Rauschenbusch, Walter 
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Time Period
10/4/1861  - 7/25/1918
Description
Walter Rauschenbusch believed that Christ died to atone for humankind's institutional as well as personal sins, to usher in the Kingdom of God that would transform society into a heavenly reality. Because of his theologically based attempts to improve the living conditions of the poor, Rauschenbusch was hailed as one of the fathers of the Social Gospel movement, a loose coalition of social reformers and theologians who believed that Christianity would eradicate all societal evils some day. However, immediately following World War I Rauschenbusch's popularity waned, both because of his opposition to American involvement in the war and because the war's massive devastation and loss of life upended optimistic assumptions about the progress of human civilization. His most famous works are Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907) and A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917).
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Narrative
Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) was born in New York to German Baptist parents. His father, Augustus, sent Walter to Germany for his secondary education, where he first encountered the new Higher Criticism that challenged the traditional Christian doctrine of the supernatural origin of Scripture. Yet it was not until Rauschenbusch was a student at Rochester Theological Seminary that he embraced theological liberalism. Rauschenbusch became convinced that substitutionary atonement -- the idea that Jesus Christ died in the place of each sinful individual -- was jarred with modern sensibilities. Instead, Rauschenbusch believed that Christ died to atone for humankind's institutional as well as personal sins, a death that would ultimately usher in the Kingdom of God by transforming human society into a heavenly reality.

Rauschenbusch had the chance to put feet to his theology while the pastor of the Second German Baptist Church, a congregation of German-speaking immigrants who lived near the slums of New York City. Rauschenbusch was appalled by his congregants' living and working conditions and pushed for political reforms on their behalf. He convinced progressive philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr., whose vast personal wealth epitomized the divide between rich and poor in urban capitalism, to pay for a new sanctuary for his church.

The full radicalization of Rauschenbusch's theology happened during an 1891 sabbatical in Germany and England. While in Europe, Rauschenbusch developed his doctrine of the Kingdom of God, a view that was influenced by his contact with English socialists, as well as General William Booth's more pietistic Salvation Army. When he arrived back in America, Rauschenbusch formed the Brotherhood of the Kingdom, an informal discussion group of socially conscious, liberal ministers.

Rauschenbusch accepted a professorship at Rochester Theological Seminary in 1897, like his father before him, and began writing his two greatest works, Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907) and A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917), the latter released just before his death in 1918. During his lifetime, Rauschenbusch was hailed as the main father of the Social Gospel movement, a loose coalition of social reformers and theologians who believed that Christianity offered hope that one day all societal evils would be eradicated. However, immediately following World War I, Rauschenbusch's popularity waned, both because of his opposition to American involvement in the war and because the devastation wreaked by the war upended optimistic assumptions about the progress of human civilization. Heaven had never felt so far away.
Religious Groups
Baptist Family: Other ARDA Links

Movements
Social Gospel
Photographs

Walter Rauschenbusch portrait- Internet Archive- from Dare We Be Christians by Walter Rauschenbusch

Walter Rauschenbusch sitting- Wikimedia Commons
Web Source(s)
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/131christians/activists/rauschenbusch.html?start=1
Web Page Contributor
Paul Matzko
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History

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