The Social Gospel Part 1 -- By: Alan H. Hamilton

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 107:426 (Apr 1950)
Article: The Social Gospel Part 1
Author: Alan H. Hamilton


The Social Gospel
Part 1

Alan H. Hamilton

From the day that Cain raised a defiant face toward heaven and evasively queried “Am I my brother’s keeper?” to the present time, the history of the human race has never been devoid of records depicting man’s essential concern in behalf of his own interests. Degrees of culture and civilization have fluctuated through the centuries and in recent years have been thought to have advanced apace, yet a recent writer finds it necessary to cry out against a continuing contradiction in the nature of modern man. “This contradiction is that, though we know we ought to love our neighbor as ourself, there is a ‘law in our members which wars against the law that is in our mind,’ so that, in fact, we love ourselves more than our neighbor.”1

Concurrent with this extended record of egoism, history has also been punctuated with periods of counteraction, ameliorating attempts which have indicated that man has not always been satisfied with himself in the ego role. Voices have been raised and movements have sprung into existence to decry outstanding instances of man’s inhumanity to man. Since religion—particularly Judaism and Christianity and those faiths which have imbibed some of their principles—has placed the highest value upon man, it is to be expected that the majority of these attempts at ameliorating should have resulted from its influence, directly or indirectly.2 The most typically American of these movements has borne the name of ‘the social gospel,’ a term which

immediately denotes some application of the Christian message to society. Since the very name has been a storm-center in the controversy within American Protestantism that has marked the course of the social gospel movement, it may be well to ask at the outset what is meant by the term. It is well to recognize that the social gospel does not represent a defined creed, organization or program. It is rather, in the words of the historian, “an attitude and a conviction.”3 In broadest terms it could be called an attempted application of the teachings of Jesus to the structure and principles of all of life—social, economic and political. Its relation to or distinction from the gospel as defined in the Scriptures4 depends upon its interpreter. To the one recognized as the movement’s outstanding prophet, Walter Rauschenbusch, it is “the old message of salvation, but enlarged and intensified.”5

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