BLTC Press Titles


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Mortal Coils

Aldous Huxley


Vanity Fair

William Thackery


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll


Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross


A theology for the social gospel

by Walter Rauschenbusch

Excerpt:

I have entire sympathy with the conservative instinct which shrinks from giving up any of the dear possessions which have made life holy for us. We have none too much of them left. It is a comfort to me to know that the changes required to make room for the social gospel are not destructive but constructive. They involve addition and not subtraction. [ The social gospel calls for an expansion in the scope oVf salvation and for more religious dynamic to do the work of God." It requires more faith and not less. It offers a more thorough and durable salvation. It is able to create a more searching sense of sin and to preach repentance to the respectable and mighty who have ridden humanity to the mouth of hell.

The attacks on our inherited theology have usually come from the intellectuals who are galled by the yoke of uncritical and unhistorical beliefs brought down from pre-scientific centuries. They are entirely within their right in insisting that what is scientifically impossible shall not be laid as an obligatory belief on the neck of modern men in tfie name ot religion! But the rational subtractions of liberalism do not necessarily make religion more f religious. We have to snuff the candle to remove the burnt-out wick, but we may snuff out the flame, and all the / matches may prove to be damp. Critical clarifying is n decidedly necessary, but power in religion comes only \ through the consciousness of a great elementary need ( which compels men to lay hold of God anew. The social gospel speaks to such a need, and where a real harmony has been established it has put new fire and power into the old faith.

The power of conservatism is not all due to religious tenderness and loyalty. Some of it results from less worthy causes. Doctrinal theology is in less direct contact with facts than other theological studies. Exegesis and church history deal with historical material and their business is to discover the facts. New facts and the pressure of secular scientific work compel them to revise their results and keep close to realities. Doctrinal theology deals with less substantial and ascertainable things. It perpetuates an esoteric stream of tradition. What every church demands of its systematic theologians is to formulate clearly and persuasively what that church has always held and taught. If they go beyond that they are performing a work of supererogation for which they do not always receive thanks.

Theoretically the Church is the great organization of unselfish service. '^Actually the Church has always been profoundly concerned for its own power and authority. But its authority rests in large part on the stability of its doctrine. The Roman Catholic Church has always been in the nature of a defensive organization to maintain uniformity of teaching. The physical suppression of heresy was merely the last and crudest means employed by it to resist change. The more subtle and spiritual forms of pressure have doubtless been felt by every person who ever differed with his own church, whatever it was. This selfish ecclesiastical conservatism is not for the Kingdom of God but against it.

Theology needs periodical rejuvenation. Its greatest danger is not mutilation but senility. It is strong and vital when it expresses in large reasonings what youthful religion feels and thinks. When people have to be indoctrinated laboriously in order to understand theology at all, it becomes a dead burden. The dogmas and theological ideas of the early Church were those ideas which at that time were needed to hold the Church together, to rally its forces, and to give it victorious energy against antagonistic powers. To-day many of those ideas are without present significance. Our reverence for them is a kind of ancestor worship. To hold laboriously to a religious belief which does not hold us, is an attenuated form of asceticism; we chastise and starve our intellect to sanctify it by holy beliefs. The social gospel does not need the aid of church authority to get hold of our hearts. It gets hold in spite of such authority when necessary. It will do for us what the Nicene theology did in the fourth century, and the Reformation theology in the sixteenth. Without it theology will inevitably become more and more a reminiscence.1

The great religious thinkers who created theology were always leaders who were shaping ideas to meet actual | situations. £he new theology of Paul was a product of fresh religious experience and of practical necessities^ His idea that the Jewish law had been abrogated by i Christ's death was worked out in order to set his mission to the Gentiles free from the crippling grip of the past and to make an international religion of Christianity. Luther worked out the doctrine of "justification by! faith" because he had found by experience that it gave

1 President H. C. King's "Reconstruction in Theology" gives an admirable summary of the causes for dissatisfaction with the old doctrinal statements, and of the fundamental moral and spiritual convictions which demand embodiment in theology. See also Prof. Gerald B. Smith's lucid analysis in his "Social Idealism and the Changing Theology."


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