Evangelical Christianity today confronts a “new theology,” a “new evangelism,” and a “new morality,” each notably lacking in biblical content. A “new social ethics” has also emerged, and some ecumenical leaders mainly interested in politico-economic issues speak hopefully of a “new breed of evangelical” in this realm of activity. The red carpet rolls out when even a few evangelicals march at Selma, when they unite in organized picket protests and public demonstrations, when they join ecclesiastical pressure blocs on Capitol Hill or at the White House, or when they engineer resolutions on legislative matters through annual church meetings.

Since most evangelical churchmen traditionally have not mobilized their social concern in this way, non-evangelical sociologists are delighted over any and every such sign of apparent enlightenment. Moreover, they propagandize such church techniques as authentically Christian, and misrepresent evangelical non-participation as proof of social indifference in conservative Christian circles and as a lack of compassion. This favorite device of propagandists is effective among some evangelicals who desire to protect their genuine devotion to social concern from public misinterpretation. The claim that evangelicals as a whole are socially impotent, moreover, diverts attention from the long-range goals of social extremists by concentrating attention on existential involvement on an emergency basis.

That Christians are citizens of two worlds, that a divine mandate enjoins both their preaching of the Gospel and their promotion of social justice, that the lordship of Christ over all of life involves socio-cultural obligations, that Christians bear a political responsibility, are historic evangelical emphases. Evangelicals regard government and jurisprudence as strategic realms of vocational service to humanity. They stress that government exists for the sake of all citizens, not simply for certain favored groups, and that a just or good society preserves for all citizens equal rights before the law. This emphasis has equally critical implications for a society that seeks special privilege for one race above another and for any church that seeks partisan and sectarian benefits from government.

The heritage of evangelical Christianity includes both Jesus’ sermon on the mount and his delineation of the Good Samaritan, and Paul’s account of civil government as an agent of justice. Evangelical Christians recognized the moral claim of these scriptural elements long before Protestant liberalism distorted them into a rationalistic politico-economic perspective. The Evangelical Revival in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain attested the devotion of believers, not only to the observance of public statutes, but also to the vigorous promotion of just laws. The seventh Earl of Shaftesbury headed the movement in Parliament that led in 1807 to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. As a result of his own conversion Wilberforce led great reform programs, including child-labor laws. The Evangelical Revival placed evangelicals in the forefront of humanitarian concerns, not only for an end to the slave trade, but also for child labor laws, prison reforms, improved factory labor conditions, and much else in the sphere of social justice. It was evangelical social concern, in fact, that preserved the shape of Anglo-Saxon society from tragic revolutionary onslaught. An eminent church historian writes: “No branch indeed of the Western Church can be refused the honor of having assisted in the progress of humane ideas, and non-Christians have participated largely in the work of diffusing the modern spirit of kindness; but the credit of the inception of the movement belongs without doubt to that form of Protestantism which is distinguished by the importance it attaches to the doctrine of the Atonement.… History shows that the thought of Christ on the Cross has been more potent than anything else in arousing a compassion for suffering and indignation at injustice.… The later Evangelicalism, which saw in the death of Christ the means of free salvation for fallen humanity, caused its adherents to take the front rank as champions of the weak.… Prison reform, the prohibition of the slave trade, the abolition of slavery, the Factory Acts, the protection of children, the crusade against cruelty to animals, are all the outcome of the great Evangelical revival of the eighteenth century. The humanitarian tendencies of the nineteenth century, which, it is but just to admit, all Christian communities have fostered, and which non-Christian philanthropists have vied with them in encouraging, are among the greatest triumphs of the power and influence of Christ” (F. J. Foakes-Jackson, “Christ in the Church: The Testimony of History,” in H. B. Swete, Cambridge Theological Essays, New York, 1905, pp. 512–14).

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Liberal Impact And Evangelical Reaction

For two generations liberal social ethics has been markedly influential in American public life in the areas of education, government, and labor. Liberal ecclesiastical reformers have only themselves to blame for the present lack of fixed governing principles in public policy, and for the declining spiritual influence of their churches in the private sector of national life. One theologian addicted to a radically secular version of Christianity—Professor William Hamilton of Colgate-Rochester Divinity School—tells us candidly that “we are well into the opening phase of the breakdown of organized religion in American life, well beyond the time when ecumenical dialogue or denominational mergers can be expected to arrest the breakdown” (The Christian Scholar, Spring, 1965). Professor Hamilton fails to recognize, however, that the modernist dilution of historic Christian theology was largely responsible for compromising the message and power of institutional Christianity. In no century of recent history have public structures been so directly influenced by American churchmen as they are in our time through the pressures of liberal social thought. Churchmen have increasingly manipulated the machinery of ecumenical Christianity in support of socio-economic objectives, including specific legislative proposals. Not even the breakdown of the League of Nations or the deformation of the United Nations, each endorsed as the world’s best hope for peace, has encouraged “second thoughts” about the efficacy or legitimacy of the nature of their social activity.

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This does not mean that evangelical Christians have reason to boast about social alertness on the explosive frontiers of public life. They were undeniably concerned with personal behavior in public social life, and with responsible community involvement in keeping with the standards and vocations of believers. To their further credit they realized that not an ethic of grace but rather an ethic of justice should govern social structures (including international relations, national government, and legal institutions generally). But evangelical Christians elaborated no Bible-based ethic impinging on the basis, method, and function of social structures and groups such as the state, labor movements and business corporations, minorities, and so on.

If excuses for neglect are in order, this may be the right place to note them. Evangelicals could plead, of course, that the “social gospeler’s” neglect of God’s good news of salvation for sinners imposed upon conservative Christianity the burden of biblical evangelism and missions throughout a perishing world—a staggering task indeed. Evangelical capability was decimated by liberal control of denominations, schools, and other ecclesiastical resources. But evangelical withdrawal from the arena of public life came mainly in reaction to the Protestant liberal attempts to achieve the Kingdom of God on earth through political and economic changes. The modernists so excluded supernatural redemptive facets of the Christian faith and so modified the proper content of the Christian ethic that, as evangelicals saw it, they had altered the very nature and mission of the Church. Evangelical Christianity reacted against the liberal Protestant concentration of effort in this area of concern by non-involvement, and this withdrawal yielded the field to the speculative theories of liberal churchmen and largely deprived evangelicals of an ethical witness in the mainstream of public life.

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Fallacies Of Liberal Ethics

Precisely what is objectionable in liberal social ethics from the evangelical viewpoint? This is no small matter, for criticism extends to presuppositions, methods, and goals.

The theological presuppositions of liberal social ethics are hostile to biblical theology. A generation ago the “social gospel” theologians deleted the wrath of God and dissolved his righteousness into benevolence or love; today the revolt has been extended. Dialectical and existential moralists surrender the objective being of God, while secular theologians disown his transcendence and, for that matter, his relevance as well. What passes for Christian social ethics in such circles dispenses with the supernatural essence of the Christian religion as foreign to problems of social justice and public righteousness. Evangelicals who insist on obedience to divinely revealed precepts, and who hold that redeemed men alone can truly fulfill the will of God and that only men of good will can enlarge the boundaries of God’s Kingdom, are caricatured as “rationalists,” despite the fact that Scripture specifically associates Jesus’ mission with an era of good will on earth. Yet while existentialists reject the absolutes of a transcendent morality for an absolute of their own decision, thereby making each person his own church, and reject an ethics based on principles because they consider it impossible to achieve moral obedience by decree, they nonetheless agitate for laws to compel others to act in a predictable, principled way.

It may seem pedantic, if not picayune, in a secular society so perilously near doom, to surround the moral demand for agape with a complex of theological distinctions. After all, is not agape itself the central Christian moral motif? But the reply is simple: “agape” stripped of supernatural elements is no longer biblical agape. For biblical agape is first and foremost the love of God. Biblical agape is nowhere simply a matter of humanistic charity toward one’s neighbors. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself”—love them, as a well-phrased prayer reiterates, “with a pure heart, fervently.” Although just laws are desirable and imperative, law has the power only of outward restraint; it lacks power to ensure outward obedience and inner conformity to its command. In the absence of moral men—of men willing to do the good—no body of law, however just, can ensure a good society. Authentic Christian ethics concerns what is done through a desire to do God’s will, in obedience to his command; this is made possible only by spiritual regeneration. No other motivation can counter the selfish drives that haunt the noblest of unredeemed men and correct the faulty vision of an unredeemed society. The current existential appeal for everyman’s “identification with others” naïvely presupposes that the “identifiers” are morally equipped with motivations unthwarted by selfishness. But universal love, even in diluted forms, is a requirement that far exceeds the capacity of unregenerate men; for a Jew to have loved Hitler must have posed a problem not unlike that involved in a Selma marcher’s love for the governor of Alabama, or a Birmingham demonstrator’s affection for the local sheriff. The modern devotion to mankind in place of God, on the premise of “the infinite worth of the individual,” indicates the inability of some Western intellectuals to assimilate the basic lessons of recent history. They blandly overlook the power of evil in human nature and man’s limitations in coping with it—witness not only the patent egoism of individuals and social collectivities and the barbarism of the dictators, but also the tragic fact of two world wars at the pinnacle of Western scientific development and the unresolved threat of imminent universal destruction. As George F. Thomas says, “man is neither infinite nor perfect, and his ideal ends are worthy of devotion only insofar as they are subordinated to the purpose of One who is both” (Religious Philosophies of the West, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965, p. 351).

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The evangelical Christian mobilizes for social action in the spiritual context of transcendent justice, supernatural law, revealed principles, concern for God’s will in human affairs, and love of God and man. Against ecclesiastical “young Turks” who propagandize the notion that social concerns cannot be expressed within the inherited theology, the evangelical contends that in so far as social concerns are authentically biblical, they can be adequately expressed and fulfilled only within scriptural theology. What the evangelical does in the social order, as in every other realm of life, he does as a matter of principled spiritual obedience to the Lord of life.

Differences In Goals

It is, moreover, a gross underestimation of differences in social action between evangelicals and non-evangelicals to imply that, beyond motivation, they agree wholly on goals and differ only in method. The liberal Protestant identification of Christian love with pacifism, then with socialism, even with Communism by some modernists in the recent past, is too fresh a memory to allow one to blunder into the notion that the Bible sanctions whatever social goals the liberal moralists endorse. Even the Communist hostility toward supernatural religion as an unscientific myth has moderated into tactical tolerance of religion as useful for promoting a social consciousness agreeable to the Soviet politico-economic ideology. Repudiation of private property, of the profit motive, and of inequality of wealth, and other Marxist ideals have been arbitrarily promoted by liberal social reformers in supposed devotion to the biblical vision of the Kingdom of God. Even their emphasis on equal rights has cheaply surrendered property rights as a fundamental human right, and also man’s right to work apart from compulsory union membership.

Whenever the Church advances a political ideology or promotes partisan legislation, its ecclesiastical leaders are soon forced into the position of impugning the integrity of influential Christians who sincerely dissent from the official views. It should surprise nobody, therefore, that as the National Council of Churches comes under increasing fire, its spokesmen tend to demean critics of its political commitments as reactionary advocates of arrogant nationalism and of social, economic, and racial privilege.

Not a few goals approved by modern social theorists are wholly desirable, and evangelical differences in such cases concern the means of achieving these ends. Elimination of poverty, opportunity for employment, racial equality, and many other goals that stand at the heart of contemporary social agitation are not only acceptable but highly desirable. Evangelicals are not indifferent to the desirability of such objectives even if liberal social ethics mistakenly conceives the Kingdom of God as basically a politico-economic phenomenon and tends to dilute redemptive spiritual forces into sociological ingredients. In fact, as evangelicals see it, such features of social life are essential to a just and good society.

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Evangelicals no less than liberals recognize social justice as an authentic Christian concern, despite serious differences over definition and content. If evangelicals came to stress evangelism above social concern, it was because of liberalism’s skepticism over supernatural redemptive dynamisms and its pursuit of the Kingdom of God by sociological techniques only. Hence a sharp and costly disjunction arose, whereby many evangelicals made the mistake of relying on evangelism alone to preserve world order and many liberals made the mistake of relying wholly on socio-political action to solve world problems.

Conflict Over Method

It would be naïve to argue from this, however, that liberals and evangelicals need each other for complementary emphases. Over and above differences of motivation and of goals stand the differences between evangelical and liberal ethics in respect to methodology. Most evangelicals reject outright the liberal methodology of social reform, in which more and more liberals call for a “new evangelism” that substitutes sociological for spiritual concerns. Just as in his theological view of God the liberal dissolves righteousness into love, so in the political order he dilutes social justice into compassion. This kind of merger not only destroys the biblical view of God on the one hand but also produces the welfare state on the other. This confounding of justice and love confuses what God expects of government with what he expects of the Church, and makes the state an instrument for legislating partisan and sectarian ideals upon society. Ideally the purpose of the state is to preserve justice, not to implement benevolence; ideally, the purpose of the Church is to preach the Gospel and to manifest unmerited, compassionate love.

Many sociologists and political scientists dislike this way of stating the case. But it is noteworthy that these particular disciplines are especially barren of evangelical perspectives; they tend to be theologically illiterate in respect both to eschatology and to a basic theology of justice. Current proposals to detach the Gospel from “right-wing” social reaction and current pleas for “political compassion” are rooted in leftist political ideology more often than in an authentic spiritual view of the role of government.

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But in the present explosive era of history the problem of acting on an acceptable methodology is an urgent one for evangelicals. It is one thing to deplore ministerial marches and picket lines and well-publicized public pressures; but if evangelical conscience is to be a remedial and transforming social force, then evangelical convictions require articulate mobilization on their own account.

Evangelicals And Social Concern

Despite the present confusion caused by ecclesiastical intervention in political affairs, evangelicals have something socially relevant to say to both the secular man and the church man. The Christian has social duties not simply as a Christian but as a man, and his sanctification therein does not come about automatically without pulpit instruction in sound scriptural principles. Evangelicals as a people consider themselves bound to the Word of God; for this reason they consider themselves a spiritual people with a divine message for themselves and for others in regard to social action. Evangelicals acknowledge a divine call to identify themselves with others—not with social customs or social vices or social discontents, but rather with persons in their survival needs: physical and moral and spiritual. These survival needs include material help in destitution, social justice, and the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Surely evangelical Christianity has more to offer mankind than its unique message of salvation, even if that is its highest and holiest mission. While it rightly chides the liberal for regarding the world as a unity (rather than divided into unregenerate and regenerate), it also has a message for all men as members of one society. The Christian is not, by his church identification, isolated from humanity, or from involvement in the political and economic orders. Not only is he called to identify himself with society: he is identified, by the very fact of his humanity, and as a Christian he bears a double responsibility in relation to the social needs and goals of mankind. Social justice is a need of the individual, whose dignity as a person is at stake, and of society and culture, which would soon collapse without it. The evangelical knows that spiritual regeneration restores men to moral earnestness; but he also knows the moral presuppositions of a virile society, and he is obligated to proclaim the “whole counsel” of God. He may have no message for society that insures unrepentant mankind against final doom—nor even against catastrophic destruction in our own time, while its leaders insist upon arbitrary human authority at the expense of the lordship of Jesus Christ. But he can and ought to use every platform of social involvement to promulgate the revealed moral principles that sustain a healthy society and that indict an unhealthy one. More than this, the evangelical Christian should be represented, in his personal convictions, on the frontiers of government and in the corporate processes of society. Convinced that the cooperation of godly men in the social and collective order can be decisively influential, he should be concerned about relations between nations and about minority rights. There is no reason at all why evangelical Christians should not engage energetically in projecting social structures that promote the interests of justice in every public realm; in fact, they have every legitimate sanction for social involvement.

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Of course the Church is to be ruled distinctively by an ethic of grace. But the Church is also in a world that is to be ruled by justice, an ethic of justice that does not per se require regenerate social structures. In this context, a positive ethic and corrective principles enunciated on the broad world scene by regenerate believers who are engaged in the social struggle can have decisive influence. Such an ethic will include (1) the Church’s faithful exposition of divinely revealed standards of human justice as the only basis for a stable society and as the criteria by which the world will be finally judged; and (2) the Christian’s energetic promotion and support of just laws as the formal hallmark of a good society. When Christian believers become thus involved in the struggle for justice, the world may recognize in a new way the presence of regenerate realities; noting the community of twice-born men that sees the restoration of sinners to fellowship with God and to holiness as the aim of the Gospel, the world may even recognize the validity of regenerate structures through their moral impact.

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Any Christian engaged in the pursuit of social justice is painfully aware that, in a tragic world of fallen men, government decisions often involve a choice between greater and lesser evils rather than between absolutes of good and evil, and that only the Church of Christ can witness to a manifestation of absolute good in history. He will, however, avoid both the liberal error of “absolutizing relatives,” as if these were identical with the will of God, and also the fundamentalist temptation to consider any gain short of the absolute ideal in history as worthless or unworthy.

Law And Gospel

But evangelicals must not perpetuate the liberal Protestant failure to distinguish between the social concerns of Law and the social concerns of Gospel. In law and justice—that is, the province of government—all men are obliged to support man’s God-given rights as universally due to human beings whatever their race, color, or creed. The evangelical knows that no improvement can be made on a government that assures every man his rights, and that limits the freedom of citizens where and when it intrudes upon the rights of others. Evangelicals do not view government as an instrument of benevolence or compassion, since love is preferential and shows favor or partiality. Constantly pressing the question, “Don’t you care?,” liberals enlist support for legislating programs of benevolence. Such an appeal to “compassion” in support of legislative programs commits a twofold error, however: it diverts government from an ideal preservation of equal human rights before the law, and it shifts to the state a responsibility for compassion or benevolence that belongs properly to the Church. By concentrating on government to achieve the goals of both state and Church in a “benevolent partnership,” liberalism reflects a reliance on political techniques in society to the neglect of the redemptive dynamisms inherent in Christianity. This reliance on political techniques to achieve ecclesiastical objectives means the loss of a genuine supernatural grounding of ethical concerns, the loss of the Church as Church in society, the loss of the redemptive evangel in deference to secular solvents of social malformity, and the loss of evangelical loyalties in the congregation.

What distinguishes evangelical Christianity is its refusal to impose sectarian obligations upon government, upon government which then employs compulsion to enforce a program of benevolence that individual citizens might or might not approve. Even if they did approve, they might consider the provision of such benevolences moral only if performed voluntarily; or they might consider it immoral to use taxation to compel others to do what they do not think to be right. While liberals justify their breaking of laws that appear unjust on the grounds of sensitivity to conscience, they nonetheless promote other laws that some persons regard as preferential and unjust.

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To the evangelical Christian, the best alternative to the “welfare” state is the just state, and the best alternative to political demonstrations is civil obedience. The evangelical champions and strives for just legislation, and for obedience to law and respect for judicial process rather than for directly coerced action. The evangelical sponsors a principled ethic whose course is determined by divinely revealed moral principles. Much of contemporary liberal social action is not a matter of obeying laws; rather, it is a case of everyone’s being on his existential own. Dialectical-existential ethics cannot indicate in advance what the moral agent ought to do, and looks upon any structured objective ethics as mere rationalism.

The evangelical holds that all persons are divinely obligated by the Scriptures to love their neighbors. While progress has been slow in the area of race tensions, nonetheless there has been progress. Yet even evangelical believers fall short of their highest moral aspirations, and laws are necessary to hold just social standards before Christians and non-Christians alike. All citizens should strive to replace discriminatory laws by non-discriminatory laws. The evangelical recognizes, however, that without public enthusiasm only moral earnestness vouchsafed by spiritual conviction and renewal assures the necessary devotion to right that guarantees social fulfillment. While the glory of ancient Rome was its genius for universal law, through its lack of heart for righteousness the Roman Empire sank into oblivion. The problem of racial discrimination can be permanently met only by Christian behavior that faces up to the ugliness of bias, the evils of immorality and delinquency, and the whole complex of problems that surrounds race feeling. The predilection for public issues over personal holiness in liberal social ethics is all the more disconcerting in view of this fact. Although liberal churchmen will throw their energies behind a public health program, they tend to remain silent about many of the personal vices; such concerns are left to the “purity nuts.”

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The history of Christian mission in the world makes it clear that evangelicals were interested in education, hospitals, care for the aged, and many current social concerns long before modern secular theory was ever born. Evangelicals were active in social work not only in the slums of America but also on distant mission fields a full century before the rise of modern welfare programs. To this day, rescue missions all across the land reflect a long-standing inner-city missionary concern for people in material and spiritual poverty. Evangelicals have not been as active as they need to be in the social arena; on the other hand, they have been far more active than they are sometimes said to have been.

The weakness of public demonstrations as the approved means of Christian social action is its limitation and externalization of Christian concern. It is arbitrary to imply that only those who demonstrate at a given point manifest authentic social concern. Moreover, since local demonstrations gain national significance through radio and television, the implications of massive civil disobedience are the more distressing. Ecclesiastical demonstrators who never persuade observers to become disciples of Jesus Christ ought to ask how effectively Christian is such amorphous “witness by demonstration.” The motivations for demonstrating are internal, and apart from verbal interpretation might equally well be sub-Christian, non-Christian, or anti-Christian. As a matter of fact, Jews and humanists resent a Christian interpretation of their demonstrating. If authentic social concern demanded the ecumenical chartering of planes to officially designated out-of-town points, it would require a large expense account to enable everybody to travel to somebody else’s home town “to identify.” If every supporter of an item of disputed legislation had to march to Capitol Hill, if every Christian citizen had to put in a personal appearance to let legislators know what laws he thought God specially wanted, what would tourist-jammed Washington be like then? If the representative role of congressmen were superseded by the group pressures of ministers, the whole machinery of American government would soon collapse. The question remains, moreover, Whose conscience answers for whom? These clergy are received by congressmen, not on the premise that they speak only for themselves, but as voices for their churches. No one disputes a clergyman’s right as an individual to picket or demonstrate anywhere he wishes (the right of conscience is a Protestant principle). It is unlikely, however, that pastors can wholly detach themselves from responsibilities to their congregations. When prominent churchmen parade as Reverend Church, moreover, they are simply encouraging future counter-demonstrations at 475 Riverside Drive or the Witherspoon Building.

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What many socially sensitive ministers especially deplore is the implication left by the well-publicized minority of marchers that non-marchers are lacking or inferior in social concern. “I don’t mind another minister’s marching if he must relieve his conscience that way,” said one Washington minister, “but I don’t see why my social concern—never before questioned—should now be in doubt because I didn’t engage in this form of exhibitionism.” In Copenhagen, when Evangelist Billy Graham opened his crusade, a heckler interrupted him with the cry: “Why didn’t you march in Selma?” But Graham had been integrating meetings in the South long before some of the marchers had become existentialized and, moreover, had done so in the context of biblical Christianity. It is a neat propaganda device to imply that evangelical social concern is immobile because it does not conform to liberal methods—it merely proves that political propagandism is a technique in which liberal ecclesiastical leaders have become adept. In some ecclesiastical circles, the defense of this one controversial method of action has apparently justified the repudiation of all theological grounds of social concern.

Evangelical Distinctives

When evangelicals manifest social concern, they do so first by proclaiming the supernatural revelation of God and the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus they emphasize the transcendent basis of justice and the divine basis of the Gospel. They declare both the standards by which Almighty God will judge the human race and the redemption from sin unto holiness that is to be found in Jesus Christ. They affirm God’s institution of civil government to preserve justice and order, and the Church as a spiritual fellowship of redeemed men who esteem their neighbors in holy love and dedicate themselves to social righteousness.

The evangelical Christian’s social concern is first directed towards the family as the basic unit of society. He finds a hollow ring in the social passion for “one world” that simultaneously lacks indignation over divorce, infidelity, and vagrancy in the home. Because liberalism fails to see society as a macrocosm of the family, it is bankrupt to build a new society. Liberalism changes ideological loyalties and social perspectives every generation; evangelical Christianity treasures the family bound to the changeless will of God and to the apostolic faith. Hence evangelical Christianity regards the Sunday school, the prayer meeting, and the family in the church as a cohesive social unit that reflects in miniature the ideal social order. No new era of brotherliness and peace is likely to emerge in the absence of a new race of men. Evangelicals consider alliances of nations uncommitted to transcendent justice to be as futile a foundation for future mutuality as premarital promiscuity. As evangelical Christians see it, the vision of One World, or of United Nations, that is built on geographical representation rather than on principial agreement is as socially unpromising as is a lawless home that neglects the commandments of God. Walter Lippmann has somewhere said: “We ourselves were so sure that at long last a generation had arisen, keen and eager to put this disorderly earth to right … and fit to do it.… We meant so well, we tried so hard, and look what we have made of it. We can only muddle into muddle. What is required is a new kind of man.”

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Evangelical Christianity finds the most natural avenue for social witness beyond the family circle in the world of work when it is viewed as a divine calling. How sadly liberal Christianity, during its past-generation domination of ecclesiastical life, has failed in the organized church’s social witness is nowhere more apparent than here. Almost all political leaders of the race-torn states are church members; Alabama’s Governor Wallace belongs to the Methodist Church, which is in the forefront of liberal social action programs. Almost all congressmen are church members. Either the religious social activists have failed miserably in inspiring churchmen in political life to view their vocations as avenues for the advancement of social justice, or an elite ecclesiastical cadre is pressuring leaders to conform their political judgments to the partisan preferences of a special bloc of churchmen—or perhaps both are true. Since everyone lives in a world of labor and economics, evangelical Christianity emphasizes that man’s work is a divinely appointed realm in which man is to glorify God and invest his talents for the good of his fellows; it is not only a means of livelihood but also an avenue of service.

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This concept of divine vocation, of work as a calling, has all but vanished from the work-a-day world at the very time in modern history when liberal social action commissions have conspired with the labor unions in their skyrocketing material benefits. Meanwhile evangelical Protestants have organized a Christian Medical Society, Christian Business Men’s Committee, Christian Professional Women’s Club, Christian Law Society, Christian Teachers Association, Officers Christian Union in the Armed Forces—even a Christian Labor Union—in order to emphasize the spiritual responsibilities of vocation. It must be conceded that many of these Christian organizations serve mainly an evangelistic role, or one of vocational fellowship; only a beginning has been made in the equally urgent task of shaping an ethic for the social structures in which these groups operate. Beyond fulfilling person-to-person Christian opportunities, such agencies have an opportunity to supply guidance to both Christian and non-Christian on what is implied in a specified social order in the way of justice.

Evangelical Christians consider this recognition of the priestly nature of daily work to be more basic to social renewal than is a reshuffle of economic features that locates the fundamental flaws of society in man’s environment rather than in man himself and his works. The importance of just laws is not in dispute, since civil government is divinely designed as a coercive force to restrain evil, preserve order, and promote justice in a fallen and sinful society. Because there is no assurance that all men will repent and seek the will of God, and because even Christian believers must contend with the remnants of sin, just laws are indispensable in human history, and God’s common grace in the lives of men everywhere matches conscience with law in the interest of social preservation. But evangelical Christianity is not so infatuated with the external power of coercion as to exaggerate its potentialities, nor so skeptical of the spiritual powers of regeneration as to minimize its possibilities. Precisely because law does not contain the power to compel obedience, evangelical Christianity recognizes that a good society turns upon the presence of good men—of regenerated sinners whose minds and hearts are effectively bound to the revealed will of God—and upon their ability under God to influence humanity to aspire to enduring values.

Although society at large has seldom been overwhelmed by the Church’s proclaiming the Gospel from the pulpit, the obedient fulfillment of the Great Commission has called new disciples one by one into the circle of regenerate humanity. The voice of the Church in society has been conspicuously weaker whenever the pulpit of proclamation has been forsaken for mass pressures upon the public through the adoption of resolutions, the promotion of legislation, and the organization of demonstrations. Whenever the institutional church seeks public influence by mounting a socio-political platform, she raises more fundamental doubts about the authenticity and uniqueness of the Church than about the social aberrations against which she protests.

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To evangelical Christianity, history at its best is the lengthened shadow of influential men, not the compulsive grip of impersonal environmental forces. A change of environmental forces will not transform bad men into good men—let alone into a good society. But transformed men will rise above a bad environment and will not long be lacking in a determination to alter it.

At the present time, involvement in the race problem is the crucial test of devotion to social justice. Of the evangelical Christian’s love for men of all races the long-standing missionary effort leaves no doubt; from Adoniram Judson and David Livingstone to Hudson Taylor and Paul Carlson, the story is one of evangelical sacrifice of creature comforts, even of life itself, that men of every land and color might share the blessings of redemption. In mid-twentieth-century America, humanism and liberalism and evangelicalism alike were slow to protest political discrimination against the Negro, although evangelical missionaries have deplored the incongruities of segregation. Regrettably, the Negro’s plight became for some liberal reformers an opportunity for promoting social revolution, and for some conservative reactionaries an occasion for perpetuating segregation and discrimination. Evangelical Christianity has a burden for social renewal but no penchant for revolution or reaction. Because it champions the redemptive realities inherent in the Christian religion, evangelical Christianity will in the long run vindicate the judgment that the Negro is not only politically an equal but also spiritually a brother.

Some Governing Principles

A new breed of evangelical? Yes, indeed! But not because evangelicals are switching from proclamation of the good tidings to pronouncements, picketing, and politicking as sacred means of legislating Christian sentiment on earth. Rather, evangelicals are a new breed because redemptive religion seeks first and foremost a new race of men, new creatures in Christ. Whenever Christians lose that motivation, they surrender more than their New Testament distinctiveness; they forfeit the New Testament evangel as well.

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In summary, evangelicals face the social predicament today with four controlling convictions:

1. The Christian Church’s distinctive dynamic for social transformation is personal regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and the proclamation of this divine offer of redemption is the Church’s prime task.

In the twentieth century the ecumenical movement has failed most conspicuously in its mission to the world by relying on political and sociological forces, and by neglecting spiritual dynamisms.

2. While the corporate or institutional church has no divine mandate, jurisdiction, or special competence for approving legislative proposals or political parties and persons, the pulpit is responsible for proclaiming divinely revealed principles of social justice as a part of the whole counsel of God.

3. The most natural transition from private to social action occurs in the world of daily work, in view of the Christian’s need to consecrate his labor to the glory of God and to the service of mankind.

4. As citizens of two worlds, individual church members have the sacred duty to extend God’s purpose of redemption through the Church, and also to extend God’s purpose of justice and order through civil government. Christians are to distinguish themselves by civil obedience except where this conflicts with the commandments of God, and are to use every political opportunity to support and promote just laws, to protest social injustice, and to serve their fellow men.

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