The 3D Gospel is a short book about missions and culture that attempts to teach how Christians can reach the lost in cross-cultural settings by better understanding the other’s worldview and communicating the gospel appropriately. To do so, Jayson Georges lays out a system of how people respond to sin: guilt, shame, or fear. This leads to cultures which emphasize one or two of these responses to sin more than the others. While there are some helpful ideas in the book, it fails as a system of explaining either culture or the Bible.
The explanation of culture types can be useful. However, this tool or spectrum to look at values is not based on anything in the Bible. If these are three points on a diagram in which all cultures belong at some point, all three types must always have existed. However, it seems that the modern West is the de facto example of guilt/innocence, while all pre-modern cultures and the modern majority world outside the West fall closer to the other ends of the diagram. If this so, where were the guilt/innocence cultures before 1800? Why does the Bible emphasize this so much if it didn’t have any prominence for the first several millennia of human existence?
Many of the guilt/innocence examples have much more to do with technology, stability of government, and development of business than they have to do with the culture’s worldview.In the Bible, the Israelites were a very legal society if the Pentateuch is any indication of reality, yet the author repeatedly portrays them as an honor/shame society.
The real problems come in the supposedly biblical theology of each worldview and how each would explain the gospel. The guilt/innocence presentation of the gospel is generally on point, but would be better served by including some aspects of the other two presentations, especially the ideas of living in God’s kingdom and following Jesus.
The honor/shame evangelism presentation is considerably flawed. It talks about Adam and Eve as “disloyal to God. They forfeited divine honor to pursue a self-earned honor … We inherit their original shame … Sin … is largely the false attempt to cover shame and fabricate honor.” Discussing what the Jews did to Jesus, he says, “They responded by shaming him, publicly and gruesomely.” However, it is very clear that the Jews were much more interested in condemning Jesus as a criminal for blasphemy and Sabbath-breaking than any supposed interest in shaming Him. Most of the “shame” was a product of the Roman punishment.
The fear/power presentation is equally problematic. It minimizes the importance of sin and the inherent guilt it brings in favor of emphasizing the struggle between God and Satan. It presents Adam and Eve not as disobedient, but “wooed … from God’s kingdom into (Satan’s) domain.” It emphasizes the power that the prophets displayed, but says nothing of their main message: the call to repent! It also focuses on a change in allegiance, from Satan’s kingdom to God’s. In all of this, there is little place for personal responsibility for sin or the need for repentance.
3D Gospel continues in an examination of each problem – guilt, shame, fear – in the context of the story of the Fall. While this story clearly teaches about guilt, shame, and fear resulting from sin, only one of these was mentioned before the Fall: “the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Gen. 2:17 NASB) Adam and Eve certainly experienced shame and fear. Genesis is explicit on these points. However, these are consequences of their guilty state before God, not a threefold consequence of sin. Otherwise, why did God only warn them about their impending legal punishment (guilt) when He gave Adam the command? Shouldn’t God have also warned them about their shame and fear that would result?
More appropriate ways to divide culture would be on a spectrum from individualistic to communal, from transactional to relational. Each of these has significant basis in the Bible and can help to explain cultural differences without negating the one truth of the gospel.
Three different views on the atonement of Jesus are discussed from the point of view of the worldview that might adopt such a theory. Fear/Power cultures are said to adopt the Ransom Theory of the atonement. While some may hold to a version of this theory, Georges explicitly affirms the validity of those who see Christ’s death as payment to Satan so that he would release humans. While Georges does not claim this as the only way to understand the atonement, he approves of this unbiblical doctrine as a valid option for those in fear/power cultures.
Shame/Honor cultures are said to espouse the satisfaction theory of the atonement. The focus in this section is on God’s honor. “Jesus’ death, in essence, saves God’s face.” This and other statement about honor in the atonement are left without any significant biblical backing. They are based on the idea that humans have dishonored God and that the cross somehow gets God his honor back.
When Georges addressed the Penal Substitution Theory as it relates to guilt/innocence cultures, he uses extremely biblical ideas and language. It seems much easier for him to clearly explain the cross of Christ in these terms; I believe that this ease comes from the theory’s close relationship to biblical teaching. He simply doesn’t have to make the theory fit the Bible if it’s drawn straight out of the Bible, which significant parts of the previous two theories were not. In addition, he claims that this is the “dominant atonement theory in Western Christianity, perhaps since it uses the language and values of Western law.” Georges is asserting that modern Westerners are drawn to this theory because if fits their worldview and legal system. However, since the West has been so strongly influenced by Christianity and the Bible, it is much more likely that our Western systems of law and government are shaped by the teachings of Scripture than that we are reading penal substitution into the Bible because of our culture. Is there really any claim that this is not the basis of the true gospel? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:23-26 NASB)
In short, Georges appears to be doing exactly what he says he is combating: reading a system into the Bible instead of reading the Bible for what it already teaches. He often inserts his three-dimensional system into Bible passages in which it simply does not fit. For example, this passage on a contextualized form of witness: “In Acts 26:18, Paul describes his mission to the Gentiles in 3D terms—“to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God (power), so that they might receive the forgiveness of sins (innocence) and a place among those who are sanctified by faith (honor) in Jesus.”” While the 3D system seems to work, it misses something significant here. There aren’t three dimensions of salvation, but four! He highlights three, but ignores “open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light.” This aspect highlights truth and goodness as opposed to lies, confusion, and evil. If he had included this part, it would have had to fall into the guilt/innocence worldview, the same one he is showing to only be 1/3 of the gospel.
In all, the book provides some very helpful insights on the Bible and culture while at the same time presenting an extremely flawed system for looking at the world and the gospel. In Georges attempts to explain the gospel, the explanation from the point of view of the guilt/innocence worldview were simply more clear and more biblical. Surely the gospel addresses our fear and shame (results of our sin) and offers us hope in these areas. However, it does so as God forgives us of our sin which had separated us from Him and brings us into His kingdom in a right relationship with Himself. Gospel presentations that focus on this without trying to separate out fear and shame or read these paradigms into biblical texts will surely be more faithful to the Bible, which has much more power to save than any contextualized presentation.