Jesus as Social Reformer?

The Social Significance
of Jesus Christ

by Samuel G. Craig
Christianity Today 2.5 (Mid-September 1931): 1-2.]

IT would be misleading to speak of Jesus Christ as a social reformer. It is well within the truth, however, to say that He has been the most effective of social reformers. A comparison between the social conditions that prevailed before His advent and those that prevail in Christendom today, supplemented by a comparison between social conditions in Christian and non-Christian lands, evidence His unique effectiveness as a social reformer. Bad as are existing social conditions throughout Christendom, they would be infinitely worse were it not for the leaven He cast into the meal of humanity. Moreover if Christianity should cease to function in this world, there is every reason to believe not only that no further progress would be made along these lines but that what has been gained would be lost. The thought we have in mind has perhaps received its most eloquent expression in the oft-quoted words of James Russell Lowell

“When the microscopic search of scepticism which has hunted the heavens and sounded the seas to disprove the existence of a Creator has turned its attention to human society, and found a place on this planet, ten miles square, where a decent man can live in decency, comfort and security, supporting and educating his children, unspoiled and unpolluted; a place where” age is reverenced, infancy protected, manhood respected, womanhood honored, and human life held in due regard—when sceptics can find such a place, ten miles square on this globe, where the gospel of Christ has not gone and cleared the way, and laid the foundations, and made decency and security possible, it will be in order for the sceptical literati to move thither and ventilate their views. But as long as these very men are dependent upon the very religion which they discard for every privilege which they enjoy, they may well hesitate a little before they seek to rob the Christian of his hope, and humanity of its faith in that Saviour who alone has given to man that hope of life eternal which makes life tolerable and society possible, and robs death of its terrors and the grave of its gloom.”

Wherein lies the secret of Christ’s unique effectiveness as a social reformer? Unquestionably it lies in His ability to deal with sin. Other social reformers, except as they have been His followers, have had much to say about imperfect legislation, unfavorable environment, and such like; but they have had little to say about sin, notwithstanding the fact that sin on the part of somebody is the great root-cause of social misery. “Take away from the history of humanity,” to cite the late James Orr, “all the evils which have come on man through his own folly, sin, and vice; through the follies and vices of society; through tyranny, misgovernment and oppression; through the cruelty and inhumanity of man to man; and how vast a portion of the problem of evil would already be solved! What myriads of lives have been sacrificed on the shrines of Bacchus and Lust; what untold misery has been inflicted on the race to gratify the unscrupulous ambitions of ruthless conquerors; what tears and groans have sprung from the institution of slavery; what Wretchedness is hourly inflicted on human hearts by domestic tyranny, private selfishness, the preying of the strong on the weak, the dishonesty and chicanery of society! . . . If all the suffering and sorrow which follows directly or indirectly from human sin could be abstracted, what a happy world after all this would be!” If Jesus had had as little to say about sin as have so many of our modern social reformers, His efforts along the line of social betterment would have been as ineffectual as theirs. His work has proven effective while that of others has proven ineffective because He alone is able to deal adequately with sin. It is this ability that puts Him in a class by Himself among social reformers; moreover it is because He possesses this ability that in Him alone is found any adequate warrant for supposing that a kingdom in which justice shall prevail, in which love shall be the law and happiness the universal condition, may yet prevail on the earth.

But while Christians, because of their faith in Jesus Christ, may expect a renewed earth wherein dwelleth righteousness we are not to suppose that as a class they are committed to any specific social scheme. Christianity as such does not take sides between the advocates of the present social order and that proposed, for instance, by the Socialists. Unquestionably there is much in the present social order, such as child labor, sweat shops, white slavery, alcoholism, unfair distribution of wealth, race hatred, militarism, that must be eliminated before anything like Christianity’s hope for this world will have been realized. Equally unquestionable it is that there is much about Socialism (as it is commonly advocated), such as its irreligion, its materialism, its class hatred, that must be eliminated before it can even pretend to be in harmony with a social order that could rightly be called Christian. Continue reading “Jesus as Social Reformer?”


CT Vol. 2 (minus Dec.)

In our project to digitize the old original series of Christianity Today, I have earlier today posted to the PCA Historical Center’s web site Volume Two of the magazine. Volume Two covers May 1931 through April 1932. The one lack in this posting is the December 1931 issue, vol. 2, no. 8.  The Historical Center presently lacks a copy of that issue. A link for a cumulative download of the entire volume (again, minus the December issue, for now) will be posted tomorrow, Lord willing.

The Table of Contents page for Volume One [1930-1931], with links for downloading each issue, is here.

And for your reference, the main index page for this project is here. That page then has links to a table of contents page for each volume in the series run of Christianity Today. The magazine ran from 1930-1949, though only sporadically from 1941-1949.

Highlights from Volume Two include:

Machen’s Notes on Galatians (continued)

“Is the Pulpit Forgetting God?” by Wm. Childs Robinson

“The Ministry of Reconciliation” by Rev. Frank R. Elder [a tribute to Robert Dick Wilson]

“The Social Significance of Jesus Christ,” by Samuel G. Craig

“The Truth About the Presbyterian Church,” by J. Gresham Machen

“The Confessional Statement of the United Presbyterian Church,” by John Murray

“Is Atheism Scientific?” by Rev. George P. Pierson

and much more.

Process :
Some have asked about the process involved in preparing these PDF files. Christianity Today was published as a larger format magazine, measuring 10″ x 12″. Since we don’t have a large format scanner, each issue has to be photocopied at an 8% reduction, such that the resulting photocopies measure 8.5″ x 11″ and can be run through our scanner. These copies are then scanned at 300 dpi and Optical Character Recognition is applied in Adobe Acrobat 9.0 to produce searchable PDF files. 

The only expense in preparing each PDF file, besides staff time and labor, is in making the photocopies, since we also don’t have our own copier (there never really was much need, and the Seminary Library has one just outside our door).  It costs about $30.00 to photocopy an entire volume of the magazine. Staff salary is paid from funds raised by the Administrative Committee of the PCA (the Stated Clerk’s Office), but the daily operations budget of the Historical Center depends entirely on voluntary contributions. 

Donors :
Due to the expense of attending General Assembly this year, our funds have now run out and this will be the end of the CT digitization project until other funds comes in. Donors who would like to help with the project may contact me by email. [wsparkman AT   pcanet     DOT  com ]

Breaking News : Twelve Issues Up!

Christianity Today, Volume 1, May 1930 – April 1931

I’m pleased to announced that the PCA Historical Center has been given permission from Mr. Bryce Craig, president of Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, to post the content of Christianity Today [original series, 1930-1949] to the Historical Center’s web site.  Mr. Craig’s grandfather, Samuel G. Craig, was the founder of P&R, and Christianity Today was his first publication. The magazine was arguably the journal of record for documenting the modernist controversy through the 1930’s, particularly as Carl McIntire’s newspaper The Christian Beacon did not start up until 1936.

In May of 1930, the first issue of Christianity Today appeared, a publication seeking to serve as a voice for conservatives within the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Its masthead declared its mission: “A Presbyterian journal devoted to stating, defending and furthering the Gospel in the modern world.” The magazine was the first publication issued by the newly formed Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, founded by Samuel G. Craig. Later the company easily turned to the publication of books, with works by Loraine Boettner anchoring the growing list of publications.

From its inception, the magazine was issued monthly until the Spring of 1938, thereafter appearing three times a year. The final change in the magazine began with the Spring 1941 issue (Vol. 11, No. 3), when it was announced that the magazine would be discontinued as a periodical. The War had cut substantially into a strong base of foreign subscribers, and a bequest from Dr. Walter D. Buchanan had been largely exhausted. From that Spring 1941 issue, the magazine was published only on occasion, generally focusing on reports and critiques of the several Presbyterian General Assemblies each year. As it was issued only on occasion, the publisher discontinued volume and number designations. From October 1941 through November 1946, the magazine was published annually, and the final issue was published in May 1949. In 1956, another publishing group, with no connection to Mr. Craig or P&R, began a new magazine under this same title, with their magazine initially based in Washington, D.C.

H. McAllister Griffiths served as Managing Editor from May 1930 until August 1935, when he resigned his position, leaving over presumed differences with the views of Samuel G. Craig concerning the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions [IBPFM], with which Griffiths was heavily involved. By November of 1935, Griffiths had a new post as editor of the newly formed Presbyterian Guardian, initially a publication of the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union, based in Philadelphia. Then in June of 1936, the publication became the denominational magazine for the Presbyterian Church of America [renamed as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1938]. Griffiths served as editor of The Presbyterian Guardian, from November 1935 through September 1936, at which time he was appointed “ecclesiastical counsel” for the trial involving the name of the newly formed Presbyterian Church of America. Griffiths had previously served as counsel for J. Gresham Machen at the latter’s ecclesiastical trial over his involvement with the IBPFM.

Image scans of the twelve issues comprising Volume One of Christianity Today, May 1930-April 1931, have now been posted to the Center’s web site and links to each issue can be found on an index page set up for that volume, here. This index page also provides a table of contents for each issue, plus links to specific articles that have previously been posted on either the Center’s web site or as part of The Continuing Story.

Additional volumes will be scanned and posted as funds permit. The cost of preparation for each volume is approximately $30.00 in materials expense, not counting staff time and wages. Donors who would like to sponsor a portion of this work, so that the project can move along quickly, are encouraged to write to me privately [wsparkman AT pcanet DOT org]. Donations are tax deductible.

“The Saving Christ,” by B.B. Warfield

The Saving Christ : A Sermon
by the late Benjamin B. Warfield, D.D., LL.D.
[Christianity Today 1.1 (May 1930): 11-12, 19.]

B. B. Warfield at the time of his death was the leading Calvinistic theologian in the English speaking world, ranking in this respect with the great Dutch theologians/ Abraham Kuyper and Hermann Bavinck. In him a mind of rare power, extraordinary erudition and a remarkable facility for accurate and concise expression was united with a deeply Christian heart and an earnest evangelical zeal. . . . Dr. Warfield’s sermons have been spoken of as “models of the better sort of University preaching” and it seems fitting that the first sermon printed in “Christianity Today” should be from one who for so many years was a standing illustration of the fact that the most searching critical and historical investigation strengthens rather than weakens belief in the Bible as the Word of God and in Christ as the alone and all-sufficient Saviour. 

Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”—I Tim. i. I5. (R. V.)

IN these words we have the first of a short series of five “faithful sayings,” or current Christian commonplaces, incidentally adduced by the apostle Paul in what we commonly call his Pastoral Epistles. They are a remarkable series and their appearance on the face of these New Testament writings is almost as remarkable as their contents.

Consider what the phenomenon is that is brought before us in these “faithful sayings.” Here is the apostle writing to his assistants in the proclamation of? the gospel, little more than a third of a century, say, after the crucifixion of his Lord — scarcely thirty-three years after he had himself entered upon the great ministry that had been committed to him of preaching to the Gentiles the words of this life. Yet he is already able to remind them of the blessed contents of the gospel message in words that are the product of Christian experience in the hearts of the community. For just what these “faithful sayings” are, is a body of utterances in which the essence of the gospel as been crystallized by those who have tasted and seen its preciousness. Continue reading ““The Saving Christ,” by B.B. Warfield”