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Sociology in Biblical Perspective

What Vern Poythress has done in this ambitious book entitled Redeeming Sociology is to seek to bring God into the picture as the foundational piece upon which sociology and human relationships are built. Too often, social scientists have relied upon fact finding, statistical analysis, and theoretical understanding without seeing God in the picture of every relationship. The first three chapters develop the idea that God is foundational for all human relationships. Therefore, the character of the Trinity is displayed in the self-giving love each person has for the other. This mutual self-giving love is an appropriate context for understanding the love a dad has for his son. It is only when we start at the headwaters (with God) that we truly understand the familial relationship of father and son (28-29).

In speaking of God's covenants with his people, Poythress uses the terms authority, control, and presence to indicate the way in which these covenants can be relationally related. The covenant blessings and curses given by God indicate His authority and control of the people (34-36) This relationship is analagous to the human one, where a father seeks to be in control of his children, seeking their good and God's glory. We notice in the Bible that this kind of control by God of his people is not arbitrary but always serves an end. Poythress does an excellent job throughout the book at seeing God's authority, control and presence as foundational and our authority, control and presence as derivative. The only criticism that I have of these terms is that it is possible to overuse them and miss some of the other aspects of God's characterisics that are found in Scripture. Secondly, sometimes in modern writing the terms authority and control meld together as one meaning and fail to distinguish one from the other.

One of my favorite parts of the book is Poythress' thoughts on the fall into sin. At one point after looking at the disasterous effects of the fall he writes, "What such people say is usually not going to be pure error, or pure truth, or pure deceit, but a complex mixture. A mixture can sometimes be more alluring to our own rebellious hearts than a blatant lie" (110). He goes onto to talk about a culture that has fallen for half-truths and self-deceit. Why is this so important? The power of persuasion wreaks havoc on us all the time. Yet, I think what Poythress is getting at here is the notion that half-truths keep a person coming back for more since they might think the whole of it as truth. We as people want to believe the good in people, but the trickery of deceitfulness is such that any appearance of a truth is not the whole story. In talking about the struggle within the church for new believers in Christ coming from a different culture, Poythress aptly states, "...God changes their hearts and their direction in life. But they do not immediately become morally perfect in their thinking and in their behavior...But sometimes the surrounding culture drags them back" (130). In many African cultures, new Christians have a tough time wading through various culturual customs and those principles they should uphold for Christ.

This book was a tour-de-force for me. I have to admit that I struggled a bit through the various roads into linguistics, wave and particle theory and diagrams. The only othe critique I have for the book is its little reference to the work of other sociologists and social scientists. I was hoping for a continuing discussion with thinkers such as Peter Berger and others. But in the end, this book provides the reader a wealth of knowledge that aids in building a foundation for human relationships. Until we see God as the foundation for human relationships, we will distort all other relationships. I can see this book providing a new avenue in thinking about social systems as well.

Much thanks to Crossway Books for the review copy.

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