Science in Christian Perspective



American Culture In The Light Of Scriptural Principles: Introduction*
Professor of Sociology and Chairman, Department of Social Sciences
Bethel College, St. Paul, Minnesota

From: JASA 11 (December 1959): 15-16.

In his Foreword to The New Testament in Modern English J. B. Phillips states that one principle of a good translation is that it produces in the hearts and minds of the readers1an effect equivalent to that produced by the author upon his original readers."' While no Bible translator would claim completely successful achievement of this goal, it must be a guiding principle of his work if it is to make a lasting impact upon the contemporary generation. The translator's task is to understand as fully and deeply as possible what the New and Old Testament writers had to say and then write it down in the language of people today as if he were the Biblical author writing the particular message from God to his contemporaries.2

This principle holds true not only in the direct translation of the Scriptures but also in the interpretation of them in their references to the way we ought to live and move and have our being in twentieth century America. We need to see, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the way in which Scriptural principles bear upon our personal lives and upon the society in which we live. The repetition of time-worn cliches will not suffice for this purpose.

When the social scientist refers to a culture, he generally has in mind the totality of the material and non-material patterns and products of human behavior. American culture thus includes the property, tools, technological inventions, social customs, values, symbols, institutions, systems of human relationships, and patterns of social interaction of the American people. The totality of what is socially transmitted from one generation to the next is included in the culture of a society.

Man is so earth-bound and culture-bound in all of his superficial judgments that he can rationalize the most egotistic, selfish, and sinful aspects of his behavior. Hence God instructs us to prove all things and, having done so, to hold fast that which is good and to abstain from all appearance of evil (I Thes. 5:21-22)

God's Word judges every culture of man, including our own. The common assumption that "the American Way of Life" is basically Christian and

*Paper presented at the 14th Annual Convention of the American Scientific Affiliation, Cbicago, Illinois, June, 1959.

that all deviations from "Americanism" are un-Christian may indeed be a teaching of the Evil One who comes disguised as an "angel of light" to deceive (if it is possible) even the very elect of God. We who are interpreters of God's message to twentieth century man must develop the faculty of self-criticism under the Holy Spirit's guidance and apply it to the way of life of our own generation, our own nation, our own institutions, including our evangelical Christian churches and even the American Scientific Affiliation. As the prophetic, purifying, living Word of God brings His judgment to bear upon our situation, we shall find, even as did the seven churches of Asia in the early days of Christianity (Rev. 1:20-3:22), that God's commendation rests upon certain of our practices while His purging judgment condemns others.

Human societies and cultures vary in time and place. We are easily made aware of the latter by our recognition of the differences between American and Indian society or between the institutions of China and Australia ' but it is equally true that American society is not the same now as it was in 1620, 1776, 1860, 1914, 1933, or even 1945. Generational conflict and even religious schisms are no doubt due in part to a failure to recognize the impact of social change upon social organizations, ideologies, and activities of man.

just as the expansion of scientific knowledge is breaking down limited conceptions of the size and nature of the physical universe, the social sciences are breaking down our limited, culture-bound interpretations of human nature and human social relationships. They can help us who are Christians to rise above many of our limitations so that we can see our society from a perspective which is closer to the judgments our our infinite, omniscient God.

Many images of American society have been produced in the social sciences, for any scholar and even any discipline has only a partial, finite view of the totality that is America. Social scientists who not only are familiar with these portrayals but who also believe in and understand Christian norms are in an ideal position to evaluate human society in terms of these Christian values. Their translations of the Gospel and its Christian ethic into practical meanings for our culture and age can clarify God's message of truth for the world of our day.

I am sure the contributors of the excellent papers of this program all agree that their conclusions are tenative and subject to change with the development and application of new techniques of research and instruments of precision in their respective social sciences as well as with new insights emerging from increased understanding of the Christian Scriptures. They would be among the first to insist with the chairman of this symposium that these papers, synthesizing much material from the work of other scholars and reflecting social science theory in a value framework, are not "pure" social science (if indeed there can be any such thing!) These papers arc rather in the realm of applied science or social philosophy.

Many problems are implicitly posed in these papers. Careful application of the scientific method can illumine these and provide a basis for empirical research on topics ignored by secularists and shunned by most fundamentalists and evangelicals. If but one or two such projects are stimulated by this symposium, the writer will consider the effort and work involved in it to have been worthwhile.


1. J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, New York: The Macmillan Co., 1958, p. vii. The other two principles he stresses are that the translation must not sound like a translation at all, and that there should be the least possible intrusion of the translator's own personality and unique style, so that the original author's work is not changed by the translator's own strong style.

2. Ibid., pp. vii-x.