I feel like the spirit is doing some stirring in me as of late, although I’m not entirely sure where it’s leading me yet. It’s a topic I’ve come back to at numerous intersections in my life, that of justice and the closely related idea of forgiveness. I have long wrestled with and been deeply bothered by how we in the West view justice and the closely related idea of forgivness, a word I find to be largely absent in our rhetoric and language.
Along with finding myself in conversations about these matters a few times in the last few weeks I’ve come across it a few times in stuff I’ve been reading/listening to/watching. In the book An Asian Introduction to the New Testament for example, the author speaks of cultures being broken down into three basic types- power-fear, honor-shame, and innocence-guilt worldviews. Each of these relate to justice in a slightly different way. The book, penned by a number of different authors, argues that the world which birthed Chirstianity was an honor-shame society and that much of scipture, when read from an Asian perspective, comes alive as a commentary on such a society, both celebrating its virtues and critiquing its shortcomings.
The West, by contrast is an innocence-guilt society, which informs its approach to justice in much different ways than honor-shame societies. This leads to different ways of reading scripture. An Asian Introduction to the NT argues that such a society has lost the language of honor-shame socities and thus misses the ways this is present in scripture often by turning honor-shame into negative ideas (which of course relates to negative views of Asian culture).
Which makes these subsequent voices interesting as they got added into the mix. I was listening to an episode with Rabbi Sacks (called The Power of Shame), and he was essentially arguing that the Jewish worldview was by its nature an innocence-guilt culture, seeing in that a critique of the honor-shame societies that surrounded Israel. In seeing it this way he adopts a very western and very modernist take on these social norms, seeing the Judeo worldview as the foundation of modern ideals. In contrast, I was listening to an interview with Gregg Elshof about his book For Shame: Redisovering the Virtues of a Maligned Emotion, and he argues that guilt-innocence cultures arise from miscaricaturizing honor and shame as vices rather than virtues. He makes the case that shame is a lost art (as is honor), something that our western views of justice would do well to adopt and reconsider.
Furher, I was listening to an episode of the Bema Podcast on John 8 where they make the case for Jesus’ ministry as being a series of clashes of “honor” in which Jesus continually uses the question of his honor to confront their ideas of justice (or righteousness) by transforming shame from a vice to a virtue. This has implications in John 8 for the woman accused of adultery of course, but plays throughout the Gospels.
In response to all of this I’m settled in now for a deep dive into the book of Romans, a central text for fleshing out Paul’s view of justice (and the shared term righteousnes) as he navigates the question of how it is the Gospel makes sense in the Gentile world. Starting with this new book from Michael Goreman, someone I have grown a deep respect for over the last year or so after recently discovering him (he’s very much my people, kind of like N.T. Wright for my Weslyan roots), along with a couple other books and podcasts (A Rereading of Romans by Stanley Stowers, Reading Romans Backwards by Scot Mcknight, and When in Romans: An Invitation to Linger with the Gospel According to Paul by Beverly Gaventa). I have also started a podcast where the host recently walked throug the book of Romans as part of this current season (Faith Improvised).
Hoping that some good comes from it.