Baptist Social Christianity in Victorian England: The individual and society in the theology of Dr. John Clifford

Matthew Erwin Brandt, Marquette University


Dr. John Clifford (1836-1923) was an influential English Baptist minister and active Christian Socialist. He held many leadership positions such as President of the London Baptist Association in 1879, President of the Baptist Union in 1888 and 1896, first President of the Baptist World Alliance in 1905. He also attained national prominence and King George V conferred the Companion of Honour on Dr. Clifford in 1921, This dissertation focuses on the relationship between Clifford's social action and his Baptist evangelical theology. It argues that Clifford founded his Christian Socialism on the individualistic element of his evangelical theology. This thesis is significant because most histories of social Christianity do not identify a connection between social action and evangelical faith. The received historical tradition argues that an evangelical faith inhibits the development of a social ethic. Most accept the supposition that the evangelical stress on the individual and otherworldly salvation provides little connection between Christian faith and social life or politics. Part One of this dissertation provides the historical background necessary for understanding Clifford in his social context. A review of Baptist evangelical theology and social activism will establish that Clifford's theology is a traditional expression of the English Baptist tradition and that his social and political activism is influenced by previous expressions of evangelical Social Christianity. This context allows an analysis of what Clifford took over from previous evangelical Social Christianity and what he adapted and developed. Part Two presents Clifford's social thought and work. By using all of Clifford's writings this dissertation helps correct misunderstandings about Clifford's social thought, Namely, it is explained how Clifford's evangelical individualism provided the foundation for a radical Christian social ethic endorsing elements of collectivism and socialism. The life and thought of Dr. John Clifford provides an example of how an individualist theology can lead to the development of a Christian Socialist ethic. An examination of his life and thought leads to a better understanding of evangelical ethics by providing a more complete picture of Social Christianity in the evangelical tradition.

Recommended Citation

Brandt, Matthew Erwin, "Baptist Social Christianity in Victorian England: The individual and society in the theology of Dr. John Clifford" (1999). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9953485.