Because we Evangelicals are so stepped in a guilt/innocence paradigm it is hard for many to accept addressing honor/shame as an authentic part of the gospel. It is not difficult for us to see honor/shame as an important cultural framework, but if that is all it is, then we view it as supplementary to the gospel rather than a fundamental part of redemption.
This is unfortunately where much of the literature on honor/shame leave the reader. I’m sure this is not intentional, nevertheless, the honor/shame paradigm often comes across as a descriptor of culture rather than an intrinsic part of the gospel.
This is where Roland Muller’s book “The Messenger, the Message & the Community” stands out. The book’s first edition came out almost 10 years ago (2006), which was before honor/shame became a major missiological topic, therefore I fear many people have missed this important volume. Although there is much to like in Muller’s work, in particular I was fascinated by the strong, coherent argument he makes that shame is a fundamental part of sin, therefore the restoration of honor is an essential part of of in Christ.
It seems to me the core of our Evangelical misunderstanding about honor/shame is that we think of guilt as man’s objective state before God, but shame as only a subjective feeling before man. So I found it particularly helpful that Muller grounds his argument in the garden of Eden:
“… unfortunately many Christians and some Christian theology stop at guilt, or rather, get so wrapped up with ‘guilt-based theology’ that they fail to notice the other results of sin… When Adam and Eve realized they had sinned, they immediately hid themselves (v. 8). Adam and Eve were ashamed. Shame had come upon Adam and Eve, but their shame was not for them alone. Shame, like guilt, passed upon all of mankind from that point on. As a result, man is not only guilty from this point on, but man is also in a position of shame before God” (pp 141-142).
Since what happened in the garden forms a backdrop to the narrative of sin that is almost universally accepted, grounding shame there establishes it alongside guilt as a fundamental part of sin’s impact on the human race. Just like guilt, shame haunted man even when he stood before an audience of One, thus it is an objective part of his standing before God.
For this reason and others, Muller’s book is must reading for those trying to fully integrate the honor/shame paradigm into their missiology.