THROUGHOUT the brisk years of the 'eighties a youthful social Christianity had been becoming increasingly aware of the maladjustments with which the industrial revolution and the birth of a new social order had supplanted the once-peaceful serenity of a rural America and her provincial moral guardian, conventional Protestantism. Embattled industry and socialistic agitators had very nearly absorbed the interests of progressive ministers who were inclined to diagnose conditions around them, although the dire threat of vast unchurched populations in the newly big cities also elicited the profoundest concern. These problems, seriously analyzed and debated throughout the decade, were finally taken into the forum of national discussion in conferences that sought to assay the perils facing the nation. The chief prescription was an application of practical Christianity. These many enthusiasms of an adolescent movement were nonetheless those of a relatively small group and the actual usefulness of their proposals hardly passed beyond the stage of blueprints.
The last decade of the century brought the sobering realization that good intentions were not sufficiently powerful to reform an unchristian civilization. Many and various organizations sprang into being, some to broadcast the seed of ideas and disappear, others to act as hotbeds for the germination of subsequently pervasive influences, and some to agitate for practical reform in the name of religious humanitarianism. Others banded together to lay a sociological foundation for religious reform activity. A group of enthusiasts made the radical Christian ethic of love the basis for what proved to be one of the most unique experiments in practical communism in American history. On the left of the movement socialism again presented its claims and in this decade made many converts. Even those who did not go as far as the Christian Socialists challenged the sufficiency of the traditional doctrine of stewardship to control the reckless power of triumphant capitalism.
The ruling theological ideology of the day accepted an evolutionary kingdom of God to be built upon earth by men of