A Faith For Today

By Harris Franklin Rall

Chapter 19



THERE is one question which no one can escape today who has any concern for his fellow men. We call it, somewhat vaguely, the social problem. By social life we mean the life of men in their group relations; home, industry, church, and state are the main forms, but it includes many other relations—recreation, education, international relations, life anywhere where men think and feel and act together.

About this group life we must note two facts. First, it was never so close and so inclusive as today. Science, invention, and industry are responsible for the change. Science brought in the power machine. The machine meant mass production, concentrated capital and control, and masses of people brought together in great centers. At the same time invention was breaking down distance and other barriers that divided men. The means of communication—printing press, telegraph, telephone, radio, movie, telephoto, and television—and the means of transportation—railway, steamship, automobile, airplane, and submarine—these have radically changed the group life of men. The world has become one family. What happens in New York today is read tomorrow in Tokio and Peiping, Calcutta and Cairo, Melbourne and Buenos Ayres, or the radio may take it within a few hours to countless millions. Humanity is becoming more and more one big organism, a body that flashes to the center each experienced emotion, which in turn is sent back and felt through the whole frame. Recently one Indian prince decided to set up a radio with loud speaker in each of his villages. Tomorrow his forty million people will become one body in a new sense.

Even more important for us to face is the second fact: though bound together as never before, we have not learned to live together; our differences and conflicts, indeed, have been multiplied, and the very closeness of the ties has made more tragic the results. We have had marvelous tools put into our hands, but we have not known how to use them. (1) Our inventions have become means of destruction so terrible that we hardly dare to think what another world war might mean. (2) Our instruments of production have resulted in an industry which men have used for individual profit instead of for feeding and clothing men. So, just at the time when we could mine coal, make clothing and shoes, and produce food in such abundance as never before, we saw, instead of happy, busy, and well-cared-for peoples, everywhere around the world folks that were hungry, half-clothed, and with no chance to work. (3) Our means of travel and trade and communication, despite some growth of unity, have brought a vast increase of tension and strife, so that war is most imminent at the very time when it is most terrible in its possibilities. Press and radio are used, not to secure mutual understanding, but for world-wide propaganda, for suppressing truth, distorting facts, and stirring up fears and hatreds. The press in most countries is the subservient tool of the State, and the European news agencies are mainly State-owned or controlled. In many cases, especially in our cities, the daily press is just one more form of big business, with enormous investment, used openly or covertly to further special interests in politics or economics. Everywhere we find class against class, race against race, nation against nation. Humanity, with this enormous technical development, is like a boy suddenly grown to manhood in physical strength and passions, but mentally and morally still a child.


What can religion do about this?

There are those who think that religion has no relevancy here. (1) Some of these speak for business and the State, and call to the Church, "Hands off!" Their theory is simple: Business and the State will attend to this world, let the Church attend to the next. Let the concern of religion be with what happens inside the four walls of the church, not outside. Let it bring men comfort and hope. Let it preach the "pure gospel." Let it point men to heaven. But let those whose business it is attend to industry and the State. Many such men will give financial support to churches; but they want an individual and otherworldly religion and ministers who will keep silence on social matters. Within their own field they demand supremacy. The Fascist State is only the outstanding expression of this position. (2) Some men take this position on religious grounds. They declare that the world is evil, and our task is not to change this world but to save men out of this world. Or they insist that religion is individual, not social, concerned not with "outer life," but wholly with the inner and "spiritual."

But religion cannot accept any such limitations. Neither the Old Testament nor the New presents us with a merely individualistic or otherworldly religion. There is one God, and he is the Lord of all life. No Duce or Fhrer, no King or Congress, no business association or editor has any authority over against him. We have only one hope—that in this world and all worlds his will is to be done and his rule is to come. Because we believe in the one "God, the Father Almighty," we must claim all life for religion. The religion of a corner, the religion of a mere segment of life, is impossible. It must be all or nothing.


A great deal of confusion has come because men have set individual and social over against each other. One side pleads for a "social gospel," the other for individual religion. There is, of course, a distinction between individual and social. There is an inner life, a world within each man, a microcosm, a center of conscious being and purpose which forever marks off each individual from all others. And there is a social life, a group life that we share together. But these are not two kinds of life and they do not indicate two kinds of religion or two gospels.

It is just as impossible to separate spiritual and physical, and bid religion care for the former and pass the latter by. Religion is concerned with man and man is a unity. When Toyohiko Kagawa went to live in the slum district of Shinkawa, he turned to the little children to win them for a better life, and they responded quickly and gladly. Then he had to look on and see them, as they grew up, overborne by their evil surroundings. "Because of insufficient income half of the children were undernourished and died before they reached the age of five. . . . Those about him resorted to drink in order to paralyze their brains and nerves and forget their suffering." (Kagawa, by William Axling, pp. 44-48.) The boys turned to vice and crime, the girls to prostitution. He saw that he must liberate the laborer in order to save the slums. He kept on with his preaching and evangelizing, but he organized the first labor union in Japan and later began his work with cooperatives. Religion, says Kagawa, is "an art concerned with the whole of life. ... It is only the timid who interpret God and the world as a dualism. Until even the Stock Exchange is filled to saturation with God, there is little hope for genuine religion." How can we build up men and women in lives of faith and high ideals and unselfish love and service, when the tides of the society in which they live and work move constantly, deep and strong, in the direction of materialism, selfishness, and ruthless struggle?

Human life is always both individual and social, and human life as a whole is what religion is interested in. There is no merely individual being. What is society? It is men living, thinking, working together, with certain common attitudes and ideals. What is the individual? He is a conscious center of life, but one whose actual living, in terms of what he does and feels and thinks, is mainly in a life shared with others. No individual could ever reach a human, personal life except in the social matrix; and the higher he rises, the more indispensable do the social relations become.


The first point that we need to see clearly is that group life has moral and religious qualities and capacities, and that it is more than a mere sum of individuals in action. We are dealing once more with the idea of the organic, or corporate. The whole is more than the sum of its parts; corporate life and individual life each depend upon the other, but there is such a thing as corporate life. There is a life that we live together as well as one that we live individually. This common life, as seen in home or state or business, is no mere impersonal affair of laws and institutions. Here, just as in individual life, we have ideas and ideals, impulses and emotions, high ends or low, evil passions, noble achievements, sins, failures. It is personal and ethical life, like the life of the individual, and, like that, it needs to be saved.

Next to the family, the modern State is perhaps the most significant illustration of such a social, or corporate, entity. The nation of today is really a modern development. It has its traditions, its ideals, often a developed cult of nation worship or glorification that is religious in character, especially where Fascist ideology has come in. It includes more than the political life, though the functions of the political State are enormously extended today and its molding action is felt in every part of the life of the people. The life of the nation has distinct moral quality. It may easily be vain, oversensitive, arrogant, selfish, materialistic, predatory, ruthless. The history of modern nations shows all of these sins. Clearly, the State must be redeemed if a new life is to be achieved for humanity. It must repent of its sins, set new and higher goals, and change its spirit and method. It must find a new faith, faith in God, faith in the forces of truth and justice and good will. It must acknowledge a supreme authority, recognizing that it has the right to rule only so far as it has itself learned to obey.

The basic ideals of the world of industry as organized under present-day capitalism are largely non-Christian. Christianity holds to an idea of stewardship, or trusteeship: this earth and all its goods, its fields and mines and factories, belong to God. Man has no title in fee simple but only in trust; and he is to use all possessions for the good of men. Our present system thinks in terms of absolute control; if a man, by inheritance or in any other way, commands a fortune or owns a million acres or controls a hundred factories, no one is to question his right to do with it as he pleases, though ten thousand men are shut out from the land and a job. Christianity emphasizes brotherhood as a fact, an ideal, and a practice. It stands for justice, not as a mere system of rewards and punishment, but as a creative social effort to secure the largest opportunity and the fullest share of the gifts of life for all. And in the light of all this it holds up the service of men as a motive in life. Our present system stresses individualism, appeals to selfish interest, and measures a man's success by the wealth and power which he has secured for himself. Christianity stresses the solidarity of humanity, that the good life for each can only come with the good of all; and so it stands for the method of co-operation. Our industrial system today is built upon the competitive principle, and even where there is common effort, as within an organized labor group, a corporation, or even a nation, it is still directed against other interests or groups or nations. So careful a writer as J. M. Keynes, a capitalist economist, is driven to say: "Modern capitalism is absolutely irreligious, without internal union, without much public spirit, often, though not always, a mere congeries of possessors and pursuers." (Quoted by Sherwood Eddy, in Russia Today, p. 239.) The question here is not that of the spirit and attitude of men working under this system, but of the ideals underlying the system and the methods involved in it.

If we turn to international life, we see once more a world in which a new group life has arisen, where no longer any nation can live by itself, but where this common life has been shaped in the main along anti-Christian lines. We cannot deny the statement once made by Viscount Bryce that the nations in relation to each other are still in a "state of nature" that is, still essentially in the barbarian stage. It is true that we have in international relations the beginnings of a new order, with mutual regard, co-operation, the settlement of questions in open conference, and the avowed aim of justice. But the actual events of the generation just passed reveal as dominant factors secret agreements, groups of hostile interests arrayed against each other, frankly selfish aims, and dependence upon armed force. Nationalism, secret diplomacy, and militarism are the characteristic marks of our national-international system, and all three are as flatly opposed to the Christian ideal as they are to human welfare. Nationalism sets the interests of each State against that of other States and claims for the State an absolute authority without regard to justice, truth, or God. Diplomacy in actual practice means deceit as a method and the arraying of one group of nations against another as a policy. War is the very essence of the spirit of anti-Christ. There is not one high ideal for which Christianity stands which must not be scrapped when war is on. Against love and truth and mercy and peace and reverence for humanity, it sets hate, deception, hard vindictiveness, violence, and murder, making of men tools for ambition and food for cannon. All that we denounce in individual men—lying, anger, murder—is sanctified in the conduct of nations when war arises.

Of course there is individual action and responsibility in all this, but there is more. Here is corporate life. Here are group sins that must be confessed and repented of by the group, ideals that must be transformed, institutions that must be made over. That is what social salvation means.


What has the Christian religion to offer for this needed transformation?

1. Christianity offers a goal. The Christian term is "the kingdom of God," better translated, "the rule of God." The prophets looked at a world in which evil held sway. As men of faith they could have but one answer to such a situation: Sometime oppression and cruelty and poverty and war shall cease, the forces of evil be overthrown, and the rule of God shall come. Jesus struck the same note: "The rule of God is at hand" There are two ways of conceiving this rule. One is to think of it as external, as a rule of compelling force, autocratic and irresistible, and of God as external to his world and as a kind of Oriental King. The other way is to think of an inner rule, with ideals that command mind and conscience, and a spirit that sways the heart while at the same time it reaches out to shape and master all life, physical and spiritual, individual and social, with all the institutions of business and government. The prophets and Jesus and Paul thought of the kingdom as such an inner yet all-determining rule.

The late Lord Chief Justice Russell of England, who was of Irish stock, once gave a noteworthy definition of civilization: "It is not dominion, wealth, material luxury; nay, not even a great literature and education widespread, good though these may be. Civilization is not a veneer; it must penetrate to the very heart and core the societies of men. Its true signs are thought for the poor and suffering, chivalrous regard and respect for woman, the frank recognition of human brotherhood irrespective of race or color or nation or religion, the narrowing of the domain of mere force as a governing factor in the world, abhorrence of what is mean and cruel and vile, ceaseless devotion to the claims of justice." Here the influence of the Christian ideal is obvious.

Let us note some of the principles which will come to expression in this new world. (1) The sacredness of man as man. It is not Nordic blood that decides, not color of skin, or race, or degree of culture; it is man as man to whom these rights belong. And the goal and test of all industry and government is what it does for man. (2) Justice, not of the courts, distributing according to deed, but as the quality of a social order which gives the largest opportunity of life to least and greatest. (3) Good will as the ruling spirit, an active, creative attitude alike of men and nations, working for the good of all. (4) The principle of solidarity, mankind as one, and the highest welfare of each as gained only in and through the common life. (5) Co-operation as the social way and service as the great motive. That would mean what Tawney has called a "functional society'' in contrast with our present Acquisitive society" a society in which "the main object of social emphasis would be the performance of social functions," and "which inquired first not what men possess but what they can make or create or achieve." It is obvious that this kingdom of God is not a mere matter of authority or organization; Paul uses for it the figure of a body, Jesus of a family. It is a corporate life.

2. Christianity offers the necessary authority. The indispensable conditions of a strong and enduring society are a common faith and a common authority. Today we have industrial and international anarchy because the dominant social order recognizes no motive except self-interest, and no authority beyond that of wealth and force. A common and higher authority can only be found where men believe in God, in some Being that embodies at once goodness and power. H. G. Wells wrote some years ago of an interview in Rome with David Lubin, the far-seeing Jew who established the International Institute of Agriculture. It was after the World War, and Wells was insisting that what was needed was the recognition of some God or King that all nations would recognize and in whom all would find a common truth and justice to which they must bow. He told how the old man rose to his feet, walked over to a table and seized the Scriptures of his race: "But I have it here," he cried, "here in the prophets of my people." And David Lubin was right.

3. Christianity offers a needed faith, the faith in a living God, not simply as a supreme and unifying authority, but as a Power working out high ends. Justice and truth and love are not mere words or remote ideals. They have their being in God, they are the finally determining forces of this universe. Here is hope to displace despairing skepticism and nerve us for social action. No matter what today or tomorrow brings, we fight on. For

"Eight is right, since God is God;

     And right the day must win;

To doubt would be disloyalty,

     To falter would be a sin."

Christianity has faith in man also. Without that we cannot go forward, at least in the democratic way. Christianity is not romanticism, seeing only good in man; it faces realistically the dark side of human nature. But it is not cynical or pessimistic; it believes, not in man as he is, but in man's capabilities, in what man can be as God works in him and through him. Therefore, looking forward to a new and better world, it does not rely upon some autocratic "leader" here on earth, or upon a miraculous descent of God from the skies, but upon the slow but sure work of the forces of truth, love, and justice, operative in men. 4. Christianity offers the necessary social dynamic, those forces without which our social plans are beautiful but empty dreams. It transforms individual men, furnishing them with vision and passion, supplying both leaders and followers for the work of social change.


What is the way of making over our social order? The answer to this question varies.

1. Apocalypticism is one of the oldest answers. It holds that this world is utterly evil. There is no hope in anything that man can do, but sometime God will come (or the Messiah) and by irresistible power will destroy the evil and establish the good. Pre-millennialism is the popular form of this idea. It holds that Christ will return in visible form and set up a kingdom in Jerusalem, from which he will rule the whole earth by military power for a thousand years, after which will come a final Judgment and heaven and hell. Karl Earth has revived apocalypticism in Europe. For him the idea of Christianizing our social order is like "biting on granite" The whole world of time and change is evil; when God acts, he will put an end to history and the perfect eternal order will be here.

2. The second method might be called revolutionism. Strictly, every idea of social salvation that is at all thorough must be revolutionary; the early Christians were accused of "turning the world upside down." But here we are using revolutionism for the theory, especially as held by Communism, that those who profit by the present order can only be dispossessed by force. This Communism is like apocalypticism in may respects. Both hold that the present order cannot be changed gradually, but must grow constantly worse until overturned by force. In apocalypticism God is to use this force; with Communism it is man.

We cannot assert that force is never needed. So long as there are immaturity and ignorance and evil, some constraint and compulsion are needed where the affairs of a group are concerned, and that is true even in the home. The wise mother will snatch a child who is too near the open fire without waiting first for peaceful persuasion. Society has its police, courts, and jails. Coercion need not be physical to be real and potent, and no sharp line can be drawn ethically between violent and non-violent coercion. But the new order which men need and God purposes, though it must in the end control all the outward forms of life, is fundamentally moral and spiritual. And the spiritual cannot be won by physical force. Violence in such case inevitably means compulsion of spirit as well as body. Autocracy is evil whether wielded by one man or by a class, and whether its ends are avowedly benevolent or selfish. Force can destroy, and, indeed, some things need to be destroyed ; but mere force cannot build up, for that we must have other agencies. And the use of violence, whether between nations or within a nation, brings inevitably other evils with it. If the sword is to decide, then the supreme appeal is no longer to truth and justice, and these must suffer. We cannot use the weapons of Caesar to bring in the rule of Christ, or expect to rear on the foundations of hatred and violence a kingdom of justice and peace.

3. Over against the appeal to force, whether used by God or man, stands the reliance on the power of the spirit. Truth, the sense of right or justice, and good will are influences on which this method relies. It may be called the democratic way. Those who follow it believe that men, however dull or selfish or ignorant or swayed by prejudice, may be changed, and will at last respond to truth and right. They believe that even the group which profits by the present system may be so influenced. In any case they hold that in countries with democratic institutions, such as Great Britain and the United States, the method of discussion, agitation, education, and orderly political procedure should be used to secure needed change. When the people can be lifted to where they see the true goal, desire it, and are willing to work for it, they can gain it; without that it could not be given them. And, indeed, every generation must win anew for itself such high goods as freedom and justice.

It is clear that this democratic method has a close kinship with Christianity. Its reliance on nonphysical forces, its appeal to conscience and reason, its concern with freedom and justice, all indicate this. Political democracy in its actual working has failed at important points. (1) It has laid too great stress on mere change in laws and institutions, and failed to see that these, to be effective, must express the will and spirit of the people. (2) It has assumed that when once a truth is seen and uttered, the victory has been gained. But the real task is to shape the mind and will of a people. So it has failed at its greatest task, the revolution in the spirit and character of men. It needs more realism in facing the forces of human ignorance, selfishness, prejudice, and inertia. (3) It has failed to see that without industrial democracy, political democracy is of little worth.

4. When we ask about the Christian way of help in the social problem, we are met by two answers.

(1) Our problem lies with the individual, says one group; once get the individual right and government and industry will be transformed. But (a) individual men, who seem to be quite sincere and devout in personal religion, are often quite blind to social sins and social demands. In my files is a letter from a great industrial magnate who wrote me of his benefactions to churches and his interest in religion, making a plea for the gospel of charity. But a few years later, when some workmen went to the office of his company to ask relief from a twelve-hour day and a seven-day week, they were thrown out bodily. The men who summon the Church to stick to the pure gospel and work for individual conversion do not always show a zeal for peace and justice in business and the State. (6) And how are men to be Christians individually when they are socially enmeshed in a pagan order? I watch business men who worship in the church on Sunday and listen to the gospel of life after the spirit of Christ. But from Monday to Saturday they live in a world of sharpest competition and incessant striving for individual advantage. They must show profits to their directors, and they must make good individually. Are these individuals transforming the pagan order or is this order making pagan the individual? (c) Social redemption does not come automatically. If all the people of this country were to accept the Christian faith tomorrow, we should only be at the beginning of the solution of our social problems. We should still have to ask what the will of God and the good of man demanded, and then begin the long process of making over our social life.

(2) Our problem lies in the institution, says the other group; men are profoundly affected by the order in which they live and our attack must be upon that order. But who will transform that order except the men in whose heart the principles of that new order already exist? And how can such an order live if it is not thus grounded in the people?

The trouble is once more in that false disjunction of individual and social. It is human life that must be changed, and that includes both the individual and the order. We must have new men for a new society, and a new society if men are to be able to lead fully Christian lives. Where sin is, we must call to repentance. Where life is, we must hold up the Christian demand. We must attack the problems of the individual and the group at the same time, that advance in each may further the other.

5. What is the specific function of organized Christianity, that is, of the Church, in relation to this program of social change?

(1) It must hold before men the goal of a new order, a new humanity where good will and peace and justice shall obtain, where men shall be joined in co-operative effort for a common good.

(2) It must keep alive faith in God, a living God who is working out these ends; and that means faith in spiritual forces as our reliance.

(3) It must promote the study of such problems as government, industry, war, race relations, and international relations, not offering predetermined solutions, but furthering interest and understanding. The Information Service of the Federal Council of Churches is an example of service in this field.

(4) It is not its function to prepare programs of action, to furnish blueprints of a new social order, or to ally itself with specific political parties. It should, rather, welcome the work of socially minded economists, statesmen, social engineers, and business leaders. Christian men, individually and in groups, will naturally ally themselves as citizens with movements that offer the best way to the highest ends.

(5) The Church must always include judgment and the call to repentance in its message. It may not prescribe how the good shall be achieved, but it can never condone evil or be silent in the presence of iniquity. When billions go for arms while millions exist on starvation allowance, when industry operates to bring wealth to a few and leave millions without a chance to work, when class and race hatred arc promoted, when nations compel their men to go forth and kill each other, when national selfishness is the avowed national policy, then it must point out evil and pronounce judgment. And it must call to repentance not only the few who are in places of power, but all men everywhere who share in the nation's life and thus in its guilt.


  • What conditions or forces have brought about the increase in number and in urgency of "social problems''?
  • With what right and in what sense may we speak of social sins and of social salvation?
  • What do you consider the outstanding social sins of today, that is, the greatest evils in our group life?
  • How can Christianity help through its contribution of a social goal and of social dynamic for our day?
  • Why is a purely individualistic gospel inadequate?
  • Are there dangers that come with the emphasis on a "social gospel"?
  • What are the social values inherent in the Christian concepts of God and of man?
  • What other socially significant Christian concepts would you name?


  • J. C. Bennett: Social Salvation
  • Walter Rauschenbusch: A Theology for the Social Gospel; Christianizing the Social Order; Christianity and the Social Crisis
  • E. F. Scott: The Kingdom and the Messiah
  • H. F. Ward: Which Way Religion; Our Economic Morality and the Ethic of Jesus
  • F. E. Johnson: The Church and Society
  • E. Stanley Jones: Christ's Alternative to Communism
  • John Lewis and others, Editors: Christianity and the Social Revolution. Sixteen writers discuss the relations of Christianity and Communism.
  • R. Niebuhr: Does Civilization Need Religion
  • Information Service: Published weekly by the Federal Council of Churches.