Science in Christian Perspective



Russell Heddendorf, M.A.

From: JASA 11 (March 1959): 26.

In our day, natural science has come of age. The practicality and profit of scientific research is obvious. This condition has not always existed, however, since natural science started in sterile laboratories finding its sustenance in theoretical argumentation. A study of the history of science clearly shows the development from stray bits of disconnected beliefs to a uni fied body of propositions resulting in practical consequences.

If natural sciences have come this far, their social cousins have not. The social sciences still look forward to that day when their fruits will yield concrete food, not for thought, but consumption. The question with which we are immediately concerned is how much of that food may be consumed by Christians. In particular, how practical is sociology for the church and the individual Christian.

In general, the Christian scientist seems to have two main responsibilities; 1) he may use his knowledge as a contribution in defense of the faith; 2) be may tools which may be used in meeting some concrete of the church. Until recently, the natural sciences have centered in performing the former function. Lately, however, it seems that they have provided concrete tools for service, notably in the area of missionary endeavor. Contrarily, the social sciences to center their potential contribution in the area of latter responsibility. It was indicated in a previous column that attempts by sociologists to use the Social Gospel in defense of the faith were not very successful. What, then, would be a problem for which sociology could provide a tool?

It is the rare church which does not go through change. In a typology of churches, this would us ually be the change from a sect to a denomination Such a transition would include an emphasis upon education rather than evangelism, a desire to unite forces of power and prestige in society, and a gene compromise with worldly standards. Some church would be motivated toward such a change and find to be an indication of growth. In a fundamenal church, however, it would probably indicate an conscious change in goals; an emphasis on organization rather than Biblical preaching and teaching.

For the sociologist. it raises a problem. in organization. What are the mechanisms at work in a group cause it to unconsciously change its goals. Is it merely the result of growth so that the old goals are no longer seen? It may be that the needs of organization, increase faster than the means or personnel to meet them. Perhaps there are not enough mechanisms providing for reinforcement of the original goals. It might be simply a matter of leadership. Then again, if the answer was found by means of research in sec
u lar groups, would the results also be valid for religious groups? Are there organizational factors which are not common to both secular and religious groups re quiring individual treatment of both? If so, there would have to be analysis of concrete fundamental churches. Essentially, what makes one church grow and maintain a live gospel witness while another wan ders off into the problems of organizational complexity as it grows?

The question could be answered in a general way. Specific research is needed, however, to provide a detailed answer which may he used as a tool by each pastor in coping with the problem. Sociology is on the verge of beginning to provide such specific answers and it would seem advisable for the Christian church to derive an early benefit.