The Social Gospel and Postmillennialism: A Critique of Quandt’s Secularization Thesis

In October 1973, an article by Jean B. Quandt appeared in American Quarterly entitled Religion
and Social Thought: The Secularization of Postmillennialism. In this article, Quandt claims that
the optimistic eschatology present among American liberal protestants and social gospelers near
the turn of the twentieth century represented a “secularization” of prominent evangelical
postmillennial theologies in America. This secularization, Quandt contends, came through the
injection of modern Darwinian thought, inputs from the recent development of sociology as a
science, and the general optimism generated by advances in scientific discovery. Since the
publication of this article, many have adopted Quandt’s general understanding of continuity
between optimistic, progressive liberal theology, which would ultimately issue forth in the Social
Gospel movement, and the more evangelical postmillennialism of the previous era. This position
maintains that the latter was merely the adaptation and modernization of the former. This paper
will attempt to challenge this notion of continuity. While it may be granted that many of the
factors listed by Quandt did influence some evangelical theologians to move in more socially
aware directions, this paper will argue that there still existed a fundamental philosophical and
theological disjuncture between American postmillennialism and the progressive eschatology of
liberal theologians—one that firmly established the two as similar yet unique traditions.

In constructing this argument, this paper will first examine the proliferation of Quandt’s
characterization of social gospel eschatology, noting how her contribution has influenced others
and led to a mischaracterization of postmillennialism in particular and, more broadly, American
eschatology. Second, this paper will attempt to sketch a trajectory from the heyday of early
evangelical postmillennialism to its demise, commenting on both historical and philosophical
motivations for shifts in eschatology as well as arguing that there existed vast philosophical
differences between American postmillennialism and progressive liberal eschatology. It will
finally be concluded that, given these stark differences, the decline of evangelical
postmillennialism was the result not so much of its secularization as its dispersion into other
eschatological systems that were deeply rooted in American evangelical theology.

5 thoughts on “The Social Gospel and Postmillennialism: A Critique of Quandt’s Secularization Thesis”

  1. long on substance, short on nuance
    This substantive proposal raises questions relevant to several interests in evangelical scholarship, from eschatology to ethics. I appreciate that its focus is on motivations (final causes) more than on efficient causes. I wonder whether it assumes more unity and coherence among various expressions of postmillennialism than its own evidence of diversity should permit, in critiquing mischaracterizations of postmillennialism (in general) or finding vast differences between progressive liberalism and (all?) American postmillennialism. Still, these are questions that a presentation would likely spark, not disqualifications of the paper’s argument.

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  2. Has good potential but needs narrowing
    Interesting topic. Unique. Has an argument to make. Ambitious for a conference paper. Needs to be narrowed.

    The student should be apprised of this and then, it should make the program.

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  3. Solid Abstract
    Topic fits; I think the abstract is good enough to appear somewhere at ETS.
    I find the topic interesting, and the abstract has a thesis (though it could have been made more clear); also, it promises significant interaction with primary and secondary literature. I do have concerns about narrowing that Miles raises.

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