A Defense of the Social Gospel

I earlier posted about the Wall Street Journal commentary by Joseph Loconte, which argued that the Social Gospel was not sufficiently Christian. Pastor Chuck Currie, a UCC Minister has posted a good counter. He briefly attacks LoConte and then points to a longer paper he wrote about the topic in 2004:

First, a little background from a modest paper I wrote on Rauschenbusch while in seminary:

By the turn of the last century a new theology emerged within the United States called the social gospel. Walter Rauschenbusch, the son of German immigrants and a Baptist, was the major proponent of this new theology. The social gospel sought to address issues of sin and salvation within the context of the Industrial Revolution and the great poverty it spawned in urban centers. The social gospel asked Christians and their churches to become advocates for the “least of these” in a society that had abandoned the poor. Rauschenbusch’s theology was optimistic. He saw human progress as an event always moving forward with the great potential for improvement of the human condition. The social gospel became the dominant theology within American churches until the optimism it expressed collapsed under the weight of two world wars and a growing sense among Christians that human progress was not always a forward event. Despite its shortcoming the Social Gospel remains one of the most important theological movements of the modern era and even today continues to impact the work of mainline Christian churches. There is much that we can learn from this theology and incorporate into the lives of our modern churches.

One of Rauschenbusch’s major works was the 1907 Christianity and the Social Crisis. As Loconte points out, the book has been republished to celebrate the 100th anniversary of this important contribution to theology. Loconte, like most writers for the WJS, is a right-wing ideologue. He has been associated with the Ethics and Public Policy Center and The Heritage Foundation, both arch conservative think tanks.

. . .

Loconte’s own analysis is simplistic, filled with errors, and written from the perspective of one whose organizations are often unconcerned with the plight of the "least of these." It is hardly justifiable to suggest Rauschenbusch’s Social Gospel cannot be called Christian. Rather then argue point by point let me simply reprint here what I wrote in 2004 and let those interested enough in the debate draw their own conclusions about the meaning and what I believe to be the positive impact of the Social Gospel.

Walter Rauschenbusch and The Social Gospel

Read it all.

To repeat what I wrote before about the Social Gospel, I think that Walter Rauschenbusch's contribution cannot not be forgotten. At the turn of the Century, the Church was too comfortably aligned with the rich and powerful, and the Social Gospel was an important reminder of the message of Jesus about our obligation to the least of these.


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