Back to the social gospel

Hillary Clinton cited her commitment to the “social gospel” in a speech to United Methodists.   That goes back to the 19th century when many Protestants said that instead of emphasizing the gospel of eternal salvation in Heaven through Christ, they should emphasize a gospel of building the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

The social gospel, which inspired all kinds of social reforms and progressive political activism,  became the hallmark of liberal theology.   After World War II, even in liberal theological circles, neo-orthodoxy reacted against the utopianism of the social gospel, though in the 1960s it came back with liberation theology.  Conservative theologies, of course, rejected the social gospel, but today there is arguably a social gospel of the right.

Two Kingdoms theology teaches that Christians do have a vocation as citizens, so Christians are right to be involved politically, loving and serving their neighbors in their communities and the larger society as they exercise their citizenship.  This might involve a range of  political ideologies.  The Church, though, needs to keep its transcendent focus on the Kingdom of Heaven.  Christians are citizens of both Kingdoms, but they musn’t be confused with each other, as generally happens with the social gospel of either the left or the right.

From Hillary Clinton: Speaking to Methodist women feels like a ‘homecoming’:

Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke about her Methodist faith in personal terms Saturday, telling a gathering of Methodist women that their conference felt like a “homecoming” and how the church’s obligation to serve others has guided her personal and professional life.

“I have always cherished the Methodist Church because it gave us the great gift of personal salvation but also the great obligation of social gospel,” Clinton said at the annual United Methodist Women Assembly here. “And I took that very seriously and have tried, tried to be guided in my own life ever since as an advocate for children and families, for women and men around the world who are oppressed and persecuted, denied their human rights and human dignity. ”

Clinton told the 7,000 women who gave her a rousing welcome at the Kentucky International Convention Center that Methodist women know how to “get things done,” including taking on the responsibility of serving their communities and the less fortunate.

“So it’s really like a homecoming to be here with all of you from across our country and around the world to celebrate the great web of passion and connection that ties all Methodists together,” she said. “To honor the good you are doing in your communities and that is being done through you throughout the world. To recommit ourselves to living the gospel and putting our faith into action.”

 

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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