Walter Rauschenbusch

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Walter Rauschenbusch
Walter Rauschenbusch.jpg
Born October 4, 1861
Rochester, New York
Died July 25, 1918
Rochester, New York
Known for Key figure in the Social Gospel movement
Religion Baptist

Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918) was a Christian theologian and Baptist pastor who taught at the Rochester Theological Seminary. Rauschenbusch was a key figure in the Social Gospel movement which flourished in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was also the maternal grandfather of the influential philosopher Richard Rorty.[1][2]

Biography[edit]

Early years[edit]

Walter Rauschenbusch was born October 4, 1861 in Rochester, New York, to Augustus Rauschenbusch and the former Caroline Rump.

Though he went through a youthful rebellious period, at age 17 he experienced a personal religious conversion which "influenced my soul down to its depths." Like the Prodigal Son, he wrote, "I came to my Father, and I began to pray for help and got it."[3] But he later felt that this experience was incomplete, focused on repentance from personal sins but not from social sins.

When he attended Rochester Theological Seminary, his early teachings were challenged. He learned of the Higher Criticism, which led him to later comment that his "inherited ideas about the inerrancy of the Bible became untenable." He also began to doubt the substitutionary atonement; in his words, "it was not taught by Jesus; it makes salvation dependent upon a trinitarian transaction that is remote from human experience; and it implies a concept of divine justice that is repugnant to human sensitivity." But rather than shaking his faith, these challenges reinforced his faith. He came to admire Congregationalist Horace Bushnell and Anglican Frederick W. Robertson.

Education[edit]

From 1891-1892, Rauschenbusch studied economics and theology at the University of Berlin and industrial relations in England, where he became acquainted with the Fabian Society.

The Brotherhood of the Kingdom[edit]

In 1892, Rauschenbusch and some friends formed a group called the Brotherhood of the Kingdom. The group's charter declared that "the Spirit of God is moving men in our generation toward a better understanding of the idea of the Kingdom of God on earth," and that their intention was to reestablish this idea in the thought of the church, and to assist in its practical realization in the world." In a pamphlet, Rauschenbusch wrote: "Because the Kingdom of God has been dropped as the primary and comprehensive aim of Christianity, and personal salvation has been substituted for it, therefore men seek to save their own souls and are selfishly indifferent to the evangelization of the world."

Death and legacy[edit]

Walter Rauschenbusch died July 25, 1918. He was 56 years old at the time of his death.

Rauschenbusch's work influenced, among others, Martin Luther King; Desmond Tutu; and his grandson, Richard Rorty.[4] Even in the 21st Century certain social justice ministries Rauschenbusch's name is used in tribute to his life and work, including such groups as the Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries in New York and the Rauschenbusch Center for Spirit and Action in Seattle.

The North American Baptist Conference Archives in Sioux Falls, SD and the American Baptist Historical Society in Atlanta, GA both maintain extensive Rauschenbusch collections. The Archives of the Orchard Community Church in Greece, NY contain the original baptismal records of Walter and membership records for his wife and father.

Rauschenbusch is honored together with Washington Gladden and Jacob Riis with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on July 2.

A stained glass window was given to the Andrews Street Baptist Church (known as the First German Baptist Church until 1918) in Rochester around 1929 by Mrs. Edmund Lyon. The building was vacant during the late 1960s and some of the windows were stolen, including part of the original Rauschenbusch window. A new congregation purchased the building and a stained glass expert repaired and re-created some of the windows; however, the upper portion of the Rauschenbusch window is substantially different from the original. A photograph of the original window appears in a booklet that was published for the centennial celebration of the church in 1951.

View of Christianity[edit]

Rauschenbusch's view of Christianity was that its purpose was to spread a Kingdom of God, not through a fire and brimstone style of preaching but by leading a Christlike life. Rauschenbusch did not view Jesus' death as an act of substitutionary atonement but in his words, he died "to substitute love for selfishness as the basis of human society." He wrote that "Christianity is in its nature revolutionary" and tried to remind society of that. He explained that the Kingdom of God "is not a matter of getting individuals to heaven, but of transforming the life on earth into the harmony of heaven."

In Rauschenbusch's early adulthood, mainline Protestant churches were largely allied with the social and political establishment, in effect supporting the domination by robber barons, income disparity, and the use of child labor. Most church leaders did not see a connection between these issues and their ministries, so did nothing to address the suffering. But Rauschenbusch saw it as his duty as a minister and student of Christ to act with love by trying to improve social conditions.

Social responsibility[edit]

In Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907), Rauschenbusch wrote that "Whoever uncouples the religious and the social life has not understood Jesus. Whoever sets any bounds for the reconstructive power of the religious life over the social relations and institutions of men, to that extent denies the faith of the Master." The significance of this work is that it spoke of the individual's responsibility toward society.

In his Theology for the Social Gospel (1917), he wrote that for John the Baptist, the baptism was "not a ritual act of individual salvation but an act of dedication to a religious and social movement."

Concerning the social depth and breadth of Christ's atoning work, Rauschenbusch writes: "Jesus did not in any real sense bear the sin of some ancient Briton who beat up his wife in B. C. 56, or of some mountaineer in Tennessee who got drunk in A. D. 1917. But he did in a very real sense bear the weight of the public sins of organized society, and they in turn are causally connected with all private sins."

Rauschenbusch enumerates "six sins, all of a public nature, which combined to kill Jesus. He bore their crushing attack in his body and soul. He bore them, not by sympathy, but by direct experience. Insofar as the personal sins of men have contributed to the existence of these public sins, he came into collision with the totality of evil in mankind. It requires no legal fiction of imputation to explain that 'he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities.' Solidarity explains it."

These six "social sins" which Jesus, according to Rauschenbusch, bore on the Cross:

"Religious bigotry, the combination of graft and political power, the corruption of justice, the mob spirit (being "the social group gone mad") and mob action, militarism, and class contempt-- "every student of history will recognize that these sum up constitutional forces in the Kingdom of Evil. Jesus bore these sins in no legal or artificial sense, but in their impact on his own body and soul. He had not contributed to them, as we have, and yet they were laid on him. They were not only the sins of Caiaphas, Pilate, or Judas, but the social sin of all mankind, to which all who ever lived have contributed, and under which all who ever lived have suffered."

Rauschenbusch also devoted considerable effort to explicating the problem of evil, which he saw embodied not in individuals, but in "suprapersonal entities", which were socio-economic and political institutions. He found four major loci of suprapersonal evil: militarism, individualism, capitalism and nationalism. To these he juxtaposed four institutional embodiments of good: pacifism, collectivism, socialism and internationalism.[5]

A Theology for the Social Gospel[edit]

The social gospel movement was not a unified and well-focused movement, as it contained members who disagreed with the conclusions of others within the movement.[6] Rauschenbusch stated that the movement needed “a theology to make it effective” and likewise, “theology needs the social gospel to vitalize it.” [7] In A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917), Rauschenbusch takes up the task of creating “a systematic theology large enough to match [our social gospel] and vital enough to back it.” [8] He believed that the social gospel would be “a permanent addition to our spiritual outlook and that its arrival constitutes a state in the development of the Christian religion,” [9] and thus a systematic tool for using it was necessary.

In A Theology for the Social Gospel, Rauschenbusch states that the individualistic gospel has made sinfulness of the individual clear, but it has not shed light on institutionalized sinfulness: “It has not evoked faith in the will and power of God to redeem the permanent institutions of human society from their inherited guilt of oppression and extortion.” [10] This ideology would be inherited by liberation theologians and civil rights advocates and leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.

The idea of the Kingdom of God is crucial to Rauschenbusch’s proposed theology of the social gospel. He states that the ideology and "doctrine of the Kingdom of God," of which Jesus Christ reportedly “always spoke” [11] has been gradually replaced by that of the Church. This was done at first by the early church out of what appeared to be necessity, but Rauschenbusch calls Christians to return to the doctrine of the Kingdom of God.[12] Of course, such a replacement has cost theology and Christians at large a great deal: the way we view Jesus and the synoptic gospels, the ethical principles of Jesus, and worship rituals have all been affected by this replacement.[13] In promoting a return to the doctrine of the Kingdom of God, he clarified that the Kingdom of God: is not subject to the pitfalls of the Church; it can test and correct the Church; is a prophetic, future-focused ideology and a revolutionary, social and political force that understands all creation to be sacred; and it can help save the problematic, sinful social order.[14]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "Wrestling With Rauschenbusch - Paul O'Donnell". SoMA Review. Retrieved 2012-11-29. 
  2. ^ "The Coming Only is Sacred:Self-Creation and Social Solidarity in Richard Rorty’s Secular Eschatology". Crosscurrents.org. Retrieved 2012-11-29. 
  3. ^ Ramsay, William M. (1986). Four modern prophets: Walter Rauschenbusch, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gustavo Gutiérrez, Rosemary Radford Ruether. Westminster John Knox Press. 
  4. ^ Adam Bernstein, "Richard Rorty, 75; Leading U.S. Pragmatist Philosopher," Washington Post, June 11, 2007.
  5. ^ A Theology for the Social Gospel, 1917.
  6. ^ Kee, Howard C, et al. Christianity: A Social and Cultural History, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.p478
  7. ^ Rauschenbusch, Walter. A Theology for the Social Gospel. New York: Abingdon Press, 1917. p1.
  8. ^ Rauschenbusch, Walter. A Theology for the Social Gospel. New York: Abingdon Press, 1917. p1.
  9. ^ Rauschenbusch, Walter. A Theology for the Social Gospel. New York: Abingdon Press, 1917. p2.
  10. ^ Rauschenbusch, Walter. A Theology for the Social Gospel. New York: Abingdon Press, 1917. P5.
  11. ^ Rauschenbusch, Walter. A Theology for the Social Gospel. New York: Abingdon Press, 1917. p131.
  12. ^ Rauschenbusch, Walter. A Theology for the Social Gospel. New York: Abingdon Press, 1917. p132.
  13. ^ Rauschenbusch, Walter. A Theology for the Social Gospel. New York: Abingdon Press, 1917. p133-134.
  14. ^ Rauschenbusch, Walter. A Theology for the Social Gospel. New York: Abingdon Press, 1917. pp. 134-137.

Works[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Ray Stannard Baker, The Spiritual Unrest. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1910.
  • Steven Cassedy, "Walter Rauschenbusch, the Social Gospel Movement, and How Julius Wellhausen Unwittingly Helped Create American Progressivism in the Twentieth Century," in Shawna Dolansky (ed.), Sacred History, Sacred Literature: Essays on Ancient Israel, the Bible, and Religion in Honor of R. E. Friedman on His Sixtieth Birthday. Winnona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2008; pp. 315-324.
  • Christopher Evans, The Kingdom Is Always but Coming. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004.
  • George Laird Hunt, Ten Makers of modern Protestant thought Schweitzer, Rauschenbusch, Temple, Kierkegaard, Barth, Brunner, Niebuhr, Tillich, Bultmann, Buber. 1958.
  • Paul M. Minus, Walter Rauschenbusch: American Reformer. 1988. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1988.
  • Dores Robinson Sharpe, Walter Rauschenbusch. New York: Macmillan Company, 1942.