The Social Conscience of the Evangelical

© 1968  Sherwood Eliot Wirt

Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, NY

All Rights Reserved ~~ Used by Permission of the Author


1. Christian sociology. 2. Evangelicalism.
LC Class: BT738 .W53 ~~ Dewey: 261 ~~ OCLC: 193218 ~~ LCCN: 68011736 ~~ 177p.

The Social Conscience of the Evangelical is presently held by 400 libraries including Harvard University and Gordon College.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Leighton Ford ..... vii

Preface ..... ix

1. Introduction to a Conscience ..... 1

2. Where the Action Is ..... 6

3. Humanity in Galilean Homespun ..... 19

4. Voices out of the Long Night ..... 27

5. The Human Factor ..... 37

6. Plumb Bob on the Saints ..... 47

7. The Call and the Calling ..... 55

8. Interlocking Freedom ..... 65

9. God Made a Colorful World ..... 79

10. Right Versus Wrong ..... 91

11. The Defilement of the Earth ..... 102

12. Blessed Are the Peacemakers ..... 113

13. Making a Stab at the Issues ..... 129

Church and State — Poverty — Highway Safety — Capital Punishment — Abortion — Euthanasia — Unnatural Sex — Alcohol — Tobacco

14. The Horse and the Cart ..... 147

Notes ..... 157

From the Jacket of the Book

   Sherwood Eliot Wirt challenges Christians to confront the injustices of our times with Biblical faith and strong action. "Jesus Christ," he says, "would have agreed with Karl marx that the beginning of all criticism is the criticism of religion."

   Taking a long look at Christianity as it is actually practiced in America today, the author brings into the open a full and frank discussion of the evangelical Christian's emerging concern for the world in which he lives. He explores such important subjects as Peace, Thermonuclear energy, Race, Birth control, Capital punishment, and Labor-management relations.

   Beginning with a close examination of Biblical teachings, and in particular of Jesus' practical concern for other people, Dr. Wirt goes on to present the attitudes of great men in the church down through the centuries.

   It is the author's firm belief that evangelical Christians are at last waking from what he calls a "Rip Van Winkle sleep" over vital social issues. He expresses great hope for the immediate future of the evangelical cause.

   "A wide window on social concern in the authentic evangelical spirit. Sherwood Wirt has given us one of the finest books of the year — a pleasure to read, a stimulus to action, a reinforcement of the evangelical task in the world. A mood-book more than a textbook, its power and pungency as a statement of evangelical Christian concerns make it required reading for every churchgoer." — CARL F. H. HENRY, editor, Christianity Today.

The author: Sherwood Eliot Wirt is editor of Decision, published by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. an ordained minister, he holds a Ph.D. from Edinburgh University, and is the author of Spiritual Awakening, Magnificent Promise, Open Your Bible, and Not Me God.


For a long time I have been waiting to read this book — or one like it. My friend and colleague, Sherwood Wirt, has given us an exciting evangelical perspective on social responsibility, and he has done it with candor, with courage, and with grace.

   The Social Conscience of the Evangelical is significant not only for its content. It is notable because the writer is not a social "expert," but a busy editor associated with a movement of aggressive personal evangelism. He is setting his social concern right in the middle of his evangelistic zeal. Let those who criticize evangelists for a social "blind spot" take note!

   As I read the manuscript, I felt two mingled reactions.

   There was gratitude for what was being said and how well the author was saying it. Dr. Wirt's book is clear-eyed and perceptive. He knows his eternal faith. He is also aware of the world in which he — and we — are called to life this faith. His approach is modest and balanced. He indulges in no blanket denunciations of the past or present church. Nor does he make "overclaims" for the influence of the Christian in society.

   I also felt remorse. It is to the shame of the evangelical church that Dr. Wirt pinpoints our failure of social responsibility

Page viii

over the last century. This is a denial of our Bible, our history, our belief — indeed, of our Lord. This book illuminates the reasons for evangelical backwardness in the social arena, but does not excuse them.

   Dr. Wirt has dealt keenly with the major issues of our decade. He has not given a detailed blueprint for an evangelical social thrust. His approach is provocative, not exhaustive.

   Is the "needle" of love not precisely what we need most? Our insistent demand for the "how" may mask a fear to become really involved. Commitment to Christ must involve commitment to our neighbor and our world, for Christ's sake. Evangelism must sound this note today with the conviction of the classic evangelical tradition.

   When I had finished reading The Social Conscience of the Evangelical I thought: "I wish I had written that!" I pray that God will use this book to help all of us to live it!


Charlotte, North Carolina
August 1967


One June day in 1965 the author was privileged to spend several hours in Chicago with a group of Christian leaders. Among them were Dr. Ted W. Engstrom, Dr. James Forrester, Dr. Frank E. Gaebelein, Dr. Lars Granberg, Dr. Richard C. Halverson, Dr. David A. Hubbard, Dr. Harold J. Ockenga, Rev. Floyd W. Thatcher, and Dr. Curtis Vaughan. A consensus reached at that meeting was that a study of the evangelical social conscience was long overdue.

   The present work could be called an indirect result of that gathering. It owes much to the inspiration of these men, together with others, but should not be taken as a necessary reflection of their views individually or collectively. A host of teachers, colleagues, classmates, and friends have contributed unconsciously to the preparation of the volume. Some are given due credit, many are not. Where quotations have not been traced to their proper source, amends will be made in future editions as notice is received.

   The scope of the discussion makes it difficult for a journalist to claim technical competence throughout. Nevertheless a sincere effort has been made to subject the material to scholarly scrutiny. Where errors of fact have crept in, or where the evangelical Biblical position has been inaccurately presented, the book stands ready to receive correction.

Page x

   Several chapters were presented in the form of lecture series to students and faculties of three institutions: Bethel Theological Seminary, Minnesota (1966); Fuller Theological Seminary, California (1967); and Sterling College, Kansas (student retreat, 1966). They were also shared with the Minnesota ministerium of the Evangelical Covenant Church (1966). Nearly all of the book has been offered over a period of months on four midwestern radio stations: KTIS, Minneapolis, Minnesota; KNWC, Sioux Falls, South Dakota; KFNW, Fargo, North Dakota; and KNWS, Waterloo, Iowa.

   The author would acknowledge special assistance received from friends who have read most or all of the work in manuscript; Dr. Carl F.H. Henry, Dr. Horace L. Fenton, Jr., Dr. Ockenga, Dr. G. Aiken Taylor, and Mrs. Weigand, the latter being associate editor of Decision magazine. Their many suggestions have been helpful and, indeed, indispensable, as have the editorial contributions of the Religious Books Department of Harper & Row. Mr. Carl Moen of the Minnesota State Conservation Department kindly reviewed Chapter 11.

   The writing of SCOTE (as the manuscript came to be called in the Decision office) took place amid the active tasks of editing a magazine and serving on the Billy Graham Team. That the project survived at all is due to a wonderful staff. Miss Ethel Beckstrom, editorial assistant, prepared both the original and the final typescript, and voluntarily spent hours of her own checking references. Without her skillful help and signal devotion to duty, it is doubtful that the book could have been completed. Mrs. Ruth McKinney, my secretary, has cared for the considerable correspondence involved. Miss Charlene Anderson has efficiently handled the securing of many permissions. Mr. Robert P. Blewett, Miss Alice Sundstrom, and Mrs. Becky Dodson have given counsel and encouragement. My beloved author-wife, Winola Wells Wirt,

Page xi

has as always been unfailing in support.

   A substantial portion of the royalties of the book have been designated, in appreciation, to the ministry of The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

   Acknowledgments are due to the staffs of the University of Minnesota library; the Minneapolis Public Library; the libraries of Bethel College and Seminary, Luther Theological Seminary, and the United Theological Seminary, all of the Twin Cities; and to the University of Chicago Library and the Evangelical Library of London, England, for many courtesies rendered. The librarian of the Graham Association, Mrs. Mildred Weasler, has gone the second mile in providing books and references for a baffled researcher.

   Finally, the author wishes to extend appreciation to Dr. Billy Graham for the contribution he has made to the sensitizing of the evangelical social conscience. Dr. Graham is an evangelist for Jesus Christ, to the glory of God; but as the Humanitas student club at Columbia University has pointed out, he is also a great friend of the human race.

— S.E.W.      

Minneapolis, Minnesota



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