Theology vs. Sociology.

I recently received a letter / story from John Freeman, Executive Director of Harvest USA.  I’ve reprinted it below:

I had gone to a church elder, a professional counselor.  Might he be someone we could use to augment as a referral for youth in our ministry?  Imagine my surprise when he said, “John, to tell the truth, I agree with your work helping those dealing with porn – but I just don’t think the Bible condemns homosexuality”.  I responded, “Why’s that”?  “Well”, he said, “I’ve just seen too many people struggle too deeply, too long, and be in too much pain, to require any other response of them”.

I just couldn’t let that go.  I proposed the following to him.  Suppose a married man came to him, saying he was in a loveless, sexless and difficult marriage, but had now fallen into a sexual relationship with a female colleague with whom he was in love.  Furthermore, the man had struggled deeply and had been in much pain for many years – too many to stay in the marriage.  “Would that be appropriate?” I asked.  Seemingly unfazed, he replied, “Well, that’s different”.

Then there was the lady in my church who called the office and asked to be removed from the mailing list.  I assured her that we would be glad to oblige, but kindly asked if anything was wrong.  “Well, the work you do with the pornography is good, I guess – but if homosexuality is GOD’S gift for some people, then you’re really doing harm to people”.

I wondered what voices she had been listening to.  What theology, if any, was guiding her thinking?  Probably it’s one I’ve come to label, the theology of “Oprah, 20/20, and Prime Time Live.”  After all, that’s where many people in our churches are getting their information.  The entertainment media, with its influence and opinions, is becoming “the” authoritative voice more and more Christians listen to.

You see, in both these cases, and for a great many people today, their sociology interprets their theology.  In other words, they let their exposure to folk’s stories of emotional pain and suffering determine what GOD’S Word says and how valid it is.  Scripture is pitted against people’s experiences.  Admittedly, stories of pain and suffering should lead us to compassion and mercy, but let’s not confuse the issue.  Don’t they have it backwards?  Isn’t it our theology that should interpret our sociology?  By that I mean, it’s what GOD’S Word says that should help us understand, clarify, extend compassion and make sense of the situations and dilemmas people around us find themselves in – not the other way around.

At Harvest USA, our staff seeks to challenge and speak, with sensitivity and boldness, into this kind of flawed thinking.  We do so as we speak to individuals, at youth groups, and on colleges & university campuses – wherever GOD opens a door for us to do so.

This is not a plug to support the ministry of Harvest USA, though if the LORD has placed it upon your heart to do so – awesome!

What John has written here is a message that both culture and the Church need to hear.  Yes, culture speaks about homosexuality as being a norm in society; but sadly, so are many churches.  Freeman makes a great point in that sociology should not dictate theology, but rather the opposite, especially within a Christian perspective.

No one is undermining the personal experiences (both good and bad) of people, especially those who are gay and lesbian.  But, from a Biblical perspective and understanding, we do acknowledge the truth, that though we have painful experiences in life, GOD is still GOD; and to deny HIM that right is to cause a deeper tragedy within our life.  Hebrews says that JESUS experienced the pains of life, just like us, but HIS experiences didn’t undermine who GOD was.  Instead HE used HIS experiences, good and bad, to glorify GOD.  As HIS children, shouldn’t we do the same?

What do you think: does GOD’S Word define life, or does life define GOD’S Word?

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3 responses to “Theology vs. Sociology.

  1. I really enjoyed this post! Harvest USA definitely hit the nail on the head there. Too many people make experiences and tradition the pillar of truth, in turn transforming God’s word into some type of play-dough. Life must be put in the overall perspective of The Bible for a realistic world-view to be developed.

    Jordan
    http://www.theriverjordan.net

  2. Honestly, its complex.

    I agree with Jordan, we have allowed culture to shape our theology too much – American Slavery for example -God’s word defines life. However, we have to acknowledge – especially in the new testament when writers are being perscriptive or descriptive . Living Biblically, in some degree, will differ from culture to culture. It is such even in person to person cultural differences. Someone will have to do something different to show me that they love me than they may have to do for you, or another friend of mine.

    I think it is complicated because people can take that to the extreme.

    • Good input Josh, thanks.

      It is a delicate issue. As followers of JESUS, we need to walk the line between Grace and Truth with sincere watchfulness and compassion. Still, there are some absolutes that we cannot deny, no matter how ‘postmodern’ our culture gets.

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