For more than one hundred years, North American Christians have been choosing one of two stories about the gospel of Jesus Christ. One story, often referred to as the “true gospel,” holds forth a narrative that this world is a “sinking ship” without possibility of redemption. For adherents to the “true gospel,” human suffering in this life is mostly a distraction to be ignored, for all that truly matters is to “win souls for Jesus” so that as many as possible can be assured of eternal life.
The other story, known by many as the “social gospel,” holds that the gospel of Jesus promises a new beginning in this life that includes the possibility for abundant life in this present world. Followers of this story devote themselves to alleviating human suffering and working for charity and peace.
Prior to the Civil War, these two stories--of salvation in this life and salvation in the life to come--were one, never to be separated, together comprising the good news of Jesus Christ. When the Roll is Called recounts the traumatic tearing asunder of this beautiful good news and offers hope for the restoration of a whole gospel.