Still Not Ashamed: A Response to Jackson Wu

Article
09.03.2019

Since the publication of our article on penal substitution in honor / shame cultures, there have been some questions and concerns raised about our characterization of proponents of honor / shame contextualization, most notably by Jackson Wu (here and here). We feel honored (no pun intended) that Western missiologists like Wu (pseudonym) and others have engaged our article.[1] These are crucial issues and we view this interaction as an opportunity to further clarify our claims. We are sincerely appreciative of Mr. Wu’s published works and in the one place we cited him in our original article, we did so in a positive light.

In his two articles posted thus far, Wu broadly charges us with “misrepresenting our opponents” and “making strawman arguments” (i.e., refuting ideas that our opponents do not actually hold). Wu cites several instances of both these problems that are allegedly manifested in our interaction with another honor / shame proponent, Jayson Georges (www.honorshame.com). Though we are thankful for Wu’s interaction, we believe that his charges are overstated and cannot be substantiated under closer scrutiny.

In this piece, we hope to address Wu’s concerns and provide further evidence for our claims. In doing so, we hope to shed further light on these critical issues surrounding the meaning of Christ’s death and thereby help fellow pastors, church members, and missionaries better proclaim “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). We conclude with some reflections on the Western missiological enterprise and a short word on etiquette in theological debate.

(1) BLATANTLY FALSE STATEMENTS? / THE ROOTS OF PENAL SUBSTITUTION

Wu charges us with “making blatantly false statements” for asserting that Jayson Georges claims that penal substitution is “a product of a ‘Western’ guilt and innocence framework and thus will not work in ‘Eastern’ honor and shame cultures.”

Moreover, when we cite Georges in our statement that “the categories that form the basis for penal substitutionary atonement do not arise from an ‘Enlightenment worldview’ or from the interpretive biases of a Western judicial framework,” Wu characterizes this charge as a “sheer figment of [our] imagination.” Wu is not one to mince words. Do we in fact misrepresent Georges?

First, a clarification: in our article, we did not claim that Jayson Georges denies penal substitution or that he views penal substitution as a distortion of the gospel. We state clearly that a number of missiologists and theologians view penal substitution, when presented in honor /shame contexts as “ineffective at best and a distortion of the gospel at worst,” because penal substitution is supposedly a Western legal conception. As evidence for this claim, we cite Joel Green and Mark Baker’s influential work, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross as well as an article from Georges’ blog that is reflective of his wider body of work. Green and Baker serve as an example of those who claim that penal substitution is a distortion of the gospel, while Georges is an example of one who claims that penal substitution is ineffective for an honor / shame context because it is a product of Western thought categories.

Since Wu accuses us of making “blatantly false statements” about Georges’ views, here are a number of statements from Georges’ wider body of work that show why we arrived at our conclusions that he views penal substitution as “Western” and ineffective for honor / shame contexts:[2]

The penal substitutionary theory emerged from Reformed legal scholars in the mid-1600s. Since 1800 it has been the dominant atonement theory in Western Christianity, perhaps since it uses the language and values of Western law (esp. retributive justice) to explain how guilty individuals can be legally exonerated in heaven.[3]

Here Georges makes the explicit (and misinformed) claim that the “language” and “values” of “Western law,” particularly retributive justice, are what undergird penal substitutionary atonement. Moreover, Georges also explicitly claims that the Reformers’ formulation of penal substitution was dictated by their “Enlightenment worldview.”[4]

Elsewhere, Georges claims:

Western theology has skillfully applied God’s truth to the needs of its specific cultural milieu—characterized as individualistic, rationalistic and guilt based. For example, Augustine and Luther, significant voices in Western theology, wrestled through seasons of introspective guilt. So their experiences of individual pardon and forgiveness shaped their theological formulations and subsequent Western theology.[5]

Georges also argues that “emphasis on the legal aspects of salvation” stems from a “Western gospel.”[6]

Georges not only claims that penal substitution uses Western categories, he also explicitly denies the usefulness of penal substitution in honor / shame cultures when he likens those who “rehash theology and practices developed in the guilt-based . . . Western cultures for ministry in Eastern, shame-based cultures” to someone accustomed to building homes with hammers and nails attempting to use “a hammer in a land of screws.”[7] Georges claims that a new set of tools—screwdrivers (the values of honor/ shame) are necessary for “effective” ministry in shame-based cultures.[8]

Georges does acknowledge that Western theology (which in the context includes penal substitution) is not “wrong” as much as it is “incomplete,” but he also asserts that it is a “problem” when people “absolutize this theology contextualized in the West, elevate it to the level of biblical truth, and export it internationally, thus leading to a type of theological / cultural colonialism.”[9] Based on this statement, it is reasonable to assume that Georges does not view penal substitution as equivalent to biblical truth, but as a Western contextualized doctrine that must not be elevated to the level of biblical truth.

In the blogpost that we cited as an example in our article, Georges says the following:

The “penal substitutionary atonement” which emphasizes the appeasement of God’s wrath on our behalf over our individual sins dominates Western theology because it offers psychological assurance (Green and Baker 2000, 142-152).[10]

Georges cites here a section of Green and Baker which explicitly characterizes a classic articulation of penal substitutionary atonement as depicting God having to conform to “late-nineteenth-century American notions of justice.”[11]

Wu charges us with ignoring the context of Georges’ statements, but it seems that Wu himself overlooks the context, because he omits Georges’ reference to Green and Baker (above) and also seems to overlook what Georges writes in the very next paragraph:

The formation of a Muslim theology of Jesus’ death must re-examine the individualistic orientation behind westerners’ understandings of Jesus’ death and consider Islamic doctrine about Jesus. Since most Muslims live in a group-oriented culture, existential interpretations of Jesus’ death carry little significance. Offering identity and purpose to a Muslim who already possesses an identity as a member of the family group is like bathing a fish. Group-oriented people do not feel guilt for failing to maintain an absolute standard, but shame for disrupting or dishonoring their community.[12]

Here, Georges clearly states that “existential interpretations of Jesus’ death” (i.e., penal substitutionary atonement in the context of his article) carry “little significance” for Muslims who “do not feel guilt for failing to maintain an absolute standard.”[13]

Given these statements both in Georges’ article that we originally cited, as well as in Georges’ wider corpus of work, it seems reasonable to us to assume that Georges argues that (a) penal substitution is based upon Western legal categories and (b) penal substitution is not effective (i.e., will not “work”) for reaching people in honor / shame contexts. We therefore fail to see why Wu charges us with making “blatantly false statements” and “ignoring the context” when we cite Georges as an example of someone who believes that  “penal substitution is a product of a “Western” guilt and innocence framework and thus will not work in “Eastern” honor and shame cultures.”

(2) IGNORING POINTS OF AGREEMENT?

Wu charges us with “ignoring points of agreement” with Georges.

First, Wu claims that in the latter half of our article, we “explicitly agree” with Georges that penal substitutionary atonement is the dominant atonement theory in Western theology. Perhaps Wu is referring to the fact that in our section on cultures, we state that categories of guilt and retributive justice are in fact dominant in Western culture. However, we also explicitly state that we think this is because of the Bible’s greater influence on Western culture, and not the other way around. There is no agreement with Georges here, for Georges (as evidenced by his statements presented above) views penal substitution as resulting from Western legal categories, while we view the existence of strong legal categories in Western culture as the result of the Bible’s influence on the culture.

Second, Wu claims that we ignore agreement with Georges by charging honor /shame advocates with bifurcating guilt and absolute justice from shame and disgrace. Wu cites as evidence the following statement from Georges: “Jesus’ death restores humanity to God not simply by paying the punishment demanded by absolute justice, but also by dispelling the shame, abandonment and disgrace that results when humans fail to remain faithful.”[14]

Moreover, when we state that notions of guilt and righteousness are muted in honor / shame models of the atonement, Wu argues that we imply that advocates of honor and shame theology “categorically deny substitutionary atonement.”

It seems to us that Wu fails to understand our argument and what we mean when we make the charges above.

While Georges affirms that penal substitutionary atonement is suitable for a Western context, he all but completely jettisons its use in an honor/shame context. Based on his claim that “people can better understand salvation in Christ when we use the language of culturally plausible metaphors,”[15] Georges outlines completely distinct approaches to presenting the gospel in three contexts: a “truth encounter” that uses legal metaphors for a Western guilt-based context, a “community encounter” for an honor / shame context, and a “power encounter” for a fear-based context.[16] In fact, even Georges’ article “Jesus Death, For Muslims,” which we cited, makes a clean separation between what Jesus’ death means for westerners in contrast to what it means for Muslims: “For westerners, Jesus’ death is an example of someone who laid aside personal desires to follow God’s will. For Muslims, Jesus is an example of someone who remained faithful to his God-given mission to the point of death, despite social rejection.“[17]

Although Georges repeatedly asserts that the categories of guilt-innocence / honor-shame / fear-power “never function in isolation,”[18] or as “isolated silos,”[19] he also argues that “the driving forces of a particular culture may warrant an emphasis on one above the others.”[20] Georges’ resulting presentation of the gospel in a “community encounter” for honor / shame contexts does not merely emphasize the categories of honor and shame over guilt / innocence but in fact abandons the framework of guilt, innocence, and penal substitution altogether. Beyond Georges’ published works, we have scoured in vain the numerous blog posts on honorshame.com trying to find a single presentation of the atonement that includes categories of guilt and justice or presents Christ’s work as penal substitution for an honor / shame context.[21]

Put simply, although Georges claims that he does not deny penal substitution, his presentations of the gospel for honor / shame contexts make no reference whatsoever to Christ as our penal substitute.

This is the bifurcation that we reject—putting legal categories in a silo separate from honor/shame categories in a way that the Bible does not, and then seeking to use only the categories that are deemed to be “most plausible” to a given culture to the exclusion of the others. We are not the first to draw attention to these problems with Georges’ methodology.[22]

In our article, we seek to show how legal and honor / shame categories can be neatly wedded together and presented in an honor / shame context. Georges, in contrast, seems to use only the categories that he deems “most plausible” to his hearers, thus rending asunder what the Bible holds together.[23] Thus we are not ignoring a point of agreement, but actually advocating an integrative approach that is very different from the approach that Georges (and others) model.

The issue of biblical and cultural categories leads us to the next charge that Wu levels against us.

(3) A STRAWMAN HERE, A STRAWMAN THERE? CULTURAL VS. BIBLICAL CATEGORIES

Wu claims that we make multiple “strawman arguments.” The first of these alleged strawmen is our contention that biblical categories must take precedence over cultural ones in articulations of the atonement. Specifically, we state that the Bible must be interpreted on its own terms and that interpreters are not free to impose an extrabiblical worldview on Scripture to reshape its message in the act of contextualization. Wu claims that we are creating a strawman, because in his estimation, neither he nor other honor / shame proponents claim that cultural categories should take precedence over biblical ones.

It seems that Wu misunderstands what we mean, however, when we say that biblical categories must take precedence over cultural ones (and when we imply that honor / shame proponents elevate cultural categories over biblical ones).

Georges, for instance, advocates an approach to contextualization of the atonement that looks first to culture to find the “most plausible” metaphors or categories that fit the culture, and then uses those cultural lenses to understand the saving significance of Jesus’s death.[24] Georges argues that his articulation of the atonement in honor-shame terms is “most appropriate for honor-shame contexts” and that different contexts demand differing explanations of the meaning and significance of the cross.[25] This interpretive approach is precisely what we are arguing against in our article. We have not “created a strawman,” but have weighed the approach that Georges advocates, and found it wanting. In our estimation such a culturally driven approach elevates cultural categories over biblical ones by letting the “cultural lenses” of any given culture dictate how the atonement must be understood and proclaimed.[26] Again, we are not the first ones to raise these concerns. [27]

In contrast to this culturally-driven approach, we maintain that one must first understand the Bible on its own terms and constantly seek to let the Bible correct one’s worldview and cultural lenses.[28] As Stephen Wellum says, “In our application of the Word to the world, we must first be careful that we are working from within the categories and structures of Scripture itself (i.e., biblical theology) and remain faithful to those categories as we apply Scripture to contemporary contexts (i.e., systematic theology). Inevitably, this must lead us to a worldview conflict—a biblical worldview set over against other worldviews . . . Our task as theologians is not to adapt the biblical revelation to other cultural standards but to bring a biblical worldview to bear on contrary ones.”[29]

Wu further charges us with “intensifying the problem” of strawman arguments when we refer to honor/shame models of the atonement as “re-interpretations” or “reconstructions,” and because we state that the cross must not be “infused with new meaning.” Two points may be made in response. First, re-interpreting the cross and infusing it with new meaning is openly and unambiguously the thrust of Green and Baker’s project, which has exercised tremendous influence among honor / shame thinkers.[30] Second, when the atonement is presented in categories “most plausible” to a particular culture,[31] i.e., using honor / shame categories without reference to judicial categories, we view this as a re-interpretation or reconstruction because in our estimation it deviates from the biblical presentation of the cross. For instance, when Georges argues for the “formation of a Muslim theology of Jesus’ death,” we view this as a “re-interpretation.”[32]

This brings us to yet another alleged example of “strawman argumentation” with which Wu charges us. Wu presents our brief summary of the way in which honor / shame writers present the atonement, and claims that we give a “very partial synopsis.” However, we struggle to see why this is “very partial,” because our summary is based, in addition to other sources, on videos and other resources published by Jayson Georges’ website, honorshame.com.[33] Wu then proceeds to ask us in reference to our five point summary of honor / shame atonement theology “which of the above points should we consider ‘reinterpretations or ‘reconstructions’? Does 9Marks deny the above five points?”

Our response is that we do not deny these points—they are certainly all true and biblical—but we do view them as deficient when presented in isolation, for they omit other crucial truths and give a fragmented picture of Christ’s atoning work. Insofar as this atonement summary leaves out any mention of God’s holy and just wrath against sin, man’s sentence of condemnation and guilt, Christ’s absorption of God’s wrath on behalf of his people, and the call to repent and believe, it is a deficient and sub-biblical presentation of the atonement. Because this atonement summary only provides honor and shame categories while omitting the Scripture’s central interpretive categories, we view it as a reinterpretation.

A final example of “strawman argumentation” that Wu cites is our statement that “the claim that notions of honor and shame are alien to ‘Western’ cultures is overstated.” This assertion is repeatedly made, however, by Jayson Georges:

Western civilization dismisses communal dynamics (i.e., honor, shame, and face) in favor of guilt, innocence, and justice.[34]

Westerners rarely get honor and shame dynamics; they seem foreign.[35]

Westerners (i.e., North Americans and Europeans) [are] not familiar with honor and shame.[36]

Western philosophy has dismissed and scorned the notion of honor as outdated and harmful. Because of this cultural factor, Western Christians may struggle to understand why God’s honor is important and “necessary.”[37]

These are just a few examples of an oft-repeated maxim.

We have sought to answer each of Wu’s charges of strawman argumentation and have shown that behind every alleged strawman stand the actual assertions and arguments of honor / shame proponents. We hope that this has clarified both our understanding of their position as well as why we reject their approach.

(4) PENAL SUBSTITUTION AS CENTER AND THE QUESTION OF IMBALANCE

Wu claims that the “litmus test” in our article—the “test for soundness”—is whether one “primarily emphasizes one biblical metaphor above others.”

If by this Wu means to charge us with holding to the primacy and centrality of penal substitution as a litmus test for soundness in one’s atonement theology, we respond with a hearty Amen! We do not view penal substitution as simply one metaphor that takes its place alongside others. Instead, we contend that penal substitution is the biblically revealed heart of the gospel, without which none of the Bible’s other salvific metaphors stand.[38]

Wu raises the issue of “correcting imbalances” when he says that honor-shame writers focus less on traditional aspects of penal substitution because they are “trying to serve as a corrective.” What Wu labels as “traditional” (penal substitution), we claim is “biblical.” In fact, this sort of culture-driven “corrective” is precisely what we are arguing against: By minimizing penal substitution in order to correct a perceived “imbalance,” honor / shame proponents are in fact unwittingly introducing a real imbalance by skewing the discussion away from the biblical integration of various metaphors in their right relation and emphasizing only one set of metaphors (i.e., honor & shame). It is pastorally dangerous to address what one perceives to be an error by swinging the pendulum too far to the other side.[39] If Wu claims to “affirm the value of the Bible’s legal metaphors every bit as much as its familial, royal, sacrificial, or honor-shame metaphors,” then we say, all of them must be presented in their proper framework! One is not free to pick and choose what metaphors to emphasize based on what is “most plausible” to a particular culture.[40] When Georges says that penal substitutionary atonement carries “little significance“ for people who “do not feel guilt for failing to maintain an absolute standard,” he seems more concerned to communicate what best fits the culture’s needs rather than communicating the fullness of the atonement’s biblical meaning.[41] And because penal substitution is the very heart of the biblical presentation of the cross, we deny that it can be minimized without compromising the biblical gospel.

Moreover, speaking of imbalance, Wu asks “if ever Western theology were out of balance in its emphases, what would it look like for people to advocate for a corrective?” The irony cannot be missed, because this is precisely what our article seeks to do. Sensing serious imbalances in Western theology and missiology, which has increasingly tended towards an emphasis on postmodern reader/hearer-oriented approaches to understanding the person and work of Christ, we as non-white non-Western outsiders have tried to offer a corrective, by calling people back to the Bible’s own structures and framework. In other words, while postmodern reader-oriented approaches encourage readers to use their own interpretive grid to understand the Scriptures, we want to call interpreters back to understanding the Bible on its own terms.

We would also like to raise some questions for Wu at this point. Despite Wu’s repeated assertions that he affirms penal substitution and the Bible’s legal metaphors, we find several instances in his writings where he seems to distance himself from penal substitution, by engaging in confusing revisionist exegesis of key texts,[42] reformulating biblical understandings of God’s enmity and wrath toward sinners,[43] and even saying that penal substitution logically leads to viewing Christ’s death in some sense as an “honor killing.”[44] Even when we try to read him in the most charitable light, these inconsistencies in Wu’s writings lead us to wonder what he truly believes about penal substitutionary atonement and its biblical foundations. His writings at times seem to undermine penal substitution at the very least, if not deny it. Perhaps we are misunderstanding him here, but it seems to us that in his efforts to offer a “corrective,” he has done so with an unintentional lack of clarity that does in fact introduce some “imbalance” into the equation.

A REFLECTION ON THE WESTERN MISSIOLOGICAL ENTERPRISE

We deeply appreciate the desires of white Western missiologists like Jackson Wu and Jayson Georges to ensure that the gospel is appropriately contextualized and that the thought categories of white Western culture do not drown out other voices. However, we want to suggest two points of caution.

First, we wonder if Western missiologists in their praiseworthy attempts to avoid “theological / cultural colonialism,”[45] have in fact introduced a new kind of “theological colonialism”: they have unintentionally exported a reader/hearer-oriented hermeneutic that seems to us distinctively “Western” and postmodern in its flavor. While professing to make the Bible more accessible to foreign cultures, Western missiology imposes upon the Bible a postmodern hermeneutic that is foreign both to Scripture itself and to the people that missionaries are trying so hard to reach.

Another distinctively Western idea that has been exported, in this case, under the rubric of honor / shame, is the reformulation of the doctrine of justification advocated by the so-called “New Perspective on Paul”—the claim that traditional Protestant understandings of justification as God’s legal declaration of sinners as righteous stem from a Western misreading and that what Paul really meant by justification was God’s declaration that one belongs in his community.[46] Again, from our perspective, it is the so-called “New Perspective” that is a revisionist understanding resulting from recent emphases in Western culture and is now being exported to global church.[47]

Second, we hope that while teaching how other cultures operate, Western missiologists do not inadvertently reject the voices of pastor-theologians from non-Western cultures (or, for that matter, of minority voices from within the West)[48] just because we don’t fit a preconceived mold for how our cultures ought to think. We do not claim that our article on honor/shame and the atonement is accurate just because we are brown-skinned and cumulatively share over 70 years of life experience in honor / shame cultures. We believe that our biblical arguments suffice to make our case. But we do not want our understanding to be questioned just because we don’t fit the cultural grid that white missiologists have used to understand our culture. In his book, Saving God’s Face, Wu says, “Humility demands that one listen to Christians outside one’s own culture. These Christians offer fresh theological perspective.”[49] This humility is what we are asking for from Wu himself and other western missiologists.

A SHORT WORD CONCERNING ETIQUETTE IN THEOLOGICAL DEBATE

We would like to conclude by offering what we hope is a gracious admonition on etiquette in theological debate. We acknowledge that our original article at times makes generalizations. However, we do not apologize for this, because our goal was not merely to interact with the academic ideas of a broad spectrum of honor-shame proponents but to also deal with the consequences of these ideas in the pew and on the mission field. We wrote our article as shepherds with pastoral concern for fellow pastors, church members, and missionaries. When faulty theological ideas are conceived, they give birth to flawed theories and flawed theories, when fully grown, bring forth defective methodologies; especially in the field of Christian missions.

Almost invariably, the brunt of dealing with the consequences of inadequate or imbalanced methodologies falls on the shoulders of busy local church pastors who have to teach and train confused church members and aspiring missionaries. The harvest is plenty and the laborers are few. We want laborers to understand that any methodology that encourages the use of culturally plausible categories is flawed, because the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14).

There is no aspect of the gospel that is “plausible” to its hearers. Our task is to make the gospel clear and to communicate it clearly—but it will always be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to people in every culture (see the conclusion of our original article). We must not be ashamed of the biblical gospel and must pray that the Spirit of God would create new categories and concepts in the minds of our hearers that they may embrace the gospel in its inscripturated biblical categories. Our article sought to model such an approach.

We understand that Wu and Georges may have felt misrepresented by some of the generalizations in our original article and we know this can feel frustrating. In this response, we have sought to show evidence for why we came to the conclusions we did. But we truly wonder whether the contents of our article warranted the kind of personal assault that Wu waged upon us.

Wu has taken the liberty to attack us with all sorts of inflammatory charges, and unfortunately, as we have sought to show in this response, his rhetoric often exceeds his substance. Lumping us in with other critics (whom he does not name), Wu claims that we cause readers to “become closed to the topic of honor and shame” and that we foster a culture of “fear over generosity and false dichotomies over true dialogue.”

Ironically, Wu commits the same grievous error of which he accuses us: he attributes to us a position and a posture that we do not hold; for our article explicitly encourages people to use the categories of honor and shame as the Bible defines them, and we try to model how to evangelize in an honor / shame context without losing the biblical emphasis on legal categories as well. Our intention is not to “foster fear or celebrate false dichotomies,” but to encourage readers to avoid the dichotomy of using only honor / shame categories to the exclusion of legal categories and penal substitutionary atonement in Eastern contexts.

Sadly, it is Wu who seems to “foster a culture of fear over generosity” when he all but accuses us of bearing false witness and lying, embedding his posts with provocative images like “fake news” and an image with several stickies, some of them labeled “lie” and others, “truth.” Is this not an example of fear-mongering, where not only our scholarship but also our integrity is questioned in the public sphere? We hope and pray that we have modeled in this response how to engage in fair theological debate, firmly presenting our arguments, but without publicly slandering (shaming?) the character of our interlocutors.


[1] In the Editor’s Note of Wu’s recent book, Jackson W., Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019), it is clear that “Jackson Wu” is a pseudonym the writer uses for reasons of security and respect for his host culture, not from a desire to mislead readers about his ethnicity.

[2] Since Wu’s dispute with us is primarily related to our claims concerning Georges, we focus mainly on Georges’ work here. For a thorough substantiation of our claim concerning Green and Baker, see Stephen J. Wellum, “Preaching Christ Crucified Today: Recovering the True Scandal of the Cross” in Ministry of Grace: Essays in Honor of John G. Reisinger, ed. Steve West (Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 2007): 107–144. See also Green and Baker, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2nd ed., 2011), 43–51.

[3] Jayson Georges, The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures (Time Press, 2014), 52 (emphasis ours).

[4] Jayson Georges, “Improving Anselm’s Atonement Theory” [online], available from: http://honorshame.com/improving-anselms-atonement-theory/

[5] Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker, Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016), 26. Georges cites and seems to follow Krister Stendahl’s famous 1963 article, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West” Harvard Theological Review (1963): 199–215. Stendahl argued that the guilt-based categories upon which the traditional Protestant doctrine of justification is based are actually alien to Paul, and were more a reflection of the introspective struggles of Western Christian thinkers (i.e., Augustine and Luther). For a cogent exegetical response to Stendahl’s thesis, see Stephen Westerholm, Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), 1–22.

[6] Georges and Baker, Minsitering in Honor-Shame Cultures, 26.

[7] Ibid., 27.

[8] Ibid., 27–28.

[9] Ibid., 294, endnote 26.

[10] Jayson Georges, “Jesus’ Death, for Muslims” [online]: http://honorshame.com/jesus-death-for-muslims/

[11] Green and Baker, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts (Downers Grove: IVP, 1st ed. 2000), 147.

[12] Georges, “Jesus’ Death, for Muslims” [online]: http://honorshame.com/jesus-death-for-muslims/

[13] Elsewhere, Georges has argued that using legal categories in an honor / shame context are “unhelpful”: http://honorshame.com/simple-evangelism-method/

[14] http://honorshame.com/jesus-death-for-muslims/

[15] Georges, 3D Gospel, 58.

[16] Ibid., 58–65.

[17] Georges, “Jesus Death, For Muslims” [online]: http://honorshame.com/jesus-death-for-muslims/

[18] Ibid., 60.

[19] Georges and Baker, Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, 22.

[20] Georges, 3D Gospel, 60.

[21] See, for instance, the complete absence of these categories in Jayson Georges, “Why Did Jesus Have to Die?” [online]:  http://honorshame.com/why-did-jesus-have-to-die/, and Mark Baker, “10 Ways the Cross Atones for Shame” [online]: http://honorshame.com/atonement-honor-shame-cultures/.

[22] We are not the first to point out these concerns: see also Jeremy Yong’s brilliant review of Georges’ 3D Gospel: https://www.9marks.org/review/book-review-the-3-d-gospel-ministry-in-guilt-shame-and-fear-cultures-by-jason-georges/

[23] Georges, 3D Gospel, 58.

[24] Ibid., 57–58.

[25] Georges and Baker, Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, 134.

[26] For a particularly egregious and confusing example of this methodology, see Georges, “The Gospel of ISIS” [online]: http://honorshame.com/the-gospel-of-isis/. Here Georges deems the “containers” (i.e., worldview categories) of ISIS as appropriate, and one simply has to fill these containers with the right “contents”. In contrast to Georges, we would argue that the Bible’s definitions of “honor” and “shame” are completely antithetical to that of ISIS, and that by reshaping the gospel message to fit ISIS’ perverse cultural framework, we end up with a sub-biblical “gospel.”

[27] The same issue has been identified by G. Wright Doyle in his incisive review of Wu’s published dissertation Saving God’s Face: “Wu turns an insight – we are influenced by our background – into a doctrine: we can’t read the Bible outside our cultural lenses . . . .Though he elsewhere says that anyone can discern the correct meaning of a biblical passage by careful reading (what the Reformers called the “perspicuity of Scripture”), the way he states his methodology assumes what Carl Henry called “hermeneutical nihilism.”” See Doyle’s full review here: https://www.globalchinacenter.org/analysis/2015/01/15/saving-gods-face-a-chinese-contextualization-of-salvation-through-honor-and-shame-part-ii

[28] Wu claims that we overlook the obvious point that biblical categories themselves are cultural categories. We agree. However, we draw a sharp line between the inscripturated categories of biblical revelation and categories that might exist in any given culture. For instance, considering the category of “sacrifice,” Christ’s sacrifice must not be interpreted in terms of “sacrifice” in Vedic Hinduism or any other sacrificial model, but in terms of the Levitical sacrificial system and the theme of sacrifice as it unfolds in the biblical canon. In the same way, we are arguing that “honor” and “shame” must be understood in their biblical framework, in which they are inextricably tied to righteousness and guilt. To appeal to a culture’s framework of honor and shame without reference to the judicial framework that Scripture provides is to elevate cultural categories over biblical ones.

[29] Wellum, “Preaching Christ Crucified Today,” 143. For a lucid example of the kind of theological method we are advocating, see J. I. Packer, “What Did the Cross Achieve?” [online]: https://www.9marks.org/article/what-did-the-cross-achieve-the-logic-of-penal-substitution/

[30] See Green and Baker, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, 209–17.

[31] Georges, 3D Gospel, 58.

[32] Georges, “Jesus Death, For Muslims” [online]: http://honorshame.com/jesus-death-for-muslims/

[33] See Jayson Georges’ Gospel of Salvation bookmark (http://honorshame.com/free-reference-bookmark/) or the presentation of the gospel given in the segment between 4:45–5:02 in the video on honorshame.com’s YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r89-QVkq8_8.

[34] Georges, 3D Gospel, 19.

[35] Georges and Baker, Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, 15–16.

[36] Ibid., 23.

[37] Georges, “Why Did Jesus Have to Die?” [online]: http://honorshame.com/why-did-jesus-have-to-die/

[38] As Stott says in his classic work, “Substitution is not a ‘theory of the atonement.’  Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others.  It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself.  None of the images could stand without it.” John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 202–3. For a defense of this notion, see Roger R. Nicole, “Postscript on Penal Substitution,” in The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Perspectives: Essays in Honor of Roger Nicole, ed. Charles E. Hill and Frank A. James (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004), 45–47; Stephen J. Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 157–248; and Thomas Schreiner, “The Penal Substitution View.” In The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views. Edited by James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006, pp. 67-98, see also pp. 50-53, 148-151, 192-195. See also, Wellum, “How Does Penal Substitution Relate to Other Atonement Theories?” [online]: https://www.9marks.org/article/how-does-penal-substitution-relate-to-other-atonement-theories/

[39] For example, the solution to correcting legalism is not antinomianism, but holding both grace and obedience in their right relation. We are indebted to Caleb Greggsen for this point.

[40] Georges, 3D Gospel, 58.

[41] Georges, “Jesus Death, For Muslims” [online]: http://honorshame.com/jesus-death-for-muslims/. To Wu’s credit, he acknowledges the priority of the Bible over culture by saying, “the ultimate question is never, ‘What does the culture want?’ Instead it is ‘What does the Bible say?’ Scripture has primacy.” (Wu, Saving God’s Face, 58). Our original article already noted that Wu is more balanced and cautious than others (like Georges, for instance). However, we do not find his commitment to Scripture’s primacy over culture sufficiently played out in his theological method.

[42]Jackson Wu, “Did God Shame Jesus? The “Curse” of Gal 3:13 in Light of Honor and Shame” [online]:

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jacksonwu/2018/11/07/did-god-shame-jesus-the-curse-of-gal-313-in-light-of-honor-and-shame/. In this article, Wu seems to endorse a revisionist reading of Galatians 3:13, claiming that Jesus did not actually bear the curse of the Law but instead experienced a “status loss.” In reference to penal substitution, Wu states that “even if traditional Protestant interpretations are correct,” this text is not needed to argue the case. His hypothetical stance here concerning the veracity of penal substitution does not sound like one who affirms the doctrine.

[43]Jackson Wu, “Identifying God’s Enemies and Ours” [online]: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jacksonwu/2017/09/20/identifying-gods-enemies/#disqus_thread. Wu claims here that enmity exists only from our side towards God and not from God’s side towards sinners and that God’s wrath is only a future reality, not a present reality for sinners. These are notions that have already been refuted at length by scholars of yesteryear like Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 214–50. Wu also overlooks key texts on God’s wrath like Romans 1:18. Furthermore, at the beginning of this article, Wu states what “those affirming penal substitution” say concerning God’s enmity towards sinners, and then spends the rest of the article seeking to debunk it. Again, it seems that Wu does not align himself with those who affirm penal substitution, but wants to argue against them.

[44] Jackson Wu, “Was Christ’s Death an Honor Death?” [online]: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/08/05/was-christs-death-an-honor-death-by-jackson-wu/. To Wu’s credit, in this article, he does urge people to see how the Bible reorients honor and shame in light of the cross, and helpfully argues that Christ’s death was an “honor death” rather than an “honor killing.” However, both in the article and in the comments, Wu presents a very skewed understanding of penal substitution and likens it to an “honor killing.” When questioned in the comments section of his blogpost by a reader who says that “honor killing” seems like a perfect way to talk about penal substitution because it illustrates penal substitution’s “ugliness,” Wu responds by affirming the questioner’s observation, and states: “logically speaking, someone holding to a tradition PSA position would have a difficult time saying that the cross couldn’t be considered *in some respect* an “honor killing.”” Wu does not take the opportunity to defend penal substitution here against the charge of “ugliness” but instead falsely caricatures it.

[45] Georges and Baker, Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, 294, endnote 26.

[46] The fact that both Georges and Wu are NPP sympathizers is quite clear from their writings. In addition to Georges’ appropriation of Stendahl’s 1963 thesis (see note 4 in this response), Georges assumes the NPP view of justification when he says that “justification is not simply being declared not guilty, but God’s declaration that we belong within his community” (Ministering in Honor and Shame Cultures, 140). Georges points readers to NPP thinkers James Dunn and Richard Hays in defense of this statement. This appropriation of the NPP plays a significant role in Georges’ formulation of honor / shame soteriology. Wu also attempts to reconcile traditional understandings of justification with an NPP approach by using honor and shame concepts. See Wu, Saving God’s Face, 224–91. In a sense, this entire debate on the atonement and honor/shame categories is similar to the NPP debate, but played out in the missiological arena. We do not deny that the NPP has offered some valid insights on the polemic against ethnocentrism in the Pauline writings and the Pauline emphasis on unity between Jew and Gentile. However, we reject the NPP’s conflation of soteriological and ecclesiological categories and the merging of justification (the individual’s legal standing before God) with the implications of justification (the individual’s incorporation into the covenant community). For a brief and cogent response to the NPP see Westerholm, Justification Reconsidered.

[47] See Michael Kruger’s excellent post that examines the cultural roots from which the “New Perspective on Paul” (NPP) emerged: Michael Kruger, “Is the New Perspective on Paul a Product of Our Current Cultural Moment?” [online]: https://www.michaeljkruger.com/is-the-new-perspective-on-paul-a-product-of-our-current-cultural-moment/. Wu, of course, takes issue with Kruger’s thesis (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jacksonwu/2019/05/29/problem-old-half-truths-new-perspective/), again accusing him of “half-truths,” but from our perspective Kruger hits the nail on the head here.

[48] See Jeremy Yong’s reflections on the biblical concept of grace as an Asian-American: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-grace-is-hard-for-me-as-asian-american/ and Jackson Wu’s characterization of Yong’s understanding as a Western “half-truth”: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jacksonwu/2016/12/28/9243/. Once again, in our estimation, Yong is using biblical categories to offer a corrective to his own culture’s flawed understanding, and Wu, being a Western missiologist, accuses Yong, an Asian-American pastor, of holding “a faulty view of grace that stems from Western Christianity, not the Bible.” It seems to us that Yong’s reflections are deemed invalid partly because he does not fit Wu’s grid for what Asians ought to think.

[49] Wu, Saving God’s Face, 28.

By:
Anand Samuel

Anand Samuel grew up in Saudi Arabia and India. He is the senior pastor of Grace Evangelical Church of Sharjah. He completed an MA in Biblical and Theological Studies from Knox Theological Seminary.

Aubrey Sequeira

Aubrey Sequeira grew up in South India. He serves as associate pastor at the Evangelical Community Church of Abu Dhabi and teaches theology at the Gulf Training Center, Dubai. You can follow him on Twitter at @AubreySequeira.