What is the Spirituality of Social Transformation?


Understanding the Spirituality of Structural Transformation

The word “spirituality” can mean different things to many people. In essence, a spirituality in the Christian tradition is basically a way of life that imitates Christ’s life. Spirituality is a radical living of what one preaches, witnessing to the radical demands of the Gospel (PCP II, n. 282). The Second the Plenary Council of the Philippines speaks a particular type of spirituality for committed Christian to combat social and structural sins and transform society according to God’s plan–the spirituality of social transformation.

The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) seems too broad in describing of what precisely this spirituality of social transformation in actual social practice and how can this be practiced by ordinary Christians in daily life. It just described it as a way of life marked by an enduring and intimate commitment to Jesus, a love for him that does not count the cost (PCP II 278), a way of life that is constantly called to a profound transformation of one’s life and living the spirit of the Beatitudes in a world of poverty, oppression, exploitation, and conflict (PCP II#272).


It is said to be a spirituality that is inspired by the preferential option for the poor, seeking the Kingdom as its primary rule, a spirituality that shares the Good News in the midst of deprivation, hope in situations of cynicism and pessimism (PCP II #280), and a spirituality that listens to and heeds God’s word, discerns and follows the Spirit in the Scriptures, in the Church and in history (PCP II 281).

Social Transformation as an Integral Part of the Christian Faith


As mentioned above, the Christian faith is not pietistic and individualistic. It has a social or public dimension as this is witnessed in the context of a community. Evangelization is not only about saving the soul but saving the entire person with body and soul. Moreover, a person is not an isolated individual. S/he is a social being who lives in society. S/he influences society, but society also influences him/her. The Church preaches total salvation as the individual is intrinsically linked with the liberation of society from structural sins. Thus, to save the individual implies saving society. Now one cannot liberate society without having a spirituality of social transformation. If the orientation of the individual believer is purely pietistic and individualist, then it is less likely that s/he engages in social actions inspired by the Christian faith and by the teaching on the preferential option for the poor.

The Major Problem in Achieving the Spirituality of Social Transformation

The major problem with the concept of the spirituality of social transformation of PCP II is its lack of indicators of what exactly this spirituality is and how it can be lived out in a structured way by Christians in practical life. The priests and religious seem to have a structural privilege with regard to practicing their spiritual and prayer life. Their spirituality and mission are guided by the charism of their founders and religious orders and by the institutional teachings and rules of the Church. The institutional Church as well as the structures of religious orders have laid out some sort of structure that provide the fundamental principles and methodologies which support and sustain the kind of spirituality they want to live. Since the Church has already been bureaucratized, a fairly fixed structure has already been established by the institutional Church on how priests and religious can generally nurture and live out their spiritual life. In short, the kind of spirituality priests and religious want to pursue is aided by some formation or socialization structure to fully actualize it.


But this structured spirituality enjoy the religious and the clergy seems to be not the case for lay people. Structuring their own spirituality is not that easy, given the secularization of the world they live in and the diverse nature of their job, family, culture, and social class. There is no clear socialization structure on the kind of spirituality they want to pursue. It is still largely individualist in approach compared to priests and religious. Of course, they can always join some religious organizations or lay institutes to nurture the spirituality they aspire to achieve. But most of the time, the great multitudes of lay people are thrown in the world without being attached to some kind of a religious structure that continually nurture their spirituality. Given secular character and preoccupation of their vocation, lay people are often left alone to pattern their own spirituality with much the aid of a structure to regularize their formation process. With regard to the social teachings of the Church, they are often in their own personal discretion on how to actualize in the world what they learned from the Church’s teaching authority. Given the low level of awareness among Christians on the Catholic Social Teaching, it is uncertain whether the lay people do care at all to pattern their spirituality according to the Church’s social doctrine.

Some Practical Problems of a Spirituality of Social Transformation


First of all, the spirituality of social transformation proposed by PCP II sounds foreign to the religious and cultural awareness of many Filipinos who are more personalistic and kin-based in their cultural understanding of a community. This is one reason that they have a difficulty of understanding the Church as a “community of believers” who come from different ethnic, kinship, and cultural background. For most Filipino lay Catholics, the Church is the “sambahan” or “place of worship” and not the baptized community. A sociological research by Ricardo G. Abad on social capital reveals that Filipinos has difficulty of relating with the social world beyond the family, relatives and friends. This narrow and personalistic view of the community prevents Filipinos to be involved in something impersonal and abstract such as the state, the Church, government, or the society at large. That is why many Filipino Catholic do not find it necessary to do social or transformational action beyond the social circles of relatives and friends. If people are not well catechized on the CST, particularly on why and how the spirituality of social transformation be achieved and sustained, then this injunction of PCP II of seeing God in social liberation would only remain theoretical.


Another obstacle in the development of this spirituality, as pointed above, is ignorance of the laity on the social teachings of the Church. Correct theory or understanding is necessary in order to achieve correct or appropriate social action. How can people create and live out this spirituality of social transformation if they are ignorant of the social doctrines of the Church and their proper applications in society? And how can they learn these doctrines if they are not enough priests, religious, or lay teachers in the Church who can teach them? Sufficient and updated knowledge of the Church’s social teachings, a sound sociological knowledge and analysis of the social situation, a strong commitment to prayer life, and a social structure that guides social action as well as an ongoing Christian formation to believers and advocates are necessary to create a sound spirituality of social transformation. These are some of the important requirements in achieving the spirituality of social transformation.

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6 Most Misunderstood Beliefs and Practices in the Catholic Church

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1. Venerating the Saints is Idolatry.

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Venerating the saints is not idolatry. Catholics are not actually praying to the saints but only honoring them as heroes of the Catholic faith and asking them to intercede for them to Christ. Catholics only worship God and not the saints according to official Church teachings. It’s true that worshiping material things is idolatry and a serious sin against God. But the statues inside the Church are mere symbols and representations of their personhood of the saints as true disciples of Christ, worthy of emulation. They help Catholics to recall their heroic deeds for God. A symbol, such as the statue, only points to the reality. The piece of wood or cement of the statue is not being worshiped by Catholics but only served as a visual aid to remind Catholics to imitate their extraordinary faith in Christ..

2. The Sacred Host in the Mass is only a Symbol.

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For some Protestant Churches which use the sacred host in their public rituals, the consecrated host is only a symbol but not the reality itself. This is not the Catholic Church’s official teaching. For the Church, the consecrated host during the Mass is not just a symbol but the reality itself. Under the Doctrine of Transubstantiation, the ordinary unleavened bread is transformed into the real Body of Christ after the consecration in the Eucharist.

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“Transubstantiation is the process by which the bread and wine of the Eucharist is transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Catholics believe that through transubstantiation, the risen Jesus becomes truly present in the Eucharist. The word transubstantiation is made up of two parts: ‘trans’ and ‘substantiation.’ The first part is a prefix that means ‘across’, ‘beyond’, or ‘through’. It suggests that some kind of change has taken place. The second part of the word, ‘substantiation,’ refers to the philosophical term substance. According to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, substance is a thing’s deepest being, what it is, in and of itself. The substance of a thing is what it really and truly is beyond all appearances” (Troolin). After the consecration of the priest, the substance of the bread and wine is transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

3. The Personal and Moral Life of the Priest can Affect the Sacredness of the Mass He is Celebrating!

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It is true that persons who are ordained by Catholic bishops as priests remain human beings and sinners. But the sacrament of ordination has transformed them into ministers of Christ and the Church. What they are administering in the Church, such as the Eucharist and the sacraments, are not affected by their personal and immoral life as sinners. These public rituals are done by priests in the name of the Church of Christ and not in their own name and power. As ministers, they are only instruments, the real dispensers of divine grace in the sacraments is Christ Himself. Of course, it is ideal that the priest who administers the sacraments is also a holy person and a worthy human instrument of grace.

4. Direct Confession to God is Better than Confessing to the Priest.

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Direct confession to God is usually done by Protestant and Christian churches. But the Catholic Church only allows direct confession for venial or minor sins. Grave or serious sins must be confessed to the priest in the sacrament of reconciliation. In the Gospels, following his resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples. After breathing upon them, he said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:22-23; see also Mt 18:18). The sacrament of reconciliation encourages us to go and to try to sin no more. This teaching is found also in Ephesians 4:25-32 and 1 John 1:5-10. By virtue of his ordination, the priest is authorized by the Church to forgive sins in the name of Christ.

5. Unbaptized Babies will go to Limbo!

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“It is clear that the traditional teaching on this topic has concentrated on the theory of limbo, understood as a state which includes the souls of infants who die subject to original sin and without baptism, and who, therefore, neither merit the beatific vision, nor yet are subjected to any punishment, because they are not guilty of any personal sin. This theory, elaborated by theologians beginning in the Middle Ages, never entered into the dogmatic definitions of the Magisterium….” (ITC).

“However, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), the theory of limbo is not mentioned. Rather, the Catechism teaches that infants who die without baptism are entrusted by the Church to the mercy of God, as is shown in the specific funeral rite for such children. The principle that God desires the salvation of all people gives rise to the hope that there is a path to salvation for infants who die without baptism (cf. CCC, 1261) (Ibid).”.

6. Praying is Asking God’s Favor!

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Prayer is God’s gift. It has different forms. It is not always asking God’s favor. Not all prayers are petition or intercessory prayers. The Universal Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2259) describes the Church’s teaching on prayer as follows:

“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.”2 But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or “out of the depths” of a humble and contrite heart?3 He who humbles himself will be exalted;4 humility is the foundation of prayer, Only when we humbly acknowledge that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,”5 are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. “Man is a beggar before God.”6

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Troolin, A. (n.d.). Catholic Doctrine of Transubstantiation: Definition & Overview. Retrieved from https://study.com/academy/lesson/catholic-doctrine-of-transubstantiation-definition-lesson-quiz.html.

International Theological Commission (ITC) (n.d.). “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized”. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070419_un-baptised-infants_en.html.

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Life Requires Grounding in the Supernatural

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We only live once in this world. As rational beings, we are creators of meaning. What makes our life meaningful would depend on our ultimate goal we set for our self. This ultimate goal we envision for our life is what basically guides us in our daily living. Its achievement can ultimately make us happy. The quality of our happiness would depend on our ultimate goal in life.

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If our ultimate purpose is to seek wealth, then our happiness would consist of gaining profit in our investments, increasing savings, achieving dominance in the market, creating new breakthroughs in business innovation, etc.

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If our ultimate purpose is to chase pleasure in food, sex, alcohol, or other forms of addition, then our happiness will be enjoying and prolonging pleasure in our bodily senses.

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If our basic aim is to love for God by serving others, then happiness would be spiritual consolation and the joy of serving God’s poor and underprivileged. If our aim is to change society for the better by fighting oppressive social structures and regimes, then our ultimate happiness can consist of personal joy upon seeing that some of our reform efforts are realized in society. In short, the ultimate purpose we set for our life can determine the quality of our happiness in daily living.

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Almost all philosophers agree that to live a meaningful life requires grounding on something supernatural that transcends the self. It requires a deeper reflection and question on where we came from and where we’re going to in our life. Finding the ultimate meaning and purpose of our life is crucial in order to provide focus and happiness in our daily living. Drifting in life without a philosophy or sense of purpose that guides us in daily living is tragic. Without an ultimate goal and a sense of meaning of what we do everyday in life could not provide us with a true and lasting joy and happiness.

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We know that material happiness is fleeting and temporary. A person who love cars, for instance, would be happy to acquire a new one. But after a few days the feeling of excitement and pleasure of having a new car would surely evaporate that lead to another craving or desire for another fantastic car that he or she can boast of to friends and society.

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Or if one’s happiness is based on pleasure such as food, sex, drugs, or pornography, the material joy is indeed fleeting and endless. He or she may end up spending his/her entire life chasing the insatiable want of the human senses. This is hedonism and materialism: “Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we will die!” Surely life is more than what we eat and consume! Thus, we need to search for higher spiritual values in life than mere pleasure seeking and material satisfaction.

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The need for grounding one’s life in something supernatural is supported by some research studies of social sciences and sociology on resilience. People who are religious with strong spirituality are more resilient or able to “bounce back” during disasters and tragedies in life than non-religious.

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They are also more able to withstand the vicissitudes of life and able to face serious problems with peace and humility since they have strong faith in a Supreme being and know that their ultimate destination is beyond the earthly life.

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Enjoy the little things in your life and be contented. Christ loves you!

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Can Poverty Make One Religious and Prayerful?


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In one of my research studies on the religiosity of the victims of Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) in the Philippines, one of the strongest typhoons to hit the country, two Filipino mothers who were urban poor and who survived from the disaster, narrated to me vividly on how God saved her and her family from rising flood of the dangerous typhoon.

The first informant was Aling Sonia, 28 years old, a mother of six also claimed that God saved them physically from harm:

I said in my prayer at that time when the floor water was rising: My God, spare me from danger because my children are still very young. I am also pregnant and am about to give birth. Please save us from danger. Come what may, if we are left without belonging as long as we are all saved. And my prayer was answered. We were rescued/brought to a higher place and were brought to the evacuation center of Barangay San Isidro before we were given a house unit in the relocation.”


The second one was Aling Anita, 45 years old, an ambulant vendor with 6 children, for instance, claimed that God personally saved her children from the typhoon by performing a miracle. She believed that God sent her friend to save her children from the flood:

“The rain was so heavy on that morning. I peddled breakfast from house-to-house every morning. While walking, somebody told me that the flood was already very high in our place. The makeshift houses there were already washed away. I hurriedly went home but was stranded because of the high flood on the roads. I was very worried but I kept on praying fervently that God would save my 6 little kids. At that very moment God heard my prayer. Somebody told me that a friend of mine who resided far from our place saved my children. I later learned that my friend remembered that I was vending every morning and that no one might save my children. So she went to my house even if it is far. Her arrival was on time. She was able to bring all my children to higher ground before our house was swept away by rampaging water. I was really thankful to our Lord God for saving my family from Typhoon Ondoy.”


A key question in sociology of religion is: Why do people become religious?

Deprivation Theory and Religiosity

One theory that aims to answer the question on why people become religious is the deprivation theory. This theory maintains that “religious commitment is the result of compensation that religion provides in situations where individuals meet obstacles in life in search for alternative goals” (Furset & Repstad, 2006, p.111). According to this theory, grievances in life, such as poverty, lack of safety or imminent danger in disaster situations, difficult personal problems, and other forms of deprivations in life, can make people religious and prayerful to God.


There are different types of deprivation theories in sociology. But the economic deprivation theory, in particular, explains that poverty can make people religious. The more people experience financial hardships, extreme poverty, or material deprivation in life, the more they become religious.

There is always the issue whether one must glorify poverty or condemn it in relation to one’s religiosity. There seems to be a popular perception that to be poor rather than rich is desirable in the eyes of God.


Is it really true that material poverty is blessed by God?

Poverty in Spirit

The Bible and the church teachings do not actually condemn rich people for having more wealth. What is condemned is inordinate attachment to wealth or greediness. One can become wealthy and still detached from material things and generous to other people. Some disciples of Christ, such as Joseph of Arimathea, are rich people, but they are not greedy and use their wealth to oppress others.

If one examines the Bible, the poor of Yahweh or anawim do not necessarily refer to materially-deprived people. The primary trait of being a “poor of God” is being attached to God and detached from wealth, i.e., wealth is not seen as the ultimate end of life but only a means to achieve one’s salvation. The Calvinist protestants, for example, believe that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, being materially rich is a sure sign that one is blessed by God and predestined to be with Him in heaven.

Poverty and Religiosity


There is a scarce sociological research that relate poverty with religiosity. But there seems to be a weak correlation between the two. Material poverty makes people busy with their jobs and livelihood in order to survive or sustain one’s family. Thus, it takes away from people some precious time and space to reflect, pray, or attend religious activities. It makes them preoccupied with subsistence that would make their mental states indisposed to prayer and meditation.

Busy people do not have the luxury of reflecting over their life and spiritual beliefs. If we just observe the life and routine of many urban poor in the informal sector, we can conclude that poverty does not make people disposed to religiosity, particularly to public religiosity, i.e., attending public rituals such the Mass and sacraments for Catholics, joining religious organizations, and attending communal activities of the parish church.

Private Religiosity of the Poor

Despite poverty, many poor people still manage to nurture their private religiosity or personal beliefs in God and private devotions. Many urban poor women are privately religious. This is shown in my study with Typhoon Ketsana victims and with my interviews with my key informants who were urban poor women in a relocation area.  Many, for example, believe that God saved them from the flood and typhoon, although all of them rarely attended the Holy Mass.


The popular Black Nazarene devotion in Quiapo, Philippines, for instance, illustrates how poor people can still enhance their private devotions in spite of their difficult and hectic daily schedule for subsistence.

Praise God that you read this post. Feel free to comment and share it to others. Thanks and God bless!

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Furseth, I. & Repstad, P. (2006). An Introduction to the Sociology of Religion:  Classical and Contemporary Perspectives. England: Ashgate.



Is Jesus a Sociologist?

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Perhaps this question is inappropriate because Sociology as a social science discipline was only established in the late 19th century and Jesus was already preaching in Galilee some 2,000 years ago. Besides, Jesus as our Lord and founder of Christianity had no formal training in sociology and is never considered by many as a social scientist during His time.

But Jesus, believed by many Christians as both man and divine, must have known the human heart and behavior better than any scientist who can theorize people’s actions.


He may not have known sociology during His time but His words and preaching were full of sociological insights. Theologians and sociologists may have overlooked that there are many passages in the Gospel attributed to Jesus that are full of sociological theories and insights.

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The New Testament too in the letters of St. Paul, especially Romans 12:5,1 Corinthians 12:12–27, Ephesians 3:6 and 5:23, Colossians 1:18 and Colossians 1:24 describing the Church as the Body of Christ, is also very sociological! Describing the early Church as one system or a human body with different interdependent parts obviously illustrates the sociological theory of functionalism. Functionalism as established by the French founder of modern sociology, Emile Durkheim, views society as one system like a human body, with different interdependent functions.

Here are 2 similarities between Jesus’s perspectives and sociology as illustrated by some biblical passages below:

1. Jesus’ Teaching on Understanding People’s actions: Judge not just the external acts but the motive behind them is similar to Max Weber’s concept of “Verstehen” (interpretive understanding).


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The following words of Jesus against hypocrisy and rash judgment highlight the importance of understanding people’s motives behind their actions and not just their external acts. In hypocrisy, the public can only see the people’s appearance or what Max Weber calls as “stereotypes”. The scribes and Pharisees appear very religious and pious in front of the Jews or worshipers, but their motives are not religious–these leaders would only want to appear religious in order that the Israelites would praise and respect them.

Max Weber

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The German sociologist Max Weber uses the concept “verstehen” (interpretive understanding) or understanding social action from the actor’s point of view in studying the true meaning of human behavior. In this case, the sociologist must put himself into the shoes of the person performing the external act or stereotype and understand his/her motive. Applying “verstehen” implies research, interviewing, triangulation, and knowing the true meaning of the external action as well as the intention of the individual performing it, thus making the behavioral assessment holistic.

In this case, Jesus saw a discrepancy between what the Pharisees and Scribes showed publicly in their stereotypes, i.e., appearing very religious in the temple, and the motives behind their piety. Before Weber recommended “verstehen” to sociologists in studying behavior, Jesus was already applying it during His lifetime:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity” (Matthew 23:27).

“In the same way, you appear to be righteous on the outside, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:28).

 2. Jesus Teaching against discrimination and marginalization of  the poor in Jewish society resembles the conflict theory in Sociology. 

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The conflict sociologists who are inspired by Karl Marx’s dialectical materialism view the oppression of the poor or working class by the elite or rich capitalists as a byproduct of an economic system wherein the means of production of goods are owned and controlled by the private sector or rich capitalists and motivated by profit. Conflict theorists see the unequal distribution of goods as the root cause of economic injustice in society.

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But before Karl Marx and conflict sociologists saw the unequal distribution of goods in society as the root cause of society’s conflict, Jesus already condemned any form of economic and social discrimination of the weak and inequality during His time. The economic control of the rich and religious elite led by the Pharisees and Scribes of the Jewish society is viewed by Jesus as causing a great injustice and the marginalization of the poor, the sick, and the afflicted: “But if anyone has the world’s good and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in you” (1 John 3:17-18)?

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Jesus’ pronouncement on the Last Judgment clearly illustrates His awareness of economic conflict and condemnation of social inequality that marginalizes the poor who imitate Him:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25: 34-36).


Is Jesus a sociologist? Well, formally Jesus may not be a sociologist and social scientist since He did not receive any formal sociological training. Moreover, the primary focus of His teaching is spiritual and religious. But obviously His words and perspectives are full of sociological insights! Theologians and Bible scholars may not have given much attention to the sociological underpinnings of Jesus’ teachings. But to those who have been academically trained in both Sociology and Theology, it is fairly obvious that Jesus is a “sociologist”, that his perspective of reality is holistic, and, thus, using the “sociological imagination.” Of course Jesus is more than just a sociologist. For many Christians, Jesus is the Christ who is both true man and true God. As divine, He knows human behavior more what professional sociologists understand about human agency!

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