were good, were knifed in the heart by our long-time arch rival quarterback Brett Farve, who quarterbacked our team to the NFC championship game. Such is life.

And now the second most liked sports figure (behind Joe Mauer) in Minnesota is in trouble. By now you have heard the story and seen the pictures. Earlier this year Adrianne Peterson, the best running back in the NFL, put leaves in the mouth of his four year old son and spanked him with a stick to the point that it left welts and caused him to bleed. I won’t link to the pictures that were illegally obtained and posted online, but you caimagesn see it for yourself by searching online.

Leave it to sports to drive a conversation on what a culture deems as appropriate. The NFL has had a tough few weeks with multiple domestic assault charges leveled against high profile players. While I want to focus on the issue here in MN, I would be remiss to not at least note the backdrop of what has been happening the last few weeks.

The Reaction

Minnesota radio has been on fire. Some people think he is a child abuser and claim they will never root for the Vikings again. On the flip side are people who think he did nothing wrong. Charles Barkley argued that all parents in the south would have to be arrested if what Peterson did was wrong. Articles noted that Peterson was just doing what was done to him and his mother was appalled that people thought the kind of corporal punishment he dished out was wrong. His HS football coach reported that he spanked Peterson with a wooden paddle. Some of Peterson’s teammates didn’t see a problem with what he did either. I think I have heard “Well, that’s what my parents did to me…” more times than I can count. The grand jury even had a hard time as they didn’t indict him the first time the prosecutor brought the case to them.

Some of the divide is racial, though I think one generation ago one could probably not make the same distinction. My God-fearing Swedish farming grandfather disciplined his kids with a belt and left some marks on his boys they still don’t forget. Some of his sons did the same for their children. It never crossed anyone’s mind as abuse. But it seems today that views of the appropriateness of spanking has splintered, with the majority of the northern white liberal elite decrying it as abuse, while white conservatives see some merit in spanking. I won’t speak for the African -American community, but many (not all!) seem comfortable with what Peterson did. The liberals say (as always) that we are a more advanced society now and have moved to better forms of discipline. The point is not to debate, but just to note how divided the country is on this issue.

Is This Really About Spanking?

We need to be careful when we equate what Peterson did with spanking. In response to the situation, one writer blamed evangelical Christians for spanking still being legal in the US. Andy Naselli has done a good job summarizing what Scripture teaches here. I’m not going to repeat what he says. I just want to add that we can’t just quote Proverbs 13:24 as if it were the law and binding on all Christians in all situations. Discipline at a basic level is done in the context of love. It seems unwise to me that Peterson would be spanking a child that does not live with him over what was a minor violation. That comes across as power and control and a very short fuse. Think of what it must be like to be a child of a dad who is not around, has multiple kids with multiple women and then shows up and spanks me so hard with a stick that I have welts and bleed. How is a four year old even to know what his father expects from him? I will not be surprised if more information leaks out that he has spanked all of his kids this way. How much money do you think TMZ will offer the mother’s of all of his kids to tell them stories that will bring them headlines?

Public Morality Has Its Limits

Adrian Peterson is a Christian in the ilk of Joyce Meyers and TD Jakes - many football players are. God has been on his lips for many years, but his faith didn’t stop him from having a number of children with different women and having sex with countless others. He recently spoke of his past indiscretions as something he has repented of, acknowledging his lifestyle as wrong. I am happy for him.

He is not the only athlete who has had a lot of sex with different women out of marriage. Football and basketball are highly sexualized sports. There are plenty of NBA stars who are adulterers. Wilt Chamblerlin claimed he had sex with 20,000 women. NFL star Antonio Cromartie has 7 kids with 6 women. They are not alone. It’s not that every athlete is a serial sex addict, but these types of lifestyles have consequences. At the end of his life Chamberlin lamented: “With all of you men out there who think that having a thousand different ladies is pretty cool, I have learned in my life I've found out that having one woman a thousand different times is much more satisfying.”

While the issue of spanking a child has brought out the knives from many reporters and media personalities, Peterson’s other lifestyle choices didn’t knock him off the pedestal of hero or model citizen. Our culture is completely tuned in to the wrongness of men hitting women or children. But that is where the moral compass ends. Our culture still sees differences in men and women when it comes to physical attack, but has blurred the line in just about every other area of life. Surveying news sites (including the beloved conservative Foxnews) that are covering the story, you will find links to soft porn images everywhere. The topics trending on popular search engines was Peterson, a video of some cat and Kim Kardashian….down the list was ISIS killing of some Christians. We are a fickle society. The outrage won’t last any longer than it takes to click to the next news story.

Compassion for Adrian Peterson

I think Adrian Peterson made a mistake. He knew he went too far almost immediately and texted the boy's mother that he had gone overboard in his own mind. Have any other well-meaning parents done that? You would probably say yes, though not to the point a leaving marks on the body. Then again - some think marking up your child is appropriate.

Adrian Peterson has probably never been told by anyone how to discipline a child outside what his parents and community taught him. While his father probably didn’t have a grip that could break a hand or the strength his son has, Peterson’s family disciplined him with a stick or belt, sometimes publically, when he was out of line and Peterson is thankful. It never crossed his mind he was doing something illegal. This is the experience of many people, which is why it’s difficult to pronounce a clear guilty verdict.

Should I vilify him for what he has done? If I show any kind of support for him do I then hate children? I think we will wait and see. If he is smart he will soon become a spokesman against child abuse, think through his authority as a father when he is not around and will continue to live within the confines of marriage. He won’t do this to please the detractors, because he will never be able to. He’ll do it because of the man he says he believes in, abounding in patience and loving-kindness, to him and his children.

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