The social gospellers taught that we may and must “save” ourselves “through love.” For Machen, however, such a doctrine was just “semi-Pelagianism.” For the social gospellers, the hope of the world is to “apply the principles of Jesus” to it, as though He were a mere teacher or prophet. For Machen, however, the “redeeming work of Christ which is at the center of the Bible is applied to the individual soul . . . by the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, we “find no permanent hope for society in the mere ‘principles of Jesus’ or the like, but we find it in the new birth of individual souls.”
World War I turned Europe on its head, brought crashing down the optimism of the Enlightenment, and ushered in post-Enlightenment Europe. In America, however, young people undeterred by the war set about attempting to bring to earth the kingdom of God through social action. They called their message “the social gospel,” and its principal preacher was Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918), who endeavored to address the poverty he found in Hell’s Kitchen (in New York) by preaching a “gospel” of social improvement and working toward bringing about the kingdom of God on the earth through social action. This was their definition of salvation.