The Social Gospel Part 5 -- By: Alan H. Hamilton

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 109:435 (Jul 1952)
Article: The Social Gospel Part 5
Author: Alan H. Hamilton


The Social Gospel
Part 5

Alan H. Hamilton

(Continued from the October-December Number, 1951)

{Editor’s note: Footnotes in the original printed edition were numbered 68–87, but in this electronic edition are numbered 1–20 respectively.}

II. A Youthful Movement, 1880-1890

“In the absence of a well-developed sociology the ‘eighties became the period of discussion rather than practical application of social Christian principles. Ideas were spread abroad in the land, but without great immediate effect. The demand for a new technique with which to deal with fresh problems in unique settings found the church off her guard, and for the moment bewildered by the very novelty of the situation. As the decade wore on, the demand for a foundation of social science beneath all reform became more and more insistent, and the quest for a Christion sociology proved itself a significant phase of the maturing movement in the last years of the century.”1 It was this period that brought into the open a characteristic which was to mark the social gospel movement up to the present day, namely, a deviation from the orthodox theology of the times. The early concern over social issues had been found among those who might be classed as the more progressive of the orthodox group, as well as among those whose beliefs were definitely affected by the inroads of rationalism and humanism. In this decade, linked inextricably with agitation over social problems, came attempts at a “new theology” which constituted—in the words of Hopkins—”a careful, if inconsistent, school of thought.”2

At the left there were such extremists as Robert G. Ingersoll

and Henry George, purportedly religious but with utter contempt for Christianity in its then existing form. From among the Unitarians came those who carried the doctrines of liberalism to their logical outcome, even breaking with the Unitarian denomination in order to form ethical societies. The latter did little to make a practical application of their social theory to existing problems and, consequently, had rather little effect; but the former, and in particular Henry George, had a profound influence upon those who were soon to be leaders of social Christianity—Walter Rauschenbusch, outstanding prophet of the social gospel, and Dwight Porter Bliss, organizer of the Society of Christian Socialists.3

The majority of those who were to compose the human element in the social-gospel picture for this decade came from the group characterized by wh...

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