Awakening the Evangelical Conscience
Speaking to a large group of evangelical pastors in the mid-l940s, Carl F. H. Henry, soon to become a founding faculty member at Fuller Seminary, questioned them about the place of social concerns in their preaching. As he tells the story in the opening pages of his 1947 book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, he asked them: "How many of you, during the past six months, have preached a sermon devoted in large part to a condemnation of such social evils as aggressive warfare, racial hatred and intolerance, the liquor traffic, exploitation of labor or management, or the like—a sermon containing not merely an incidental or illustrative reference, but directed mainly against such evils and proposing the framework in which you think solution is possible?"
Henry was chagrined when "[n]ot a single hand was raised in response." But he was not really surprised. He knew that inattention to such matters was a general characteristic of the evangelicalism of his day. He also knew, however, that this pattern was out of step with the mainstream evangelical tradition. "For the first protracted period in its history," he observed, "evangelical Christianity stands divorced from the great social reform movements."
Ten years later, evangelical historian Timothy Smith was to document this situation in detail in his Revivalism and Social Reform, showing that the pre-Civil War Holiness movement had actively participated in the abolitionist cause, as well as the campaigns for woman suffrage and temperance. In a "great reversal" (Smith's term), evangelicals retreated from these reformist efforts around the turn of the century, fostering instead a social pessimism and an almost exclusive focus on evangelism and individual piety.
For Henry, ...