Have You Read Him?

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?

– See more at: http://www.ethicsdaily.com/news.php?viewStory=20932#sthash.mqK0hX6R.dpuf

"The first paragraph is disconcerting. The responses Mouw receives from other evangelicals are a result ..."

Rich Mouw, Israel, The Palestinians, The ..."
"I hear you and do not disagree, but there was mostly peace before 1948 and ..."

Rich Mouw, Israel, The Palestinians, The ..."
"Totally agree that uncritical acceptance is wrong. And we should love our neighbor and the ..."

Rich Mouw, Israel, The Palestinians, The ..."
"Pastor, elder, and bishop (shepherd, mature, and overseer) are descriptive terms the New Testament applies ..."

Church Order From God

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Phil Miller

    I read Christianity and the Social Crisis a few years ago, and I remember wondering what all the fuss about his ideas were. It didn’t sound a lot different than some of the ideas I grew up hearing. But then again, I grew up in a denomination highly influenced by the Holiness tradition. But it’s obvious in reading just a few chapters of the book that Rauschenbusch isn’t some sort of crazy socialist like he’s made out to be, and it’s obvious that he has a pastor’s heart for the people he’s writing about.

  • Allan Bevere

    When I was in seminary, I read just about everything by Rauschenbusch I could get my hands on. He was a very engaging writer.

  • scotmcknight

    Phil, I had the same experience. He was very a much a both-and and not a neither-nor thinker. Sure, he focused on the social implications but I can’t see that he denied the importance of personal conversion. I’ll have some more to say about Rauschenbusch in a book I’m writing on kingdom.

  • scotmcknight

    Yes, he wrote theology for consumption and impact and not for the guild.

  • Sumit Sen

    Agree. It is actually the gospel as defined by Jesus. Jesus went around preaching the kingdom as well as healing as appetizing signs of the in-breaking of the kingdom. Just as without the gospel Christian social justice loses its context, without social action gospel loses its teeth.

  • scotmcknight

    Is social activism the same as the kingdom miracles of Jesus?

  • Sumit Sen

    There is a physical/ healing side to Jesus’ miracles. The kingdom was experienced in a physical way, in a “God will wipe away their tears” sort of way. What does physical healing of Jesus look like in our time. Even if we do not cast out demons everyday, are we casting out oppression? Even if we do not do miraculous healing everyday, are we working to heal in other ways such as by becoming medical missionaries? The point is, Jesus simply did not preach, but he wiped away tears as a tangible expression of God’s kingdom. Are we doing the same? Is gospel being manifested?

  • Tertullian2009

    If we’re speaking about Baptists and theologians, I believe George Eldon Ladd realized this years ago and attempted to alert his conservative cohorts in the 1970’s by shifting the discussion from a largely eschatological interpretation of the Kingdom, to the now readily accepted view of the Kingdom as “already but ‘not yet’.” This view was rejected at the time by the likes of Norman Perrin (in his critique of Ladd’s seminal work “Jesus and the Kingdom” later retitled “The Presence of the Future”) but was embraced by Werner Georg Kummel in his little book “Promise and Fulfillment” as well as his NT Theology. Ladd was largely dismissed by the academy, sadly. But his attempt to bring conservatives into the coming century.pointing out that Kingdom ethics were a part of the Kingdom being present in Jesus’ person–rather than being just for the time to come (which was the dominant theme among evangelicals at the time), came at just the right time for me to discover an exegetical foundation for NT ethics grounded in Kingdom theology. He was, in my opinion, a good balance to Rauschenbusch and taken together they read very well. Of course it should not be lost in the discussion that Rauschenbucsh.was writing at the beginning of the 20th century when the issues of the “social gospel” were quite different than how we would frame them today, I suspect.

  • Jeffery Ferrell

    I agree that the “Gospel is centered on not just individual salvation but holistic redemption that transforms individuals and social structures by embracing the God of love through the imitation of Jesus.” Yet it seems that many try to bring about that change from an outside in process opposed to the transforming process of the Gospel of inside out centered on the life of Jesus Christ

  • scotmcknight

    Not good to be changing names day to day, brother.

  • Tim Seiger

    It was this quote From “Christianity and the Social Crisis” that made me realize that perhaps Rauschenbusch had been given a bad rap in our tradition ” No man is a follower of Jesus in the full sense who has not through him entered into the same life with God. But on the other hand no man shares his life with God whose religion does not flow out, naturally and without effort, into all relations of his life and reconstructs everything that it touches. Whoever uncouples the religious and the social life has not understood Jesus.”

  • Andrew Dowling

    I concur. Also considering that in Roman-occupied (and Rome was a theocratic dictatorship) Judea circa 30 AD, religion and politics (of which ‘social activism could be a part of) went hand and hand . . they were not in a separate sphere like we place them in Western democracies today. The healings of Jesus revolved around breaking boundaries and opening doors to those whom normal societal norms (both Roman and Jewish) deemed ‘unacceptable’ . . .those who were, in plain-speak, considered society’s losers, and declaring them as close to God, or closer to God, as those in power, which was a very politically dangerous statement to make. There’s a reason Rome killed Him and its not simply because they were appeasing the Jewish high priests.

  • I concur also (with Sumit) and with the thrust of your point, Andrew. The story chosen to be relayed has him compassionately breaking LOTS of oppressive boundaries. Especially the Synoptic writers/editors seemed to want to further that cause (with little abstract theology in mind).

    As to the dynamics of Jesus’ execution, I don’t think we can ever know the exact mix (which you rightly emphasize) of religion and politics/economics, and the specific actors who caused it… too obscure and too much fictional story involved. But likely it was BOTH the Romans and their “vassal” high level priests and Jewish aristocracy. Both had a lot to lose if Jesus’ movement kept growing… I don’t think “blasphemy” came into it, much if any…. that claim was one way to shift blame to religious Jews, most likely at least during the Jerusalem siege or (probably) after its destruction.

  • I haven’t read Rauschenbusch directly, but have wanted to for some time. But I HAVE read some Schweitzer (carefully and recently, his “The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity”, and reviewed it online). Classic analysis of OT/NT themes, update of his 45-years-prior “historical Jesus” views, etc. Pertinent to this discussion, as his life of service (giving up a promising academic or music career) was in this “social gospel” period, and he was perhaps the most accomplished theologian of the period to give that up, professionally, and serve so long and sacrificially seeking to live out Kingdom values, as he saw them. I’m not aware of any correspondence or relationship the two of them may have had… anyone know?

  • Tertullian2009

    This was my Disqus account–necessary to access this page, brother. You’ll note the 2009 at the end.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I agree with everything you said.

  • Nick

    We Evangelicals love to criticize… Even if it is (maybe) due in places.