What do I think of Werner Mischke’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Mission One has released the Global Gospel by Mischke to illustrate the problem in reaching people in the Majority World. We have been hampered growing up in a guilt-innocence culture whereas the world of the Bible is that of an honor-shame culture. It also has impacted our reading of the Bible as where there are parts that are not made explicit, because these would be part of the background culture, we automatically tend to plug in our own culture.
Consider marriage. In the ancient world, a marriage would often be a matter between two men. No. Not the way you’re thinking in our debates today. It would be a matter between the father of the groom and the father of the bride. The two would arrange it and it would be a sort of trade. Marriage would be used to unite families and often could be used for political alliances as well. If we read in our concept of dating and marriage, we misread the text.
Mischke has a great line that I wish we all could learn in the west to show this.
Culturally speaking, the Bible does not “belong” to you; it’s not your book.
What a great lesson to learn. While we can agree with Paul that everything was written for us, it was not written to us. We of necessity need Scripture to understand the salvation of Christ and what it is we are to do, but we do not have to have Western culture being assumed as part of Christianity. This is not to say that Western culture is a bad thing, but it is to say that it does not need to be married to the Gospel. Too often in our evangelism strategy, we’ve brought over not just the Gospel to unreached people, but we’ve also brought over our own culture and included it in the Gospel.
If you go to people of an honor-shame culture and start talking about the guilt that is experienced because of our sin and the beauty of justification by faith, you will not get much of a response to your altar call. These people are not thinking primarily about guilt. What matters most to them is honor and shame. In fact, maintaining honor means more to them than life itself does. This is why Japanese pilots could crash on Pearl Harbor as an attack and why some terrorists can do suicide bombers. They value the honor of what they fight for and the honor they can gain more than their own lives.
Now imagine going to these people instead and telling them about how they are living in a state of shame. They have dishonored the one true God and will be having to face His eternal shame. However, this God has provided a remedy. His Son has come and faced the shame that we all deserve by dying a most shameful death on a cross at the hands of His enemies. However, in facing this, God honored Him by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand to rule the world. All who trust in Him, He will bestow His honor on and adopt them into the family of God.
Okay. Now you’re talking. If you’re speaking of honor and shame to these people, they will be listening. While you should believe in justification by faith, that is not the message that will reach these people because that is a message about guilt. Of course in honor-shame cultures there is guilt in the sense of having done an objective wrong to someone, but the result is not an internal feeling that we must make amends and fix the problem. The main sense for the honor-shame is that the person has been a disgrace and has dishonored their family and their culture. In fact, this is one reason suicide can be so prevalent in an honor-shame culture like Japan. It is better to die than to live with shame.
Mischke takes us through several aspects of an honor-shame culture. Why is the face so important? What is challenge-riposte? What is a patron and how does he relate to his clients? Why is purity such a big deal? These and many other questions are asked. Mischke also wants to stress an important point that this not only applies to how we reach people in the majority world, and yes, most of the world does think in terms of honor and shame, but how we reach our own people over here.
How many of us have had guilt for a past sin that we’ve done and while we know forgiveness, we still have a lot of shame over it? It is just painful to look back and think on it every time. Many of us to some extent carry shame. I am convinced none of us can live fully in an individualistic culture. There is always still going to be this background culture of honor and shame no matter how much we try to bury it.
How would your presentation of the Gospel be different if you not only removed the objective guilt someone has before the throne of God, but you also shared with them that God has taken away their shame. What if you showed them that God has honored them? What if you showed them that honor is something they are even commanded to seek for in Scripture? What if you showed them they really are adopted into the family of God?
For this, Mischke’s book will also give a greater appreciation of the work of Christ. Removing guilt is good and important and we should never lose sight of that, but the idea of honor is essential. So much we have songs in our contemporary culture that speak of God as if He is our buddy and our best friend. What if you instead got the message that you are seated in the heavens as Ephesians 2 says? What if you were told you were adopted into the family of God, as can be found at the end of Romans 8? I can’t help but think of C.S. Lewis who said we are far too easily pleased. We want to be a friend of God. He wants us seated in the heavens.
Now I do not agree with everything Mischke says. For instance, with challenge-riposte, I think Mischke does go against it some. I think Jesus in fact engaged heavily in it and the resurrection, as Mischke rightly shows, is certainly the ultimate riposte. The early church did the same as did the apostles and where the honor of God is challenged today, we also need often to engage in challenge-riposte as well.
Still, this is the kind of book I wish every pastor would read. It is an excellent introduction to this kind of thinking for those who might not be familiar with it at all. If we could reclaim this, we would not only have much more vibrant Christian lives, but we would also be able to understand the Bible and the historical Jesus far better than we do. In fact, while some have said there could be a fourth quest for the historical Jesus starting with taking the Gospel of John more seriously, I believe the next real quest for the historical Jesus will involve learning to understand Jesus from a majority world perspective.