Recovering a Heritage

The current generation of evangelical Christians has been to a great extent deceived by a strange quirk of history —"The Great Reversal" described by David Moberg in his book by that name. The last half century or so of evangelical apathy on social issues is assumed to be characteristic of the whole history of evangelicalism. The calls to Christian discipleship, social involvement, and political engagement found in such quarters as the Post-American, The Other Side, and Inside are assumed to be a new emphasis. Advocates of evangelical social concern argue that social involvement must be added to traditional values of piety, evangelism, orthodox theology, and biblical orientation.

This perspective is false to history and obscures a heritage that needs to be recovered. Many "founding fathers" of evangelical traditions prove this generalization to be false. ' In their age they were the radicals protesting against a flaccid, weak, and nominal church whose identification with cultural values had obscured the gospel and blunted its social outreach. In his History of Christian Thought, Paul Tillich suggests that it was pietism that first awakened the social conscience of the modern church. The social impact of the related Wesleyan revival is well known, but we have forgotten how threatening and subversive the activities of Wesley and his disciples first appeared.

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