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Primarily a Pastor: The Social Gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch
There is no more important figure in the history of public theology than Rauschenbusch. Here is a full introduction to his work.

By Julian Gotobed

The name of Walter Rauschenbusch is synonymous with the Social Gospel, a movement that exerted a major influence in Mainline American Protestantism at the outset of the twentieth century with the aim of mobilizing American Christians to work for a more just society for all, especially the urban working class.

Walter Rauschenbusch served as pastor to a Baptist congregation of German immigrants on the edge of Hell’s Kitchen (a neighborhood in midtown Manhattan) in New York, taught church history at Rochester Theological Seminary (now Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School), and traveled the length and breadth of America by railroad to advocate the cause of the Social Gospel. He was committed to the necessity of vital religious experience to transform individual personalities and political activism to make social structures in society equitable.

More than any other person Walter Rauschenbusch captured the spirit of the Social Gospel Movement, alerting his contemporaries to a perceived social crisis unfolding in America during the opening decades of the twentieth century and exhorting them to seize a unique opportunity for social progress. He railed against the brutal social conditions that were the product of rapid industrialization, and, yet, ironically, kept company with some of the wealthiest capitalists in America.

“In reality, he was primarily a pastor whose goal was nothing short of preaching for the conversion of America” (Evans, 2004, xxv). The disquiet he expressed at America going to war against Germany, the land of his parents’ birth and many of the people he served in his pastoral ministry, ultimately resulted in Rauschenbusch falling out of public favor in America as the First World War progressed. He produced the definitive statement of the theology of the Social Gospel, A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917) shortly before his death. Rauschenbusch did not live to see Germany defeated in 1918.

Continue reading this article by Julian Gotobed at the Boston Collaborative Encycopedia of Western Theology.

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Date Added: 5/8/2009 Date Revised: 5/8/2009

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