During one of the days at Spring Harvest last week, we explored topics around how to communicate effectively about Jesus, our Source.  I introduced a discussion that we explore on a course I co-host called the Crucible Course, during which we take a closer look at the Four Spiritual Laws in our Jesus Unplugged week-end .  The Four Spiritual Laws have been a common handle on which many Christians have hung their distilled understanding of what the Gospel is in it’s simplest form.  You can read a classic form here.

In Jesus Unplugged, Stuart Murray Williams, one of my co-hosts, explains how some anthropologists suggest that most societies can be characterised in relation to one of three dominant motifs – Righteousness/Guilt; Honour/Shame; Power/Fear – and helps us consider whether the Four Spiritual Laws are universally applicable or if the good news of Jesus might be better understood in each context through the lenses of these motifs.  For example,

a. Western societies have historically been understood as ‘guilt cultures’, concerned about righteousness and ways of dealing with law-breaking, disorder and sin. In these contexts good news is often understood as forgiveness, freedom from objective and subjective guilt.

b. Eastern societies have traditionally been understood as ‘shame cultures’, concerned about honour, face, reputation, one’s role and place in family and society. Could good news be understood in such contexts as being honoured, freedom from shame and wearisome expectations?

c. Primal societies, which could include some African contexts, have generally been interpreted as ‘fear cultures’, concerned about power, success, engaging with spiritual forces, and ways of dealing with oppression and spiritual attacks. Could good news be  understood in these contexts as being freed from these malign influences and empowered to live victoriously?

Of course these motifs – guilt, shame and fear – overlap and interplay across all cultures and all societies. So when we are asking what good news might mean in a particular context is it helpful to ask first of all what the dominant ‘feelings’ are before assuming what the good news must mean?

In a guilt culture the four spiritual laws are often interpreted as:

1. God loves us in spite of our sin and guilt.

2. Jesus took our sin and guilt on himself.

3. God longs to forgive us.

4. Jesus showed us the way to reconciliation on the cross – he modelled this and invites us to be reconciled and follow him.

But what might they look like in a shame culture?  Could they be:

1. God is not ashamed of us.

2. Jesus took our shame on himself.

3. God longs to honour us.

4. Jesus blazed the path to honour on the cross – he modelled this and expects us to follow and honour him.

 And what might they look like in a fear culture? Perhaps:

1. God has power over all aspects of our lives.

2. Jesus defeated our enemies.

3. God longs to release us from fear.

4. Jesus demonstrated God’s power over all things on the cross – he modelled this and invites us to live in peace and freedom.

The purpose of the discussion we have together at Crucible is not to box in the good news, but to give people permission to see how vast the Gospel is and to explore the many different starting points and connecting points that people might have with the message of Jesus.  Jesus didn’t seem to communicate the same message over and over again, and yet in many ways he was always communicating elements of the same message.  What starting points make sense in your communities and contexts today?  Are there other starting points which make more sense if people neither feel guilt, shame nor fear?