We Need a New Perspective on Glory

We Need a New Perspective on Glory June 20, 2013

No one can read John Piper and miss this single point: GOD WANTS GLORY.

Johnpiper3Piper’s impact on contemporary evangelicalism and missions is incalculable.

Among the missionaries (ages 40 and under) whom I have personally met, I would estimate 70-80% of them list Piper as one of the major influences on their doing cross-cultural missions. He is also the face of what has been called “The New Calvinism” or the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” Movement. As a result, every other contemporary worship song these days speaks of God’s glory, his name or his renown.

Despite all this, few have paid attention to the fact that “glory,” “name,” and “renown” are ALL honor-shame words. Consequently, many people continue on as usual–––overlooking the various ways that such glory-honor language should influence our theology and missiology.

If we accept that God is fundamentally about the glory of his name and “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” then shouldn’t we expect there be a significant ripple-effect on the rest of our thinking and practice? Certainly, these are not mere doctrines to be tossed in the pile of other theological ideas.

The New Perspective on Paul (NPP) is an important debate for sure. However, I also have another suggestion.

We need a “new perspective” on glory.

What Are Some Common Objections?

Let me list a few quick responses to some of the most common objections I hear. For more complete answers, you’ll have to see my book Saving God’s Face.

(1) You shouldn’t equating “glory” and “honor.”

The Bible determines the meaning of words, not personal preferences. The old dictum “Context is king” reminds us that word in their context have meaning according to their usage. We must not let narrow western conceptions of honor obstruct the Bible’s message. When I researched this specific question, I search theological dictionaries, anthropological dictionaries, commentaries on biblical books, monographs, etc. Interestingly enough, there is broad consensus that the two are functional equivalents.

(2) “Shame” is language reserved for sinners. How can you talk about “saving God’s face”?

I’ll have to do a separate blog post on this one. But my answer is essentially the same as the last question. Shame-language can include words like “dishonor,” “disgrace,” “blaspheme,” “disrepute,” “a byword,” etc. I think many people are simply unfamiliar with how honor-shame language works in practice. Additionally, I could add the answer to the next question.

(3) Isn’t “law” language” objective whereas “honor-shame” language subjective?

No. Both legal and honor-shame language have objective and subjective dimensions. This is shown to be evident both in Scripture and in our daily lives. For more, see the book.

“It’s not about you” . . . or us

Rick Warren’s opening line to The Purpose Driven Life is spot on right: “It’s not about you.” However, I would like to add a little phrase; “. . . or us.”

People in Eastern societies already know life is not about them individually. They are far more concerned with their community, whether it be their family, clan, or country. Many people don’t realize that closely related to honor-shame is the concept of collectivism. In short, collectivistic societies see the group as most fundamental, not the individual.

This simple shift in orientations make a dramatic difference in how own reads Scripture and lives daily life. The typical Westerner can hardly imagine how this could possibly matter that much. Some people may be tempted either to trivialize it to a sentimental feeling or demonize the concept by equating collectivism to a sort of social indoctrination that oppresses peoples.

Our identity is formed based on both how we the same and different from each other. Westerners often only think of terms of difference: “I’m not like….” Easterners often think with respect to sameness: “I have …. in common with….” How would our understanding of the Bible be changed if we were not so one-sided?

We need a “new perspective” of identity.


Photo Credit: CC 2.0/wikimedia

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