Categorized | AIS File Library, Theology

Evangelism and Western Civilization


Copyright 1986 by

C. Thomas Culver
Wheaton College
Wheaton, Illinois
23 April 1986


I. Introduction
II. Individualism
A. Definition
1. Historically
2. Modern Attempts
3. Hollinger’s Typology
a. Individualism as Metaphysic
b. Individualism as Value System and as Social Philosophy
B. Historical Development
1. Medieval Society
2. The Renaissance
3. The Reformation
4. The Enlightenment
5. Puritanism
III. Evangelical Individualism
A. Ecclesiology
B. Social Ethics
1. Historically
2. Modern Trends
a. A Cursory Glance
b. An Indepth Look
c. The Two Kingdoms
IV. Conclusion

I. Introduction

The concept of contextualization has, in recent years, gained such widespread acceptance among missionaries and missiologists that today in many circles to speak of a contextualized Christianity is to be guilty of a tautology. That an evangelist or a church planter in Africa is aiding in the building of an African church, that a theologian in an Asian seminary is striving to help his Asian students develop an Asian theology free from all Western influence, has become axiomatic. The gospel of Christ, it is said repeatedly, is not the property of any one culture, but is above all culture, and therefore it is the missionary’s sacred duty in the presentation of the gospel to divorce himself from all Western ways and to address his audience not with Western jargon but in terms congruent with the receptor’s culture. Thus it is encumbent on the cross-cultural worker, before all work begins, to learn not simply the native language, but much of the native culture as well.

However, as Friederich Dierks points out[1], it is not sufficient to understand the ways of the receptor culture. The missionary must first come to a understanding of his own culture and all the ways in which his own understanding of Christianity has been shaped by it. The missionary task begins not with the contextualization of the gospel but its decontextualization, and it is this step perhaps even more than
recontextualization in concepts familiar to the receptor which is the most difficult the missionary will ever take, for, in the words of an old Tswana proverb, Tshwene ga e ipone mariba– a baboon can never see how ugly his sunken eyes are.

Yet for all its importance, little has been done to aid the missionary in understanding his own culture explicitly. He is left on his own to discover–or not–his cultural preconceptions. All too often the missionary never realizes that his failures are due to his continued use of Western methodologies and Western patterns, opting instead to blame the receptor people. Moffat probably never came to understand that the observed lack of altars and other concrete signs of worship among the Tswana people was due not, as he thought, to a lack of religion, but rather to the fact that the African, for whom the whole of his environment and the whole of time is permeated with religious meaning, does not feel the cumpulsion which the Westerner, with his Western tendency toward separation of things sacred and profane, feels to set aside and invest with special religious meaning places such as a church building or an altar or times such as Sunday or Easter or Christmas. Anecdotes without end could be told of similar incidents, many or most of which would be quite humorous were it not for the damage which such misunderstandings have caused. As Dierks asserts, “Dualism in missionary communication was therefore directly responsible for the formation of a syncretistic Christianity in Africa. Christianity in Africa could have been different if the message had been embedded in the holistic world-view of African peoples.”[2]

Thus it becomes imperative for a missionary to learn along with his or her studies in methodologies of contextualization and biculturalism and training for cross-cultural experience something of just how it is that Western (and in particular American) society has contextualized and adapted (and distorted) the gospel. This paper is an attempt to foster dialogue to that end. It is not within the scope of this paper (or for that matter the competency of its writer) to discuss all aspects of the problem. Indeed, to do so properly would demand a concerted effort by scholars from many fields–theology, sociology, anthropology, psychology and history for starters. Rather, I wish to discuss one aspect of Western society which has contributed greatly to the modern Western interpretation of the message of Christ. It is at this point that I wish to acknowledge Dierks’s analysis of Western society in highlighting its four main features. It is not my intent to critique or defend the adequacy of his analysis but simply to discuss more in depth one of
the four features. The features which Dierks sees in Western culture are dualism, spiritualism, intellectualism and individualism.[3] It is to the last of these — individualism — that I wish to speak. Specifically, I wish to address American individualism and its formative influence on evangelical ecclesiology and social ethics.

II. Individualism
A. Definition
1. Historically

Before we can undertake our primary task it will be necessary to define what is meant by individualism. The term, as applied to America and Americans, dates back to Alexis de Tocqueville’s analysis of American culture of the 1830’s, Democracy in America. In his now-classic work, Tocqueville defined individualism as a mature and calm feeling, which disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows, and to draw apart with his family and his friends; so that after he has thus formed a little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself.[4]

Tocqueville said of Americans

They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands.

Thus, not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendents, and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back upon himself alone.[5]

Tocqueville did not invent the term individualism, but borrowed it from post-Revolution France, where it was coined to describe the anti-social motivation of self-interest.[6] Tocqueville borrowed the term, but sought to divorce from it the negative idea of a force which brought uprootedness, social fragmentation, ruthless competition, and lack of ideals and common beliefs.

2. Modern Attempts

Though this is the starting point for developing a definition of individualism, it is by no means the end. Many studies have attempted analyses of the term, and yet it has consistently proven ambiguous and
elusive. Space does not permit a recounting of the history of the study of the concept, therefore it must suffice to mention a few of the more notable attempts.

Perhaps the most interesting definitions have centered around attempts to develop general typologies. A.D. Lindsay has described individualism as having three meanings: a state of mind in which one thinks for himself, a theory of the proper relation of the individual to the state, and the doctrine of the individual as a self-determined whole with any large whole being merely an aggregate of individuals.[7]

Konraad Swart, in an article entitled “Individualism in the Mid-Nineteenth Century”, offered a discussion of three “ideas” central to an individualistic world view: 1) the rights of man (political liberalism), 2) a tendency toward anti-statism (laissez-faire economics), and 3) individuality (what Swart calls romantic individualism).[8]

Steven Lukes, in what is perhaps one of the most comprehensive analyses of individualism, has offered a list of eleven “Basic Ideas” inherent in individualism: dignity of man, autonomy, privacy, self-development, abstract individualism, political individualism, economic individualism, religious individualism, ethical individualism, epistemological individualism, and methodological individualism.[9] Lukes’ analysis, though insightful, is too narrow, however, for our purposes here.

3. Hollinger’s Typology

Dennis Hollinger offers a new analysis, centered around a typology consisting of three types: individualism as metaphysic, as value system and as social philosophy.[10] I will be using Hollinger’s analysis heavily throughout this paper. Though this paper will be most concerned with individualism as metaphysic, it will be necessary to understand indiviualism as social philosophy and as value system as well.

a. Individualism as Metaphysic

Individualism as a metaphysic is, according to Hollinger, a view of reality in which the individual is the most basic entity and the defining principle of all existence. It is an atomistic conception of reality in which a collection has no existence apart from its constituent parts….Such a metaphysic regards social and political rules and institutions as artifices and modifiable means of fulfilling individual objectives. Individual needs, rights and instincts are viewed independently of a social context.[11]

Thus metaphysical individualism sees society as simply the sum of its parts. To understand social phenomena one need only understand individual actions. Society as a living, breathing community is a myth. The Greek philosopher Epicurus, caught up in the atomistic world-view of his day, intended exactly this in his statement “there is no such thing as society.” All organismic aspects of society are denied in favor of an atomistic reductionism. This view comes complete with an implicit methodology for the analysis of society.

b. Individualism as Value System and as Social Philosophy

In addition to metaphysical individualism, Hollinger sees individualism as a social philosophy and a value system. As a social philosophy, individualism moves beyond mere description of reality as it is and offers a normative evaluation of what society should be, in terms of society’s relationship to the individual and the individual’s relationship to, society. Individualism as a social philosophy “sets forth political, economic and social maxims which reflect the centrality of the atomistic individual over every collective.”[12]

On the other hand, individualism as a value system offers a set of values in which the individual’s primacy over the group is asserted. Individualism as a value system again moves beyond description into proscription, proscribing a set of “oughts”, in this case what ought to be a part of the individual’s existence. Individualism as a value system differs from individualism as a social philosophy in that it defines those parts of an individual’s existence which are valuable and to be preserved and defended, whereas individualism as a social philosophy attempts to set forth rules and regulations governing individual-societal relations. Probably the most famous example of individualism as a value system comes from the preamble to the
Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident,that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and conclusively demonstrates that individualism as a value system is to be found at the very heart of American culture.

B. Historical Development

As should be apparent by now, it is the thesis of this paper that American Evangelicalism has imbibed, usually unconciously, many of the values of Western individualism, and that these values have played a key formative role in the development of much of evangelical theology, including (and, for the purposes of this paper, especially) doctrines of the church and social ethics.

Actually, it is not quite fair to say that evagelicalism borrowed its individualism wholesale from Western society. Both evangelical and Western individualism find common roots as far back as the Renaissance and the Reformation, though each has encouraged and influenced the other over the course of the following centuries.

1. Medieval Society

The central tenets of medieval society were hierarchy and subordination, tenets which dictated that every member of society has his own niche and his own role to fill, and thus maintained and fostered order. Society as a whole was conceived to be a large organism and each member of society a component part with his own set of functions. Thus social philosophy operated under a strongly collectivistic metaphysic, seeing society as organismic and hierarchical. Society as a whole was central; the individual mattered only as a part of that whole.

The conscience of the medieval individual, according to David Miller, “lacked the subjective component; it was, rather, the internalization of an external authority.”[13]

The individual did not exist for his own sake but for the sake of the whole society. This organological thesis was to lead in time to the full-fledged integration theory of the corporate body politic, in which the individual is wholly submerged in society for the sake of the well-being of society itself.[14]

2. The Renaissance

It wasn’t until the period of the Renaissance in the 12th and 13th centuries that medieval humanists, though primarily interested in a rebirth of classical learning and arts, began to alter the perceptions of the relationship of the individual to society by elevating the individual above society. Their work, however, wasn’t to bloom into anything like modern individualism for at least another three and a half centuries.

3. The Reformation

In the Reformation of the 16th century we find one of the primary roots of modern Western individualism. It was during this period that medieval hierarchical and organismic concepts were further undermined and seeds of further individualistic philosophies were planted. Though certainly unintended by its leaders, Protestantism of the 16th century greatly impacted philosophical concepts of the relationship of the individual to society.

Roman Catholicism throughout the Middle Ages had been an institution largely built on concepts of hierarchy, sacrement and organism. The context and the agent of one’s salvation, and the source of one’s relationship to God, was the mediation of the church. It was Martin Luther and his disciples who rebelled against these Catholic doctrines, teaching instead concepts such as justification by faith, the priesthood of all believers, and the doctrine of vocation, all of which were, relative at least to pre-Reformation thought, highly individualistic, containing within them a new conception of individual
conscience and responsibility before God.

[It was] the great work and divine mission of Protestantism to place each individual soul in immediate union with Christ and his Word; to complete in each one the work of redemption, to build in each one a temple of God, a spiritual church; and to unfold and sanctify all the energies of the individual.[15]

4. The Enlightenment

It was during the Enlightenment that individualism really came into its own. The Enlightenment was, as much as anything, a rejection of medieval values. This can be seen perhaps most graphically in the rise of modern science which took as its foundation the philosophies of British philosopher John Locke and his concept of the complex idea. Locke declared that any complex idea was nothing but a collection of particular ideas which were, in turn, further reduceable to particular sensations dependent for their existence on the individual. It must be noted that in large part Locke’s philosophy was simply a harkening back to ancient Greek atomistic notions.

Locke, in turn, was highly influential in the development early in the 18th century of the philosophies of Voltaire and Rousseau. Voltaire and Rousseau both came to reject all claims for an independent status for universals, denied the existence of abstracts, and declared that societies existed merely for the convenience of the individual. It was Rousseau’s theory of the social compact — that society is merely a contractual form agreed to by individuals — which was most influential during the French Revolution. General societal will, Rousseau declared, was nothing more than collection of individual wills. Freedom,autonomy, privacy, dignity, self-determination — these were the new values of the Enlightenment. They were also among the biggest influences on 18th century American thought. The Declaration of Independence could almost have been pulled direct from the pages of Locke’s Two Treatises on Government. Though the Enlightenment was spawned in Europe, it only really took root when it was transplanted to American soil.

5. Puritanism

Puritanism played a key role in the development of American life and thought. The concept of the Protestant Ethic, most closely associated with the work of Max Weber, saw the Puritans as the epitome and paradigm of individual hard work, discipline and thrift. It was in Puritan thought that individualistic motifs were most fully developed. This is amply illustrated by John Bunyan’s classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress. In it the call to begin the Christian pilgrimage came to Christian alone and,though greeted from time to time by other travelers, it was above all Christian’s own isolated, individual journey.

Louis Hartz has dubbed individualism the great gift of Puritanism to Western society[16]. Mecklin maintains that for Puritanism deepest community was found not in groups or in institutions but in the secrets of the solitary heart[17]. And church historian John Mulder states that Puritanism “tended to be highly individualistic, emphasizing the necessity of strenuous, solitary effort to tame the wilderness and eventually one’s competitors.”[18]

III. Evangelical Individualism

Modern evangelicalism claims to be the successor to and the preserver of 16th century Reformation thought. If this is true, and I believe it to be in large part accurate, it is also true that 20th century evangelicalism owes many of its distinctives to the Puritanism of the 17th and 18th centuries. Therefore it must be asked To what extent has modern evangelicalism inherited the latent individualism of the Reformation and Puritan movements? Thus falls to us next the task of analyzing the extent to which the individual ethic has shaped modern evangelical ecclesiology and social ethics. We will begin with
ecclesiology and conclude with an analysis of the ways in which it has influenced evangelical social ethics. It must be noted, however, that due to the interrelatedness of the themes, there will be a great deal of overlap in our discussion.

A. Ecclesiology

What, according to evangelicals, is the mission of the church? Has the evangelical conception of the church’s mission been individualistically conceived? Does evangelical ecclesiology relate to the social order? How? It is the thesis of this paper that evangelical ecclesiology has failed to incorporate evangelicalism’s stated concern for social issues.

The church’s primary task as evangelicals see it is evangelism, but it is evangelism as proclaimed to individuals. Addison Leitch, in commenting on the role of the church in society, said, “there is no salvation by way of the social gospel, but only in the individual’s call to Christ. But there is no such thing as an asocial Christian.”[19] Evangelism, Leitch declares, will result in social action on the part of the individual Christian. Thus the church’s primary task is the evangelization of individuals who will, as a by-product of their salvation, then demonstrate social concern.

Billy Graham, critiquing the 1967 NCC Conference on Church and Society in Detroit, argued that the mission of the church is to change individuals, not society:

The government may try to legislate Christian behavior, but it soon finds that man remains unchanged. The changing of men’s hearts is the primary mission of the church. The only way to change men is
to get them converted to Jesus Christ. Then they will have the capacity to live up to the Christian command to “love thy neighbor”.[20]

Thus the primary task remains individual redemption. One cannot change society without first changing the individual, for you “cannot carve rotten wood”.[21] The church is called primarily to the task of redemption not reformation.

Again, it is the church’s task to prepare men for the next world, not this one. The church, it is claimed, is to minister to the soul, not the body (though the body is acknowledged to be important, it is not considered the primary need of the individual). L. Nelson Bell, in an early article, states explicitly that “the church exist[s] primarily to prepare men for…the next world, for no man is fit to live in this world until he is prepared to live in the next.” He then continues on to say that “the church’s primary task has to do with redemption, the world to come, the making of new men in Christ, the ultimate destiny of the soul, the proclamation of truth….”[22] Thus it is apparent that for the evangelical the church’s primary task is redemption, but not redemption of society but of individuals. It is an individualistic task.

This individualism is clearly reflected in that unique phenomenon of the 19th century, revivalistic religion. The Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century stressed renewal of the individual, not the church or the community. One was called to find God alone, without mediation, without hierarchies, without liturgies. Each individual had direct access to God, and even the church became non-essential in his search for salvation. This became perhaps most apparent not only in the growing popularity during the 19th century of congregational church piety but also in the shift from Calvinism to Arminianism, or at least to a modified version of Calvinism, and was exemplified by the great revival preacher Charles G. Finney with his emphasis on the immanence of God and the personal free choice of man, and consequent de-emphasis on God’s sovereignty and transcendence. This new revivalistic theology declared that man was active not passive in his salvation, that grace was not arbitrarily or capriciously dispersed like the royal prerogative of a sovereign, but offered freely to all men as the gift of a loving father to his children; that God wants men to help themselves, not to wait on Him, and that He is a God of love not a God to be feared.[23]

It is to be remarked that the spread of congregational polity, and the emphasis on the individual as his own master fit in well with the Jacksonian Democracy of the day.

In addition, revivalism tended to stress an individualistic piety. Though there were exceptions — most notably the issue of slavery –revivalistic religion emphasized issues such as temperance, card-playing, dancing, gambling and the like. Social ethics for revivalists was not a major concern.

Because of its origins in frontier religion American Protestantism was almost from the beginning geared to individualistic piety, in which right living by the individual was stressed, with the expectation that social justice would follow.[24]

What then does evangelicalism have to say about church mission and social and political involvement? Howard Kershner, in response to the liberal call for the church to take positions on issues of social and political importance, wrote that “Jesus commanded us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He did not command us to go into the world and organize a peace corps or civil-disobedience demonstration.”[25] For evangelicalism (and here I am painting with a broad brush) the church has no mandate to engage in socio-political affairs; to do so damages historic Christianity’s witness. The task of the church lies in the spiritual not the secular domain. Evangelicals developed four basic arguments for the church’s non-involvement in social and political affairs: there is no Biblical mandate; the church will pervert and lose the gospel message; it will split the church over divisive issues; and the church lacks the competence to speak to many of these areas. The conclusion is that the church can speak to the issues in general terms, but it must not be allowed to develop political or economic platforms, or to dictate public policy. However, evangelicals have been unable to agree on where the former leaves off and the latter begins.

Let the church speak with authority about the gospel committed to it. Let it denounce evils that the light of revealed truth exposes. Let it cry out for economic justice, racial good will, social order and decency, and a dozen more ends to be desired by the Christian man. But let it refrain from attempting to legislate these issues; from assuming a pose of worldly wisdom in order to dictate terms to which government must capitulate; from concerning itself so directly with the kingdoms of men that the cause of the kingdom of God is neglected.[26]

The Christian individual, on the other hand, is encouraged to involve himself in social and political affairs, but _only_ as an individual, not as a member of the church. Thus a distinction is made between the actions of the church and of its individual members, and evangelicalism is again maintaining an implicit dualism, with the individual being viewed as an autonomous unit of action and no continuity seen between personal and corporate activity.

This position was summed up in a Christianity Today editorial:

No responsible Christian citizen can remain oblivious to social and political problems. He must actively work to solve them. Yet he must not make the organized church the political instrument for solution of these problems.[27]

And J. Howard Pew explains:

No one would seriously deny that the individual Christian must relate his Christian convictions to the society of which he is a part in the economic, social, and political life about him. He must live out his Christianity in every phase of life, showing that he is salt and light in an unbelieving world.[28]

Pew then goes on to argue that a clear distinction must be made between temporal and spiritual kingdoms. It is only in the latter, he says, that the church has the right to engage itself directly.

B. Social Ethics

What implications, then, does this evangelical view of church mission have for an evangelical social ethic? How accurate are the critics of modern evangelicalism in their attempts to portray the movement as being overly concerned with personal piety — issues such as card-playing, dancing, sexual morality, and stewardship — to the detriment of social issues such as economic justice or labor? What issues are evangelicals most concerned with?

Hollinger, in his analysis of the content of evangelicalism’s most influential mouthpiece, _Christianity Today_, has convincingly refuted this notion of evangelical pietistic overkill, demonstrating in an analysis of the periodical’s first twenty years that treatment within its pages of social issues has outweighed personal issues by a ratio of almost six to one.[29] Thus it can be seen that, at least in the pages of Christianity Today, evangelicals have paid far greater attention to social issues than to personal ones.

1. Historically

As the self-professed inheritors of such men as Calvin, William Wilberforce, and R.A. Torrey, evangelicals are quick to point to the records of history to demonstrate their long heritge of social involvement. F. Leahy, highlighted John Calvin’s social conscience, noting that he continually addressed the issue of the role of civil government in his Institutes, and holding up for inspection his reformative work in the city of Geneva, to show that Calvin and his fellow Reformers were intensely concerned to respond to the social disintegration of their day.[30] Others mention the social reform impact of the 18th century evangelical revivals, or the success of the British Clapham Sect and its leaders William Wilberforce and John Venn in ending British involvement in the slave trade, shortening the work week, and establishing child labor laws, or 19th century American evangelicalism’s battle for prison reform and the abolition of slavery.[31] Still others have pointed to the work of the International Christian Workers Association and its leaders–men such as R.A. Torrey, A.J. Gordon and James Gray–in targeting urban poverty and social outcasts in the late 1800s.[32]

In addition, the history of Christian missions shows a strong social conscience among evangelicals. Many missionaries “stood for social justice, fought against inhuman practices in traditional societies, and resisted the worst features of advancing European imperialism”.[33]

2. Modern Trends
a. A Cursory Glance

Writers in Christianity Today have, in fact, since early in the history of the periodical, warned against a perceived trend of evangelical neglect of personal morality. Complained one editorial, “Raise in a church council a question on Christian race relations and an almost unanimous response is assured. Raise the question of moral conduct, and often there is little effective reaction”.[34] A false public/private dichotomy was perceived in which public behavior was more strongly stressed than private morals, and consequently a call was sounded for a greater evangelical personal ethical concern.

This must be seen, however, in light of the fact that a significant block of evangelicals saw the source of all societal ills in the decline of personal ethics. Frank Coloquhoun pointed to the decline of British society and blamed it on the erosion of personal values — sexual immorality, juvenile delinquency, prostitution and the like. In fact, the only overtly social factor targeted by Caloquhoun was the growth of the welfare state, a trend which directly challenged one of the pillars of an individualistic social philosophy, laissez-faire economics.[35] Other writers targeted neglect of Sabbath observance as a major factor in societal decline.[36] All these writers, however, placed the blame for Western society’s moral decline squarely on the shoulders of the personal morality of the individual.

These writers, however, were in the minority. The majority of evangelical writers were calling for an evangelical social ethic. Does this contradict the thesis of this paper? Before we answer that question, let’s take a closer look at what they were calling for.

b. An Indepth Look

Though these writers were calling for an increased social ethic, their distinction between the personal and social dimensions of this ethic was fuzzy and blurred. For the most part they continued to view social problems as merely magnified personal problems. This is in keeping with their continued subscription, often stated explicitly, to an individualistic metphysic. For example, Richard Bodey, in commenting on the problem of gambling, stated that:

Although its greatest temptations are introduced through society,  gambling is, oddly enough, undeniably anti-social. This, of  course, follows naturally upon its corruption of individuals, for  society is but the sum of individual human beings.[37]

Bodey’s comments are typical of the way evangelicals often approach social problems. Evangelicals emphasize non-political, non-social approaches to social problems since social problems at their root are seen to be only personal problems. L. Nelson Bell, in a discussion of race relations during the heyday of the civil rights movement, claimed that the proper solution to the problem was not through public policy change but by changing individuals’ attitudes. “The church”, said Bell, “should concentrate greater energy on condemning those sinful attitudes of mind where hate, prejudice and indifference continue to foster injustice and discrimination.”[38]

c. The Two Kingdoms

The concept of the two kingdoms–temporal kingdoms versus the kingdom of heaven, with the church’s activities confined to the latter–exemplifies much of evangelicalism’s approach to social ethics. This two-kingdoms approach actually finds its roots in the writings of Martin Luther, who said that human governments were ordained by God to rule the socio-political realm with the sword, coercion and law, while the kingdom of God ruled the spiritual realm through the administration of the Word of God. Modern evangelicals, carrying on in the tradition of Luther, insist that the two kingdoms must not be confused; it is the kingdom of the world which is political, not the kingdom of heaven. Though the presence of the kingdom of heaven is to be felt in the kingdom of the world, it is not to be politicized. In a critique of
the NCC’s call for increased involvement of the church in political affairs, Edmund Clowney stated that life in the state — indeed, in all the world — is permeated by the leaven of the kingdom; but no political ruler has the right to raise the banner of Christ’s name over his armies. Neither has the church the right to reorganize itself in the secular pattern of this worldly power. The church cannot redeem society by political action; when evangelicalism becomes politics, it is no longer the gospel of Christ’s kingdom.[39]

The Christian’s duty, then, is to be a dynamic link between the two, involving himself in the state and bringing his Christian values to bear on the state, but only as an individual, not as a member of the church.

In this two kingdoms approach, then, personal ethics become the exclusive domain of the kingdom of God. Social ethics are placed under the domain of the kingdom of the world, and thus, being subject to law, escape the scrutiny of Christian standards which is reserved for the realm of personal morality.

Thus it can be seen that what appears at first glance to be a consistent call for a modern evangelical social ethic turns out upon closer examination to be simply a disguised form of individualism-as-social-policy.

IV. Conclusion

Modern evangelical ecclesiology and social ethics are infused with a strong implicit individualism–as metaphysic, as social philosophy and as value system. This latent individualism greatly affects not only evangelical ecclesiology–in its views not only of the nature and mission of the church but also in its conceptions of the nature and methods of evangelism–but evangelicalism’s approach to social ethics as well. An implicit individualistic social philosophy, coupled with the two-kingdoms concept, has effectively limited evangelicalism’s field of activity to the spiritual realm and Christian critique of society to personal morality.

A proper understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of modern evangelicalism vis-a-vis its social philosophy and metaphysic has tremendous implications for many areas of evangelical thought — areas such as the nature and mission of the church, an understanding of church-state relations, concepts of the nature and methodologies of evangelistic activity, and Christian critiques of societal problems and systemic sins, to mention but a few. It was the original intent of the author to discuss briefly some of these areas, but constraints of time and space have made that impossible for the time being. It is hoped, however, that the foregoing discussion will have stimulated in the reader ideas of his own with respect to some of these areas. For those who have an interest in further exploration of this topic, or are interested in the response of a growing minority of evangelicalism to the issues-at-hand which incorporates a society-as-community metaphysic and recognizes a need for an involvement of the church in political and societal activities, a bibliography has been included.


[1]Frederich Dierks, “Communication and World View”, Missionalia, Vol. 11, No. 2, Aug. 1983, pp. 43-56



[4]Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 2 vols., ed. Phillips Bradley, trans. Henry Reeve (New York:Alfred Knopf Inc, 1945), 2:98.

[5]Ibid., 2:99.

[6]John W. Ward, “The Ideal of Individualism and the Reality of Organization,” Business Establishment, ed. Earl F. Cheit (New York: John Wiley and sons, 1964), p. 42

[7]Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences_, 1932 ed., s.v.”Individualism,” by A.D. Lindsay

[8]Konraad Swart, “Individualism in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (1826- 1860), Journal of the History of Ideas 23 (January-March 1962):77.

[9]Stephen Lukes, “Individualism,” (New York:Harper and Rowe, 1973), pp.  49-114.

[10]Dennis P. Hollinger, “American Individual and Evangelical Social Ethics: A Study of Christianity Today 1956-1976,” Phd. Dissertation, Drew University, 1981, p. 20.

[11]Ibid., p. 21.

[12]Ibid., p. 25

[13]David Miller, “Individualism: Personal Achievement and the Open Society,” (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967), p. 75.

[14]Walter Ullmann, “The Individual and Society in the Middle Ages,” (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1966), p. 17.

[15]Phillip Schaff, “America, a Sketch of Its Political, Social, and Religious Character,” ed. Perry Miller (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961) p. 101.

[16]Louis Hartz, “The Liberal Tradition”, in, “Failure of a Dream?” ed. John Laslett and Seymour Lipset (Garden City, New York: Anchor Press, 1974), p. 423.

[17]John Mecklin, “An Introduction to Social Ethics,” (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920), p. 45.

[18]John Mulder, “Pursuing the Puritan Ethic”, Theology Today 32 (January, 1976), p. 341

[19]Addison Leitch, “The Primary Task of the Church,” Christianity Today vol. 1, no. 1 (October 15, 1956), p. 19

[20]Billy Graham, “False Prophets in the Church” Christianity Today vol. 12, no. 8 (March 15, 1968), p. 4

[21]L. Nelson Bell, “Lay Concern,” Christianity Today, vol. 12, no. 12  (March 15, 1968), p. 19

[22]Idem, “Reversing the Order,” Christianity Today, vol. 8, no. 21 (July 17, 1964), p. 19

[23]William Mcloughlin, “The American Evangelicals, 1800-1900,” (New York: Harper and Row, 1968), p. 4

[24]Will Herberg, “Protestant, Catholic, Jew,” (New York: Doubleday, 1955), p.116

[25]Howard Kershner, “The Church and Social Problems,” Christianity Today, vol. 10, no. 11 (March 14, 1966), p. 34

[26]Thomas McDormand, “Church and Government,” Christianity Today, vol. 9, no. 15, (April 23, 1965), p. 15

[27]Editorial, “The Church, Politics, and the NCC,” Christianity Today, vol. 11, no. 1 (October 14, 1966), p. 36

[28]J. Howard Pew, “The Mission of the Church,” Christianity Today, vol. 8, no. 20 (July 3, 1964), p. 14

[29]Hollinger, “American Individualism”, pp. 122-123. In his count, Hollinger classified issues such as sex, alcohol, cheating, Sabbath observance, gambling, citizenship and the like as personal ethical issues, while issues like labor, economics, political affairs and general social problems were labeled social issues. He noted however, that “such a categorization cannot be absolutistic, for there are social ramifications to all personal issues and personal ramifications to all social issues.” (“American Individualism”, p. 122)

[30]Frederick Leahy, “John Calvin’s Social Consciousness,” Christianity Today_, vol. 3 no. 7 (January 5, 1959), pp. 7-9

[31]See Earle Cairns, “Saints and the Social Order,” Christianity Today, vol. 3, no. 24 (September 14, 1959), pp. 9-10

[32]George Marsden, “Evangelical Social Concern — Dusting Off the Heritage,” Christianity Today, vol. 16, no. 16 (May 12, 1972), p. 8

[33]Richard Pierard, “Social Concern in Christian Mission,” Christianity Today, vol. 20, no. 19 (June 18, 1976), p. 7

[34]Editorial, “Is the Church Too Silent About Personal Morality?” Christianity Today, vol. 1, no. 3 (November 12, 1956), p. 23

[35]Frank Caloquhoun, “Great Britain: The Spiritual Situation Today,” Christianity Today, vol. 5, no. 22 (July 31, 1961), pp. 3-4

[36]cf. Charles Koller, “Is Sunday Observance Obsolete?” Christianity Today, vol. 7, no. 12 (March 15, 1963)

[37]Richard Bodey, “A Bag with Holes,” Christianity Today, vol. 2, no. 6 (December 23, 1957), pp. 17-18

[38]L. Nelson Bell, “Christian Race Relations,” Christianity Today, vol. 7, no. 24 (July 19, 1963), p. 23

[39]Edmund Clowney, “A Critique of the Political Gospel,” Christianity Today, vol. 11, no. 15 (April 28, 1967), p. 10


These books and articles are in addition to those cited in the text.

I. Individualism

Arieli, Yehoshua. “Individualism and Nationalism in American Ideology.”
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964.

Bettelheim, Bruno. “The Informed Heart: Autonomy in a Mass Age.” Glencoe, Il.: Free Press, 1960.

Brunner, Emil. “The Divine Imperative.” Philadelphia: Westminster, 1947.

“Justice and the Social Order.” New York: Harper and Brothers,

Burkhardt, Jacob. “The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy.” New York: Mentor, 1960.

Dewey, John. “Individualism, Old and New.” New York: Capricorn Books, 1924.

Friedman, Milton. “Capitalism and Freedom.” Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.

Gross, Ronald and Osterman, Paul, eds. “Individualism: Man in Modern Society.” New York: Dell Co., 1971.

Hoover, Herbert. “American Individualism.” New York: Doubleday, Page and Co., 1963.

Hsu, Francis. “Clan, Caste and Club. Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1963.

Johnson, Ellwood. “Individualism and the Puritan Imagination”. _American Quarterly_ 22 (Summer, 1970), pp. 230-237.

Moulin, L. “On the Evolution of the Meaning of the Word ‘Individualism'”. _International Social Science Bulletin_ 7 (1955), pp. 181-185.

Robertson, H.M. _Aspects of the Rise of Economic Individualism: A Critique of Max Weber and His School_. New York: Kelley and Millman, 1959.

Rousseau, Jean Jacques. _The Social Contract_. New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1950.

Smith, Adam. _The Wealth of Nations_. New York: Random House, 1937.

Stroik, Raymond. “Ideas of Individualism: A Twentieth Century Social Critique”. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1968.

Tawney, R.H. _Religion and the Rise of Capitalism_. New York: Mentor, 1926.

Varenne, Herve. _Americans Together: Structural Diversity in a Midwestern Town_. New York: Teacher’s College Press, 1977.

Ward, John W. “Individualism Today”. _Yale Review_ 49 (Spring 1960), pp. 380- 392.

II. Evangelicalism

Bloesch, Donald G. _The Evangelical Renaissance_. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1973.

Ezell, Marcell. “The Evangelical Protestant Defense of Americanism 1945-1960”. Ph.D. Dissertation, Texas Christian University, 1969.

Henry. Carl F.H. _Aspects of Christian Social Ethics_. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1971.

________. _The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism_. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1947.

McLoughlin, William. _Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham_. New York: Ronald Press, 1959.

Magnuson, Norris. _Salvation in the Slums: Evangelical Social Work: 1865- 1920_. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1977.

Moberg, David. _The Great Reversal: Evangelicalism Versus Social Concern_. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1972.

Mott, Stephen C. “Socially Active Evangelicals and Fundamentalism”. _Metanoia_ 7-4 (December 1975), pp. 3-9.

Pierard, Richard V. _The Unequal Yoke: Evangelical Christianity and Political Conservatism_. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1970.

Smith, Timothy L. Revivalism and Social Reform in Mid-Nineteenth Century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980.

III. Evangelicalism and Society-as-Community

Eels, Robert. “Mark O. Hatfield and the Search for an Evangelical Politics”. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of New Mexico, 1976.

Erickson, Millard. _The New Evangelical Theology_. Old Tappon, N.J.: Fleming Revell, 1968.

Henry, Paul B. _Politics for Evangelicals_. Valley Forge, PA.: Judson Press, 1974.

Kraus, Norman C., ed. _Evangelicalism and Anabaptism_. Scottdale, PA.: Herald Press, 1979.

Leightner, R.R. _Neo-Evangelicalism_. Findley, Ohio: Dunham, 1961.

Mouw, Richard J. _Political Evangelism_. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1976.

Nash, Ronald. _The New Evangelicalism_. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1963.

Nisbett, Robert. _The Quest for Community_. New York: Oxford University Press, 1953.

Padilla, C. Rene. _The New Face of Evangelicalism_. London: Hadder and Stoughton, 1976.

Pierard, Richard V. “Needed: An Evangelical Social Ethic”. _Evangelical Quarterly_ 44-2 (April-June 1972), pp. 84-90.
Quebedeaux, Richard. _The Young Evangelicals_. New York: Harper And Rowe, 1974.

Riesman, David. _Individualism Reconsidered_. New York: Doubleday, 1954.

Sellers, James. _Warming Fires: The Quest for Community in America_. New York: Seabury Press, 1975.

Sider, Ronald J. _Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: A Biblical Study_. Downer Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1977.

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