Common grace and social studies
by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, April 20, 2011, at 2:11 pm
People who have the ability to conjecture about patterns and trends in society have helped me think critically about the ways in which the affects of the Fall continue to manifest themselves as well as the ways in which God's common grace is actively at work in the world. So I was surprised by the response from friends after I encouraged them to read a social science article written by a non-Christian. Some focused more on the article's non-Christian components than the author's main point. I find it disheartening that many Christians seem incapable of appreciating the work of non-Christians to gain insight into our world. Christians should be able to easily "eat the meat and spit out the bones" when reading non-Christians sources.
R.C. Sproul explains that "the word science means 'knowledge.' We tend to have a restricted view of the word as if knowledge only applies to the realm of empirical investigation." If this is true then it give us permission to see social science as social knowledge-that is, knowledge about culture and society. While social studies may not be science in the same way that physics and chemistry are science, there is still good and true insight to be gleaned from those who study culture.
The National Council for Social Studies defines social studies as:
"'the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence.' Within the school program, social studies provides coordinated, systematic study drawing upon such disciplines as anthropology, archaeology, economics, geography, history, law, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion, and sociology, as well as appropriate content from the humanities, mathematics, and natural sciences. In essence, social studies promotes knowledge of and involvement in civic affairs."
Is it not possible that God, because of common grace, could use all of the above disciplines to teach Christians and non-Christians alike the truth about our world-the good, the bad, and the ugly? Taking common grace seriously means reading secular sources with discernment, keeping those insights that cohere with God's truth and pitching those that do not. We acknowledge the presuppositions driving certain positions for what they are and move on. For example, we can assume that in 2011 non-Christian evaluations of society and culture are going to have a measure of moral relativism. Given the presuppositions of unbelief, we should not be too surprised. But because of common grace God can use those with secular presuppositions to teach us true things.
Because some Christians fail to recognize that "all truth is God's truth," as Augustine famously quipped, we actually forfeit opportunities to see what God is doing despite the affects of the Fall, as well miss opportunities to explore complex new ways in which God can use His people to be "salt and light" (Matthew 5:13) as far as the curse is found. And without civic competence it is very difficult for the church to fulfill her mission in the world.
Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.