Tuesday, August 1, 2017

"A Theology for the Social Gospel": Blogging Through Rauschenbusch - Introduction

"A Theology for the Social Gospel": Blogging Through Rauschenbusch - Introduction

One hundred years ago, one of the more important theological works was published by American theologian Walter Rauschenbusch. The author was a New York pastor and professor deeply concerned about the social needs of his city and wanted to direct Christians to address the social challenges of the age. The book was entitled A Theology for the Social Gospel and is the key work in the social gospel movement of modernity. Due to this important anniversary, I am blogging through Rauschenbusch's work exploring its themes and argument.

To be clear, the social gospel, as well as Rauschenbusch, was unorthodoxy even though he argues to the contrary. In the forward to the book, Rauschenbusch goes so far as to suggest that the social gospel "is just as orthodox as the Gospel would allow" and repeats the same assertion throughout the book. Yet in spite of his rhetoric, the social gospel is not Christian orthodoxy but another side of theological liberalism and this text is littered with it as it will be made clear in the posts that follow.

Before going farther, a few reasons on why this series is worth our investment. First, the social gospel has not faded away. Though the term has largely disappeared, the theology behind it is very much alive. Rauschenbusch is writing during the age of modernism and that cultural worldview is evident throughout the text. We now live in a postmodern society and the language has transitioned, yet the thinking and arguments are largely the same. If one were to compare the writings of Jim Wallis, for example, with Rauschenbusch, the similarities will be evident immediately.

Secondly, Christians should not isolate themselves from false teaching. Heresy should be avoided at all cost, yet occasionally, it might be wise to be aware of the arguments and writings of important figures. I believe that Rauschenbusch is one of them. His influence is greater than many give him credit and anniversaries like this give us an opportunity to explore just why he was so important.

Thirdly, one advantage of books like this is that though it is heretical, the writer draws us to reconsider some of our theological assumptions. Rauschenbusch challenges, for examples, individualistic salvation in favor of a social gospel. I believe the author goes to the opposite extreme he is reacting against, yet with that understood, he may have a point. While preaching, "repent and believe the gospel" to the individual, have we forgotten to emphasized the communal (my preferred word) aspect of the gospel? Occasionally, even heretics help us to see things we overlooked before.

Finally, books like A Theology for the Social Gospel force us to look against at both Scripture and the gospel itself. We must stand firm that the gospel does not need to be redefined, but better understood. I am confident that Rauschenbusch's doctrine is too weak to trump the true gospel. Therefore, in an ironic twist, strengthens my faith in the "faith once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 3).

For more:
"A Simple Way to Pray": Blogging Through Luther
"Baptists Through the Centuries": Blogging Through Bebbington - Complete Series
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Entire Series
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  Conclusion
"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - Complete Series
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Concluding Thoughts
"The Deity of Christ": Blogging Through Morgan and Peterson - The Deity of Jesus for Missions and Pluralism
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