Should a Christian study sociology?
Question: "What is sociology? Should a Christian study sociology?"
Answer: Sociology is the study of social behavior, norms, origins, and development. It deals with the behavior of man-made institutions and organizations and how people behave when organized into groups, as opposed to individually. Since God is a relational Being, human beings are also relational. Part of being created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) is that we are social creatures who naturally organize into societies. Sociology, then, can be seen as part of a broader study of human nature.
Sociology seeks to understand social structure and behavior, social disorder, and change. Traditionally, sociology has focused on social class, law, religion, and deviance. However, because modern human institutions tend to rely heavily upon one another, and because they affect society at large, sociology as a science has grown to include evaluation of the medical, military, penal, educational, and technological spheres of society.
The first true sociologist was the French philosopher Auguste Comte, who, after the French Revolution, desired to find a way to solve humanity’s problems. He proposed that sociological positivism was the answer. Positivism is a philosophical system that relies on logical proofs to decide what is true. It rejects the metaphysical and, therefore, rejects Christianity. Comte postulated that sociology could be used to collect data that could be rationally analyzed and eventually used to overcome humanity’s troubles. Despite Comte’s idealistic goals and the expansion of sociology, humanity’s problems have not been solved but have, in fact, increased.
Later sociologists noticed the failure of positivism, hence, the rise of anti-positivism, another approach to sociology. Anti-positivism says that empiricism cannot be applied to human social behavior in the same way it can be applied to the laws of nature. For anti-positivists, the object of sociology is “to interpret the meaning of social action, and thereby give a causal explanation of the way in which the action proceeds and the effects which it produces” (Max Weber, a noted sociologist, in The Nature of Social Action, 1922).
There are many other sociological theories, and the question each of them tries to answer is whether or not humanity can be improved, and if so, how. For a Christian, the answer is not found in sociology but in the Bible. The truth is, man is sinful, susceptible to the temptations of the evil found within himself and in the world around him (Romans 3:10–11; Matthew 18:7; Mark 14:38). The problem (sin) is universal, and there is only one cure, the work of Jesus Christ on the cross (Hebrews 9:13–15). By faith in Christ’s work and by the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit, we have the power to reject sin and choose righteousness (Hebrews 2:17–18). The answer to society’s ills lies not in data collecting, logical inferences, social engineering, or in other man-made fixes. The answer is Jesus. Society’s problems can only be solved as individuals within society find a right relationship with God through Christ.
There is no reason why a Christian should not study sociology. Understanding the patterns of human behavior and the cause and effect of that behavior is good, useful knowledge that can be applied in many contexts. However, sociology, as man’s perspective on man, will not and cannot improve man himself—only God can do that.
Recommended Resource: Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland
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What is sociology? Should a Christian study sociology?