Christian Smith on the Weakness of Modern Sociological Theory

“Sociological theory has conceptually *centered* nearly everything imaginable–nearly everything, that is, except human persons. We have centered action and meanings. We have centered interactions, society, and practices. We have centered culture. We have centered social structures. We have centered the functional requisites of society and the means and relations of production. We have centered habits and habitus. We have centered pleasure, exchange, and utility maximization. We have centered social network ties and social influence. We have centered social norms and values. We have centered power and conflict. We have centered social roles, identify, and creativity. We have centered social interest, social class, social facts, and social knowledge. We have centered gender and rational choice and emotions. We have centered individuals. All of that. But we have never centered human persons. And that explains, I suggest, why sociological theory has never quite worked.”

– Christian Smith, To Flourish or Destruct: A Personalist Theory of Human Goods, Motivations, Failure, and Evil (University of Chicago Press, 2015), 60.

I always find it refreshing when a scholar is able to reflect critically (and philosophical) on their own discipline. Christian Smith (PhD, Harvard; Professor at Notre Dame), noted sociologist and author, has been doing this for years.

The heart of his critique is that modern sociology has tended to lack an ontology of human personhood, having accepted modern dualisms (esp. “the individual” versus “society” in sociology) rooted in the Enlightenment (Hobbes, Hume, Kant) and the philosophies aligned with or reacting to it (materialism, positivist empiricism, antimentalist theories, social situationism, antirealist social constructivism, individualism, collective ‘holism’, etc.). Even so, sociologists tend to see themselves as serving the public good, and implicitly rely on unstated assumptions regarding what constitutes that good (perhaps valuing things like equality, inclusivity, fairness, justice, etc.). The problem, according to Smith, is that this is both contradictory (how can we pursue normative goods for humans when we have avoided specifying what human beings are and what ends are intrinsic to their nature and thus necessary for their flourishing?) and inevitably ineffective (because a reductionist view of personhood – usually held implicitly – leads to reductionist solutions to human social problems). 

While I don’t agree with everything Smith writes in this book (I’d want to qualify some things and expand upon others, theologically), I’d highly recommend it as important in its aims and thought-provoking for stimulating one’s own reflection on human persons. (I also recommend his previous book, What Is A Person?, also published by U. Chicago Press).

Advertisements
Posted in quotes | Tagged , , , , ,

Fred Sanders on the Trinity

Nice summary statement worthy of contemplation:

“[T]he doctrine of the Trinity is more than just another doctrine on the list of true things we have been taught by God about God. It is God’s self-revelation by way of presence in a more direct, intense, and personal way. . . . In the fullness of time, God did not give us facts about himself, but gave us himself  in the person of the Father who sent, the Son who was sent, and the Holy Spirit who was poured out. These events were accompanied by verbally inspired explanatory words; but the latter depend on the former.” (Fred Sanders, The Triune God, p. 40; italics mine for emphasis)

Posted in quotes, Theology | Tagged , , , , ,

The God Who Sends is The God Who Loves (new article on Trinity, Mission, and Participation)


I’ve just published an article on the Trinity, Mission, and Participation (or, more specifically: a trinitarian, participatory approach to missional ecclesiology). It developed out of a paper originally given at a Canadian-American Theological Association conference featuring Michal Gorman as keynote speaker on the theme of mission and participation.

I see this article as offering a corrective to pragmatic, functional tendencies within some of the missional church literature.

Click here to read the article.

Citation: Patrick S. Franklin, “The God Who Sends is The God Who Loves: Mission as Participating in the Ecstatic Love of the Triune God,” Didaskalia 28 (2017-18): 75-95.

—-

Posted in church, culture, ecclesiology, missional, Publications, published articles, Theology, Theology and Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Bonhoeffer on Eve and Mary

I’ve been enjoying re-immersing myself in Bonhoeffer’s Creation and Fall. Just finished a section of a paper I’m writing on Bonhoeffer’s understanding of community, in which I analyze Bonhoeffer’s theological reading of Scripture.

Here’s a wonderful little typological tidbit, reminiscent of Irenaeus’s reading of Scripture:

“Eve, the fallen, wise mother of humankind – that is one beginning. Mary, the innocent, unknowing mother of God – that is the second beginning.”

(Source: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1-3; vol. 3 Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, trans. Douglas Stephen Bax, ed. John W. de Grouchy; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997; p. 138).

Posted in hermeneutics, quotes, The Bible | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A Thoughtful Review of my Book

Thanks to Brent Rempel (PhD student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) for his thoughtful, charitable, and constructive review of my book!

You can read the review HERE.

Posted in book reviews, Publications | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Is God Male?

Some good traffic and discussion on my post over at The Junia Project. Click here to read and join in the conversation.

Posted in hermeneutics, Theology and Culture, Women in Ministry | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Mission & the Triune God (paper & response, open to the public)

Hey fellow pastors, church leaders, and theological thinkers in the Winnipeg and Steinbach (and broader Hanover) areas.

Come on out to Providence tomorrow to stimulate your mind and be refreshed, meet with others, and discuss your thoughts. Perhaps join us for chapel in the seminary first (11:10 a.m.) and make a retreat day of it?

Posted in church, ecclesiology, missional, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

In Need of the Spirit to Pray

“Paul’s ‘we do not know how to pray  as we ought’  has probably never been as relevant as it is today. We live at a time of spiritual drought. The images of the world which in former times spoke of God have become obscure ciphers and riddles, the words of scripture have been whittled away by rationalistic skeptics, human hearts have been so crushed and trampled on in this age of the robot that they are no longer sure that contemplation is possible. Prayer finds them basically full of doubt, insecurity and despair; they creep along close to the ground and dare not stand upright. They feel drawn to every negative act; ready not only to doubt God but also to resist him, perhaps even to hate him for letting the world carry on as it does, for being so high and aloof, above the need to intervene. For he is so sure of himself that he can expose his children to fear and darkness in this vast, unbounded universe, giving them no hope but nothingness, no consolation but the certainty of death. . . .  Nowadays the temptation to say No, to yield to weariness, is very strong.  Anyone with any receptivity to the question of the meaning of existence is put under such temptation that he has to strain every sinew to resist the current.”

– Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer, pp. 99-100.

Posted in quotes | Tagged , , ,

Hans Urs von Balthasar – In the Son

Read this awesome passage today and thought I’d share it:

“In the Son, the Father contemplates us from before all time, and is well pleased. It is in the Son that the Father can predestine and choose us to be his children,  fellow children with the one, eternal Child, who, from the beginning of the world, intervenes as sponsor for his alienated creatures. It is in him that the father justifies us, viewing and valuing us in the context of his Son’s righteousness which pays all our debts; he ascribes the Son’s righteousness to us; he gives it to us as our very own. Finally, it is in the Son that the Father glorifies us, by permitting us to participate in the Son’s resurrection and finally, by grace, setting us at his right hand, the Son’s rightful place.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar)

Posted in christology, quotes | Tagged , , , , ,

Is Christian Faith Obsolete in a Scientific Age?

Is Christian Faith Obsolete in a Scientific Age?

I’ve just uploaded my CSCA lecture, delivered in several locations last year, including the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden, University of Manitoba, SEMC Church in Steinbach, and Transcona Christian Reformed Church in Winnipeg.

The purpose was to generate conversation about the relationship between science and faith, and to promote the new local chapter of the CSCA (Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation).

Hope you enjoy it and find it helpful!

 

Posted in Philosophy of Science, Science and Christian Faith, teaching / lecturing, Theology and Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,