Date of Award

1994

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Christian Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Terry Carter

Second Advisor

Dr. Jeff Pounders

Third Advisor

Dr. Bill Ellis

Abstract

The Church in America is at a turning point in her history. This author believes, like Rauschenbusch, that the future health of the Church in the United States depends primarily on how it responds to the growing sense of class consciousness in the United States, the dichotomy between "them" and "us," the "poor and lazy" and the "thrifty and productive."

Churches are responding in a number of ways. Political conservative churches have chosen to limit their focus to a few scattered social causes, namely abortion, homosexuals, and prayer in schools. They generally take the traditional position that the United States is a great land of opportunity, where all have an equal chance at success. Thus, those who do not succeed are either "unmotivated" or "lazy." To them , society is functioning well. The social problems that do exist are neither the result nor the fault of the system and its institutions. Therefore, the blame lies with the individual, and thus the primary focus of the church should be on the individual.

Then, of course, there is the Prosperity movement within Christendom which sees material wealth and success as a byproduct of individual holiness and rightness with God. The poor are somehow spiritually inferior and therefore do not receive the same blessings from on high has do the chosen.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the more liberal churches which tend to take the blame off the individual and place it on society. Therefore, when confronting the issues of AIDS, homosexuality, or teenage sexuality, the focus is not on individual behavior, but on how society responds to those individuals. Thus, homosexuality is no longer viewed as an unnatural lifestyle. The problem is how society views and treats the homosexuals. Teenagers are no longer encouraged to abstain from sex; now they are encouraged to protect themselves.

This senior thesis is reactionary in nature both against the extreme emphasis on the individual and the extreme "de-emphasis," if you will, on the individual. Like the Greek philosophers of old, the author seeks to find the Golden Mean somewhere between the extremes. The author has found that mean in the historical Christian movement known as the Social Gospel, a movement that was both biblical and social in nature. The Social Gospel recognized a healthy balance between the individual and his/her society. Evil and the potential for good were recognized in both. The Social Gospel attempts to eradicate the evil and bring out the good, not only on the level of individual redemption but also on the level of societal regeneration.

This thesis will attempt to do many things in a small amount of space. first of all, the Social Gospel will be examined, focusing on the writings of many adherents, but especially the "Father of the Social Gospel" in the United States, Walter Rauschenbusch. This section will include a brief biography of Rauschenbush, as well as an examination of his theology and selected writings, and a brief history of the Social Gospel in the United States.

The next section will deal with selected urban ills to which the Social Gospel responded at the turn of the century, as well as some of those concrete responses. Then, in the final section, selected contemporary urban problems will be examined, along with how the Church can respond today using the framework provided by the Social Gospelers a century ago.

Comments

This Senior Thesis is dedicated in memory of Dr. Jim Berryman, 1935-1993.

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