Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review - "The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures"

In his book The 3D Gospel (Lexington, KY: 3D Gospel, 2014), Jayson Georges points out that three major culture-types exist in the world today: guilt-innocence cultures, shame-honor cultures, and fear-power cultures. Since the West is by-and-large a guilt-innocence culture, the gospel has historically been expressed in terms that make sense in that culture, namely, the legal forgiveness of sins. However, most majority world cultures are either shame-honor or fear-power cultures, and therefore we must understand and express the gospel in terms that relate to and meet the needs of such cultures. This does not mean that we should forsake or minimize the gospel of the forgiveness of sins but rather that we must come to see a fuller picture of what God has accomplished in Christ—we need a 3D gospel of forgiveness, honor, and power. “For cross-cultural workers, a truncated gospel hinders spirituality, theology, relationships, and ministry. We unintentionally put God in a box, only allowing him to save in one arena [i.e., the forgiveness of sins]” (13). However, the Bible presents us with “a theology and missiology for all three types of cultures” which allows the “contemporary church [to] present the 3D gospel in various cultural contexts” (14). In this hope, The 3D Gospel explores the issues of culture, theology, and missiology from the perspective of each major culture-type. 

With regard to culture (chapter two), Georges highlights the fact that every culture is in fact a mixture of guilt, shame, and fear. Thus, it is more accurate to say that a given culture is more or less oriented toward one disposition or another. “Roland Muller says the three [cultural] dynamics are like the three basic colors from which artists create thousands of colors. How much of each color is used determines the final type of culture that emerges” (16). With this in mind, Georges briefly describes the basic features of each culture-type and then uses the example of how one obtains driving directions to demonstrate the variant lifestyles produced by each. He concludes, “The three methods of securing directions illustrate how people must be: innocent before institutions by obeying the rules and laws, lest they be reckoned guilty, honorable in the community by respecting the group’s expectations and playing the appropriate roles, lest they be shamed, or powerful in the spiritual realm by observing the proper rituals and techniques, lest they be powerless and vulnerable” (29). The chapter concludes with a helpful two-page chart that compares the three culture types with regard to twenty-seven variables such as how job skills are acquired, how the elderly are viewed, and when wedding ceremonies begin. He further highlights the fact that the gospel has made great inroads in guilt and fear cultures but not in shame cultures, and wonders if this is due in part to the scarcity of theology designed to speak into such cultures. 

As for theology (chapter three), the gospel is one narrative through which God has provided innocence, honor, and power to all who believe in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Building on this foundational principle, Georges summarizes the gospel narrative in light of each culture and provides several biblical texts to support how he does so for shame and fear cultures. He does not provide textual support for the gospel expression in guilt cultures ostensibly because this manner of articulation is well-established and almost universally assumed. He concludes the chapter with another helpful two-page chart of how various theological categories might be conceived in light of each major culture-type. Like every summary, it is partial and inadequate but it is still a helpful starting point for conversation and deserves further development. 

Finally, regarding missiology (chapter four), our task as Christians is not merely to understand and admire the gospel but to spread it near and far. However, even when Christians learn to express the gospel in ways that relate to various culture-types, we tend to default to our traditional ways of sharing it. Hence, Georges offers two methods of evangelism and three contextual approaches by which we can share the good news of Jesus Christ in variant cultures. As for methods, Georges builds on Bill Bright’s “Four Spiritual Laws” and shows how this same approach might be expressed in different terms according to culture-type. For example, in shame-honor cultures, the four points might be expressed as follows: God values you and wants to honor you as his child; people are shameful and dishonor God; Jesus Christ bore all your shame and restores your honor; and you must give allegiance to Jesus to enter God’s family. This manner of stating the gospel begs for further thought and development, but Georges has provided his readers with a helpful starting point for the same. Another method we might use in each culture type is simply telling the story of salvation. Georges therefore provides his readers with three vocabulary lists that one might utilize in sharing the gospel in variant cultures, and he challenges his readers to practice doing so in private and then presumably in public. Given these two methods, Georges closes the chapter by presenting three approaches to sharing the gospel, namely, a truth encounter (guilt cultures), a power encounter (fear cultures), and a community encounter (shame cultures). 

Developing a 3D gospel of innocence, honor, and power both aids us in sharing the gospel in the midst of various culture-types and ministers to our own souls as we see a fuller picture of what God has accomplished for us in Christ. A “one-dimensional gospel threatens the veracity and integrity of the Bible,” but as “we grasp all dimensions of the gospel, we can more effectively know God and make him known” (74). 

The 3D Gospel is a brief and partial work but it is nonetheless a helpful starting point for deep reflection, conversation, theological development, and missiological application. Its cultural insights are keen, eye-opening, and practical, and its missiological suggestions are innovative and applicable for novices and veterans alike. 

Although Georges is theologically insightful and careful, he borders on suggesting that the gospel of the forgiveness of sins is but one way of expressing the gospel among other equally valid ways. He asserts that the central contextual metaphor for Western theology of the atonement is the courtroom, and I agree that this is not the most helpful, or even biblical, metaphor. Biblically speaking, the tabernacle-temple-heavenly holy of holies is the proper venue from which we should envision sin, its consequences, and its solution. However, from this vantage point we still see that personal and corporate sin is the central problem of humanity. It is sin that has brought shame upon our heads and dishonor upon the name of God. It is sin that has subjected us to the powers of darkness and the inescapable grip of the flesh. Thus, in order to restore honor before God and receive power over the spiritual powers of darkness, we must receive the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness paves the way to righteousness in Christ (guilt-innocence), communion with God in Christ (shame-honor), and dominion in Christ (fear-power). Thus, while it may be true that the gospel is one narrative of how God provided forgiveness, honor, and power through the atonement of Jesus Christ, the order of this tripartite expression is of utmost importance. Again, Georges is theologically insightful and careful, and he may well agree with what I have written. Whatever the case may be, this is the one portion of his work that needs most development. 

I heartily recommend The 3D Gospel, especially for those who are dedicated to local evangelism, global missions, and outreach-oriented intercession. The book can also serve as a helpful discussion-starter for agency staff, church staff, ministry teams, and even small groups. May the Lord use this book to equip us with insight, passion, and power to proclaim the fullness of his gospel to all the peoples of the world.

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