By: Dr. Karen Stoufer
All of us want to learn how to be more effective as Christ’s ambassadors to those who do not yet know Him. When taking the gospel to those of another culture, whether overseas or right here in diverse America, we want to avoid an “American” or “Western” style presentation of the gospel that may not be understood or accepted by those of another culture or worldview.
We read up on cross-cultural communications, or study the language of those with whom we hope to share. Some of us may have even done the cross-cultural course module on CVM’s new e-learning program (www.cvm.org/learn ). However, there is another, deeply significant barrier to our monocultural presentation of the gospel that is not crossed by mere communication, language and cultural customs. I am referring to the three general spiritual worldviews. These are guilt-innocence worldviews, honor-shame worldviews and fear-power worldviews.
Guilt is defined as WHAT you do and is mainly found in individualistic cultures. This culture focuses on rules, determinations of right and wrong and on justice. A person who is guilty often says, “I made a mistake.”
Fear is about the SOURCES OF POWER with whom you connect and is mainly found in animistic cultures who focus on fear of invisible powers. Common expressions of this today would be the use of voodoo, consulting shamans or astrologers and practicing witchcraft.
Shame is about WHO you are and is found in communal societies with group identity. The person at fault would say, “I AM a mistake” rather than “I made a mistake”. The person’s behavior and actions reflect upon the entire society or family; bringing shame or honor on all. Honor is defined as social worth, which comes from relationships, traditions and meeting expectations. Many honor-shame cultures refer to shame as “losing face”.
It would be rare to find someone who adheres 100% to just one of these worldviews; most of us are a combination. However, most people in a given culture function predominately in one of these three and a presentation of the gospel must address the dominant spiritual worldview in order to make sense to the hearers. All of us will grow in our spiritual walk when we understand more fully the multi-faceted gospel including the three-dimensional (3D=guilt, shame, fear) aspects of the gospel.
In Ephesians, Paul writes of the “riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8) which include aspects of all three worldviews. (This analysis comes from The 3D Gospel by Jayson Georges).
- Ephesians 1:7 says “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” which speaks to the guilt-innocence worldview as does chapter 2 verse 5 that says God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions”. The Message says “He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ.”
- Ephesians 1:5 refers to our adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ and in chapter 2 as “members of God’s household” which bestows on us the same honor as that of Jesus Christ.
- Ephesians 1 also refers to God’s power. “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead” and then in chapter 6 “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes”. God grants us access to His power so we need not be afraid. I John 4:4 says, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Also in 1 John it says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”
In every culture, humans have devised man-made systems for dealing with guilt, with shame and with fear. For example, in guilt/innocence cultures, such as in much of North America, we have devised systems of restitution, punishment with jail or fines, and other regulations to right the wrong and restore justice.
In fear-power cultures, we humans have developed rituals, magic, charms, spells, and sacrifices to ward off the evil spirits.
In honor/shame cultures, people have created ways to deal with shame that we can see illustrated throughout the Old and New Testament. In Genesis, we read that when Adam and Eve were ashamed, they hid. Hiding and imposing exile are two ways that communal societies deal with shame. Another response is suicide; removing yourself as an offender. In Acts 16, we read that the jailer prepared to commit suicide because of the shame of prisoners escaping on his watch. In the news today, we can read of failed business leaders or politicians in Asian countries committing suicide because of the shame they brought on their family. When the family of the Boston Marathon bomber was interviewed by the media, he talked about the terrible shame this young man had brought on their family by his actions.
Another response to shame that we can read about in the Bible is the story of Dinah in Genesis 34. After she is raped by the prince of Shechem, her brothers are outraged at the shame and seek revenge through deceit and mass slaughter to avenge their sister. Their concern is not about guilt and sending the prince to jail or demanding restitution, but revenge. Revenge and terrorism are common responses in an honor/shame culture. When people believe their honor has been offended or insulted, instead of hiding, they often seek revenge to restore their honor. Jihadists would fall into this category when they act to defend their faith, which they believe has been insulted.
All of these human systems fall short of forgiving sin, alleviating fear or restoring honor. Our next issue will look at how God responds to each of these.