The Social Gospel in American Religion

A History

304 pages

April, 2017

ISBN: 9781479888573



Add to Cart Available: 3/10/2017

Also available in


Christopher H. Evans is Professor of History at Boston University and author of Histories of American Christianity: An Introduction and Liberalism without Illusions: Renewing an American Christian Tradition and editor of The Social Gospel Today, among other titles.

All books by Christopher H. Evans

A remarkable history of the powerful and influential social gospel movement. 

The global crises of child labor, alcoholism and poverty were all brought to our attention through the social gospel movement. Its impact on American society makes it one of the most influential developments in American religious history.

Christopher H. Evans traces the development of the social gospel in American Protestantism, and illustrates how the religious idealism of the movement also rose up within Judaism and Catholicism.  

Contrary to the works of previous historians, Evans demonstrates how the presence of the social gospel continued in American culture long after its alleged demise following World War I. Evans reveals the many aspects of the social gospel and their influence on a range of social movements during the twentieth century, culminating with the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. It also explores the relationship between the liberal social gospel of the early twentieth century and later iterations of social reform in late twentieth century evangelicalism. 

The Social Gospel in American Religion considers an impressive array of historical figures including Washington Gladden, Emil Hirsch, Frances Willard, Reverdy Ransom, Walter Rauschenbusch, Stephen Wise, John Ryan, Harry Emerson Fosdick, A.J. Muste, Georgia Harkness, and Benjamin Mays. It demonstrates how these figures contributed to the shape of the social gospel in America, while arguing that the movement’s legacy lies in its profound influence on broader traditions of liberal-progressive political reform in American history.


  • "Few subjects in American religious history invite interdisciplinary inquiries and readerships as much as does the Social Gospel. In the formal sense, it could be confined to a narrative of liberal American Protestantism c. 1900–1920. But, in the telling of Evans, its story begins a century earlier and, associated with new names, continues its reach into the present. Readers who have interests in the ethics of social reform, liberal theology and its opposition, African-American and feminist studies, rhetorical analyses of popular preaching, straight-out sociology, and the larger American historical contexts of movements and emphases like the Social Gospel will find reason to read this book with care."

    —Martin E. Marty, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

  • "In recounting the social gospel’s full story, Evans fights off caricatures of the movement from the neo-orthodox left and defends the social gospel against appropriations by the religious right. The end result is a well-written and insightful addition to the intellectual history of social Christianity in America."

    —Mark T. Edwards, Fides et Historia

  • "Christopher Evans has broken the Social Gospel out of the theological and ecclesial boxes that have been used to contain and domesticate its message. In The Social Gospel in American Religion readers will appreciate the true scope of the Social Gospel witness for over the last century and recognize its prophetic relevance and urgent resonance for today's broken world in need of Good News."

    —Rev. Paul Raushenbush, Senior Vice-President for Public Engagement, Auburn Seminary

  • "Evans provides a new and much needed history of one of America’s most important religious movements. With seeds planted during the Second Great Awakening, the fruits of the Social Gospel extend to the end of the 20th century, and, in ironic ways, even into our own time. Evans tells the story of a long Social Gospel—from before the Civil War to after Civil Rights to Barack Obama. This book should become, in short order, the standard history of the Social Gospel."

    —Barry Hankins, Professor of History, Baylor University

  • "Christopher Evans has done it again. In this finely-crafted study one of the foremost scholars of the American Social Gospel weaves a story that is at once breathtaking in scope and full of subtle analysis. Anyone interested in the vital intersection of religion and reform in modern United States history will want to read this book."

    —Heath W. Carter, author of Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago