Christian Socialism: The Promise of an Almost Forgotten Tradition
Philip Turner Cascade Books,
2021, xix + 216 pp., pbk £22
Philip Turner’s book is the latest in a recent renaissance of historical interest in and theological retrieval of Christian Socialism. Along with other recent works, Turner squarely faces the reality that ‘most people are only dimly, if at all, aware of a tradition of social, economic, and moral thought known as Christian Socialism’ (3). Turner’s short book refrains from attempting a ‘comprehensive narrative’ and rather offers an ‘interpretive essay intended to identify the theological foundations and major themes of the English version of this tradition and to highlight its value as an account of the social mission of the churches’ (4). As such, Turner’s retrieval seeks to be constructive in its scope and purpose. Turner legitimates the retrieval by pointing to historical similarities between the social, economic, cultural, and moral predicaments of the Victorian Christian Socialists and our contemporary age. ‘It certainly appears’, writes Turner, ‘that the world is now in the midst of another historical shift’ and ‘within this shift… the ideals championed by the Christian socialists find a favorable social location and so the promise of rearticulation in a different age with analogous yet distinctively different challenges’ (136). Far from producing a hagiographical account, however, of the English Christian Socialist tradition, Turner aims critically to evaluate its promise and perils. On the one hand, Turner’s work explicates how ‘what the Christian Socialists had to say is full of promise because it contains a diagnosis of and a cure for what they took to be the disease of their society’ (175), a diagnosis and cure that translates well into our contexts today. On the other hand, Turner attends to the utopian naïveté, class myopia, and theological limits of the Christian Socialist tradition too.