Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

From Social Theory to Christian Action

Written by: on November 7, 2014

Anthony Elliott’s book, Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction[1]provides a solid overview of theories on how societies have changed and developed over time. Elliot looks at the relationships between individuals and societies, and themes such as gender and race. A wide range of popular theories is covered, seeking answers to how and why society and societal norms have developed from WWII to where they are today. Studying popular social theory helps one to better understand social concerns and disparities, such as between rich and poor or black and white. It raises our awareness on how circumstances influence a person’s interactions or engagement within society. After reading Elliot’s book I was left asking, “what do I do with this information?” It seems that I have a responsibility to understand the underlying drivers for societal structure and change, yet I must also balance this by viewing social theory through a Biblical context. Social theory can give me a sense of where my community and the greater global society is headed, which allows me to analyze how Christianity is or is not engaging in the same direction that society is moving.

I’ve never considered myself privileged, as I believe that God created everyone equal. Yet, I’ve grown up in a Midwest American bubble having little experience outside of the culture in which I was raised. It wasn’t until I stepped out of my own surroundings that I could see how my own circumstances, opinions, and station in life have been molded by the world in which I was born. I was born in the same town and same hospital where other children of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds were born. From birth, the norms of society dictated where I lived, attended church, went to school, etc. Although my family wasn’t wealthy I attended what was considered a high income, predominately white school district. The educational standards were very high, and most students graduated and went on to college and successful careers. During a recent trip to Cape Town, South Africa, I was frequently confronted by the fact that I was born with “white privilege”.  My life is a testimony to this fact. I attend a predominately white church, filled with people just like me.  My children’s educational upbringing is much the same as my own. In many ways, I’ve contributed to the current situation by going along with the “norm”.

Many of the churches within my community are socially segregated and serve only a small subset of the community. If they do reach out to diverse groups, it is typically in the form of “outreach” versus building relationships. Since returning from Cape Town, I have realized that I am missing out on the blessing that comes from having strong relationships with the different groups of people that live within my own community. There is a racial divide that exists, and until people start crossing this divide we won’t be able to have unity and peace within our communities. Christians and church leaders need to take the lead to reach out and start building relationships with those in their own communities that are different from themselves.

I am encouraged that people are starting to pay attention to social injustice, as just this week I heard Christian leaders from diverse backgrounds dialog about cultural issues and social justice at #nines2014. Leonce Crump specifically called out the fact that systemic racism exists in America.[2] We have a long way to go in order to create a society with a Christ-centered dogma.  “At the cross of Jesus where love and justice meet, diverse cultural identities are redeemed, celebrated, and unified.”[3] People are suffering and I cannot live in complacency, as if I don’t see the division and disparity within society. I will step out and be a change agent for Christ, and I hope others will join me…

[1] Anthony Elliott, Contemporary Social Theory: an Introduction, 2 ed. (New York: Routledge, 2014).

[2] See also: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/august/its-time-to-listen-saved-and-silent-will-white-evangelicals.html

[3] Oosthuizen, Leon & Xola Skosana. Roads 2 Bridges. (Paarl, South Africa: Emmaus Media, 2013).

About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

8 responses to “From Social Theory to Christian Action”

  1. Nick Martineau says:


    I also watched many of the #nines2014 talks. It was really interesting for me to see that going on while also pondering this book.

    I feel like you really framed well the role believers have in engaging with social theory when you said, “Social theory can give me a sense of where my community and the greater global society is headed, which allows me to analyze how Christianity is or is not engaging in the same direction that society is moving.” As believers we do have a role to play in this and it needs to start with me engaging my head/heart in my community and taking the first step out. Thanks!

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      I’m curious how you found the conference. I think it is good to have dialog and some great speakers were present, but I also felt that parts of it seemed somewhat superficial. That being said, I am encouraged because the conference is getting people to at least have dialog. Maybe I’m just sensitive since I work in marketing, but I felt that there was quite a bit of “marketing” of the latest social justice trends. Causes are promoted to get lots of people’s attention on a few specific issues, but other concerns tend to be neglected. People jump on the latest bandwagon, and I often wonder if it is advertising or God that they are hearing the loudest.

  2. Mary says:

    Sounds like Cape Town rocked your world, Dawnel. Your discovery reflects the process of ethnography and applying social theory all in one – to discover your “bubble” of being part of white privilege isn’t necessary easy to see. I think that’s why what we are doing through this process in the DMin is so valuable, not just in offering a dissertation of sort, but in our own lives. I feel honored to walk this journey together.

  3. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dawnel, Neat biographical paragraph in your post. I think it is the second paragraph where you unpack some of your socially structuring experiences. I have found several times in this class so far, thinking or writing out some “pathways” of thought or experience that have been a large part of developing me into where I am or as who I am. and I will join you in being a change agent in the world, starting with my own backyard.

  4. Brian Yost says:

    “Christians and church leaders need to take the lead to reach out and start building relationships with those in their own communities that are different from themselves.” As a christian, it is embarrassing that so many good things that should be done by the church end up getting being led by other groups simply because the church does not step up. As you say, “If they do reach out to diverse groups, it is typically in the form of “outreach” versus building relationships.” It is time to stop doing ministry while maintaining our distance. It is time for the church to be the community of Christ.

  5. Travis Biglow says:

    Hi Dawnel,

    Its just great you recognize the issues we all face growing up in our society. Its not your fault though. You just as myself were born where we were born and we had little to do what with where were we born. Its just good to have the opportunity to grow up and see the social issues that we face. I think God has his hands on us so that we can make a difference!

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Totally agree Travis…From what I have seen, most prior generations haven’t had the opportunity to see the social issues…they were blind to even those issues in their own communities. It is as if a mist is being lifted, allowing people to cross bridges that they wouldn’t have been able to many years ago.

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