On Tuesday, March 15, Robert Jewett, PhD, and author of the Romans commentary for the Hermeneia series by Fortress Press, gave a lecture at George Fox Evangelical Seminary on the Epistle to the Romans. His lecture, partly based on the Romans commentary, was titled “Romans as a Challenge to Evangelicals—and Others.” The following is my take on this lecture.

Jewett’s lecture focused on the “welcome” in Romans 14:1 and 15:7. He saw this as a new ethic that overcomes shameful status. One must recall that Rome was an ancient honor society, and so the two major elements were honor and shame. The Roman churches were fighting in-house and thus some were reaching for honor at the expense of shaming the others. Part of Paul’s argument in Romans is to help the shamed overcome shameful that status.

Paul, of course, needs the help of all the Romans congregations. So how does Paul do this? By the admonishment to for all the churches to welcome each other—even the shamed. Indeed, Christ’s death was on behalf of the shamed, and so to “welcome” the shamed was to welcome Christ. Furthermore, because of their unity in Christ through baptism, the Roman churches were to be united in their treatment of one another.

Why is this admonition to welcome one another so important? In those time, the act of welcoming was usually directed to family members as they gathered for a meal. The act of welcoming involved an embrace and a kiss. The shock value of Paul’s admonition to welcome meant that the Roman churches were to consider each other family, and to welcome the other just as they welcome their own immediate family. Considering that many in the churches were marginalized (perhaps even “barbarians,” “foolish,” and “uneducated”), the edict to welcome other Christians was to bestow a place of honor to them.

So what significance does any of this have for the twenty-first century believers? First, it directs the theme of justification by faith toward a social orientation. It requires one to understand and act on the truth that Christ died on behalf of the shamed. The result, then, is that the believer—understanding and acting on Christ’s death for the excluded and marginalized—seeks to carry out Christ’s mission of overcoming shameful exclusion.

Second, it moves one past forgiveness and it emphasizes unconditional acceptance. Unconditional acceptance does not mean that one is allowed to stay in the same place, but that one is accepted where they are at and throughout the journey of being conformed into the image of the Son.

Lastly, even though we are more of a culture based on responsibility-guilt, Jewett’s lecture opens our eyes to the shame that is still prevalent, although subtle, in our culture, but, even more, is still prevalent in non-Western cultures. From this we begin to understand the Scriptures better and understand other similar religions such as Isalm.