An Opportunity for Honor and Shame Collaboration

An Opportunity for Honor and Shame Collaboration January 7, 2020

Honor and shame have significant implications for both theology and missiology. This point helps to explain the purpose of the upcoming 2020 Honor-Shame Conference at Wheaton College.

The conference in 2017 was packed out. (To our surprise, the conference received a 90% response rate on the feedback forms. And the feedback was overwhelmingly positive!) The conference brought together people from diverse backgrounds and ministries who see the need to understand better the significance of honor and shame for interpreting the Bible and loving those around us.Honor and shame are intricately tied to culture (and subcultures). Contrary to popular impressions, all people are concerned with honor and shame, not merely Middle Easterners or East Asians.

What happens when we look at the Bible? Readers typically overlook countless themes related to honor and shame in the Bible. If we don’t explicitly see the words “honor” and “shame,” we likely assume those ideas are absent from the text.

That impression, of course, is mistaken. By comparison, Chinese rarely use the word “honor” but convey the concept with the word “face.”

The Need for Collaboration

The upcoming conference in June 2020 is one of those rare opportunities for collaboration between thinkers and practitioners. Frequently, theologians do not consider the missiological implications of their work; likewise, missionaries too often don’t read or incorporate the insights of theologians.

No single person or perspective holds a monopoly when it comes to explaining honor and shame. In fact, although scholars across academic disciplines discuss these important themes, it sometimes seems they are talking past one another. Shame, after all, is multi-dimensional. One could speak of psychological, social, and even “sacred” shame.

In short, honor and shame are themes that permeate both the Bible and all world cultures. So, how do we plan to respond?

Looking Broader, Digging Deeper

What if we slow ourselves down to reflect on the ways that honor and shame connect with numerous other concepts?

This is exactly what happened at the 2017 Honor-Shame Conference in Wheaton. Spurred on by David deSilva’s talk, patronage was a major theme that jumped out to many participants who had never previously linked patronage with honor and shame. Thus, the Patronage Symposium was organized in Lebanon a year later.

In addition, the 2017 conference helped catalyze the development of “Honor Restored,” a gospel presentation released in 2018 by CRU. It “centers on our shame before a holy God” and “explores what shame means and how honor can be restored through Jesus Christ.” Chris Sneller, lead writer for “Honor Restored,” will conduct a workshop at the conference tentatively titled “Designing and Creating Evangelistic Resources for Honor-Shame Contexts.”

(By the way, Chris is an expert on the history of the Sinicization of Christianity in China. If you attend the conference, it’d be well worth your time to chat with him on the topic.)

What’s Ahead in 2020?

We could mention other fruits stemming from the 2017 conference. For now, I’ll make a guess what will become topics for discussion coming out of the 2020 conference. While I can’t be sure, I expect people will be talking about how honor and shame affect…

Leadership development in the church

Atonement theology

Ministry among refugees

Grace and patronage (After all, Barclay’s Paul and the Gift is widely regarded as the most significant book in biblical studies over the past 30 years.)

Fear-power cultural perspectives

These are just a few topics that could emerge as key talking points among participants. I could be wrong. I wouldn’t have predicted that patronage would have been such an important issue in the last conference.

Two Important Updates

Below are a few updates for anyone considering attending the upcoming conference:

1. The conference is offering a special GROUP DISCOUNT. Register with 5 persons and the 6th person is free. Get more information here.

2. Sheryl Silzer, professor at Talbot School of Theology (Biola University), will join us as a plenary speaker. I’m so excited about this. She is a wonderful friend and wise woman. She is a third-generation Japanese American and Multicultural Consultant for SIL International. She is the author of Biblical Multicultural Teams: Applying Biblical Truths to Cultural Differences (2011). Sheryl has led Cultural Self-Discovery workshops for multicultural teams for many years and has trained facilitators in many countries.

In keeping with what I said above, the 2020 Conference plans to have a nice balance of workshops. Many will be conducted by overseas practitioners; others will be led by world-class theologians, including…

Nijay Gupta

In anticipation of June’s meeting, I will spotlight a few of the conference speakers in the coming posts. Even if you do not attend, I think you will find their work fascinating and constructive.


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