Science in Christian Perspective



David 0. Moberg                                                Heddenforf responds

The Book Review Editor invited authors who feel their book is "dealt with unfairly" to submit a criticism of the review. While the term "unfairly" is too strong, I believe Heddendorf's review of The Church as a Social Institution includes several errors and gives misleading impressions which are only partly corrected by Buckholder's review (JASA, 14:120-122, Dec. 1962).

1. Heddendorf states, "the book gives the impression that the church is religion, leaving little room for an individual relationship with God." Compare these quotations as examples of what the book says: - Persoal religious beliefs and actions . . .are significantly in fluenced by past social experiences. This fact, of course, does not demand a befief that all religious phenomena are solely social in nature" (p. 4). "Religion is voluntaristic, emphasizing mans free will to choose among alternatives of action - . . religion is basically a system of faith and worship" (p. 335). The greatest unique opportunity before organized religion today lies in man's desire to have an adequate philosophy . . . to achieve a satisfying personal relationship with the great First Cause of that universe, his Creator, and to find associated values which can guide his daily conduct" (p. 518). One of the latent themes implicit in numerous passages is the need for the church to facilitate personal relationships with God rather than to hinder them by overinstitutionalization.

2. The reviewer does not agree that the church is an institution. On the basis of dozens of sociological definitions, I insist that it is. Theologians who wish to reserve the term "church" for that heavenly body of saints, "the universal church" (p. 16), would agree with Heddendorf. If their position is accepted, no religious organization, local, denominational, or ecumenical, has the right to use the word "church" in its name, and the church cannot be the subject of any scientific investigation. Seeing the local church as a human institution "is not a denial of the theological position that the church is a divine institution established by God's command and developed under His guidance. The church as a 'spiritual institution' is outside the realm of purely sociological analysis and is only indirectly included in our study" (p. 22).

3. The review indicates that -all roles, values, goals, and activities . . . are made subsidiary to the organization" because the church is made the frame of reference. Is it not proper in a work on the church to see these from such a perspective? I insist, however, that these are not made subsidiary in a value-laden sense of the term. The book repeatedly indicates the dangers of institutionalism which tends to idolize the organization: "Religious symbolism encroaches and persists beyond its usefulness . . . in striking contrast to internal, personal devotion. The institution has become the master of its members instead of their servant , . . " (p. 121).

4. Particularly painful is the insinuation that I am a disciple of Durkheim. "By taking the Durkheimian approach that religion has an integrative function and an origin in religious action and unity, one must then doubt . . . the existence of a personal relationship with God." To accept some of a theorist's contributions is not the same as being his follower. I do not accept Durkheim's theories about the origin of religion, although some of his insights may correctly apply to the origin of organized religious action. Durkheim explains God as primarily an extension of group solidarity; in worshiping God, the group in effect worships itself. Such is contrary to the postulate of my book that God exists as an ontic Being. Durkheim's position that religion is purely social also is in strong contrast to my own position. The two passages in the book referring to Durkheim stress the theoretical (implying interpretative) nature of his contributions. The three index citations to his name contrast with 29 for two others; 22 scholars have eight or more.

5. It is implied that I have overlooked "a model based upon a disintegrative or at least a non-integrative function of religion which stresses the needs of the individual rather than society." Did the reviewer himself overlook the criticism of functionalism on p. 138 ("there are times when the church becomes a source of social instability"), the section on dysfunctions (pp. 178-183), or the complex interrelated patterns of functions and dysfunctions woven into discussions of cooperation, conflict, and other topics? Individual needs are not neglected in the book but they are not emphasized because it is a sociological and not a psychological treatise. The reviewer seems also to have overlooked the word "merely" in his quotation from p. 425, "Repentence and faith . . . are not merely philosophical or theological concepts." In other words, they are philosophical and theological, but they also are sociological."

6. It is not true that I "attempt to redefine the church." It is conventional sociological usage to make "church" a synonym of "organized religion," but this is NOT the same as defining religion per se as an institution. Organized religion is but a portion of that broader phenomenon.

In conclusion, it appears to me that the reviewer slipped by overlooking qualifications that necessarily accompany rigorous definitions of concepts. In his defense, however, it must be admitted that any book which rests upon a wide variety of materials cannot be too rigorous in its selection of sources. Were only those studies reported which have used definitions completely consistent with each other, there might be n6 textbooks in any of the social sciences. Concepts such as social functions, cooperation, values, integration, religion, and institution cannot be defined as rigorously as H2O. Their referents are far too complex and their connotations too diffused.


Russell Heddendorf

Perhaps the best sociological stereotype for the role of book reviewer is that of "marginal man"; he stands as an intermediary between the author and the reading public. As such, it is necessary that he provide an image of the volume under consideration which accurately portrays the intended communication of thought. In this reviewer's opinion, the starting point is a classification of the book. It is for this reason that the context for criticism was based on the opinion that the volume does not constitute a text on "The Sociology of American Religion."

The significant problem here deals with the concept of institution and its use. Since the traditional criticism of sociology by the layman is that there is a minimum of communication to him from the field, it must be with a sense of comfort that he realizes there are also short circuits within the brotherhood. Once again, the villain in the piece is "semantics."

It would seem best to understand the concept under observation as an ongoing process (institutionalization) rather than a completed state (institution). The process is in a changing condition of relative "hardness" or organization. In his rebuttal, Moberg reflects this condition when he states, "Organized religion is but a portion of that broader phenomenon." I agree; this statement indicates that the institution is more than a church. This, however, is not the implication of the title.

To show the insistence with which the villain stays on stage, we need only note that in Part Three of the book there are references to "types of churches" and "church types." These are conceptually different and are also on an entirely different plane from the "type of church" referred to in Moberg's letter; a "heavenly body of saints."

Since the uninstitutionalized or "soft" forms of religion are virtually unexplored, there is very little about the origins of organized American religion. It is from such uninstitutionalized forms that organization develops. For this reason, Moberg is justified in stating that I err in my assumption that he is Durkheimian in his approach to the origins of religion. There is insufficient material to warrant such a judgment.

Perhaps a prime function of a review is to stimulate interest in the book. It is hoped that this interchange of comments will further this purpose for, as was indicated in the review, "It is a book from which much may be learned" and is deserving of widespread interest.

Editorial comment: In the interest of encouraging interchange of ideas in this section of the Journal, the Book Review Editor agreed to referee the foregoing dispute. He has attempted to abridge both letters somewhat without deleting any significant points, which put him in the embarrassing position of editing the Editor's review of a review. Although these sociologists here may seem to the rest of us to be quibbling over terminology, the discussion does raise important questions about the scientific study of religion and the church which is of interest to all thoughtful Christians. To what extent~ and in what sense, can the sociologist (or the chemist, for that matter') study the works of God among men (or among Matter )?-W. R. H.