Theology for the Social Gospel: a Book Review Essay

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Pages: 9

October 27, 2010

Rauschenbusch, Walter. A Theology for the Social Gospel. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1917. 279 pp.

Culturally speaking, Walter Rauschenbusch may have been years ahead of his time. From the very first chapter of his most famous work, Rauschenbusch’s passion for social justice is quite evident. He certainly had his finger on the pulse of his current generation, noting the compelling movement of the college students of his day to social service (3). It could be argued that the current generation shares this passion and perhaps even his theology. Unfortunately, while as believers we are called to “act justly and love mercy” (Micah 6:8), Rauschenbusch’s system of theology to uphold this love for social justice
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He also calls theology and “affair of experts” (16) leaving the laymen out of it, by whom and for whom the gospel was given. While I do not argue that the gospel is not meant for only those with greater education and intellect, even Christ taught in parables that were difficult for many to understand (Matthew 13:10-13).

There is no doctrinal stone left unblemished in Rauschenbusch’s theology. Beginning with the doctrine of original sin, he questions every “orthodox” teaching of theology. He calls the fall of man “a remote event” (38) and claims that the fall is emphasized more in later theology than even in Jewish thought. He also claims that Jesus and the prophets paid no attention to the fall and were “able to see sin clearly and to fight it with the highest energy without depending on the doctrine of the fall for a footing” (41). He diminishes the letters of Paul by declaring the fall of man to be less important because it is not discussed thoroughly before Paul’s letters. In this sense, Rauschenbusch again chooses which parts of the Bible to fully embrace.

With regard to the doctrine of sin, Rauschenbusch emphasizes personal responsibility (33), which is certainly a Biblical concept, but only as much as it affects society as a whole. However, he criticizes Christian religion for being overly concerned with poor theology and under concerned with their sin