Some people mistakenly suggest that honor-shame advocates change the content of the gospel to suit a target audience. This is the charge leveled in a recent post on AccessTruth called “Did the Apostles Proclaim an Honor-Shame Gospel?” For instance, the writer asserts,
What we find then is that the honor-shame gospel is malleable and “Conversion means granting loyalty and allegiance to a new group—God and His people.” [quoting The 3D Gospel]
Furthermore, he claims that a weakness of the honor-shame movement is “its willingness to adapt the content of the gospel to the target audience.” Today’s post is a response to this common misimpression.
(Note: As I explain in a previous article, the writer’s comments stem from a confusion about how I and others interpret the Bible.)
What is an “honor and shame gospel”?
The AccessTruth article asks the question, “Did the apostles proclaim an honor-shame gospel?” The writer answers in the negative. In my opinion, however, the question is not as direct and clear as it appears. Why?
First, let me state upfront: There is no “honor-shame gospel.”
There is only one gospel. Yet, it is obvious that biblical writers present the gospel in diverse ways. The gospel’s content never changes, but the apostles do adapt how they present it. With this point in mind, how would I answer the question, “Did the apostles proclaim an honor-shame gospel?”
“No” … if the phrase “honor-shame gospel” implies any content different from a “guilt-innocence gospel,” “fear-power gospel,” or whatever other so-called “gospel” one imagines.
However, my answer is “yes” if “honor-shame gospel” means a gospel presentation that takes seriously themes related to honor and shame.
Likewise, my answer is “yes” if “honor-shame gospel” implies that the gospel is inherently shaped by honor-shame themes. Most people have not considered this point. While I’ve explained before, many people have not yet read extensively enough to recognize the ways that honor and shame shape the biblical message. According, the AccessTruth article and others do not examine a fundamental assumption (evident in the following question).
“When studying the actual gospel-proclamation events in the book of Acts my concern becomes more acute as we face a curious question: Why didn’t Peter and Paul preach an honor-shame gospel to audiences from the honor-shame soaked Greco-Roman world?”
In this question, the writer merely presumes the apostles did not preach an “honor-shame gospel.”
(For a more detail example of how honor and shame influence the book of Romans, see Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes: Honor and Shame in Paul’s Message and Mission.)
It’s Scripture, Not Semantics
This distinction is not a semantics game. It simply reflects what we see in Scripture. For instance, compare just a few biblical passages that summarize the gospel.
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (Gal 3:8)
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel…” (2 Tim 2:8)
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Cor 15:3–4)
“Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news [εὐαγγελιζόμενοι], that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:15-17)
Finally, we remind you of Acts 17:24–31, where Paul’s presentation in Athens contrasts remarkably from Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, not to mention Jesus’ own preaching. Mark 1:14–15 says,
“Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”
Although the AccessTruth writer intends the following comment as a rebuttal, I wholeheartedly agree with every word. He says,
“We are absolutely free to remind our audience of how shame entered the world and how having our sins dealt with and becoming part of Godʼs family with a glorious, royal and reigning future restores our honor. But, those themes are supporting themes in Godʼs larger Story. Why? Because they werenʼt the main themes proclaimed to the unbelievers by the apostles in the gospel proclamation events recorded in the New Testament. We are not free to proclaim as the gospel what the NT doesnʼt.”
We Need Gospel Clarity
In some respect, the way missionaries present the gospel today is far narrower and more uniform compared to the early apostles.
The biblical writers could be flexible in their presentations because they grasped the essence of the gospel and its implications. The early Christians could contextualize their message (not change it) because they discerned the gospel’s firm framework from the multitude of themes that help explain its significance.
Diverse presentations do not contradict one another; they provide clarity for different audiences. We must never choose one so-called “gospel” over another; indeed, that’s impossible. Rather, we clarify why the gospel is significant for everyone.
This task takes time. Like the apostles, we can only share a limited amount of information as any given time. Do not suppose that we (or others) change the gospel if time constraints limit what we can say or explain with sufficient clarity.
Confusing the Gospel with Atonement
Accordingly, the AccessTruth article breeds confusions when it says:
“We are not free, as the honor-shame movement would like us to believe, to develop a different plan of salvation for each culture type we encounter.”
To the degree I can speak for “the honor-shame movement,” I want to say, “No, it does not want anyone to develop different gospel content for every culture.”
This point leads us to a final yet critical observation. The writer and others routinely confuse the gospel with atonement theology. The atonement is an aspect or implication of the gospel. Though I’ve explained at length elsewhere, I’ll summarize my point briefly here.
There is wide agreement among scholars that the concept “gospel,” historically and biblically speaking, refers to a royal announcement, such as a king’s victory. The gospel announces Christ’s kingship over the world (cf. Rom 1:1–4; 1 Cor 15:4–8, 20–28), and salvation is the wonderful implication of that gospel. Because Jesus is Christ (i.e., King), having defeated death, therefore people can be saved.
The atonement and doctrine of salvation, more broadly, are inextricably bound up in the gospel. Although they cannot be separated, they are not identical.
(To say otherwise would suggest, for example, that the doctrines concerning predestination, sanctification, (un)limited atonement, and salvation-related doctrines are identical to the gospel.)
Using Scripture Against Scripture
I frequently see people commit a mistake when discussing the gospel and theology in general. They so prioritize one biblical passage such that they effectively mute various others.
Notice the consequence when the AccessTruth writer does not distinguish the gospel from soteriology. In a footnote, he comments,
“The gospel being that which Paul defines in 1 Corinthians 15 as the message of Messiah’s death for sin, his burial and resurrection as prophesied by the OT Scriptures. Consequently, we can say that the ‘gospel’, in this sense, was not preached until after the resurrection. For that reason, we are not dealing here with the ‘good news of the kingdom’ proclamation events in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”
He contrasts and, perhaps unintentionally, prioritizes Paul over Jesus.
Similarly, people tend to focus almost entirely one one text at the expense of others. Traditionally, Protestants have done this with Romans and Galatians. For the AccessTruth article, the book of Acts effectively becomes the sole basis for answering the question, “Did the apostles proclaim an honor-shame gospel?”