The gospel for all cultures: An interview with Jayson Georges

The gospel for all cultures: An interview with Jayson Georges

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I’m honored to have Jayson Georges join us today.

Jayson wrote The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures, which debuted November 2014, and he’s the force behind the website HonorShame.com. Though Jayson has a Masters of Divinity from Talbot, his writings were primarily born out of 9 years serving in Central Asia. He currently lives in Atlanta, USA with his family, where he works as Missiologist-in-Residence at an evangelical mission organization. Enjoy!  -Grace

Grace: First of all Jayson, thanks very much for agreeing to be interviewed. I and others I know have benefited from your ministry. It’s an honor to host you here.

Plenty of people go overseas and end up seeing the world through a new lens. But you’ve taken it to another level by sharing what you’ve learned through your website and now the book The 3D Gospel. What made you decide to take the issues of cultural worldview, particularly honor and shame, and throw yourself into bringing them to a wider audience? What gap do you see that you’re trying to fill?

Jayson: In the world of ministry, breakthroughs are often the result of mistakes—and I’m no exception! After several years of “cultural head-butting,” the notion of honor-shame cultures really helped our team see Central Asian culture in a new way. The concept explained many cultural elements, but also helped us re-frame our gospel in a more contextual (and biblical) way.

I’ve seen quite a bit of research by anthropologists and biblical scholars in the area of honor and shame, but little of it has migrated into the missions community. So, my vision is to foster a biblical missiology for honor-shame contexts— How is God’s Kingdom expressed in honor-shame contexts?

Missionaries rarely learn about “honor-shame cultures” before going overseas, so they struggle to identify what is hidden in plain sight. My desire is to popularize the idea, so Christians in cross-cultural ministry can navigate the nuances of collectivistic cultures for God’s glory.

Can you give us a brief outline of the 3 main cultural paradigms you discuss in the book? How would you summarize the gospel for people living in those 3 worlds?

Yes, the th3D bookree types of culture are “guilt-innocence,” “shame-honor,” and “fear-power.” Basically, these refer to the various ways cultures respond when they sin—people feel a guilty conscience, ashamed before the community, or afraid of the spiritual world when doing something wrong. Consequently, that affects how they define “salvation” from that problem—guilty people seek either legal innocence, the shamed want honor among people, and those in fear desire power over the unseen.

The categories are not unique to me, but I’m trying to help people see them as theological realities, not just cultural paradigms.

God’s salvation includes all three: forgiveness of sins, honor in God’s eyes, and authority over evil forces. The death of Christ accomplished all of those! But if our theology only emphasizes forgiveness, then we “limit” God’s salvation and only allow him to save us in one area of life.

If you ask an American believer, for example, “What is the gospel?” you might get an incredulous look in return. Isn’t it obvious? It’s John 3:16. Or the 4 spiritual laws. Or those color bead bracelets you got in Sunday school: “Black is the color of mankind’s sin…”

Are you saying that the gospel is far more complicated than we assume? Or that it changes depending on where you are in the world? Or something else entirely?

The gospel is not far more “complicated.” But it is far richer, deeper, and wider than we assume (1 Cor. 1). The gospel is like a diamond with many sides. Unfortunately, we humans can only see one side at a time. Western Christianity has emphasized forgiveness of sins for their cultural contexts, but most people in the world wonder how Jesus gives them power over Satan or takes their shame.

Here is my advice for ministry — when doing evangelism, start with the aspect that makes the most sense to people; but when doing discipleship, be sure to include all three.

 

Most Christians that I know believe followers of Jesus should be internally motivated to do the right thing. Maybe the quest for honor leads people to Jesus, but after conversion we expect the Holy Spirit to be an internal, individual guiding force in that person’s life, regardless of how the believer’s actions might be seen by the community. I’ve actually heard it said that while someone might come to Jesus from an honor/shame culture, after that their worldview should fit more in line with the guilt/innocence paradigm. I find that incredibly ethnocentric! And yet I see where that line of reasoning comes from.

In their book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes Richards and O’Brien write, “Didn’t Jesus promise a Paraclete (‘Advocate’) that will convict the world? Absolutely (John 16). But what goes without being said for us is that ‘conviction’ must be internal.”

What are your thoughts on how following Jesus might look for a disciple from an honor/shame culture? (Sorry – I realize this is a huge question!)

Yes, this is a common Western (mis)understanding — the Christian life can only be lived through a guilt-innocence paradigm, therefore Christians in all cultures must shift to a moral system based on keeping laws and rules. However, this perception is highly influenced by Kant and other European Enlightenment philosophers. Moreover, creating new rules rarely influences behavior in honor-shame contexts. Instead of doing away with honor and shame as moral forces, we must work to redeem honor and shame by making them God-focused.

Christians must redefine honorableness and shamefulness in light of God’s honor. In the Bible, ethics is often couched in the language of honor and shame (not just right and wrong).

For example, Paul gives this instruction to the squabbling church in Rome: “The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God” (14:5-6, ESV). Note how Paul did not give any hard-and-fast rules, but simply identifies God’s honor as the guiding moral principle, regardless of their actual choice.

We are to “do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31; cf. Col 3:17). The book of 1 Peter repeatedly explains how God’s kingdom values reshapes Christian’s honor code, to help the persecuted Christians conduct themselves honorably in all areas of life. Shame, as well as guilt, can be leveraged by the Holy Spirit to bring about repentance and transformation.

Some would say, ok, I accept that there are various lenses through which cultures see the gospel. But why should I, a Westerner living in a Guilt/Innocence culture, for example, get informed about the other paradigms that don’t really affect me?

Unfortunately, reality is not this simple (I wish it were!). “Honor-shame” touches your life as a Westerner in several ways.

1.)  Do you read your Bible? If so, you are reading a document saturated with honor-shame language, themes, and values.

One can not fully understand the biblical message without an eye for honor-shame. The Bible emerged from a world in which people’s primary concern was, “How do other people regard me? How do I gain honor? How do I avoid shame?” When we assume the Bible is only about, “How does God forgive my sins?”, then we miss many of the other rich dynamics about God’s salvation.

2)  Are you a human? If so, you are impacted by shame.

Shame is not an Arab or Asian issue, but an Adam and Eve issue. When our first parents sinned, they hid and covered themselves—the trademarks of shame. We all inherent that problem; no one is immune. Psychologists have discovered that the only people who don’t feel shame are psychopaths. Everyone struggles with feelings of inadequacy or rejection to some degree. In fact, many cultural observers note how the West is becoming increasing shame-based (see the March ’15 cover story of Christianity Today by Andy Crouch).

3)  Do you go out your front door? If so, you are probably meeting people who are not culturally “Western.”

Forty million people in America are foreign born (for example, 100,000 students from Saudi Arabia alone study in the US.) In this day of massive international migration, very few people live in a bubble of 100% Westernness. So, understanding honor-shame is not simply for people living overseas, but anyone living in today’s “global village.”

I’m sure some people reading are intrigued and would like to learn more. Apart from your website and book, what’s on your recommended reading list for us? What other authors or resources do you find inspiring or helpful on topics like these?

Well, I read lots academic articles and dissertations, and I’m not sure readers are geeky enough to follow suit! But a few things come to mind.

First, never underestimate your ability to read the Bible with your own eyes. Now that you are familiar with honor-shame, you’ll begin to see it everywhere in the Bible. Keep an eye out!

Also, I’ve compiled some great videos on the topic (click here for the link). They are all short, well-produced, and really insightful (and free!), so are a great place to start. And if you want to read even more, visit the recommendations page of the HonorShame site.

Finally, I wonder how your personal understanding of the “3D gospel” has impacted your own life. What do you love about Jesus, seen in this new light?

My biggest discovery while learning about honor-shame has been the depth of my own shame. I began researching the topic for ministry purposes—how can I reach “them”—but have realized it has immense personal application as well. But the depth of shame in every heart is simply a display for the magnificence of God’s honor.

Also, learning to prioritize relationships and restoration amidst conflict and brokenness has been another significant step. Shame comes from alienation and isolation, so a key tool for overcoming that shame is peacemaking and reconciliation.

Thanks very much Jayson! I’m aware we’re just at the tip of the iceberg here, but you’ve certainly given us great food for thought. May God bless you as you continue to spread the message of His honor among the nations.

— Grace