The Gospel in Non-Western Cultures

Croatian culture is a fascinating blend of western and non-western facets, or scripts.  In many ways, it is very Mediterranean (and thus closer to the cultures that the Bible was written in).  One particular cultural script heavily impacts Christianity here, and the presentation of the gospel.  That script is honor and shame.

I noticed shortly after my arrival in the fall of 2016 that people’s testimonies seldom mentioned feelings of deep personal guilt.  I wondered if honor & shame were not more foundational in Croatia than in America (where innocence and guilt are primary drivers.)  This hypothesis that has been confirmed in a thousand small ways.

(Of course, it is dangerous for American churches to assume that American culture is monolithically “Western.”  We lived for a decade in Appalachia, which in many ways is as much an honor & shame culture as Croatia is.)

The difference between guilt/innocence and honor/shame is important, becausethe church here (under Western influence) seems to me to be answering a different question than Croatian spiritual searchers are asking.

  • The way we learn to present the gospel in America focuses on the gospel as a means of alleviating personal guilt. What if that is not their focus?
  • Our primary ways of understanding the atonement center on Jesus’ death as the answer to the problem of our personal guilt.  What if that is not their focus?

Anyway, that’s a long prelude to the following blog post, from Honor and Shame.  Let this help us re-evaluate the way we think about the atonement, the way we present the gospel, and the way we try to get into the minds of the unchurched, wherever we are.

Western theologians and missionaries often assume that “guilt-based” morality is ethically superior. This, I believe, is a dangerous assumption.

A guilt-based approach to ethics has several shortcomings that limit its moral effectiveness, particularly … (read more)

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