Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures
Mark D. Baker and Jayson Georges
A number of years ago, MB seminary professor Mark Baker was in the centre of a storm in North American MB conferences for his book co-authored with Joel Green on the atonement. In my opinion, what many people missed was that Dr. Baker’s intention was to help us construct a more multi-faceted and biblical understanding of the work of Christ on the cross.
As someone who had the great honour of studying under Dr. Baker, I knew him as much more than a brilliant professor and teacher; he is at heart, a missionary. From the mission field in Honduras to the prisons of Fresno, Cal., Baker seeks to bring the good news of Jesus to all people, in ways that will cause them to love Jesus and follow after him with their whole life.
Baker’s newest book Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, co-authored with Jayson Georges, is a natural extension of Baker’s work on atonement and mission. Georges and Baker wade into the cultural world of honour and shame with the purpose of helping Western Christians catch up to what the rest of the world has already discovered: the majority of world cultures do not function from the soil of guilt and innocence, but from a context of honour and shame.
Baker and Georges cite data that suggests “approximately 80 percent of the global population runs on the honour shame operating system.” Which means most people in the world do not interact with their community, culture, spirituality in the same way that I, a North American white male, do. Failing to address these people’s concerns “them leaves significant aspects of people’s daily life and worldview outside of the realm of God’s salvation and truncates the gospel,” write Baker and Georges.
This book should probably be essential reading for anyone who is considering doing missionary work in the majority world, especially places like Asia and the Middle East. It is full of cultural insight and deep engagement with ideas like patronage, a common part of honour-shame cultures.
The reality is that all of us would also do well to engage with the ideas presented here.
However, the reality is that all of us would also do well to engage with the ideas presented here. In Canada, we all have opportunities for intercultural relationships. If we want to grow in our relationships with Syrian neighbours or Chinese co-workers and want to articulate the gospel to them in intelligible ways, we must learn what this book has to offer.
One piece of the book that I found incredibly helpful was Georges and Baker’s cross-cultural assessment. It is an invaluable tool both in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of honour-shame cultures, and eye-opening to some of the shortcomings of the guilt-innocence context underlying most of my own thinking and cultural actions.
Another piece of the book that I found tremendously valuable was the way in which Georges and Baker engage the biblical story. The Bible was not written from or to guilt-innocence culture, but from within and for people in an honour-shame context. I particularly enjoyed the new level of depth and meaning the authors draw out of Scripture in their chapter on Jesus. They also have a really helpful guide on page 180 to help us use better language when we are explaining the good news of Jesus. For example rather, than using words like, guilt, law, justice, we can speak in terms of loyalty, purity, adoption.
The Bible was not written from or to guilt-innocence culture, but from within and for people in an honour-shame context.
The first part of the book is given to cultural anthropology and biblical theology. For me, the second half of the book is where things get really interesting. The authors explore spirituality, relationships, evangelism, conversion, ethics, and community. The chapters are full of stories that help us see how the good news of Jesus affects each of these areas of life, and how the Bible clearly speaks to each in ways that are different from what I have normally heard explained in the West.
The chapter on conversion was especially interesting. There were a number of pieces that were new to me. One line that really struck me was that “Conversion involves changing allegiances, abandoning the agenda of one group for another, turning from the honor code of one group for that of another. Or in simple terms conversion means entering a new family.”
In summary, Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, is a valuable gift to the church. It is full of incredible biblical and cultural insights, with discussion questions at the end of each chapter to help take it deeper. It is full of practical tools to help us minister more effectively in different cultural contexts.
Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures is a valuable gift to the church: full of practical tools to help us minister more effectively in different cultural contexts.
Here in Mexico, I have found a number of their insights helpful in my interactions with our language teacher and friends. I am able to reflect back on conversations that felt odd or uncomfortable to me, and understand that the other person was extending honour or trying to save face. I expect to look back over the pages of this book many times in my next months as I seek to love and serve well in a culture with different.
For those who are looking to meaningfully engage people from honour-shame cultures – whether close to home or overseas – this book is well worth the time to read.
For those who are interested in the idea, but aren’t ready for the deep dive into the book, I highly recommend looking into Jayson Georges’s website which is full of short articles on ministering to people from honour-shame contexts.
I also highly recommend this short gospel presentation called Back to God’s Village.
[Nathan McCorkindale is currently serving with MB Mission’s Global Servant program in Guadalajara, Mexico.