Monday, March 19, 2012


I'm not an expert on anything. But I do wind up having some kind of an opinion on most things. The social gospel issue is no exception. I'm not an expert but I do have an opinion.

I also have an aversion to things that are said to be an either/or in nature. By that I mean this idea of everything being black or white, right or wrong, my way or the highway, I know/you don't, kind of thinking that is so pervasive in our day seems to polarize people and generally winds up missing some of the truth about any topic under discussion. 

That's not to say that there are no issues that are indeed black or white to me. Take for example the "There is no other name" issue of salvation and grace. That's a no-brainer as far as I'm concerned. But it is to say that we may THINK some issues are more black or white than they may, in fact, be.

The social gospel issue may be in that category for me.

There isn't much doubt about my disagreement with the original message of the social gospel movement when it started in the late 18th and early 19th century by people like Walter Rauschenbusch. He believed that the individualistic gospel being preached had made very clear all people were sinners, but had completely failed to confront institutionalized sinfulness. He said it this way... "Christians have not yet evoked faith in the will and power of God to redeem the permanent institutions of human society from their inherited guilt." This thesis came to be known as the "Social Gospel." His ideas were later incorporated in to the "Liberation Theology" movement as well.

Truth be known, Rauschenbusch and others in the movement were probably reacting to the rise of Millenarianism particularly the  Dispensational brand which had it's beginnings in the early 19th century with the writings of John Nelson Darby (1800-1883) a theologian with the Plymouth Brethren. Dispensationalism had taken such an "other world" emphasis and a belief in the decline of this present world that, in the opinion of many Christian leaders, Christian theology was failing to confront present societal problems. Thus came the rise of a Social Gospel.  

In reaction to Rauschenbusch in the late 19th and early 20th century the Fundamentalists movement was birthed to basically "right" the "wrong " of the Social gospel in the thinking of it's founders. 

Men like A.C.Dixson and R.A. Torry and others wrote articles, published magazines and preached sermons defining the "Fundamentals of the Faith" as they saw things revealed in scripture. Institutions of Higher Learning began to be built to train men in those fundamentals as well.

It all came to a head when Harry Emerson Fosdick, a liberal Baptist, preached a message in 1922 entitled "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" [thus the name[ in the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church in New York City which led to the withdrawal of people like J. Gresham Machen and others from the Presbyterian denomination and the establishing a new Presbyterian denomination altogether. The either/or was now firmly established. 

The Fundamentalist movement eventually morphed to some degree into the conservative theology that is held by most major Protestant denominations today. A certain segment of that theologically conservative group has, in modern times, come to be known politically as the "Religious Right."

In fairness, I have to say that I'm in the theologically conservative group, but please don't identify that as being either "Far Right" in politics or having a "social gospel" stance in social issues as you will see before we're finished with these posts. 

This history brings us to the hard part of present day Christian living. The hard part of somehow struggling against the "either/or" position of the idea of social issues and the gospel of Christ. Does one exclude the other in reality? Is there a separate gospel at all? 

It seems to me that some politically conservative people, who are believers, still often think that social action takes away from the primary evangelistic mission of church which is individual evangelism and are therefore unwilling to speak of or deal with social issues in any fashion. 

By the same token, some politically liberal people, who are believers, often think an individual emphasis on personal evangelism takes away from the primary transformative mission of the church which is bringing God's justice to an oppressed society and tends to forget the need of individual conversion. Thus, we have an "either/or" situation it seems even today. 

What happens, as history has shown, when these two ideas crystalize into movements, is the birthing of positions that wind up being the antithesis of genuine Christianity. Hence, the Klu Klux Klan/Black Panthers of the first half of the 20th century and the present day abortion advocates/anti-abortionists [to name only one of many issues] both taking extreme positions and pushing their beliefs with hatred, anger, murder, and bombings. 

Where is genuine Christianity in all that? In the polarization we may have lost the genuine truth of either, if there is any, and Christianity may be in danger of losing the gospel message in the process of defending a position on something.

I personally believe there is another way of thinking. It is that way of thinking I wish to put before you next time.

Paul B.


Aussie John said...


Of course you're not an expert, for such, an ex-spurt, is a drip under pressure.Your words in this article prove you are no drip!

Your question,"Where is genuine Christianity in all that?" is one that needed to be asked.

For some years,it has been my belief that genuine Holy Spirit illuminated Christianity, has been lost in a maze of egotistical theological one-up-manship, in which the gospel message and it's spiritual AND practical out-workings have been lost or understood as antagonists of each other.

I look forward to your "another way of thinking".

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

As always your comment is spot on. The last paragraph is worthy of a post of it's own. Thanks for being a blog blessing.

Rex Ray said...

I don’t know much about the ‘Millenarianism or Dispensationalist movements. I looked those words up on Google, and I’m still confused.

My disagreement started with ‘Fundamentalists’. I read in the early 1900’s, atheists started saying God did not exist because the Bible was not perfect, and Fundamentalists said God existed because the Bible was perfect.

God exist because “I AM.”

Fundamentalists playing by atheists rules is just as dumb and idiotic as atheists.

Oh, I forgot to say ‘IMHO’. :)

I’ll bet if you ask a guy if he’s a fundamentalist, and he replies: ‘What’s a fundamentalists’ more than likely he’s a fundamentalist.

I believe this is true that they believe in general that the pastor is the ruler of the church.