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

By Charles Howard Hopkins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
THE CHURCH FACES A NEW AGE

The world in this sociological age needs a new social ideal to direct the progress of civilization. Let the church fully accept her mission and she will furnish this needed ideal, viz., her Master's conception of the kingdom of God come upon earth.

JOSIAH STRONG

ONE of the evidences of maturity that accompanied social Christianity's coming of age in the last decade of the nineteenth century was an attitude of serious questioning on the part of the church with respect both to the task imposed on her by an age of transition and to the ability of her traditional techniques to meet the new needs. As a result of this gradual awakening there appeared a vast literature of analysis, prescription, and challenge, of which the most unique form was the immensely popular social-gospel novel. Although most social Christians of the period were critical of the church's failures, many examined her message and methods with great care. Usually optimistic, but driven by a sense of crisis, they described the forces in modern civilization hostile to religion, pointed out the errors committed by the church herself, outlined what they believed to be her true function, and exhorted her to pursue it in order to restore her lessened prestige and retain her historic hold upon society.

Spokesmen of an expanded Christianity who stressed the urgency of the crisis held that the opportunity was unprecedented "for the church of Christ to make felt its power for righteousness and peace."1 The Reverend E. D. Weigle voiced a typical viewpoint when he argued that the age demanded "new applications of the truth and the adoption of methods unknown to former times," and asserted that in such a crisis the pulpit could not dare to be indifferent to the forces threatening the

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1
Merrill E. Gates, "Social Problems and the Church", Chautauqua Monthly, ns9 ( 1893), 136-142.

-135-

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