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

By Charles Howard Hopkins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE NEW THEOLOGY AND THE
NEW ETHICS

[The new theology] holds that every man must live a life of his own . . . and give an account of himself to God: but it also . . . turns our attention to the corporate life of man here in the world. . . . Hence its ethical emphasis holding that human society itself is to be redeemed.

THEODORE THORNTON MUNGER1

WE have seen in a previous chapter that during the gilded age there began to ferment within conventional Protestantism an enlightened conservatism that led inevitably to a more ethical religion. In the 1880's this still amorphous growth developed into a careful if inconsistent school of thought that referred to itself as "progressive orthodoxy" or the "new theology." Upon its theological and ethical foundation the social gospel could build securely.

To the left of this middle-of-the-road viewpoint the acids of modernity fomented liberal and even radical reactions against a placid Protestantism. Fully receptive to the confident new science, one group of Unitarians sought to purify its own liberal tradition. Another dissatisfied minority slipped all Christian moorings and radically declared for a religion of humanity. Still further to the left a group of religious outcasts sought a new spiritual home in Societies for Ethical Culture. Across this scene there moved such bizarre figures as Col. Robert G. Ingersoll and Henry George, demanding that a socially ineffective Protestantism show ethical cause for its continued existence.

While all such influences aided the growth of a socialized Christianity, its greatest stimuli nevertheless came from the inner liberalizing forces of progressivism, the ethical implications of which were immediately productive of social interests.

____________________
1
Theodore Thornton Munger, The Freedom of Faith ( Boston and New York, 1883 [ 12th ed., 1885]), p. 25.

-55-

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