Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 7, 1958
NUMBER 14, PAGE 1,13b-14

Pragmatism, Progressive Education, The Social Gospel, Current Trends (III.)

Robert Atkinson, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

In the previous article in this series we extended pragmatic philosophy to the, realm of institutions and showed how sectarian churches subscribed, either knowingly or unknowingly, to its infidel doctrine of "change." The organizational structure of denominations, their moral values, their doctrines, change as society changes.

Another indication of the influence of this materialistic philosophy, or some of its worst errors, on denominationalism, can readily be seen in that product of sectarianism known as the "Social Gospel " You will recall that Pragmatists, and many Progressive Educators, insist that an institutions worth, or right to exist, must be evaluated on the basis of its contributions to society. No spiritual factors would influence their judgments of an institution. Since their philosophy would not permit them to concede the existence of a soul, a primarily "soul-saving institution" would rate very low with them. They would doubtless judge it unfit for modern society.

The Advocates of the Social Gospel pass exactly the same judgments on both Jesus and the Church. They do not accept Jesus as the Source of Truth; rather they evaluate Him on the basis of His social work. Their evaluation of Jesus is based on their own standards which have grown out of their learning experiences. Although some of them continually insist that they have no intentions of casting Jesus in the role of a social reformer, they proceed to do exactly that. And they evaluate the kingdom of Christ by the same standards as they evaluate Christ Himself. It is measured solely on the basis of its social contributions, the betterment of man's lot in this life. Truly, the hard core of the rod by which they measure is infidelity.

In his Christianity And The Social Crisis, Walter Rauschenbusch declares that ". . . social problems are moral problems on a large scale" and that "religious morality" is "... the only thing God cares about." Thus, according to him, God cares only about solving social problems. Where is the cross and redemption in this "gospel?" He further declares, "... the better we know Jesus, the more social do his thoughts and aims (emphasis mine, RA) become" Just how does this advocate of the Social Gospel view Jesus? As the Son of God and Saviour of the world or as a Social Reformer? He says, "Jesus was not a social reformer of the modern type (emphasis mine, RA) ...He was not a timeless religious teacher . . . He spoke for his own age ... We must follow him in his adjustment to the tendencies of the time, in his affinity for some men and his repulsion of others." Thus does the Social Gospel make an Old-Fashioned, Social Reformer of Jesus. Note that it is stated that Jesus was not a timeless religious teacher which is just another way of saying that He delivered no eternal truths. It is clearly implied that the message and methods of Jesus are not workable for modern times. Let us examine further the infidel message of the Social Gospel and note how it walks hand in hand with the materialistic philosophy of Pragmatism. Even to the definition of the "religious life" they are one. One of Dewey's foremost disciples, William Heard Kilpatrick, in defining the "good life," says that religion is the individual's supreme devotion to highest values. While this sounds good with respect to Christianity (we recognize that one could be devoted to things and persons other than to Christ), Kilpatrick goes on to say that the all-consuming concern of each individual should be that all persons have the fullest and finest life possible. Since Kilpatrick ruled out at the beginning any discussion of the supernatural with religion, we are not surprised that he directs our minds to this life below and insists that attitudes and institutional arrangements be made to center around this "good life" on earth.

Now let us compare some statements from the Social Gospel respecting Jesus and the "religious life," to Philosopher Kilpatrick's concept of the "good life."

"... he was more than a teacher of morality. Jesus had learned the greatest and deepest and rarest secret of all — how to live a religious life ... But if he had that greatest of all possessions, the real key to the secret of life, it was his highest social duty to share it and to help others to gain what he had. (Emphasis mine, RA) ... He had to show them that the ordinary life of selfishness and hate and anxiety and chafing ambition and covetousness is no life at all, and that they must enter into a new world of love and solidarity and inward contentment. There was no service that he could render to men which would equal that (emphasis mine, RA). All other help lay in concentric circles about that redemption of the spirit (redeemed from selfishness, hate, etc., the factors which make one miserable in this life; not redeemed from enmity from God, RA) . . ."

The infidelity of this advocate of the Social Gospel is further seen with clarity, when in speaking of John the Baptist as one who presented a kingdom based on ethics, requiring social morality and instilling a social hope, he sees a difference in the record of Matthew and the record of Josephus. The Bible teaches that Herod imprisoned John because the Baptist had rebuked his adulterous marriage. Josephus says Herod imprisoned him to forestall a revolution which was rising under his impulse. While suggesting that the two explanations are not incompatible, Rauschenbusch also says "Josephus had very direct lines of information about John and his intimation deserves the more weight (emphasis mine, RA) because his book was written for a Roman audience and his general tendency was to pass with discreet silence the revolutionary tendencies in his people." Thus, in a judgment typical of the advocates of the Social Gospel, does this theological professor deny that the writer of the New Testament had a "direct line" from heaven and prefer the testimony of historians who were infidels. The Social Gospel is infidelity with a few good works thrown in. According to it, the end toward which Jesus worked was "not the new soul, but the new society," and Jesus was only "a Hebrew prophet preparing men for the righteous social order."

According to the above statements, Rauschenbusch clearly lines up with other turn-of-the-century liberals who not only taught that the message of Jesus was wholly social, but that His social message could not be seriously considered for our time because it contained the unrealistic ethic of an ideal Utopia. Professor Douglas Clyde Macintosh of Yale University, in his volume Social Religion, points out that there has been a reaction against such an extreme view. He points out that such a view amounted to a virtual dismissal of Jesus and His message. Dr. Macintosh, while claiming to be aware of the danger of modernizing Jesus (that is, accepting his message fully for our time, RA) and agreeing that Jesus did not escape the pre-scientific world-view of the place and time peculiar to his generation, would still generously concede that some of Jesus' message did have universal and eternal validity and might be of value even today. But this Neo-Orthodoxy in the Social Gospel is no better than the old, for Dr. Macintosh insists that all that is required of man is to take the principles of social behavior seen in the spirit and ideal of the Jesus of history and translate them into terms of modern empirical knowledge. Empirical knowledge is knowledge derived from experience or observation. Jesus and His message are still being evaluated on the basis of the experiences of men in society. This reaction, the new Social Gospel, is as solidly founded in infidelity as the old. The Bible is not accepted as the will of God. Rather, it is contended that the will of God is right and everything that is right is the will of God. But, of course, man reserves the right to decide what is right. And his decision is based on empirical knowledge, his experiences.

Thus does the Social Gospel, old and new, make a mockery of Christianity. Macintosh refers to Acts 4:12, Jesus, the stone set at nought, and bemoans the fact that the world has set at nought her salvation from social inequality and injustice. But, obviously, Peter is referring to the Jews and their rejection of Jesus as their Saviour from sin. This advocate of the Social Gospel makes the same mistake that the Jews made. The Jews looked for a national leader and rejected Him as Saviour of their souls. The Social Gospel points to Jesus as a leader in Social Reform, not as the Saviour of men's souls. Looking within it, we see the same basic errors which guided Philosopher-Psychologist William James in his statement of Pragmatism; which led to the infidel extremes of Progressive Education; and which led to the denial of the completeness of the Word of God and the church, the result of which was the apostate church and denominationalism.

True Christianity is squarely opposed to the many errors essential to Pragmatism which is admittedly, yea boastfully, "this worldly and materialistic." The inspired Apostle Paul said, "If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth." (Col. 3:1,2, RSV). Jesus did not initiate sweeping social reforms. He offered the oppressed much more than bread for the belly or social equality and opportunity; He offered the Bread of Life, which would make them live forever (Jno. 6:58). He fed the hungry multitudes as an outgrowth of his primary aim, the preaching of the gospel. (Matt. 15:32-39). Physical diseases, physical malformations, and mental illnesses bring social inequality and need to those whom they afflict. This fact was as true in Jesus' day as in ours, more so really, but His miracles were not performed primarily to alleviate suffering and restore social equality; they were not done to accommodate the suffering. Over and over again we are reminded that the miracles were performed for one grand purpose that overshadowed all the good physical, or social, byproducts. They were done that we "may believe" and "believing . . . have life in His name" (Jno. 20:30,31). Jesus would not have exercised this power without that great purpose in one instance (Mk. 2:5-12); and he thereby showed that physical suffering and the resulting social inequality and injustice are relatively unimportant when they are rightly viewed in relation to the salvation of souls for all eternity. Did He not undergo great physical agony and suffer a unique social injustice despising the shame, because of the great spiritual purpose it would accomplish? But the Social Gospel reverses this order. The cross in which Paul gloried is rarely mentioned. Atonement is ignored. Jesus is cast in the role of a social reformer and only so much of His teaching as agrees with the Theological Seminary Trained Preacher-Philosopher's idea of "the good life" is heard. The preachers busy themselves with eradicating slum areas, feeding the poor, passing resolutions to improve hospitals, passing resolutions to morally influence governments, counseling those in trouble (from wholesale acceptance of psychological viewpoints; not by teaching them God's will concerning their problem), writing about peace of mind and writing other articles calculated to incite investigations into social problems. Underlying it all is the supposition that if there is a life after death, the good moral life they lead (good from the standpoint of man's social experiences), and their good works (good for society, that is) will prepare them for it. But Jesus says He has a surprise in store for them in the Judgment Day (Matt. 7:2428; 7:21-23). They want to reform dregs of society, but reformation is not conversion. They want to help a man to a higher moral life, not as an outgrowth of teaching him faith in and obedience to Christ the Lord, but as an outgrowth of man's empirical knowledge which shows that this type of life is the satisfying one. We do not argue here that the fruits of conversion will not produce a better society, for they will. Man demonstrates his love and loyalty to God through serving and loving his fellow man (I Jno. 3:11-18; Matt. 25:33-42). But increased social welfare should properly be regarded as the effects of spiritual conversion to Christ and not as an end or purpose to life itself, or as the purpose for which Christ established the church. (Acts 28:28.)

(To Be Concluded)