The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865-1915

By Charles Howard Hopkins | Go to book overview
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The immanence of Christ, the vital unity of the race, the presence of the kingdom -- these truths give to life a new sacredness and to duty new cogency.


THE last decade of the nineteenth century witnessed the wholehearted acceptance of the Darwinian theory of evolution by progressive American theologians. The consequent accommodation of liberal religion to the leading scientific concept of the century produced three clearly related ideas that together constituted a logical and unified frame of reference for social Christianity. These were the immanence of God, the organic or solidaristic view of society, and the presence of the kingdom of heaven on earth. This religious rationalization of contemporary ideologies emphasized the ethical aspects of the faith, particularly in its views of Jesus and of salvation, and it linked moral and religious improvement to the current optimistic belief in progress. All of these conceptions had been long growing, and although no one of them was in itself strikingly new or unique, their formulation by Protestant leaders bespoke the acclimatization of Christianity to the modern world with its scientific and humanitarian sanctions. In such a religious climate the social gospel, itself the child of the new era, was to come of age.

The doctrine of the immanence of God assumed the divine presence in nature and in human society, broke down traditional distinctions between sacred and secular, and regarded Christianity as a natural religion. "God is in his world," said Washington Gladden and Lyman Abbott, though it might have been Emerson speaking. To look reverently at the face of nature is to look in the face of Christ. Nature is the constant revelation of the presence and power of God -- "the outward utterance of himself."1

Washington Gladden, Ruling Ideas of the Present Age ( Boston and New York, 1896), pp. 280, 290. Lyman Abbott, The Evolution of Christianity ( Boston and New York, 1892), p. 245. Granville R. Pike, The Divine Drama. Themanifestation of God in the universe. An institute of social theology


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