There was a time, not long ago, when the evangelical commu-nity had considerable consensus on lifestyle questions and socialissues. We generally agreed on what we should eat and drink and how we might spend our weekends. There was little debate over definitions of vulgarity or morality, and questions of fashion were rarely a matter for discussion. In those days, everyone knew how a family should be raised, and aberrations such as divorce and abortion were simply that: problems found only among hose outside the fold. All of that has changed.
Today there is considerable disagreement on such questions, and where there is not disagreement, there is often a reluctant silence or unwillingness to enter into discussion on these questions. The problem is complicated by the fact that these issues do not always fall neatly into those familiar gaps found among genders, generations, and geographies. Too often we find uneasy disagreement among parishioners or even among clergy in the same denomination. Similarly, tensions are found among teenagers or among parents and not simply between those two groups. In each case where such tensions exist, clear biblical and objective bases for evaluating our modern society are usually not found. Consequently, theological answers to these questions have generally not been helpful. That is not to say we should expect them to be. Much of the difficulty in dealing with contemporary social issues can be attributed to modernity with its tendency to pose problems that all outside of theological answers. Theology is designed to defend the faith and not to interpret modern culture or to help the believer live in it. It is the province of social science to understand modernity and to explain how it affects all of us. Theology cannot be expected to interpret the impact of computers on modern life any more than social science can be expected to explain the Trinity. What theology can do is to elucidate those universal principles given to us by God that social science may then interpret for modern living.
My claim is that modern life has re-defined many of the practices that theology traditionally addressed. State lotteries, for example, have defined gambling in ways unfamiliar to theology. The revocation of blue laws concerned with Sunday openings has challenged the traditional meaning of the Sabbath. In a modern economy, the biblical meaning of poverty differsgreatly from the meaning found today. In each of these cases, traditional biblical interpretations do not address the questions experienced today. Consequently, there is a lag in theological thinking when contemporary social issues fall outside the boundof traditional theological answer.
Our problem is to locate some common ground where theology and social science can join forces, some bridge between biblical truth and the application of that truth to modern social problems. I would argue that concepts found in scripture as well as in social science form a common, hermeneutical base for the analysis of modern social issues. Referred to here as hidden threads, these concepts tie together, so to speak, the meaning God intended us to find in the world with meaning as we find it today. What is the meaning in the modern marriage that is faithful to God’s plan and what has been added by humans? What is the meaning of money that God would have us keep and what modern thinking should be discarded? These questions can only be answered when theology and social science join forces.
The harmful impact made by modernity on society and Christian thought justifies such an approach. To support that claim, I intend in this paper to: l) clarify the crises posed by modernity, 2) develop the conceptual foundation referred to here as hidden threads as it relates to these crises, and 3) encourage the development of a hermeneutic which benefits from the interpretations offered by theology and social science.
Crisis of MeaningMuch of traditional life was governed by the belief that society’s rules and norms were appropriate for governing human relationships and were worthy of respect, if not full acceptance. Developments in Western culture over the past 30 years or so have reversed much of this belief and substituted the notion that people shape rules as they interact. Instead of fitting relationships into normative expectations, those relationships