"Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes" by Jackson W. A Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Since we live in our own social and communal fishbowls we can't often see the glass surrounding us. We may bump into the hard, transparent walls, but because we have grown up in that bowl with others, then it all feels normal, typical, even catholic/universal. Sometimes it is helpful to hear from someone who has been in different cultural aquariums, to come back to try and tell us how others have experienced life. Jackson W. (pseudonym), has lived and worked in East Asia for almost two decades as well as serving on the Asian/Asian-American Theology steering committee of the Evangelical Theological Society, has "jumped back" into our bowl to guide us in reading Romans with the eyes, experience, and imagery from another vivarium. "Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes: Honor and Shame in Paul's Message and Mission" is a 208 page education on one aspect of Asian perspectives. And it is a scholarly paperback that functions like a mini-commentary on a momentous biblical book!
Jackson W. wants to aid readers so that by "reading Romans with Eastern eyes, we can discern key ideas and applications often overlooked or underemphasized by Western interpreters" and especially the significance of honor and shame in Paul's writing, as well as his mission and message (2). The author explains what an "Eastern" perspective is, generally, and especially the roles of tradition, relations, hierarchy, and the varied dimensions of honor and shame. He further examines honor and shame in Scripture, and how the word "glory" plays into this; "Paul in Romans demonstrates how humanity's honor is inextricably interwoven with God's glory" (22). For those who have read her work, the author draws extensively from Haley Goranson Jacob's "Conformed to the Image of His Son".
"Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes" wades into every chapter of Romans, and almost verse-by-verse. The author teases out nuances and differences such as the pairings of Jews and Greeks, Greeks and Barbarians, and what Paul was up to by this. He gives insight into the social and cultural notions that divided people around ethnicity, and how in Paul's Gospel-schema, the "church's missional ambition is undermined when believers use culture to define insiders and outsiders" (36). The author paddles through the deeps of justification, sanctification, creation, and re-creation. And he regularly comes back around to this kind of thinking, "Justification concerns social identity just as much it does salvation. If believers' fundamental group identity centers on anything other than those who have faith in Christ's resurrection, they effectively divide his kingdom" (95). This leads him to rightly break out Romans in this way, "Romans 1-11 largely focus on historical and theological convictions uniting Christ's followers. Beginning in Romans 12, Paul shifts his attention to how God transforms the church's practice" (161).
Page after Page in "Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes" honor and shame bob and weave their way through. Shame has to do with losing face before another - especially God; whereas justification "in Romans is a way of recognizing a person's honorable status, that is, one's identity as Abraham's offspring...Justification by faith creates a new community whose ascribed honor does not stem from standard social distinctions" (85). The author goes on to affirms that justification is the gracious ascription of Christ's honor to Christ's people. This book gave me much to reflect on, especially in the ways shame and honor play out in Romans and the rest of Scripture. It is well worth a second and third read! I highly recommend this volume, and would encourage pastors, seminary professors, and theology students to grab a copy quickly and pour over it keenly!
My thanks to IVP Academic for responding to my request for a review copy of this book, which I used to make my assessments. They neither demurred, nor demanded anything of me other than that I complete a written examination. Forthwith I have accomplished my task, and freely.
You can easily purchase a copy here: Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes
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