The Prophets and Social Concern -- By: J. Carl Laney

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 147:585 (Jan 1990)
Article: The Prophets and Social Concern
Author: J. Carl Laney


The Prophets and Social Concern

J. Carl Laney

Professor of Biblical Literature
Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, Oregon

The 19th century saw the flowering of the “social gospel”1 in America. Leading proponents Washington Gladden (1863–1918) and Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918) called for reformation in society and emphasized the need for churches to be concerned about the poor and the oppressed.

The social gospel met opposition among many more traditional church leaders. There was widespread fear that participation in works of social improvement would lead to neglect of more traditional evangelistic activities. Some Christians, in effect, minimized the importance of social concerns and shared no interest in improving the conditions of suffering humanity.

Through the influence of liberation theology, the social aspect of the gospel message has gained greater prominence today, especially in poverty-ridden, Third World countries. The social gospel question was prominent at the Lausanne II conference in Manila in July 1989.2

What are the social implications of biblical Christianity? Many suggest that the gospel should include greater attention to the physical needs of the lost. Others seek to avoid compromising the “pure and simple” gospel by social involvement and Christian activism. The purpose of this article is to present a biblical balance between these two approaches. While not equating church leaders

with the prophets nor the Church Age with Old Testament Israel, this article suggests that the prophets do provide a scriptural pattern for addressing social concerns.

The Prophet and Society

The prophets of Yahweh were raised up by God from society (Deut 18:15) and sustained a prominent relationship with society as political and religious leaders, preachers of the Law, predictors of future judgment, watchmen over the spiritual life of the nation, intercessors for the people, and prosecutors against covenant-breakers. The prophets were concerned with international events and the future, while at the same time they were practical in dealing with the concerns of their own localities and generations.3

Kraeling has well said, “The great Hebrew prophets were public men, mainly concerned with political and social questions of the day.”4 They had a definite concern for social justice as well as religious orthodoxy. As...

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