by Jayson Georges
(Editor’s note: This is the 2nd in a 3-part series on using metaphors and evangelism in different cross-cultural contexts.)
The face of America is changing, quite literally. Over 40 million people in America are foreign born, and a majority of these immigrants hail from Asia or Latin America. The high school in my small town near Atlanta boasts of students from 50+ countries. This all creates unprecedented opportunities to share the gospel with unreached peoples.
But how is the gospel good news to people of non-Western cultures, which are mostly shame-based? Can Jesus grant them honor and bring them into a new community? How can we explain those truths in a simple way?
Many cultures in the world are “shame-based.” This means they reply upon community pressure (not individual conscious) to guide social behavior. Possessing honor and being part of the group is highly important in these collectivistic cultures. People avoid shame at all costs.
The Roman philosopher Seneca said, “Honor is the good opinion of good people.” Shame conversely is a negative public reputation. Since honor and shame come from other people, they are inherently communal. This explains why the metaphors of relationships and family resonate with non-Western peoples.
Ephesians 2:19 is a good example of community metaphors—“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” Christians are a part of God’s group!
Here is a set of relational/communal words we can use to explain how Jesus removes shame and restores honor:
Loyalty Mediator Family Father
Jew/Gentile Community Child Harmony
Public Alliance Allegiance Feast
Inheritance Adoption (Dis)grace Respect
Unity Defilement Inclusion Hospitality
Humiliation Face Reputation Worth
Reverence Identity Acceptance Dignity
Alienation Disgraced Unclean Approval
Patron(age) Worthy Glory Dishonor
Boasting Purity Envy Threat
Are you able to tell the story of the Bible (i.e., creation, fall, Israel, Jesus, salvation) using these words? Contextualizing the gospel is often as easy as changing the controlling metaphor and using new vocabulary. Using metaphors of community helps non-Western people hear the gospel as good news.
A basic gospel presentation could sound like this (observe the family and relational imagery):
- God wants to honor you as His child. He created us with glory and honor to live in his family.
- But, our disloyalty disrespects God and brings disgrace. We are now spiritual orphans, separated from our Father.
- Jesus’ disgraceful death covers our shame. The cross restored God’s face and mediates reconciliation. We are adopted as his worthy children with a new inheritance.
- So, to have harmony with God you must give allegiance to Jesus. Receive God’s gracious welcome into his family and live under His name. Stop boasting in your own honor, and receive God’s honor.
To learn more about ministry in honor/shame cultures, watch this short explainer video—“Honor & Shame 101.”
Jayson Georges (@HonorShame) hosts HonorShame.com and recently published The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures. He served nine years in Central Asia, and now works as a Missologist-in-Residence advocating a biblical missiology for honor/shame cultures.