Most people assume the gospel. That is, we receive the good news through a cultural framework that makes sense to us and which we generally adapt and become comfortable. In The Global Gospel, Werner Mischke wants to shake up Western gospel assumptions. He does this by asking a basic question: “What does honor and shame have to do with the gospel?” If Mischke is correct, the answer is “everything.”
Mischke begins his work with a personal story, one likely recognizable to many in the Western world. A deeply embedded shameful experience sets in motion a life lived with deep feelings of inadequacy and enduring shame due to being different. Starting from this place, he notes that, despite his deeply Christian upbringing, much was said about how the gospel deals with our sin and guilt but next to nothing about what Jesus means for our sin and shame. What do we make of this lack? To find answers, Mischke mines biblical texts and contemporary missiological discussions.
The book divides into four sections, with significant appendices at the back. In Section 1, Mischke addresses the rapid globalization of our world and the incredible multicultural complexities this brings to most countries, including the United States. The recent increase in cultural diversity raises important questions about how our own version of the gospel, framed as it has been for several centuries in Western cultural terms, may fail to address important features of these culturally diverse populations now living on our doorsteps. In this section, Mischke draws the reader’s attention to how the Bible “is not your book.” That is, Scripture comes to most of us from a very foreign cultural frame of reference. Many of these cultural differences, however, get lost on Western Christians, who have developed a cultural “blind spot,” particularly in the area of honor and shame. To some degree, this is to be excepted, Mischke asserts, since finite human understanding never fully exhausts an infinite God.
In Section 2, Mischke draws on recent biblical and missiological scholarship that makes use of social scientific tools and perspectives. In it, he provides a helpful summary of important cultural nuances of honor and shame in the Bible. Such includes insightful discussions about how honor and shame relate to ideas of limited good, the concept of face, body language, patronage, name/kindred/blood, and purity. Mischke helpfully discusses different sources of honor. He ends with a powerful section on honor status reversal occupies a major place in God’s story (i.e., from honor→shame and shame→honor). Mischke uses the Pauline paradigm of Jesus’s honor→shame→honor from Philippians 2:5–11. He notes how variations of this story fill the pages of the Bible. He ends the section reminding readers that this is in fact the paradigm for all believers, namely, God in Christ reverses the human status of shame into an enduring honor status.
In my opinion, Section 3 is Mischke’s single greatest contribution in The Global Gospel. He asserts that it is possible to frame the good news of God in Jesus as a fulfillment of humanity’s longing for honor and desire to escape shame. This is a significant corrective to the Western framework assumed by many contemporary Christians (both Western and non-Western). Ultimately, Mischke attempts to contextualize the gospel (a long-standing missiological project!) using honor and shame. This, as Mischke makes clear, is not simply an issue for cultures “out there,” i.e., non-Western cultures. Honor and shame are issues that operate powerfully in all cultures. Thus, though focused specifically on our “multicultural world,” this re-contextualization is beneficial for all cultures.
One particular strength of the book is Mischke’s frequent examples, which relate his key points to biblical characters or events and to contemporary believers. Though scholarly, The Global Gospel concretizes major points, making scholarly concepts accessible to any reader. Another outstanding feature of the book is the large number of charts and illustrations. Throughout the entire work, Mischke creates visuals that illustrate and drive home his points. In particular, Appendix 2 is especially helpful. It describes varying levels of honor and shame awareness. Mischke uses this chart multiple times in the book as a concrete typological tool to measure the honor-shame awareness of an individual or community. Though not absolute or mathematically precise, it represents the single best attempt I know to frame honor-shame awareness in a concrete fashion.
Mischke’s The Global Gospel is informed and poignant. Throughout this delightful volume, Mischke’s writing is clear and arguments forceful. I have only one small critique. The book needs greater engagement with theological voices alongside his well-researched section on biblical materials. Despite this minor shortcoming, The Global Gospel should be required reading for all who serve in non-Western cultures. It will also profit those who desire to rethink the gospel’s reception in Western culture. This book will surely prove to be a foundational text against which subsequent books on honor, shame, and the gospel will all be judged.