Saturday, December 10, 2016

Book Write-Up: Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures

Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker.  Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

Jayson Georges and Mark Baker both have extensive experience in missions and exposure to honor-shame cultures.  In Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, Georges and Baker contrast honor-shame, communal cultures with the more individualistic and guilt-focused (or judicial-focused) Christianity of the West.  What Georges and Baker discuss is not only relevant to overseas missions, but also to how Westerners can better interact with those who immigrate to the West from honor-shame cultures.

Georges and Baker are honest about the social faux pas that they have made in their own interactions with people from honor-shame cultures, and they tell stories of other Westerners’ faux pas, as well.  I can picture myself making the same faux pas!  This book is not only about social faux pas, however, but it is also about approaches that can contribute to better social interaction between Westerners and people from honor-shame cultures.  In order to serve and communicate with others, one needs to know what they value.  This book has failure stories, but also success stories.

Georges and Baker are not just concerned about minimizing social faux pas and honoring people by respecting their values, but they also criticize the historical tendency of Western missionaries to impose Western ideas on non-Western countries, as if those Western ideas are biblical ideas.  Georges and Baker contend that the Gospel can be explained within an honor-shame framework that speaks more clearly to people from honor-shame cultures.  Also, they believe that the Bible itself reflects honor-shame presuppositions.

At the same time, Georges and Baker maintain that the Bible diverges from honor-shame presuppositions, in significant areas.  Jesus said and did things that went against the honor-shame culture of his day.  Within the New Testament, there is an acknowledgment that Christians may find themselves dishonored by the surrounding culture.  In such cases, the New Testament does not completely repudiate honor-shame presuppositions but rather emphasizes that Christians are honored by God, even if others dishonor them.

In some cases, Georges and Baker argue, a Westerner may want to avoid obligations of reciprocity that can occur in honor-shame cultures, since such obligations can become burdensome.  They offer practical advice on how to go about this in a tactful manner.  They also appeal to the apostle Paul, who dodged obligations of reciprocity with the Thessalonian church that helped him by telling them that God honors their gift.

This book is excellent on account of its lucid description of honor-shame cultures, its contrast of honor-shame cultures with Western culture, its illustration of honor and shame in Scripture, its stories, and its practical advice.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest!


  1. This one has me curious, since settling into foreign cultures can be quite awkward. I am not sure it can ever be smooth, but it would have been good to have some sensible advice before making the attempt(s)!

  2. I think this would be an excellent book for that. I suspect, though, that you already know by experience a lot of what the book talks about.


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