A Response by Andrew Dole on Spiritual vs. Social Gospel
Since I've just finished teaching a course in which the Social
Gospel figured significantly, I do have a comment to make about
this. Basically, Stott's grasp of what the 'social Gospel' entails
seems pretty thin. In its classic forms it went far beyond simply
'helping people with daily needs'. Those who argued, in the early
20th century, that the primary social task of the church was 'helping
people with daily needs' were saying something very different from
the social Gospel types, and not infrequently were trying to resist
what they were up to.
The social Gospel movement concerned itself not simply with
alleviating the suffering of the unfortunate-- that was widely seen
as an important task, but one that was too limited. What the social
Gospel people addressed themselves to were the societal causes of
suffering: structural features like wage inequality, flagrant labor
exploitation, militarism, nationalism and the like. They were
interested, to cite the title of a book by Rauschenbusch, in
'Christianizing society'. This took various forms: advocation of
child labor laws, unemployment insurance, and minimum/living wage
legislation; activism on the side of workers' rights to organize and
participation in labor-capital negotiations; advancing Socialist
party policies and candidates; advocating pacifism; and preaching
against racism, greed, traffic in the sale of alcohol, and rampant
nationalism. In comparison to this kind of aggressive social/
political program, those who called for the church to do no more than
engage in charitable relief were often trying to restrict the scope
of the church's activities.
Barth's relationship to this tradition was an interesting one.
Overall he's seen as a political quietist: one who thought the
church had no business meddling in politics. But it's become clear
since his death that he was passionately committed to socialist
politics in his private views, and there are those who have argued
that his theological work is shot through with a pro-socialist
program (this is a highly contested claim).
You'll be learning far more about this over the next few years, of
course, but I wouldn't want you to start your seminary education with
such a thin notion of such an important Christian movement.
Take care, Andrew Dole"
I'll respond later on Barth's political life, particularly his relationship to socialism, and the contentious debate surrounding how much CD is filled with this. I invite anyone else to add their say on this issue, or simply respond to the general problem of social/spiritual gospel.