“Amid the wreck of things”

E. Stanley Jones (1884–1973), Methodist missionary to India and friend of Gandhi. Jones, aware of the growing impact of the Soviet Union, published Christ’s Alternative to Communism (1935). He saw the Marxist vision as a materialist attempt at realizing Christ’s kingdom, but without the need for “religion.” In response he wrote, “The gospel is not a philosophy about life . . . but it is a Fact working itself out through the material.” Thus, Christian discipleship necessarily engaged social problems. In firm, gracious tones, Jones challenged Christians to outdo Communists in loving their neighbors: “If religion has nothing to do with the physical hunger of man, it has nothing to do with Christ.” What was the basis for this love? “’We have a Kingdom which cannot be shaken,’ and ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever’—an unshakeable Kingdom and an unaltering Person.

I am persuaded that amid the wreck of things of the old order these two things will survive.” 

Carl F. H. Henry (1913–2003), editor of Christianity Today. Henry’s 1947 book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, aptly illustrated his lover’s quarrel with fellow believers who claimed divine power to transform life but were reticent to address this-worldly social problems. He was prompted by stories like this: 

In a company of more than one hundred representative evangelical pastors, the writer [Henry]proposed the following question: “How many of you, during the past six months, have preached a sermon devoted in large part to a condemnation of such social evils as aggressive warfare, racial hatred and intolerance, the liquor traffic, exploitation of labor or management, or the like?”

Not a single hand was raised in response. 

Billy Graham (1918– ), son of the South and a world-famous evangelist. Graham exercised significant social influence on race relations—an issue rooted in both culture and economics. In a 1952 revival in Jackson, Mississippi, Graham proclaimed from the pulpit that God’s love knows no racial barriers. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1953, he personally took down the ropes separating blacks from whites at his event, saying to the ushers responsible for monitoring the segregation, “Either these ropes stay down, or you can go on and have this revival without me.” 

Each leader in his particular way represents engagement with modern social challenges. They are good reminders of a significant part of Christian history and a goad to faithful discipleship. CH

By Stephen W. Rankin

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #104 in 2013]

Stephen W. Rankin is chaplain and minister to the university at Southern Methodist University.
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