Feb 19 2012
The Social Gospel, Yesterday and Today [Excerpts]
By the early 1900s, most theological liberals had made social concerns central to their understanding of the gospel. Historian George Marsden writes, “While not necessarily denying the value of the traditional evangelical approach of starting with evangelism, social gospel spokesmen subordinated such themes, often suggesting that stress on evangelism had made American evangelicalism too other-worldly… and individualistic… Such themes fit well with the emerging liberal theology of the day.” The theology of the day was increasing acceptance of Darwinian theories, higher critical attacks on the Bible and Freudian redefining of human nature. In light of these modern challenges to the Bible and conservative evangelical thought, liberal theologians believed Christianity needed to change to survive. That which was unacceptable to modern man, such as the incarnation, the atonement, creationism, inspiration and authority of Scripture, etc., had to be rejected. That which was acceptable and appreciated by the culture was to be retained and emphasized. Western societies had little problem with the social agenda and as time moved forward the church accommodated such thinking. Of course not everyone was in lockstep with the social gospel, but by the turn of the 20 th century virtually all the major denominations, schools, seminaries and Christian agencies had been infiltrated by liberal thinking, and by 1920 they had capitulated almost entirely. The test of orthodoxy had shifted from what one believed to how one lived. As Marsden states it, “The key test of Christianity was life, not doctrine.” Drawing from Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of Christian liberalism, what increasingly mattered was experience and not truth. Renald Showers observes:
"Liberal Protestant advocates of the social gospel declared that the church should be concerned primarily with this world. It should divert its efforts from the salvation of individuals to the salvation of society. The church should bring in the kingdom of God on earth instead of teaching about a future, theocratic kingdom to be established in Person by Jesus Christ… the Church was to save the world, not be saved out of it" .
 George M. Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), p.29.
 Ibid., p.34.
 Renald E. Showers, What on Earth Is God Doing? (Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel, 2005), pp.79-80.