Science in Christian Perspective




Russell Heddendorf, M.A.

From JASA 10 (March 1958): 26-27.

Over a decade ago, the National Research Council presented a criticism of social science which stated, in essence, that man and his behavior are not a part of nature that can be studied as basic, "pure," natural science. In addition, social science is a nondescript category consisting mainly of reformist and propagandist ideologies and issues. This has been the case too often in the social science field, particularly in the area of what might be called "Biblical Sociology."

The concept of using the Bible as legitimate data for "social investigation" was largely advanced by advocates of the Social Gospel. The writings of Rauschenbusch, McCown, and Ellwood, in particular, are filled with uses of scripture to substantiate their views.

This material, however, received none of the analyses which would be acceptable in the field of sociology to day. Such attempts at sociological use of the Bible are simply
post ' factunt explanations of social factors and do not contribute to the development of sociological data. These "sociological" interpretations certainly were propagandistic and ignorant of social phenomena as a field of study. Interestingly, the most complete use of the concept of Biblical sociology probably appeared in a work by Philip Vollmer, entitled New Testament Sociology and published in 1923. Not only does it present lucid sociological perceptions but also tends to imply a more sound fundamental Christian

Perhaps it could still be asked whether or not the Bible constitutes a valid source of data for developing material in the social sciences. The view of the writer is that if God has given us an absolute basis for our understanding of the physical world, history, and ethics, He has also given us an absolute basis for our understanding of social relations. If there are any natural laws" for social living, which could be transformed into sociological theories, they should be observable in scripture.

A number of incidents portraying such truths are readily available. The account of the dispersal of the inhabitants of Babel in Genesis 11 :1-9 is basically an account of God's use of cultural diffusion and urbanization to perform His will. Observations of such phenomena have been made by the 14th century social philosopher Ibn Khaldun and all of his predecessors up to the present. If we read Ephesians 4:11-16 with the understanding that it refers to the concepts of social differentiation and stratification, it is possible to note that God has indicated that such processes have the particular functions of maintaining group unity and developing the individual's efficiency. It has been in only relatively recent times that such a view of differentlation and stratification has been forwarded to complement the standard view that such processes only provide for division and group conflict.

Although it is important for the sociologist to isolate social processes and trace their consequences, as well as their histories, it is of much greater significance to understand the working of such processes. It is the comprehension of such mechanisms which give the sociologist his predictive ability and provide those long strides in scientific growth.

The sociological understanding of Paul's masterful statement of the consequences of sin in Roman's 7:7-25 would be of critical importance. The process of un-purposive means to ends social action has been an area of conflict for such eminent men in the field as Znaniecki, Sorokin, and Parsons. Though the social nature of social action prevents a congruency of the two processes, an understanding of the social implications of Paul's passage could be of importance to an understanding of social action.

Simply then, it seems that God has given absolute information on the nature of social phenomena as He has done with physical phenomena. A concept of Biblical sociology would have to provide an analysis of such data in the Bible.