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Saving God's Face: A Chinese Contextualization of Salvation through Honor and Shame (EMS Dissertation Series) Paperback – April 22, 2013
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Wu's work pulls together several fields that go naturally together--exegetical and theological insights drawing upon the "New Perspective on Paul" integrated with theological discussions of contextualization. . . . While this integrative work is a natural and obvious extension of several scholarly conversations in diverse fields, few have the missiological expertise and exegetical skill to pull it off. The publication of Wu's work will be a significant contribution to the study of Paul and to scholarly discussions of contextualization.
Timothy Gombis, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary
Saving God's Face gives us an excellent example of contextualization done well. Wu brings an exceptional understanding of honor and shame into a helpful dialogue with the doctrine of atonement in a way that brings out aspects of the doctrine that have been there in Scripture all along but have gone unnoticed or underemphasized by Western theologians. All should be challenged to rethink how they understand and proclaim the atonement. This is an important book, well worth the effort necessary to grapple with its argument.
John S. Hammett, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Saving God's Face is a sophisticated and thoughtful monograph written at the intersection of Chinese culture, contextualization theory, and debates about the New Perspective on Paul. Wu shows how honor-shame concepts in Chinese culture help us understand "glory" and "honor" images in the Bible. By reading the Bible with Chinese eyes, one can understand these images in ways that are underemphasized in traditional western theologies. Even if you find yourself in disagreement with Wu, you won't regret the journey upon which he takes you.
Bruce Ashford, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
"Wu has a very high view of the Bible--high enough to see that the Bible is so rich in meaning and supra-cultural in message that it can be interpreted by any society, and they will find God's truth speaking to them."
"Jackson Wu's study reflects this theologically-centered conception of missiology; thus, it is a serious work of applied theology."
Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
About the Author
Jackson Wu has a Ph.D in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, having earned an M.Div (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), M.A. (Philosophy, Texas A&M), and a B.S. (Applied Mathematics, Texas A&M). He has worked as a church planter and now teaches theology and missiology for Chinese pastors. In addition to his published journal articles, he maintains a blog at jacksonwu.org.
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First, the criticism:
"Saving God's Face" is a PhD dissertation. That's probably the main reason why I think this book is a difficult read. I think professors who are mentoring their PhD students make a bigger deal about the number of footnotes than, for example, readability (nothing personal and nothing anecdotal, please!). The book is laid out as a PhD "paper", and because of this, it reduces the level the readability. For example, there are very few subheads, and there is only one font used (Times Roman, I think)--and only one weight of that font. Moreover, because the book is in an 8.5x11-inch format, it is big and bulky. Saving God's Face would benefit immensely from the work of a professional editor and book designer. (And, readability might be a little better in Kindle format.)
Another reason that this book is, for me anyway, pretty hard to read, is that the author is probably a lot smarter than me and has much more formal education. Saving God's Face is MUCH tougher to read than anything by John Piper and moderately harder to read than the two books I've read by N.T. Wright. In the arena of writers who deal with the cultural value of honor and shame in the Bible--such as David deSilva or Jerome Neyrey--again, this book is harder to read.
Now the praise:
I deeply, earnestly appreciate this book. Jackson Wu's PhD thesis is incredibly valuable for students of Scripture and Christians engaged in cross-cultural ministry. Here's my short list of reasons for why I believe this book deserves wide readership.
1) THIS BOOK IS IMPORTANT FOR ANYONE ENGAGED IN CROSS-CULTURAL MINISTRY. Every Christian cross-cultural worker needs to become acquainted with the dynamics of honor and shame in the Bible. It is a part of sound hermeneutics--to come as close as possible to how the original authors would have understood their message and the original hearers would have understood that message. This book helps unpack the honor/shame dynamics of Scripture. Plus, since the Majority World is dominated by peoples for whom honor and shame is a pivotal cultural value, it is VITAL that persons engaged in cross-cultural ministry learn how to share the message of the gospel in ways that incorporate the value of honor and shame. Understanding the core ideas contained in Saving God's Face will help immensely. (I hasten to add that, because North American cities are rapidly becoming more and more culturally diverse, every pastor also needs to know this stuff in order to stay relevant--and to preach with relevance--to his community.)
2) THIS BOOK HAS FRESH, GROUNDBREAKING PRINCIPLES ABOUT PROPER CONTEXTUALIZATION OF THE GOSPEL. Jackson Wu introduces a phrase that I love: "assuming the gospel". What does this refer to? It is the practice of virtually all Christians who, for the sake of simplification--and, yes, ethnocentric bias--unwittingly truncate the gospel. Wu speaks of the dialog between theology and culture in a way that the Word of God retains it's authority over all cultures. But at the same time, he explains why every presentation of the gospel is also influenced by the messenger's culture, therefore no presentation of the gospel is culturally neutral.
To aid his presentation about contextualization, Wu offers a helpful word picture--the "seed of the gospel"; every seed has two parts--the husk and the kernel. A traditional view of contextualization says that the kernel of the gospel doesn't change, it is the husk which is contextualized. However, Jackson Wu explains that it is not only the husk, but also the kernel of the gospel that must be contextualized. Wu demonstrates, for example, that most evangelical presentations of the gospel unwittingly rely on Western assumptions and values. Some of these assumptions are a) individualism over the family, b) legal is more important than regal (by this is meant that the legal aspects of the gospel dominate over the kingdom/honor-and-shame aspects of the gospel) , and c) propositional truth trumps narrative truth. For North American Christians to become aware of these ideas, in a way which thoroughly honors the Word of God through expert exegesis, is simply invaluable.
As evangelicals we often wonder why there is so much resistance to the gospel around the world. Wu's unpacking of the process of contextualization helps explain that there are some hidden biases in the "Western gospel" which limit our ability to connect heart-to-heart with Majority World peoples.
3) THIS BOOK TIES TOGETHER REFORMED THEOLOGY (PASSION FOR THE GLORY OF GOD)--WITH THE VALUE OF SOCIAL SCIENCES IN HERMENEUTICS. Many Christians are wary of the value of the social sciences in understanding Scripture. Some who have made great contributions to understanding the social and cultural dimensions of Scripture are deemed unworthy of our study because they may not hold to identical doctrinal positions. I am thinking, for example of the Jesuit scholar Jerome Neyrey and his book Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. However, if "the author encoded historical meaning of these texts remains the central objective of hermeneutics" as stated by Klein and Blomberg in their Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Revised Edition, and if the ESV Study Bible says "Wise interpreters still locate every verse in its context and ask how the original audience understood it"-- then we are foolish to ignore the careful study of cultural values of the historical periods in which the Old and New Testaments were written, especially the study of the pivotal cultural value of honor and shame. Jackson Wu does a great job of connecting the centrality of God's passion for his glory--to the underlying dynamics of honor and shame; he does this particularly in his exegesis of key passages in Romans and Galatians.
I am giving the book 4 stars only because of the readability issues mentioned in my opening comments. But the content in this book is golden. I believe Jackson Wu has made a strong contribution to the kingdom of God. This book helps us examine our hermeneutics, our contextualization process, and our cross-cultural communication methods and tools--in the light of God's purpose to bless all the peoples of the earth through the life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ.
I cheerfully and urgently endorse Jackson Wu's--Saving God's Face: A Chinese Contextualization of Salvation through Honor and Shame.
Unlike many evangelicals, however, Wu believes that sola Scriptura does not mean that we are able to interpret the Bible in a way that is wholly isolated from our own culture. He suggests, in fact, that in the West, the Bible has been interpreted to emphasize certain features of western culture, especially that of law and the judicial system, resulting in a soteriology that emphasizes guilt and innocence.
These are certainly aspects of the biblical teaching, but they are not the only ones. The ideas of honor and shame, which especially characterize Chinese culture (as well as many other cultures around the world), are also very important in the Bible as well, though the biblical terminology is more typically glory (particularly God's glory) and shame.
Wu suggests that in interpreting Scripture, we should not first try to derive the Bible's teachings in isolation from a particular culture, and then try to translate these into that culture's concepts. Rather, we should interpret the Bible (so to speak) in dialogue with the culture, seeking to see what topics and emphases that a person from that culture would especially notice in studying the Bible, i.e., what topics and emphases of the Bible resonate with that culture.
This approach is attractive to me for at least two reasons. First, as one who has had extensive training in science, it has seemed to me for many years that the way to understand what God has done in creation is not to study the Bible alone, and then try to force the data of nature to fit our results, but to study the Bible and nature in dialogue, trying to interpret both in ways that are consistent and harmonious.
Second, as one who has taught New Testament for over forty years, my specialty was the Gospels, particularly the Synoptics. I have long noticed that evangelical Bible study, theology and homiletics have been very much Paul-focused, with far less emphasis on the rest of the New Testament. The Gospels have tended to be taught with a focus on the atonement. This is certainly biblical, but it is not the only theme. Some years back, I put together a talk (now in PowerPoint) called "Biblical Pictures of Salvation." Besides the themes of pardon and justification (law-themes), the Bible also gives us the pictures of rescue, redemption, cleansing, healing, reconciliation, adoption, regeneration, resurrection, and creation. Wu's approach serves as a corrective for this sort of problem.
Wu's chapters look like this: (1) Introduction (about 9 pp); (2) Theological Contextualization in Practice (59 pp); (3) Theologizing for a Chinese Culture (78 pp); (4) Honor and Shame in Context (44 pp); (5) A Soteriology of Honor and Shame (99 pp); (6) Conclusion 6 pp). Over half the book is bibliography and Scripture index, indicating the author's extensive interaction with the literature and with Scripture.
If you have been wondering why there is an invisible wall every time you mention sin to a chinese this book will help answer that question for you and then help you to begin thinking and working towards a more practical and helpful way to share the gospel. After I read the book I began to implement some of the ideas that are taught in the book and it was not a magic bullet but it began to open doors of understanding for locals as I shared about our sin and how it separates us from God. This helped to move from the traditional judicial way of thinking to being more "Chinese."