The Magazine

Soldiers of Mercy

The Salvation Army and the religion of compassion.

Dec 14, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 13 • By MARK TOOLEY
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Remarkably, unlike so many other Protestant groups and denominations, the Salvation Army has not gone theologically liberal. It remains pro-life and pro-traditional marriage while not compromising its core doctrines, and remaining mostly non-political. How the Army evaded the trends of mainline Protestantism would be an interesting story that this book does not tell. Presumably, its tight discipline and sacrificial spirit, not unlike many a Roman Catholic order, were key ingredients. The Army, despite its international membership and brilliant organization, has never sought or ever been a very large membership church. This book could have explained why. The Army, though believing in conversion, emphasizes service over evangelism, and often tacitly encourages its constituency to join or remain in other churches. Today it gains extensive government and other secular funding without wide controversy, partly because many are still unaware that Salvationists are an evangelical church.

Christianity in Action is written by a dedicated Salvation Army officer. It refers in passing to personality conflicts among officers across the century, and the occasional financial scandal. But overall it portrays a unified Army that is ever advancing across the field of spiritual combat. The story here is very informative, and often inspiring, if almost certainly incomplete.

Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.