The Biblical Story in the Context of Honor and Shame

The Biblical Story in the Context of Honor and Shame August 22, 2013

It’s asking a lot of a single model to capture the whole biblical story in a balanced way, which can also be easily remembered and reproduced by others. Well, here’s my go at it . . . .

The following is an overview of the biblical story, divided into 6 stages. This post only gives a bird’s eye view of the Bible narrative. My July 2013 article in Global Missiology (“Biblical Theology from a Chinese Perspective”) is more detailed.

It must be said from the beginning that the model was first written with a Chinese context in mind. Linguistically, the Chinese names (of each stage) carry stronger force than the English. Feel free to come up with better names if you like. However, you will first want to read the fuller presentation in the coming posts.

6 Stages on BT GraphsThis overview provides a context to understand the individual parts of the model (which will be published in the coming blog posts).

Six Stages of the Biblical Story

In order to avoid writing a book, I offer only a concise summary of the narrative for each point. These brief comments are certainly not exhaustive of all that can and should be said concerning that section of the story. For now, I simply want to capture its essence for the sake of explaining how to understand the graph and its six stages.

A Brief Summary of Each Movement

1. 天下一家: One Family Under Heaven

The Creator God is Father and King over the human family. Being made in God’s image, humanity should reflect the glory of the heavenly Father. He created the world to be his kingdom. In the beginning, there was harmony in creation. Humans were set apart from the rest of creation. In the “cultural mandate,” the Father-King gave them a special vocation––to rule the world on God’s behalf.

Cf. Gen 1–2; Ps 104

2. 丢脸争面:Losing Face, Seeking Face

All people have defamed God’s name and broken relationship with him. Humans have forsaken their father and betrayed the world’s true king. As a result, people have lost true and lasting face (脸), that which marks us as being fully human. Sadly, people seek to regain an inferior kind of face (面子), one that is fleeting and superficial. Consequently, human relationships are also fractured. The world is now full of shame. Humanity is all enslaved to sin, that is, the disgraceful ambitions and actions that characterize this cursed world.

Cf. Genesis 3, 4, 11

3. 万民之王:King of All Nations

God takes the initiative to restore harmony to the world. He graciously made a covenant with Abraham, promising that all nations would be blessed through Abraham’s offspring. From Abraham came the nation of Israel, whom God planned to use as a means of blessing the whole world. He rescued them from an oppressive nation and gave them a law, which was meant to teach them what it meant to be a righteous people. God intended to use Israel to show himself as the King of all nations.

However, Israel repeated the error of her earliest ancestors. They rejected the one true God as King. Instead of enjoying God’s blessing, they fell under a curse. Therefore, because they choose to worship created things rather than the Creator, God sent them into exile. Their sin put them to shame; yet God never forgot his promise to Abraham.

4. 拨乱反正:Setting the World Right

God sent Jesus into the world to vindicate the Father’s honor and set the world right. He would defeat God’s enemies, becoming the king (Christ) over Israel and the world. Jesus was the offspring promised to Abraham (and David). In life, Christ perfectly honored his Heavenly Father, confronting the world’s evil, whether demons, disease, death, or other dominions. For this reason, his people killed him. As Israel’s king, Christ was able in death to bear Israel’s curse upon himself. Because he is also the true king of the world, he represents true humanity. Therefore, Christ resurrection from the dead signifies his victory over sin and death. He became the means through which all nations would be blessed.

5. 以辱为荣:Honor through Shame

All who honor Christ are set free from slavery of sin. The Father sends his Spirit to his adopted children, those who have repented of their shameful disloyalty. No longer afraid of death, God’s people go into the world announcing the coming of the world’s true king—Jesus Christ––sent from the Creator. Although God’s children live in the world, they are not of the world. This means that God has radically changed how they see life. What the world regards as disgraceful, the Father sees as honorable (for example, the cross). Christians understand that they––like Christ––must endure shame on the way to glory.

6. 雪耻复国:God Vindicates His Honor & Restores His Kingdom

Ultimately, God as King will judge the world, ridding it of corruption. In so doing, God’s glory will fill the earth as the waters cover the see. His children will also be glorified with resurrected bodies. The one true God will create a new heaven and new earth. The nations are reconciled with the Father and each other. God keeps his promises. Harmony is restored to creation.

In the next post, I’ll explain the significance of the titles given to each stage. Afterwards, I’ll demonstrate how a person can share the story in a step-by-step fashion.

*** If you would like a copy of the packet (in English) I made presenting this model, click here.

*** For a very scaled down version of the model in Chinese, click here.

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  • Christina

    This is an amazing framework, Jackson. I can already see how this would resonate more deeply with Chinese people than any other framework I’ve been taught before. Eager to read your subsequent posts. Thanks for this!

    Btw, has Pittman seen this? It could go into ZGbriefs as a resource.

    • Thanks for the comment. I’d love to hear your feedback along the way. It will help me and readers better apply the model. Let others know about the series as well. The more people we have talking through this, the better. Thanks.


    I like it that the Chinese (I assume Mandarin) has two types of “face.” This is huge, and can easily explain the fleeting face that humans seek. As far as I know at this point, Indonesia doesn’t have something like this. However this concept is certainly universal. Even in America, people are constantly trying to “save face” by gaining wealth, power, etc.

    What would you say are the English equivalent words (or probably phrases) to the two types of face? I think this would help English-speakers/readers grasp the importance of what you trying to communicate. I think you gain a lot of ground when you can show that the Chinese have this embedded in their language, but actually the Western world has it engrained in our cultures but perhaps in a (much) more subtle way.

    Keep going bro.

    • Thanks. I don’t have a “silver bullet” translation for English. Words like “famous”, “reputation,” “a name,” “we’ll known” all have the feel of mianzi. The medieval meaning of “honor” and something like “respect” and “worth” may hint at this more subtle aspect of lian. Typically, I find giving examples of each much easier. Keep sharing your ideas and input. We can keep improving our ways of speaking.

  • 老外

    Do you have this available in Chinese?

    • Yes, I’ll make it available shortly. Thanks for reminding me to do it sooner than later.

  • Jeff

    This framework seems to work well with people here. I would also like to know where/how you would fit in angels/demons/Satan into this framework.

    People here say that kaifang and/or educated people don’t believe in the supernatural, a vast majority are driven and/or influenced by lucky days, perform customs informed by the supernatural, and “ming” (as in suanming). I find that people here acknowledge the supernatural to a certain degree but often see it as being in a different world, a world that occasionally intersects with this one and needs to be managed well.

    • They would simply be characters within the story. Angels and Satan are not primary, controlling themes that consistently shape the entire narrative. Westerners tend to talk about angels and demons in their evangelism presentations a lot more than the Bible does. I try to capture the plot of the text rather than a single cultural emphasis. Thanks for the question.

  • Sam

    Hi Jackson, this is very interesting!

    In my context, we have a very strong emphasis on BT, but usually focus on diagrams as the “big V” illustrated by Vaughan Roberts in God’s Big Picture (see p2 in this PDF:, along with an ‘overlap of the ages’ diagram. The big V gives us a detailed view of salvation history and provides an interpretive framework for Christians to pick up any part of the bible and read + apply it. However, we almost never use this salvation-history BT timeline in the context of evangelism, partly because of the Western worldview.

    At first I found it quite hard to understand what you were trying to convey with each ‘piece’ of the box. But after re-reading your explanations I think I get it. What’s interesting about your approach here is that it works well even for a non-Christian because of it’s simplicity and focus on just the overall picture. The inward spiral of arrows is a very interesting and helpful way of showing the place of Israel.

    Can I ask, what audience or purpose do you have in mind for this? For example, as a ‘lay’ interpretive guide/tool when reading the Scriptures? Or, for independent use (eg. back of a napkin in a resturant) for unbelievers?


    Sam C.

    • It’s aimed for any believer or unbeliever who would like to see how it all fits together and not simply the broadest ideas. However, it is optimized when training believers in BT.