“There is, to date, no single adequate definition of society in social theory…” And yet, in this fascinating and highly informative book, Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction, author Anthony Elliott dares to do just that. Elliott takes the struggle of dealing with modernity in an ever changing world, and diligently, through the works of scholars, intellects and authors throughout the ages, seeks to define the areas that would set the guidelines for understanding Contemporary Social Theory. He looks at the various societal classifications, which seem to breakdown the areas of social thought, and yet never seems to ignore the impossible and “ambiguous” nature of humanity that makes this task nearly unreachable.
Though Elliott’s work does not seem to actually focus on the theological methods of thought, it is the very nature of social view that impacts the approach that nearly, if not all, factors of humanity balance. “In social theory as in everyday life, this answer emphasizes that social life must be constructed within the province of the nation and its assured rights of belonging – the entitlements and duties of citizenship.” To understand a person’s perspective of themselves is to understand that person, and therefore open up doorways for communication; whether it is in the workplace, the sales-floor, or yes, even in the church building. When struggling to place a finger on one particular area of focus, instead the author lists at least 13 different types of societal classifications, though not all are noted as necessarily positive.
The key point of the book seems to address 5 main themes that breakdown the guidelines of establishing social norms on the modern level.
- The relation between individual and society
- The degree of consensus or conflict in modern societies
- Change or social transformation
- Gender Issues
- The relationship between social and emotional: between public and private worlds
I found myself through this reading, constantly evaluating the role that Christianity and religion have on these approaches. It was the reminder, and yet also the ongoing question, regarding how much personal insight should influence biblical teaching and the role that ministry in modern society. All five of these areas I have had to personally address and deal with as a minister, and yet at sometimes found that I felt the best approach was to ALMOST ignore the societal ideologies and focus purely on the scriptural lesson. At one point I even discussed this issue with my wife and brought to point the Samaritan woman at the well that Jesus addresses and asks for water in John 4; did he use her cultural world view in order to teach the subject lesson? Ironically, it seems the woman is more caught up in her world view than Christ is, and she cannot help but draw His attention to her own self-view. However, I am certain that Christ knew this woman’s history better than she did, and perhaps it was that very reason He chose her for this particular lesson. The reality is that this book seemed to be just as frustratingly insightful as I read it. What good is doctrine if we allow others to affect it; but what good is ministry if we do not take the time to understand where others are coming from?
Another point that drew my attention in this reading was the nature of “fascist ideology” that was listed. I found that in some regards the following descriptions were nothing like the Christianity that I preach from the pulpit…but in other regards…they were not far off. With each classification, I found myself altering with my own religious perspective.
The Authoritarian Personality: Fascist Ideology verses Shawn’s Christian Social View
- Conventionalism: A rigid adherence to middle-class values and inflexible attitudes to others. Alternate: A rigid adherence to biblical values and considerably inflexible to differing attitudes of others.
- Authoritarian Submission: An uncritical, submissive orientation to figures of authority. Alternate: An uncritical, submissive orientation to the biblical figures of authority.
- Authoritarian Aggression: A tendency to actively search out people who transgress conventional values, with the desire to see them punished. Alternate: A tendency to actively search out people who transgress biblical values, with the desire to see them brought to salvation.
- Anti-Intraception: Rejection of imagination, creativity or the emotionally-minded. Alternate: Rejection of worldliness, modern thought, or emotional convictions
- Stereotype or superstition: belief in the mystical determinants of fate, as well as ordering of the world through rigid stereotypes. Alternate: Belief in the true supremacy of God and the inevitable judgment that awaits all humanity, as well as the necessary ordering through biblical instruction.
- Power and toughness: An exaggerated assertion of strength, coupled to a preoccupation with dichotomies – dominance/submission, strong/weak, leader/follower. Alternate: True power comes from God, and any self-perceived human ability projected over that power is imaginary.
- Destructiveness and Cynicism: Generalized hostility and even hatred of the human condition. Alternate: Generalized love for humanity with hatred toward the sin that they participate in. Sin is inevitable, but spiritual destruction does not have to be.
- Projectivity: The projection of unwanted emotional aspects of the self onto others. Alternate: Christianity is intended for all, but imposed upon no one. God desired that we would use free-will to find Him, and anyone who tries to force others into submission has missed the point.
- Sex: An exaggerated concern with the sexual activities of others. Alternate: Sin is the construct which separates man from God and one major area of offense usually involves sins of sexual nature. To preach on sin will eventually lead to preaching against sexual sins.
My thoughts did not place Christianity as fascism, however, they did note how similar the two could be connected if someone, whose contemporary social view was anti-religious, could easily try to manipulate this ideology into a negative basis. God is a supreme being who wields ultimate power and desires that all should serve Him; however, He does not do it forcefully and aggressively. Chris Hedges wrote concerning a warning made by one of his past college professors, “Adams warned us against the blindness caused by intellectual snobbery. The Nazis, he said, were not going to return with swastikas and brown shirts. Their ideological inheritors had found a mask for fascism in the pages of the bible.” I found myself asking, “Could a distorted world view combined with one’s own personal social image unite together to give Christianity this tainted image?” Furthermore, could a minister’s inability to sympathize, empathize, or even simply relate to their audience create the same dilemma? The answer I found was…Yes!
“A governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.”
The ability to prepare you for this potential roadblock however, did not necessarily change my methodology but rather my preparation. Do ministers allow this knowledge of social identity and modernity to alter the message that is presented? Does the social view have the right to dictate the message? To both of these my answer is NO! In spite of the audience, the message was taught. There is an insightful debate on Debate.org which discussed the nuances between fascism and Christianity; in this debate, it demonstrated the reality that there are some strong similarities, and yet, some strong differences. Today, we face the struggle of recognizing true Christianity with something else, and it is the similarities that define us, but rather the true differences.
Galatians 1:6-7 (NKJV)
6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.
Ultimately, this book was valuable in its role toward my dissertation, because I found in it many valuable lessons that will help steer the way I want to word myself. Though preaching the gospel should not be altered, it is important to make sure that any message projected is relatable. The reality is that the woman at the well was moved by the message because of what she could personally take away from it. I believe Jesus was very relatable, even though He was immovable.
Christianity is Akin to Fascism. (2015, September 10). Retrieved November 15, 2017, from Debate.org: http://www.debate.org/debates/Christianity-is-akin-to-Fascism/2/
Elliott, A. (2014). Contemporary Social Theory. London: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group.
Hedges, C. (2007, February 7). The Rise of Christian Fascism and its Threat to American Democracy. Retrieved November 15, 2017, from Alternet: https://www.alternet.org/story/47679/the_rise_of_christian_fascism_and_its_threat_to_american_democracy
 Elliott, A. (2014). Contemporary Social Theory. London: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group. P 4.
 Ibid, p 3.
 Ibid, p 3.
 Ibid, p 56-67.
 Hedges, C. (2007, February 7). The Rise of Christian Fascism and its Threat to American Democracy. Retrieved November 15, 2017, from Alternet: https://www.alternet.org/story/47679/the_rise_of_christian_fascism_and_ its_threat_to_american_democracy
 Galatians 1:7.