The Gospel Story-arc vs. Honor-Shame Messaging

There's been a lot of talk in recent years about messaging the gospel in terms of honor and shame. I'm prompted to write about this today, because of a video I saw last Thursday, entitled "Back to God's Village."

"Back to God's Village" uses a video drawing technique called  whiteboard illustration to tell a story of God, who is "like the great Uncle we all wish for." God made Adam and Eve, but then threw them out of his "honorable village," because they became "disgraceful," the first couple having yielded to Satan, who had appeared to them and said, "Get more glory, eat the fruit, and be equal to God." In the end, God became human and "entered the shameful village," the village that all descendants of Adam and Eve live in. This was Jesus, who was "amazing," and who "loved and accepted everyone regardless of their shame." But people were threatened by the teaching that "following Jesus, not the cultural rules, makes people acceptable and worthy." So they "arrested" and "mocked" Jesus. They "whipped" him and "spat upon" him. And "nailed" him to a cross: "he was covered in shame publicly." But the shame Jesus bore was not his own; he "bore our shame." Then he rose "from death to glory" and "defeated that shame." He crossed back to God's village and "got a great name" and "place of honor." He "built a new bridge from death to life, from earth to heaven, from shame to honor." Finally "people could get what they always wanted, true and eternal honor from God." Indeed, some "trusted that Jesus took their shame and followed him; to them God gave a new robe, hat, and inheritance documents." Back in God's village, "they lived honorably ever after." 

It should be obvious to all that this account of the gospel is a mix of both fact and fiction. For example, take comparing God to "the great Uncle we all wish for." Perhaps it is possible to construe a warrant to make this comparison, but it is not part of the story. It is totally a human invention, a clever metaphor, chosen to bridge a chasm of miscommunication extending from a supposed lack of shared referential identity (see "Shared Referential Identity, August 20).

The gospel story begins by referring to God as the Creator, representing him as a transcendent, all-powerful, and Sovereign King, not as "the great Uncle that we all wish for." Of course, if there's a culture that does not have a concept of "King," but only of "a great Uncle that we all wish for," then by all means start with the great Uncle. But don't stop there. Build toward shared referential identity in relation to "Creator" and "King." And do not change the story.

The people behind "Back to God's Village" authorize themselves to change the Bible story for one or a mix of several reasons. It's possible they do not believe in the power of the actual story told in the Bible. Or perhaps they believe that the actual story told in the Bible is unattractive or even incomprehensible in the culture they are targeting. Perhaps they believe that their rendition is the actual story that the Bible tells, that other ways of telling the story (such as the Gospel Story-arc) neglect a necessary emphasis on the phenomena of honor and shame.

Having read elsewhere on the theology of honor-shame messaging, I'm guessing that their justification for changing the story is not the first reason, but one or both of the latter two. Nevertheless, this doesn't make changing the story any less dangerous.

When someone changes the Bible story, even a little, they trigger a story-telling mechanism that pushes them into making even more changes for the sake of coherence. Thus, if God is the great Uncle we all wish for, with a village, and a yurt, and a robe, and a hat, then salvation means returning to his village and yurt, and to getting a new robe, and hat, and inheritance documents—of course, why not. 

The only problem is, none of these things are part of the actual story. They get written in to make the new version coherent.

And if the significance to Jesus on the cross is not that he died in our place, but only that he "bore our shame," then, of course, he rose to "defeat the shame," not to defeat death itself.  

And if you're trying to score points about cultural bias, then "following Jesus, not the cultural rules" makes perfect sense as the gospel's call to action, rather than "If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved," the call to action rising from the actual story.

I could go on to write about putting words in Satan's mouth ("Get more glory...), about Jesus "crossing back to God's village," about Jesus "building a bridge," about people being able to get "what they aways wanted, true and eternal honor from God," or about "living honorably ever after."

The point is, even agendas born out of a desire to communicate more effectively, or that focus on legitimate (though neglected) matters of theology, such as honor and shame, can steal glory from the Bible story of who Jesus is, and what he has done, in light of who we are, and the absolute necessity of faith in him.

For these and so many other reasons besides, no one is authorized to change the story. 

 

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Randal Gilmore