Social Constructionism (2)

Last time we defined social constructionism and showed that it falls into the category of postmodernism. Our goal with this series is to understand the layers of social constructionism so that we might be aware of its dangers as Reformed Christians. To peel away the first layer of the social constructionist onion, let’s begin by understanding our place in history.

Throughout the history of the world there have been great time periods which are marked by common and stable characteristics. Historians have recognized this and have given names to these great bands of time to help us understand the vast and complex flow of human history. The Iron Age comes to mind, and the Classical Age, the Renaissance, and the Industrial Revolution. These are just to name just a few. This is called the periodization of history.

Sometimes we recognize these patches of history by the spirit of prevailing philosophies which characterize them. The Germans called this the zeitgeist which means “the spirit of the times.” The age of reason or modernism or postmodernism are but a few.

In truth, history is the unfolding of God’s sovereign counsel. It is seamless; one day flows into a thousand years. To lump together segments of God’s counsel as it unfolds is surely an arbitrary construction of man. But the periodization of history helps us think about history by providing us with a framework to analyze the unfolding of God’s activity.

Because it is artificial, people living through a particular time period seldom realize it. The poor Irish farmer of the sixth century hardly understood he was living during a time known as the Early Dark Ages. He simply lived his life within the framework his culture provided, hardly aware of the forces that brought about the zeitgeist of that era.  It is for the student of history to look back and identify the period many years after the period has existed.

Throughout the flow of time, there have been great disruptions which often bring about the end of an era and the beginning of something new. Some of the most fascinating times in history occur not during the period, but between them. These are called transition periods and they are usually marked by a radical change in human life because of some powerful external factors. In his sovereign counsel, God has used many different means to carry out his will in history. These disruptions do not escape his sovereignty. They exist because of his sovereignty. Maybe it was the discovery of iron. Maybe it was the invention of the engine. Or maybe it was some sweeping philosophical or political ideology. In a transition period, disruption is the defining characteristic.

Because of these cataclysmic disruptions, it is possible to recognize, in the moment, that something old is dying away and the birth of something new, maybe even mysterious, is imminent. When the printing press was invented, the disruption to the status quo was recognizable in the relative moment. Pope Alexander VI issued his notorious Inter Multipleces (1501) which banned the printing of any books which were not endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church. He realized that the printing press had ushered in a great change which he did not like.

If we are perceptive enough, we can identify these transition periods while the transition is taking place. Sometimes the changes that take place can be so great, so effectual, so powerful, that even the oblivious person knows something big is happening. Sometimes the disruption is gradual, but deep.

We are in a transition period right now. When this period started and when it will end is for the coming generations to determine. It would do us well to take a moment to try to understand what age we are living in. It is my purpose to prove to you that social constructionism is one of the main disrupters.

More on this next time.

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This post was written by Rick Mingerink, a member of the Grandville Protestant Reformed Church in Michigan. Rick is also a principal at a Christian school in West Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Rick, please do so in the comment section.

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