Christian Sociology – Introduction
Whether Christian sociology or secular sociology, all sociologists acknowledge the existence of social institutions such as family, church, and state. They differ, however, in their description of the origin, authority, and purpose of these institutions and how each relates to the individual. These differences result from assumptions inherent in their worldview.
The Christian worldview teaches that God created men and women in His image; the atheistic worldviews, however, teach that men and women are evolving animals. The atheistic worldviews are the predominant views among modern sociologists, who consider God, Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, and the sanctity of the family to be pre-scientific myths. Christians understand that this erroneous view is responsible for many of the failures we see in contemporary society, such as drug and alcohol abuse, crime, abortion, sexual perversion, disease, and poverty.
Christian Sociology – Free Will and Society
Christian sociology affirms the individual’s free will and responsibility. There is a fundamental difference between it and atheistic sociology. Atheistic approaches claim that society determines our consciousness and actions. Christianity, on the other hand, holds that we are free to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, and that we shape society in the process (rather than being shaped by it).
Christianity grants us control over our society, but it also requires us to be responsible for our choices. In the Christian worldview, we face the consequences of our actions. Adam and Eve’s failure to obey God in the Garden of Eden in the opening chapters of Genesis resulted not only in their expulsion from the garden paradise, but also brought a curse on the entire human race. William Stanmeyer explains, “If man’s behavior were somehow conditioned by genetic code or social externals then no just judge could blame him for the evil he commits. But the scripture teaches unequivocally that God blamed Adam and Eve for succumbing to the temptation to disobedience and punished them accordingly.”1
The Genesis account of Adam and Eve’s sin not only demonstrates that we are responsible for our actions, but also teaches that we are guilty before God. One Christian author says, “The fact of guilt is one of the major realities of man’s existence.”2 Christian sociology, therefore, attempts to understand society in light of our free will and the consequences of our free choice to turn away from God. The Fall has caused all societies over all time to be marked by alienation and imperfection and sin.
Some historical examples of our imperfections and state of alienation include Rousseau placing all five of his children in orphanages, the poet Shelley living in a nightmare, and the Apostle Paul calling himself chief among sinners. The history of the dark side of our human condition—a tale of degeneration and devolution rather than evolution—fills volumes. Alienation pervades all of our relationships, with God, with others, and even within ourselves. Sociologists who understand that we are alienated from God because of sin will interpret data differently than those who believe we are inherently good but have been corrupted by our society and environment.
Christian Sociology – The Inherent Worth of the Individual
Christian sociology does not take a pessimistic view of society even though it seems as if we always make wrong decisions and bad choices. On the contrary, Christian sociology takes an optimistic view because it accepts the fact that God grants grace to us in spite of our failures and errors. Our freedom and responsibility before God grant us far more dignity and significance than deterministic views would grant us. Francis Schaeffer explains that we are “not a cog in a machine...not a piece of theater; [we] really can influence history. From the biblical viewpoint, [we are] lost, but great.”3 Christians such as William Carey and William Wilberforce, for example, were able to change their society and history by bringing an end to the slave trade.4
The Christian worldview sees each person as valuable and able to contribute to society. Rather than seeing the individual as helpless in the face of societal and environmental pressures, Christian sociologists view the person as more important than the social institution. C.S. Lewis explains that while atheists may think that “nations, classes, civilizations must be more important than individuals,” because “individuals live only seventy odd years each and the group may last for centuries. But to the Christian, individuals are more important, for they live eternally; and races, civilizations and the like are in comparison the creatures of a day.”5
Even though Christian sociology values the individual over the social order, social order is still important in the Christian worldview. We were created as social beings (Genesis 2:20) and recognize the role society plays in history as well as in our relationship with God. S.D. Gaede stresses our inherent social nature when he says, “God designed the human being to be a relational creature. Note this point well. Humankind was created to relate to other beings. It was not an accident. It was not the result of sin. It was an intentional, creational given.”6 Nevertheless, because of the fall we continue to experience alienation, which Gaede refers to as the “relational dilemma.” Because Christians understand the cause of this dilemma, we can work to help others not only understand its cause but its solution as well.
Christian Sociology – Conclusion
Christian sociology values both individuals and social institutions. As individuals, we are free to make choices, but our choice to turn away from God alienates us from Him and others. Society as a whole is also fallen and imperfect and responsible for its choices and attitudes. Deterministic worldviews that deny the free will of individuals and institutions deny the significance of both. There can be no meaningful judgment if forces outside our control determine all individual and corporate actions. Isaiah 46:8–11 shows us God’s plan to judge our actions, as well as our ability to do what we choose.
As humans, we will face the consequences for choices we make in creating our society. God gives us the responsibility to protect and direct the societal institutions He ordains, including family, state, and church. Families are charged with reproductive responsibilities as well as training and nurturing. The state is charged with carrying out justice, primarily involving law and order. The church is charged with demonstrating Christian love within itself and in society at large.
We are answerable to God for the direction these institutions lead society. The same burden of responsibility, however, points to the blessing of having free will yet belonging to a loving and just God. Our freedom entails responsibilities, duties, and work. We are not free to wreak mayhem in the social order; but we are free to serve others in love and to serve and love God. Such is God’s call on the human race.