A socialist bestseller that got everything wrong
Now that we’ve read In His Steps together and discussed it, let’s talk about another work of fiction. Looking Backward was written by Edward Bellamy. That name may sound familiar! We talked about his cousin Frances Bellamy in the episode about the Pledge of Allegiance. Frances was a Christian socialist. Edward wrote his famous book looking forward to the year 2000. He predicted that the United States would be a socialist paradise. People would work hard, retire early, and equality would reign.
None of that came true.
We’re talking about it today in order to understand the zeitgeist in the late 1800s. This book sold over half a million copies in its first few years of publication. It is now over a million copies. That doesn’t happen without stirring something in society. As we’ll see, socialism was tied to the Social Gospel. The opposition to the Social Gospel is what would go on to create the Christian fundamentalist movement.
- How have fictional books you’ve read impacted your worldview?
- What do you think about Bellamy’s predictions?
- How does the fear of socialism and communism impact evangelicalism?
- What real threats were facing evangelicalism in the 1800s? How about now?
The Social Gospel downplayed salvation and emphasized good works
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We’ve been reading the book “In His Steps” together for the last few weeks. It was written by Charles Sheldon, a man whose book is often associated with the social gospel movement. While some historians struggle over the significance of this work, it’s pretty plain how it fits this movement. The Social Gospel downplayed salvation and emphasized good works. What does your church do? What do you do?
I invited patrons of the show to listen early and then discuss their thoughts on this controversial book.
What did you think about the audiobook? Should I record other books this same way?
- Did you enjoy “In His Steps”? Why or why not?
- How do you think women were portrayed in “In His Steps”?
- What do you think about the Home Economics movement?
- How did you see the social gospel in the book?
- Is the book evangelistic? At which points? If not, why not?
- Does Christian media need to be “heavy-handed”?
In His Steps free audiobook
This is part 3 of an audiobook presented on Truce. Please start at part 1!
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In His Steps by Charles Sheldon is a classic of Christian fiction. It is also one of the top-selling Christian books of all time. We’ve been running through the history of Christian fundamentalism this season. It’s worth noting that fundamentalism was a reaction to liberal theology, especially modernism. Another form of liberal theology was the “Social Gospel”. It was a movement led by people like Walter Rauschenbusch that emphasized the socially conscious aspects of Christianity, while simultaneously downplaying evangelism.
Christian fundamentalists did not like the Social Gospel. For one thing, it had a positive view of human progress. It said that the world could get better and better and then Jesus would return. Christian fundamentalists generally think that world history trends downward.
I’m presenting this original audio recording for many reasons. I think this book offers a great window into the era in which it was created (the late 1800s). It also represents the Social Gospel and a slice of the Holiness movement quite well. Finally, I think we need to hear this story in our modern context. Modern Christian churches are divided. What would happen if we dared to ask “What Would Jesus Do?”
Things to track as you listen:
- The role of women in this society
- Wealthy attitudes toward the poor
- The genesis of financial woes in this book is sometimes economic crisis (the late 1800s was full of panics and recessions) and sometimes sin based
- The Holiness movement and those who object to it
- Is this book evangelistic? If so, how is the gospel presented? If not, what does this book leave out?
- The overall positive view of human progress
- Social movements like the pure foods movement, temperance, suffrage, anti-gambling