Shame Around the World (again)

One of the books that I have just been reading is Recovering the Scandal of the Cross by Joel Green and Mark Baker.[1] They relate a story told to them: “In 1981 a Japanese church leader in Hokkaido asked a missionary, ‘Why did Jesus have to die?’ The Japanese man immediately clarified that he was quite familiar with the standard explanation missionaries gave, that Jesus had to die to pay the penalty for our sins required by God, but he added, ‘To be honest, I don’t find that explanation satisfactory’”[2]

Norman Kraus was this missionary. He had just arrived in Japan. He discovered in the first few months he was in Japan that the traditional way of explaining why Jesus had to die for us failed to engage with Japanese people. Green and Baker write:

 “In the West, the image of justice is of a blindfolded goddess impartially weighing someone’s guilt or innocence based on the evidence and a set standard of law. In contrast, the Japanese image is of a male judge with his eyes wide open, observing the situation so that he can do whatever will best preserve human relationships. Kraus told his group of Japanese colleagues that in the United States we talk of criminals serving time and paying their debt to justice. He then asked if they had used similar phrases or ideas. They reported that these concepts and phrases sounded quite strange. Japanese criminals are imprisoned as a shameful act of exclusion from society. The lengths of the sentences are measured according to the enormity of their social scandal.

As Kraus pondered what he had learned, and as he continued asking questions, he came to realise that Japan was a shame-based culture very much unlike the guilt-based culture in which most North Americans live. The result is a very different concept and practice of justice. Understandably … Japanese church leaders would not find a penal substitution theory of the atonement satisfactory, for it was built on a penal approach to justice alien to them. During his years in Japan, Kraus worked to understand better this shame-based culture, then began to think about how he might answer the question ‘Why did Jesus have to die?’ in a way that would make sense and be heard as good news in Japan.”[3]

Norman Kraus’s work is contained in his book, “Jesus Christ our Lord: Christology from a Disciples Perspective.”[4]  I am waiting for my copy to arrive!

Does the cross, and the death of Jesus engage with the shame which is so much a part of the experience  of people in every culture in our world?


[1] Joel B. Green and Mark D. Baker; “Recovering the Scandal of the Cross”; Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2000.

[2] This incident was reported to Joel B. Green and Mark D. Baker by Norman Kraus on 12th May 1999.

[3] Joel B. Green and Mark D. Baker; “Recovering the Scandal of the Cross”; Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2000.

[4] C. Norman Kraus, “Jesus Christ our Lord: Christology from a Disciples Perspective;” (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald, 1990)

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