Social Constructionism (4)

There is a section in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers I enjoy. A little lapse into this story may prove instructive. The section I’m referring to is the Battle of the Hornburg. The forces of the malevolent wizard Saruman have gathered before the great Hornburg fortress of King Theoden at Helm’s Deep. Seeking safety behind these great walls are the good people of Rohan. At first, the evil orcs and the Uruk-hai take a head on frontal assault. Thousands launch themselves against the mighty fortress, but the great wall at Helm’s Deep is impenetrable. A small remnant of soldiers under King Theoden resist the open attacks of the wicked Saruman. But soon Saruman changes tactics. He knows destroying the great fortress is key to overcoming them. He learns about a vulnerable spot in the wall. He sends a soldier with a bomb strapped to him to run headlong into a small culvert at the base of the wall which allows water to drain out. The bomb explodes; the wall crumbles; the fortress is breached. The inhabitants seeking safety in Hornburg fortress are exposed. They are susceptible to death.

For years, the principalities of darkness have been searching for that small culvert at the base of the wall of God’s creation. They’ve been searching for the key that will allow them to turn the great institutions of our lives on their heads; to manipulate them for their purposes. I am not saying God’s creation has a flaw that the wicked attempts to exploit. Not at all. Nor do we fear that God’s Kingdom even has the possibility of falling. We know the serpent’s head will be bruised through Christ (Gen. 3:15). But the kingdom of man doesn’t lay down arms. It is now focusing on destroying the very foundations of these ordinances so that they no longer offer a protective barrier for the creatures that are designed to operate and live within the bounds of these ordinances. In its denial of any absolute truth, social constructionism is one of Saruman’s bombs that has assaulted these creation laws.

I identify three major creation ordinances or laws: 1. work and vocation 2. marriage and family 3. rest. God’s creation ordinances are decrees he established concerning the ordering of creation. They aren’t creatures; rather, they are decrees by which all of creatures are to live within. They are boundaries and directives for God’s creation. They are sown into the very fabric of creation itself. As such, you cannot rebel against them without marring creation and staining it for generations to come.

There is also a very close connection to the nature of the creature and the creation ordinance. God designed his world in a way that makes the obedience of these ordinances natural. Man and woman are each uniquely designed to fulfill the decree of marriage and multiplication. The whole cosmos is created in unity of purpose which allows the creation to operate within the bounds of God’s decrees for them. Every form fulfills the God-ordained function. He doesn’t command the tree to bring forth fruit without having created in the tree a form for producing seed. He doesn’t command man to keep and dress the garden but not equip him with the physical form to carry out this decree. Thus, a rebellion against an ordinance can stain the very creature too.

But the kingdom of man chaffs under the authority of God. These decrees remind him that he is forever under a higher power. It reminds him that he is simply a creature who owes allegiance to his Creator. If modernism emancipated society from the authority of a Creator by giving birth to evolutionism, post-modernism is emancipating society from the decrees of that same Creator imbedded in creation. The former has proven more difficult. It not only has to contend with religious certainties, but scientific or natural certainties in creation. Even the unregenerate scientist can see that there is a form in creation perfectly fitted for its function. Post-modernism, however, is succeeding. Truth no longer exists. Work, marriage, family, and rest are being challenged by social constructionism. No longer will a human’s natural body dictate what their gender will be, he will choose what he wants it to be. No longer will that same body point to the fact that marriage should be between a man and woman, but society will choose what marriage should be. No longer will man till and dress his earthly garden through vocation, but progress and culture will proceed despite the sweat of his brow. No longer will children be the fruit of marriage; they will simply be a consequence which can be removed by a simple procedure in a clinic. No longer will the Sabbath provide the rest man needs, but he will find it wherever he wants, whenever he wants, and in any form he desires.

Just like Saruman knew simple arrows launched at the Hornburg fortress would avail little, so too does the kingdom of man know that something more powerful and seismic is necessary. Long standing institutions don’t fall easily, but they do fall when the foundations of truth are swept away. In the next few posts, we will examine social constructionism and see how it is fitted to do this disruptive work.  

____________________

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.

Comments

Social Constructionism (3)

We are living in a transition period. For those of us who live in America, think about the deep changes that have taken place in the last decade. Some of these changes are specific to Americans, but often they represent changes experienced across the globe. We may be surprised to be reminded of the following:

  • In 2000, California approved Proposition 22 which restricted marriage to one man and one woman. This passed by 61% of voters supporting the bill! Even the majority in Los Angeles county approved the measure. Would they do the same in 2017?
  • In 1960, over 70% of Americans identified themselves as Protestant Christians. In 2000, it dropped to 52%. Today, only 37% of Americans identify as a Protestant Christian. (Gallup poll)
  • Throughout human history, mothers were the primary care givers of their children. Today, mothers are the sole or primary breadwinner in 40% of American families with children under age 18. Someone else is raising their children. Of course, this percentage is greatly influenced by the fact that many families are single parent homes. (Pew Research Center)
  • A few decades ago, robots and their artificial intelligence was a conspiracy theory for the science fiction world to muse on. Per Pew Research, all the experts they interviewed in their research predicted robots and artificial intelligence will pervade almost every aspect of our lives by 2025. There will be a disruption to our current occupation practices.
  • Less than a decade ago, homes used to be children’s sanctuary from the pressures of school, work and society. With the emergence of smartphones and tablets, it has quickly become their command center.

I could list more, but I don’t think I need to. An aware person understands they are living through a period of profound changes. In fact, social change seems to be a normalized characteristic of life. Change isn’t unexpected; rather, we’ve built our lives around its continual presence. These statistics and anecdotes not only highlight changes that have taken place over a relatively short period, but they highlight deep changes. They impact our heart, mind and soul in powerful ways. They are just small evidences of a great alteration in the social and moral fabric of America and abroad.

Some of the most long standing institutions of humanity are disintegrating. Institutions of marriage, family, and vocation are radically crumbling. These are creation ordinances. The humanist would say these ordinances are “transforming” or “evolving”, but that simply isn’t the case. They are crashing down around us. It isn’t even the crash that is so alarming as to the speed with which they are crashing.

How can this be happening? How can God’s creation ordinances be so openly violated in such a short time?  

The Bible tells us in the last days Satan will be loosed (Rev. 20:7). The people of God have known this for many ages. We may answer the above questions by simply acknowledging that Satan is at work. Or we may remind ourselves that we are “living in the last days.” But we would do well to probe a little deeper. Yes, Satan will be loosed; he may be loose already. And we are living in the last days, but the post-apostolic church has always “lived in the last days.” Such answers are too simple if we want a deeper understanding.

Satan employs means. Satan isn’t personally manipulating every man, woman or child that lives an ungodly life which deteriorates the fabric of our world. He isn’t omnipresent. He embraces tools which are used to undermine the great truths of God as they are applied and practiced in the social life of humanity. He employs means. Social constructionism is one of these means and it is changing our society.

____________________

We are living in a transition period. We are entering a new era. The modern is giving way to the post-modern. What is coming isn’t fully known. We watch as the world morphs in front of our eyes. It’s as if we are seeing the late autumn forest drop her beautiful fall colors in fast forward. The death of winter is near. The chill lingers.

But even winter has a sudden beauty if we can look past the cold and death. For the child of God, we do not live in fear, “for he that feareth is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:18). Neither do we separate from the society we are so intrinsically connected to. We live in this world so that we can use her, develop her, and cultivate her as God’s garden for his glory. Just as God placed Israel in the land of Canaan which was at the crossroads of civilization, we too do not flee the great public intersections of life. To help us live full lives by using our gifts and talents in joyful doxology to God, we would do well to prepare ourselves and understand the forces that are at play, lest we mistake darkness for light and light for darkness.

Let’s keep peeling the onion layers away. In upcoming posts, we will investigate what might be motivating the kingdom of darkness to specifically assault God’s creation ordinances. Also, we still need to explore social constructionism in more detail and show how it is an effective tool at doing just that. Stay tuned!

____________________

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.

Comments

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.

____________________

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.

Comments

Social Constructionism

Over the next couple posts, I will be treating the subject of social constructionism. This may seem like a strange topic, hardly worth knowing. Although the term itself isn’t part of most people’s daily speech, its influence can be seen all over. If you bear with me over the next couple posts, you will find social constructionism is something you will want to know more about.

I first learned about this subject during my graduate studies at Calvin College. It was new to me, but it helped me understand why the world is consistently moving toward a progressive, non-traditional worldview. Have you ever wondered how two people living in the same country, maybe even on the same street, can have such radically different views on marriage or homosexuality and both passionately claim they are right? Or how there can be such polarization between the left and the right? The differences in worldview and ideology are so deep and foundational we have a difficult time even identifying ourselves with some of our fellow citizens. The differences no longer center on surface issues, but they go directly to the root. They deal with matters as deep as God’s creation ordinances.

In part, the answer lies in our conception of truth and knowledge. At the heart of all arguments is the desire for truth. It is human nature to want to uncover that truth. Or, so we may think. What if more and more society is operating within a radically different framework for understanding truth? What if more and more society rejects the premise that truth rests outside of themselves? In such cases, the possibility for two sides to look at the same thing and come to radically different conclusions is highly probable.

Social constructionism is a broad conglomeration of philosophies, but at its heart is the assumption that knowledge is socially created. That’s right. Knowledge (i.e., Dogs are furry and they can make good pets) is created in the minds of the knower. Because knowledge is the product of the knower, it is not independent. It does not exist outside of the mind. It is constructed in each person through the experiences they’ve had (i.e., I know dogs make good pets because I’ve had a dog and it was a good pet, or someone who’s had a dog for a pet said they were good pets, etc.). Since each person has a slightly different experience than someone else, each person forms a different knowledge base. Collectively, if knowledge is created and based on the experiences of society, absolute truth does not exist. It cannot, because absolute truth is an inflexible reality that exists apart from the knower. Take marriage for example. The social constructivist will say marriage is a construct of society. It can and must change as societies’ needs change.

Some people understand this as postmodernism. That would be correct. Social constructionism is a prominent theory in the postmodern movement. But postmodernism isn’t a theory itself, rather, it is a label. If we want to understand the activity which brings about the postmodern label, we would do well to understand social constructionism. 

This theory may seem absurd to you and me. But it is the foundational framework for so many philosophers, institutions, and organizations; and not just secular, but Christian and Reformed too. Although I have high esteem for the instruction I received at Calvin College, it may surprise you to know that her teacher education program is rooted in social constructionism. In 2002, Calvin College’s Department of Education rewrote their conceptual framework for their teacher education program. This framework was to provide the foundations for the educational philosophies taught to her students. They placed the foundations of their program on the philosophies of many social constructivists.[1] You can access their framework here (https://www.calvin.edu/academic/education/info/conceptualframework.pdf).

I have also heard more than a few Reformed (i.e., Protestant Reformed) teachers promote the idea of constructivism in their teaching. More often it comes from teachers just graduating from college. It would do them well, too, to probe a little deeper.

Let’s peel away some layers on this onion, shall we?

____________________

[1] Their conceptual framework explicitly references social constructivists (or those who embrace constructivist theories) like John Dewey, Paulo Freire, Parker Palmer, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Spencer Kagen, Jurgen Habermas, Henry Giroux, and Cornel West.

____________________

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.

Comments

Post Tags

On Twitter

Follow @reformedfreepub