Zach Dawes wonders aloud how many have read Rauschenbusch. I wonder, too, how many who have not read him have criticized him? Rauschenbusch’s theology was straddled with an expression many thought was its condemnation, the so-called “social gospel.” (There is an excellent biography of Rauschenbusch by Evans.)
But what is the social gospel? What did he say? Where is it wrong?
Who do you think is a social gospeler today? How does social gospel and liberation theology differ? Where are they alike?
In “A Theology for the Social Gospel,” Rauschenbusch boldly declared, “The non-ethical practices and beliefs in historical Christianity nearly all centre on the winning of heaven and immortality. On the other hand, the Kingdom of God can be established by nothing except righteous life and action.”
Rauschenbusch recognized that the gospel was not about individual salvation alone, but holistic redemption that transforms individuals and social structures by embracing the God of love through the imitation of Jesus.
This is why Jesus constantly spoke about the Kingdom of God – a manner of life to be lived here on earth, which leads to the reconciliation of all creation through a nonviolent revolution characterized by love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, justice and solidarity.Reconciliation with God happens when our lives align with the life of Jesus.
Redemption takes place when we accept the seeming foolishness of the Kingdom of God by feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting the imprisoned (see Matthew 25:31-46).
Rauschenbusch and his “social gospel” are often referenced pejoratively; though, for me, his presentation of the gospel seems closely aligned with that of Jesus.
Hopefully the next generation of Baptists won’t have to wait as long as I did before discovering social reformers and advocates of justice like Walter Rauschenbusch because maybe there is a social (justice) gospel or there is no gospel present at all.
We need a gospel that speaks to the social concerns of our day.
Jesus’ did. Rauschenbusch’s did. Niebuhr’s did. Does ours?
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