Biblical Theology from a Chinese Perspective

Biblical Theology from a Chinese Perspective July 4, 2013

Check out my most recent article “Biblical Theology from a Chinese Perspective–Interpreting Scripture through the Lens of Honor and Shame.” It’s a part of the July 2013 issue of Global Missiology. The theme of this issue is “Urban Mission.”


1. By “biblical theology,” I’m referring to the grand narrative of the Bible. How do we tell the overarching story of the 66 books in the Bible in a coherent way that makes sense of all the various themes and sub-stories within the text?

2. The phrase “from a Chinese perspective” is not meant to be descriptive––as if trying to describe how all Chinese people read the Bible. Not at all. In fact, I think too much of the Chinese church as reads the Bible in a way that is so disconnected from Chinese culture that the world is losing out on a valuable Eastern perspective that would helpfully balance the traditional, Western reading of the Bible.

We should not pit one against another, as if one were right and the other wrong. On the contrary, we need a balance of emphases.

Therefore “from a Chinese perspective” suggests a way of understanding the grand story of Scripture if one reads the Bible through the lens of Chinese culture. The traditional way of framing the biblical story is the fruit of using a Western lens. I try to show what happens when we change our cultural vantage point. What insights do we gain? What new emphases emerge?

3. However, I do more than talk about Chinese culture. I’m demonstrate what it means to do exegetical contextualization. I’ve written on this topic previously, trying to answer the question, “How do we interpret the Bible while taking seriously our own cultural context?”

4. Regardless of where you live and what you do, the themes of honor and shame should matter to you. If you are like me and many others, most of the theology you have heard have largely ignored these themes in Scripture. This is an attempt to show how honor and shame can and should affect how understand of the overall context of the Bible. I hope people in other settings (besides China) find it helpful.

How Do We Do Contextualization?

It is the third installment of my series on contextualization has been published in Global Missiology.

Part One examined the a common problem that besets evangelical contextualization: compromising the gospel by settling for truth. It further argues for a way in which we can utilize contemporary culture for the sake of exegeting the ancient biblical text. It sounds radical I know, but it’s nevertheless thoroughly evangelical in its view of Scripture.

In Part Two, I proposed a model to contextualize the gospel in any culture. Nowadays, people can’t seem to agree on what the gospel is, what contextualization is, and how to do contextualization. So, in my opinion, we are in desperate need for some framework for bringing these different points together in discussion.

I’d love to hear your feedback. Leave comments with your suggestions and questions. What do you think about using culture for the sake of exegesis? (I wrote on this methodology in a previous article)

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  • You say you are interpreting Scripture through the lens of honor and shame. Could it be you are not putting on a lens, but rather removing the Western guilt-baesd lens in order to see the pivotal cultural value of honor and shame of the biblical authors?

    • Good point. :) in a short bit, I’m going to post something to help relate the various biblical metaphors. In some respect, I think it will show how true your point may be.

    • Guilt is only a “Western” category because of the influence of the Bible. In ancient Greece and Rome, “honor” = face=avoidance of shame was primary. Let’s study some history and discard these inaccurate stereotypes.

      • I completely agree (and I think the previous commenter Werner would as well). In my dissertation research, I spent countless hours studying honor & shame in diverse cultural and historical contexts, including the ancient near east and ancient Greco-Roman cultures.

        Something I did not make explicit in my brief comment is that theologians historically have functionally reduced the broad range of scriptural metaphors to that of law. Not only that, but within evangelical culture, law is further reduced to one single aspect–––the judicial sphere (God as judge). Law language reigns over all others images (whether it be honor-shame, slavery, family, redemption, sacrifice, etc.). This is something I address in chapter 2 of my book. I would NEVER deny the validity and importance of law/guilt in the Bible. God is judge, but he is also king (which is much larger category). As I have argued before and will show graphically soon on the blog, even royal/law language is a subset of honor-shame language. Kings and governments make laws based on what they see as honorable and shameful.

        So, I agree that the stereotypes are wrong in terms of origins. Law and honor are HUMAN categories. However because of present day cultural influences, we tend to emphasize some metaphors and themes more others (regardless of where they comes from).

        I hope that helps clarify my meaning. Thanks for the comment!

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