Structuration Theory and Theology PART TWO: the water and the stones

In the last post I described the sociology theory “Structuration” and how I compare its view (of the development of human societies) to water in a streambed flowing among stones – both the water and the stones mutually affecting each other. I was talking about this because I suspect the history of change in Christian theology is also a story of Structuration.

Christians I know tend to have a variety of ideas about changes in theology. Some see change as a watering down of the clear, Divinely-inspired teaching of the Bible; as in, people change theology to suit their whims instead of obeying what God has said. I don’t think that accurately describes the development of Christian doctrine down through the centuries, and certainly doesn’t reflect how a doctrine like, say, the Atonement, has undergone change. People who take this approach are well-meaning I am sure, but I don’t think their understanding of the history of Christian thought is very robust.

Others see it more in terms of progressive revelation; as in, God is helping us slowly develop better and better theology as the centuries unfold. This sounds encouraging, though we have to admit it’s pretty us-focused, self-serving, and naïve concerning the negative effects much theology has.

Some see it as simply a matter of applying the correct scientific methods of interpreting the Scriptures, and whoever does the best work is the one who is correct. Thus the exegetical wars between Wesleyans and Calvinists, etc. etc., ad nauseum.  I think history has shown these wars of textual minutia to be unwinnable, with a large swath of bombed-out territory in between the trenches, littered with lots and lots of human casualties that too many of the weapons-designers don’t get out to see.

I suspect that the truth about changes in theology is a lot like Structuration theory’s explanation of change in human societies. The traditions, beliefs and worldviews a person grows up with shapes their view of theology, (and their understanding of what the Scriptures mean, and which Scriptures are more important than others). But then again, that person’s unique thought processes interpret what they see in the world around them in ways that are possible to break beyond the bounds of the prevailing thought around them – thus pushing the stream of water flow in a different direction, in a minor – or sometimes major – shift. These changes in perspective in theology are often in response to discoveries or new thought in other realms – biology, physics, archeology, humanities, etc. But it’s not one-way, because the prevailing theology/worldview shapes the assumptions those scientists come to their work with as well. Thus I think history shows that the human society and its prevailing thought systems (and new discoveries) affects theology’s development, and theology affects the society as well, in an on-going interplay.  Easy example: when we discover the earth goes ‘round the sun, instead of the sun going ‘round the earth, it’s hard to stick with a theology – and an exegetical method – that says the sun goes ‘round the earth.  There’s a lot more to be said about this. Our theologies have changed in all kinds of ways down through the centuries because of things we’ve learned in science, or because of our consciences. More on structuration theory and theology in the next post.

Today is the fifth day of Christmas Season in the Christian calendar. So it’s not too late for me to sincerely wish you: Merry Christmas.

4 thoughts on “Structuration Theory and Theology PART TWO: the water and the stones

  1. I was always a fan of the “Two-Book” method. In this post-modern culture it is almost necessary to use this method to reach millennial populations. I am encouraged by the way academia is trying to break into this mindset and encouraging students to develop their own thoughts, and remain submerged in tradition.

    • “Two-Book” meaning Scripture is revealing who God is and science (discovery) is revealing how God did or is doing it in the world. I.e. physics allows us to discovery the the physical world in which we live and the physical laws we are bound to.
      With that said I am not sure what that means for how God works in the world. If he established laws that means that he too is bound to the laws he created. John’s writing in Revelation reveals that there too will be a physical presence of heaven on earth. The physical presence of heaven and the depictions of what John saw in his vision (even though we only have glimpses of what he actually saw) reveals that there too is a similar physics in heaven. So these laws are also present even in heaven.
      The “Two-Book” method validates the study of Scripture and the study of our world. By studying the world we can use what we discover to better interpret Scripture. This method works only when we include the Holy Spirit into every aspect of discovery and interpretation.

  2. Ah, yes. This sounds like exactly the practice we see in the wisdom literature, i.e. wise men like Solomon studying the natural world and drawing conclusions from what they observe, concerning how God has ordered the Creation. This “two book” idea was part of hebrew theology in the OT.

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