The Social Gospel refers to the emphasis of a primarily
Protestant movement in the late 19th century and early 20th century, to apply Christian principles to social problems.
Being part of the "modernism" trend with a strong emphasis on social justice, the movement is a rival to evangelical and fundamentalist
Christianity. Members of the movement see it as a return to the beginning of Christianity, that is to the message of Jesus.
In the United States, prior to World War I, the Social Gospel was the religious wing of the progressive movement which had the aim of combating injustice, suffering, and poverty in society. In this context, it is seen as having provided the philosophical
underpinning for the New Deal. After the war, the movement shifted its focus to the civil rights arena, and later, became outspoken in its opposition to the Vietnam War.
With the ascendancy of the "Christian right" beginning in the 1980s, the Social Gospel agenda declined in the United States, but examples of its continued existence can still be found, notably the organization known as the Call to Renewal.
Sometimes seen as a branch of Christian socialism, the Social Gospel movement was especially influential in Canada and led many ministers to become active in the socialist movement in the form of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and later the New
Democratic Party. It was reflected in the novel In His Steps that was written by the Congregational minister
Charles Sheldon, who coined the motto "What would Jesus do?" Sheldon was committed to Christian Socialism and identified with the Social Gospel. One of the early theologians
of the Social Gospel was
Walter Rauschenbusch, and he indicated how Sheldon's novel inspired his theology. Social Gospel is still influential in Canada's
United Church and in the Anglican Church but has less influence in the United States. It also remains influential among Christian socialist circles
in Britain in the
Church of England,
Methodist, and some
Both Catholicism and
Liberation theology both have similarities to the Social Gospel. In the Anglican Church, the Social Gospel has found expression in
Prominent Social Gospel advocates have included: