THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST IN THE SOCIAL GOSPEL

 

Introduction: Individualistic conversion vs. The social significance of The Gospel (The Church and The Kingdom; Missions and Politics).  The story of the rise, spread, influence, and decline of the Social Gospel in America is one of the most distinctive and fascinating chapters in the history of Protestant social concern.  The Social Gospel reached its peak of influence in the United States in the first two decades of the 20th century.  Protestants were facing the new century with high expectation that the nation and Christianity would both richly prosper.

 

(See the following bibliography: Kenneth Cauther, The Impact of America’s Religious Liberalism (NY, 1962); V.P. Bodein, The Social Gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch and Its Relation to Religious Education (1944, vol. XVI, Yale Studies in Religious Education); P.A. Carter, The Decline and Revival of The Social Gospel: Social and Political Liberalism in American Protestant Churches (1920-1940) (Ithaca, NY, 1954); C.H. Hopkins, The Rise of The Social Gospel in American Protestantism (New Haven, 1940).

 

Although the prospects for Protestantism in the young nation had not seemed very bright at the opening of the 19th century, the various movements of revivalism and missions soon were not only causing the churches to grow faster than the general population, but were also having a strong influence upon the culture as a whole.  By the later decades of the 19th century, however, certain threats to the great hopes for making America into an ever more Christian nation did appear.  An influential group of Protestant leaders regarded as especially serious the problems arising from the struggle between capital and labor (Labor Unions) and from the spreading blight of urban slums.  They led a Protestant crusade for the kingdom of God and against social evil, which did much to prepare Americans who had been reared in an individualistic ethos for the tensions and conflicts of 19th century industrial life.  The social gospel was particularly important in that it helped individuals and institutions to make the transition from a rural and small town America to an industrialized and urban society with its inescapable social problems and regulations.

The social gospel in America was part of a developing worldwide interest in social Christianity.  The impact of the industrial revolution had led to the formation of Christian social movements in many countries.  The central concern was the human problems arising from the industrial strife, from the unequal distribution of wealth, and from the worsening of urban conditions for the poor.  American Protestants and some acquaintance with the growing Christian social interest on the continent of Europe.  They were more familiar with the development in Great Britain.  The work and writings of such diverse men as Thomas Chalmers, Frederich D. Maurice, Charles Kingsley, John R. Seeley, and Henry Scott Holland, provided stimulus for the rise of Christian social movements in the U.S. (See Maurice Beckitt, Faith and Society,1932).

Though these influences from abroad must not be minimized, the Christian social movement in the U.S. was fundamentally indigenous.  The response to the problems of an urbanized and industrialized society was shaped by the patterns of thought and action that had long been a characteristic of American Protestantism.  The American climate of optimism was largely created by remarkable scientific and technological advances which gave to the movement its air of excitement and expectation                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      JDS