Tag Archive: Family

Human Identity in Shame-Based Cultures of the Far East

In chapter four Tennent explores how anthropologic views vary among cultures.  For example, he classifies the Far East as a shame based culture in which the people rely on external sanctions for good behavior.  Humiliation, defeat, and ridicule await those who stray out of bounds.  In contrast, Tennent paints the West as a guilt-based culture where the conviction of sin is personal and internalized.  For Westerners, there is an internal sense of moral failure even if no one else knows about our transgressions.  These presuppositions lead Tennent to ask:  How do guilt and shame work in the formation of human identity? How do guilt and shame inform our understanding of sin and the application of the work of Christ?  How is the Atonement interpreted in shame-based cultures?

Tennent begins by pointing out that Jesus’ passion was a form of public shaming (carrying cross in public, scourge, nakedness).  Yet, in the cross Jesus bore the shame of our sins as well as our guilt.  Thus, our view of atonement must transcend the shame/honor implications.  The “work” of the atonement is greater than its power to declare us “not guilty.”  We can never exhaust the implications of the cross.  In Jesus everything is changed.  We, who were once identified by guilt and shame, now have a new identity in Christ and have become partakers of his righteousness and his honor (101).

Tennent also takes time to explain how the Far Eastern emphasis on shame/honor may inform our understanding of the atonement.  First, he notes that the Eastern shame model highlights the public nature of the atonement.  We publically shame God, yet Christ publicly honored God in his obedience unto death.  Even more, the Eastern shame emphasis informs our understanding of the social and relational aspect of atonement.  We are collectively embedded as members of a race who together stand ashamed before God because we have corporately robbed God of God’s honor (96).  The legacy of sin is far more than the objective guilt we incur because of the transgressions.  We dishonor a social and relational Triune God.

One of the most interesting insights Tennent offers relates to the group-orientation of shame-based cultures.  He argues that since shame-based cultures are group-oriented, conversion takes on a different approach.  How do we involve the whole group (family, social network, etc.) in the conversion story when conversion to Christianity may be perceived to bring shame on the entire family?  Do we attempt to convert someone if it imperils his or her life among family?  Immediately Jesus’ words in Mt. 10.35-37 and Lk. 9.59-62 come to mind.  However, we also have scriptural witness to the conversion of households (Acts 11.14, 16.15, 34, 18.18).

This “group think” mentality may be difficult for Western Christians, particularly American Christians, to grasp.  In America, individuals are their own powerbrokers and decision-makers.  The power of choice often resides with the individual, not with the extended family.  As in other parts of Tennent’s work, this view of anthropology brings to light questions that will surely arise in parishes and evangelistic endeavors.

This is the fourth review in an eleven-part series looking at Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the context of World Christianity.


“A New Family in Christ”

It is quite difficult to grasp this lectionary pericope without first reading Jesus’ words in vv. 17-39.  In fact, Jesus’ words in vv. 17-39 lay the foundation for vv. 40-42.  In the larger context, Jesus is preparing his disciples for persecution during their mission.  Interestingly, Matthew gives us no clear account of the disciples actual mission.  Where did they go?  How long did they stay?  What were their experiences?  We are left without a historical report or description of the disciple’s mission.  Therefore, as contemporary readers we can be confident that Jesus’ words of instruction were intended not only for the Twelve, but for other hearers and readers at a later time, including ourselves.

Despite the lack of details about the actual mission, we can paint a picture of the mission based on vv. 40-42.  That is, the mission had/will have both success and failure.  In v. 40 Jesus speaks of those who “receive” the disciples and Himself.  Since Jesus describes those who “receive,” we can infer that there will be those who do not receive.  In fact, we learn earlier in Jesus’ speech that those who do not “receive the disciples and Christ,” will include: governments (v. 18-19), other religious people (v. 17), and family (v. 21).  The quarrels, rejections, and fights among family members over the issue of Christ seem quite severe.   Jesus claims that there will be hate, rebellion, and death on account of Him.  Jesus recognizes that families will be split and relationships severed because of Him.  Yes, the “mission” contained, and will contain, both success and failure.

However, this “family” idea serves as the hinge of  vv. 17-39 and vv. 40-42.  While the first section of Jesus’ speech portrays the destruction of family, vv. 40-42 appear as Christ’s creation of a new family.  This new family which Christ describes is a family of those who “receive” Him.

This new family includes (v. 40): 1) “He who welcomes”; 2) disciples; 3) Christ, and God (“the one who sent me”).  With the conjoining of these four entities Christ creates a new family.  This new family of those who give and those who receive are bound by the ultimate Creator and Sustainer, “the one who sent.”  In fact, God is the one who serves and works as the source of this new creation (v. 31).  However, this new family does not replace the old family.  Rather, the new family finds its identity in its reception of God and shared desire for Christ’s mission to the poor, defenseless, hungry, and thirsty (v. 42).

Christ desires for all who receive Him to join this new family.  Christ urges for the disciples and later readers of the gospel to give and receive the Good News, and share in His newly created missional family.  For in this fellowship of the new family does one find, and not lose, the reward.

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