“The New Left and Christian Radicalism”

[Rather than a summary of the book as such, the following is mainly a compilation of what I found to be the most important statements made in this powerful book.]

Gish, Arthur G. The New Left and Christian Radicalism. Eerdmans, 1970. 158 pp.


“To be radical is to go to the root, to attack a problem at its base. To be radical is to present a fundamental alternative to the status quo. It means to start with what could be rather than what is.”

“Part One of this book is a comparison of the New Left and sixteenth-century Anabaptism.”

“Part Two of this study is an attempt to make a synthesis of New Left and Anabaptist thought by examining the current issues in theology, ethics, and politics from the radical perspective presented in Part One.”

“This study is written both for the humanistic radical who has never seen the relevance of theology to social change and for those Christians who have never realized the radical implications of the Christian faith” (7).


“Chapter One  An Analysis of the New Left”

People working in the New Left “are dedicated to ‘changing the system’” (15).

Gish cites a 1967 article by Edward E. Sampson: “Those over thirty are not to be trusted, because of their increasing investment in the system as it exists” (21).

“In the eyes of the New Left, the system is so corrupt that is must be completely changed. This is probably the fundamental difference between Liberalism and Radicalism.” “The New Left suspects that the liberals are first committed to respectability and only secondly to justice. The liberal is seen as one who wants to share in the affluence of the existing order, but is at the same time burdened [p] with guilt feelings which he tries to assuage by disavowing its wrongs” (30-31).

In his short critique at the end of this chapter, Gish says, “Whenever one decided to follow his ideals seriously, the danger is moralism, pride, and self-righteousness” (47).

“Chapter Two  Anabaptism: A Sixteenth-Century Analogy”

“When I asked my grandfather why he grew a beard his reply was that it was to show that he was different from the world. The beard of the protester is to demonstrate that he is not a part of the establishment. My own beard is a conscious attempt to bring together these two radical perspectives” (49).

“The Christian for Luther has dual citizenship and thus must live by two sets of standards. The Christian must live in both realms.

“The Anabaptists, however, separate the two realms. . . . Christian discipleship involves all of life. The whole Christian life must be lived under the New Covenant, separated from the world. He no longer lives by the standards of the fallen world” (58).

Gish says that for the Anabaptists “the important word . . . was not faith as with Luther, but discipleship (Nachfolge Christi)” (59). “Rather than focusing on personal salvation, they stressed living in the new kingdom, living by a new set of values (love, peace, forgiveness, etc.)” (60).

“The simple life was also stressed. They urged people to avoid anything that would lead to pride, and opposed living on a high economic plane” (61).

“Freedom was especially important for the Anabaptists.” They “were the first to proclaim religious liberty in the way we think of it now.” That freedom “meant that the church must be a voluntary association of believers. . . . The most radical act of the Anabaptists was baptism” (62). They “became early proclaimers of the disestablishment of the church” (63). Also, “the distinction between laity and clergy almost disappeared” (64). In addition, “They were early socialists” (66).

“Important for the Anabaptists was the conviction that the Christian must be different from the non-Christian” (68). “The main reason for excluding the Christian from public office was because the ethos of the state conflicted with redemptive love” (69). “Thus because they were convinced that the state cannot be Christian, they believed that the Christian should not take part in it. First of all the Christian must be obedient to Christ” (70). “We see then that the Anabaptists rejected the notion of bringing change from the top down. . . . Rather, change must start with communities of believers who live changed lives” (71).

“Possibly the best-known characteristic of the Anabaptists was their emphasis on nonresistance. They did not believe in the use of force or participation in war” (71).

Harold Bender in his seminal essay “The Anabaptist Vision” (1944) wrote, “There can be no question but that the great principles of freedom of conscience, separation of church and state, and voluntarism in religion, so basic in American Protestantism, and so essential to democracy, ultimately are derived from the Anabaptists of the Reformation period” (73).

“There is one aspect of Anabaptism of which we need to be critical. . . . they did not have a strong enough impulse to witness to the social structures. . . . they failed to realize that we can change social structures even though we cannot build the kingdom. . . . Those who today would take the Anabaptist tradition seriously must find ways of combining a forceful witness to the state with the knowledge that the kingdom is not for us to establish” (75).


“Chapter Three  Biblical Faith, Radicalism and Hope”

“To be a Christian it to be a radical” (79).

“The Lordship of God means that no finite group can claim ultimacy for itself, for only God is Lord. Thus the Christian cannot pledge allegiance to any institution. The Christian, because of his [sic] higher allegiance, is by nature disloyal to all institutions” (87).

“The kingdom [of God] is that final revolution toward which all the faithful look. . . . It is this vision of the kingdom that is the hope of the revolutionary” (88).

“One of the weaknesses of liberalism is that it fails to take evil seriously enough.” But Gish goes on to say that “one of the common pitfalls for the radical is pride and self-righteousness” (89).

The last part of this chapter is “The Christian Hope.” “Hope frees one from becoming reconciled to the present. Because of his anticipation of the future, he need not cling to the past or defend the status quo” (91).

Chapter Four  Compromise, Expediency and Obedience to Christ”

“To be a Christian is to be an extremist” (94).

“For either individuals or institutions to remain silent in the face of injustice is to participate in that injustice and to be responsible for it” (97).

“The very premise of radicalism is that there is an ought standing over against the is. The radical is one who is not satisfied with the way things are” (104).

“Chapter Five  A Theology for Revolution”

“To be a Christian is to be a subversive, or at least that is how he will be viewed by society. . . . to be a peace with God means to be in conflict with the world (113).

“Revolution is an attempt to close the gap between the ideal and the real. It is a struggle to move from the is to the ought” (116).

“Change is inevitable. The question is whether that change will come violently or nonviolently. . . . Basically, violence comes not from those seeking change, but from those preventing change” (118).

Gish suggests “A Christian Theory of Social Change” (120-136). “There are three basic approaches to social change. First there is the individualistic approach of changing individuals. This is often identified with both political conservatism and religious fundamentalism. . . . The second approach is to focus on the power structures. This is the approach of political liberalism. . . .

“The third approach, which will occupy the remainder of this chapter, is a synthesis of Anabaptist and New Left strategy” (121). “The early church did not try to take over the Roman Empire or change it. They simply believed and acted as though it was not the center of history” (122). “The radical approach is not only to suggest alternatives, it is to be and to live those alternatives. It is to live in the new realities” (123). “We are not called to make a sick world well. We are called to act well. That is a powerful political act in itself. It means being the revolution” (124). “Only living in the light of the kingdom if truly revolutionary” (125). “. . . the church at its best should be a parabolic community, embodying those ideals it wishes to proclaim to the world” (130).

“To assert that we cannot bring in the kingdom through our own effort does not mean inactivity or resignation. Rather we accept the kingdom as a gift, as a given, and begin living in it. We participate in movements for social justice, because we already live by that new vision” (134).

Gish’s last subsection is “Toward a Revolution of Nonviolence” (136-142). “Civil disobedience is a witness against an evil itself, and also against the immorality of silence and passive cooperation with evil” (137). “Out assumption is that violent revolution is occurring because nonviolent revolution is not occurring.

“The basic problem with a violent revolution is not that it is too radical, but that it is not radical enough, not that it brings too much change, but too little” (139). “The pacifist argument is that violence has a disastrous effect upon those who use it. To fight fascism with fascism is to become a fascist. . . . To accept the standards of the opponent is to be defeated by him. Nonviolence is the real method of liberation” (140). “While we can support the aim of the revolutionary, we cannot support his violent means. We dare not forsake our vision of the new humanity. We must still witness to that reality” (142).

About Leroy Seat

* Born in Grant City, MO, on 8/15/1938 * Graduated from Southwest Baptist College (Bolivar, MO) in 1957 (A.A.) * Graduated from William Jewell College (Liberty, MO) in 1959 (A.B.) * Graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY) in 1962 (B.D., equivalent of M.Div.) * Received the Doctor of Philosophy degree in theology from SBTS. * Baptist missionary to Japan from 1966 to 2004. * Full-time faculty member at Seinan Gakuin University (Fukuoka, Japan) from 1968 to 2004. * Adjunct professor at Rockhurst University from 2006 to 2014.
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