When first looking into the Social Gospel online you might come across the assertion that the Social Gospel puts forth the idea that Christian works are required for salvation. By placing so much emphasis on Christian Behavior it is said that the Social Gospel obscures the fact that Christians are saved by the Saving Grace of Jesus Christ who came to earth and died for out sins. It is by Grace alone that we are saved. No amount of good works is ever going to be enough to overcome ones sins.
Shailer Mathews, dean of the Divinity School of the University of Chicago from 1908 until his retirement in 1933 was a prominent advocate of the Social Gospel. In 1914 he published The Individual and the Social Gospel. He stated in no uncertain terms that “The Social Gospel Is Not Another Gospel.” As a matter of fact, it was the title of the first section of the first chapter of the book. Here are the first two paragraphs:
Long ago Paul made it plain that, however various may be the conditions and persons to whom the gospel applied, there is only one gospel. Peter and James might preach to the Jew, and Paul and Barnabas might preach to the Gentile, but each had the same message of divine power, of salvation wrought by God through Christ. We have the same and the only gospel. Our confidence lies in the fact that it is sufficient, not only for individual Jews and Gentiles, but also for transforming our social order.
We call the gospel as applied to groups of individuals, social conditions, and social forces the social gospel only for the sake of using a convenient term.
A feeling of moral uneasiness develops wherever the Gospel is preached. Believers compare what they see around them with what Jesus preached and see the need to help. This does not mean that the Gospel message of Salvation by Grace alone is replaced by an attempt to be saved by works. Rather works are a byproduct of authentic faith. This need for works a part of an authentic saving faith is demonstrated in the book of James where it points out the the demons believe and tremble.
James 2:17-20 (KJV):
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
True saving faith leads to works, but it is the Saving Grace of Christ Jesus who died on the Cross and rose again from the dead for the forgiveness of our sins that saves us. Nothing that we might or can do through our own actions is sufficient for our salvation.