Walter Rauschenbusch

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Walter Rauschenbusch (October 4, 1861July 25, 1918) was a Christian theologian, a Baptist pastor and a representative of the Social Gospel movement.


Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907)[edit]

All page numbered quotes are from the 1913 edition of the book.


  • Western civilization is passing through a social revolution unparalleled in history for scope and power. Its coming was inevitable. ...By universal consent this social crisis is the overshadowing problem of our generation.
    • p. xi
  • The social revolution has been slow in reaching our country. We have been exempt, not because we had solved the problems, but because we had not yet confronted them.
    • p. xi
  • The vastness and the free sweep of our concentrated wealth on the one side, the independence, intelligence, moral vigor, and political power of the common people on the other side, promise a long-drawn grapple of contesting forces which may well make the heart of every American patriot sink within him.
    • p. xi-xii
  • The Church, the organized expression of the religious life of the past, is one of the most potent institutions and forces in Western civilization. ...It cannot help throwing its immense weight on one side or the other. If it tries not to act, it thereby acts; and in any case its choice will be decisive for its own future.
    • p.xii
  • Apart from the organized Church, the religious spirit is a factor of incalculable power in the making of history. In the idealistic spirits that lead and in the masses that follow, the religious spirit always intensifies thought, enlarges hope, unfetters daring, evokes the willingness to sacrifice, and gives coherence in the fight.
    • p.xii
  • Under the warm breath of religious faith all social institutions become plastic.
    • p.xii
  • The essential purpose of Christianity was to transform human society into the kingdom of God by regenerating all human relations and reconstituting them in accordance with the will of God. ...I have never met with any previous attempt to give a satisfactory historical explanation of this failure.
    • p.xiii
  • The Church owns property, needs income, employs men, works on human material, and banks on its moral prestige. Its present efficiency and future standing are bound up for weal or woe with the social welfare of the people and with the outcome of the present struggle.
    • p.xiv
  • I can frankly affirm that I have written with malice toward none and with charity for all. ...I have tried—so far as erring human judgment permits—to lift the issues out of the plane of personal selfishness and hate, and to put them where the white light of the just and pitying spirit of Jesus can play upon them. If I have failed in that effort, it is my sin. If others in reading fail to respond in the same spirit, it is their sin.
    • p.xv
  • In a few years all our restless and angry hearts will be quiet in death, but those who come after us will live in the world which our sins have blighted or which our love of right has redeemed.
    • p.xv
  • Let us do our thinking on these great questions, not with our eyes fixed on our bank account, but with a wise outlook on the fields of the future and with the consciousness that the spirit of the Eternal is seeking to distil from our lives, some essence of righteousness, before they pass away.
    • p.xv
  • I have written this book to discharge a debt. For eleven years I was pastor among the working people on the West Side of New York City. ...I have never ceased to feel that I owe help to the plain people who were my friends. If this book in some far-off way helps to ease the pressure that bears them down and increases the forces that bear them up, I shall meet the Master of my life with better confidence.
    • p.xv

Ch.1 The Historical Roots of Christianity the Hebrew Prophets[edit]

  • History is never antiquated, because humanity is always fundamentally the same. It is always hungry for bread, sweaty with labor, struggling to wrest from nature and hostile men enough to feed its children. The welfare of the mass is always at odds with the selfish force of the strong.
    • p. 1
  • In so far as men have attempted to use the Old Testament as a code of model laws and institutions and have applied these to modern conditions, regardless of the historical connections, these attempts have left a trail of blunder and disaster. In so far as they have caught the spirit that burned in the hearts of the prophets and breathed in gentle humanity through the Mosaic Law, the influence of the Old Testament has been one of the great permanent forces making for democracy and social justice.
    • p. 2
  • We shall confine this brief study of the Old Testament to the prophets, because they are the beating heart of the Old Testament.
    • p. 3
  • To the ceremonial aspects of Jewish religion Jesus was either indifferent or hostile; the thought of the prophets was the spiritual food that he assimilated in his own process of growth. With them he linked his points of view, the convictions which he regarded as axiomatic. ...The real meaning of his life and the real direction of his purposes can be understood only in that historical connection.
    • p. 3
  • Primitive religions consisted mainly in the worship of the powers of nature. ...the essential thing in religion was not morality, but the ceremonial method of placating the god, securing his gifts, and ascertaining his wishes. He might even be pleased best by immoral actions, by the immolation of human victims, by the sacrifice of woman's chastity, or by the burning of the first born.
    • p. 4
  • Jehovah was the tribal god of Israel. Fortunately he was stronger and more terrible than the gods of the neighboring tribes, so that he was able to drive them out and give their land to his own people, but he was not fundamentally different from them and they were believed to be quite as real as Jehovah.
    • p. 4
  • Against this current conception of religion the prophets insisted on a right life as the true worship of God. Morality to them was not merely a prerequisite of effective ceremonial worship. They brushed sacrificial ritual aside altogether as trifling compared with righteousness, nay, as a harmful substitute and a hindrance for ethical religion.
    • p. 5
  • The Book of Isaiah begins with a description of the disasters which had overtaken the nation and then in impassioned words the prophet spurns the means taken to appease Jehovah's anger. "...Cease to do evil! Learn to do right! Seek justice! Relieve the oppressed! Secure justice for the orphaned and plead for the widow." (Isaiah I. 10-17.)
    • p. 5
  • In so far as men believed that the traditional ceremonial was what God wanted of them, they would be indifferent to the reformation of social ethics. If the hydraulic force of religion could be turned toward conduct, there is nothing which it could not accomplish.
    • p. 6
  • Christian ritual grew up not as the appropriate and aesthetic expression of spiritual emotions, but as the indispensable means of pleasing and appeasing God, and of securing his favors, temporal and eternal, for those who put their heart into these processes. This Christian ceremonial system does not differ essentially from that against which the prophets protested; with a few verbal changes their invectives would still apply.
    • p. 7
  • The prophets were the heralds of the fundamental truth that religion and ethics are inseparable, and that ethical conduct is the supreme and sufficient religious act. If that principle had been fully adopted in our religious life, it would have turned the full force of the religious impulse into the creation of right moral conduct and would have made the unchecked growth and accumulation of injustice impossible.
    • p. 7
  • It is important to note, further, that the morality which the prophets had in mind in their strenuous insistence on righteousness was not merely the private morality of the home, but the public morality on which national life is founded. They said less about the pure heart for the individual than of just institutions for the nation.
    • p. 8
  • The twin-evil against which the prophets launched the condemnation of Jehovah was injustice and oppression.
    • p. 8
  • The religious ideal of Israel was the theocracy. But the theocracy meant the complete penetration of the national life by religious morality. It meant politics in the name of God.
    • p. 8
  • The prophets were not religious individualists. ...they always dealt with Israel and Judah as organic totalities. They conceived of their people as a gigantic personality which sinned as one and ought to repent as one. was only when the national life of Israel was crushed by foreign invaders that the prophets began to address themselves to the individual life and lost the large horizon of public life.
    • p. 8-9
  • The prophets... interpreted past history, shaped present history, and foretold future history on the basis of the conviction that God rules with righteousness in the affairs of nations, and that only what is just, and not what is expedient and profitable, shall endure.
    • p. 9
  • Our modern religious horizon and our conception of the character of a religious leader and teacher are so different that it is not easy to understand men who saw the province of religion chiefly in the broad reaches of civic affairs and international relations.
    • p. 10
  • The words are part of the first chapter of Isaiah to which reference has been made. The prophet throughout the chapter deals with the national condition of the kingdom of Judah and its capital. ...he urges ...the abolition of social oppression and injustice as the only way of regaining God's favor for the nation. If they would vindicate the cause of the helpless and oppressed, then he would freely pardon; then their scarlet and crimson guilt would be washed away. The familiar text is followed by the very material promise of economic prosperity and the threat of continued war: "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword."
    • p. 10
  • The sympathy of the prophets, even of the most aristocratic among them, was entirely on the side of the poorer classes. ...The edge of their invectives was turned against the land-hunger of the landed aristocracy who "joined house to house and laid field to field," till a country of sturdy peasants was turned into a series of great estates; against the capitalistic ruthlessness that "sold the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes," thrusting the poor free-man into slavery to collect a trifling debt; against the venality of the judges who took bribes and had a double standard of law for the rich and the poor.
    • p. 11-12
  • It became one of the fundamental attributes of their God that he was the husband of the widow, the father of the orphan, and the protector of the stranger. The widows and the fatherless were those who had no concrete power to back their claims, no "influence," no "financial interest," no "pull" with the police, judges and aldermen of that time. The "stranger" was the immigrant who had no part in the blood-kinship of the clan, and hence no share in the land and no voice in the common affairs of the village.
    • p. 12
  • When the prophets conceived Jehovah as the special vindicator of these voiceless classes it was another way of saying that it is the chief duty in religious morality to stand for the rights of the helpless.
    • p. 12
  • There is no question on which side the sympathy of the prophets was enlisted. Their protest against injustice and oppression, to the neglect of all other social evils, is almost monotonous.
    • p. 12-13
  • To the more judicial and scientific temper of our day their invective would seem overdrawn and their sympathy would seem partisanship. In Jeremiah and in the prophetic psalms the poor as a class are made identical with the meek and godly, and "rich" and "wicked" are almost synonymous terms.
    • p. 13

Ch.2 The Social Aims of Jesus[edit]

  • We are to-day in the midst of a revolutionary epoch fully as thorough as that of the Renaissance and Reformation. It is accompanied by a reinterpretation of nature and of history. The social movement has helped to create the modern study of history. Where we used to see a panorama of wars and strutting kings and court harlots, we now see the struggle of the people to wrest a living from nature and to shake off their oppressors. The new present has created a new past. The French Revolution was the birth of modern democracy, and also of the modern school of history.
    • p. 45
  • Eminent theologians, like other eminent thinkers, live in the social environment of wealth and to that extent are slow to see. The individualistic conception of religion is so strongly fortified in theological literature and ecclesiastical institutions that its monopoly cannot be broken in a hurry. It will take a generation or two for the new social comprehension of religion to become common property.
    • p. 46
  • The better we know Jesus, the more social do his thoughts and aims become.
    • p. 46
  • Men are seizing on Jesus as the exponent of their own social convictions. They all claim him. ...But in truth Jesus was not a social reformer of the modern type... he approached these facts purely from the moral, and not from the economic or historical point of view.
    • p. 47
  • If the question of the distribution of wealth were solved for all society and all lived in average comfort and without urgent anxiety, the question would still be how many would be at peace with their own souls and have that enduring joy and contentment which alone can make the outward things fair and sweet and rise victorious over change.
    • p. 47
  • Whoever uncouples the religious and the social life has not understood Jesus. Whoever sets any bounds for the reconstructive power of the religious life over the social relations and institutions of men, to that extent denies the faith of the Master.
    • p. 48-49
  • The Christian movement began with John the Baptist. … in his recorded teaching to the people there is not a word about the customary ritual of religion, about increased Sabbath observance, about stricter washings and sacrifices, or the ordinary exercises of piety. He spoke only of repentance, of ceasing from wrongdoing. He hailed the professional exponents of religion who came to hear him, as a brood of snakes wriggling away from the flames of the judgment. ...The way to prepare for the Messianic era and to escape the wrath of the Messiah was to institute a brotherly life and to equalize social inequalities.
    • p. 49-50
  • Jesus accepted John as the forerunner of his own work. It was the popular movement created by John which brought Jesus out of the seclusion of Nazareth. He received John's baptism as the badge of the new Messianic hope and repentance. ...He drew his earliest and choicest disciples from the followers of John. When John was dead, some thought Jesus was John risen from the dead. He realized clearly the difference between the stern ascetic spirit of the Baptist and his own sunny trust and simple human love, but to the end of his life he championed John and dared the Pharisees to deny his divine mission. ...In the main he shared John's national and social hope. His aim too was the realization of the theocracy.
    • p. 52-53
  • The greatest of all prophets was still one of the prophets, and that large interest in the national and social life which had been inseparable from the religion of the prophets was part of his life too. The presumption is that Jesus shared the fundamental religious purpose of the prophets.
    • p. 53
  • Like all great minds that do not merely imagine Utopias, but actually advance humanity to a new epoch, he [Jesus] took the situation and material furnished to him by the past and molded that into a fuller approximation to the divine conception within him.
    • p. 54
  • The Greek world cherished no such national religious hope as the prophets had ingrained in Jewish thought; on the other hand it was intensely interested in the future life for the individual, and in the ascetic triumph over flesh and matter. Thus the idea which had been the centre of Christ's thought was not at all the centre of the Church's thought, and even the comprehension of his meaning was lost and overlaid.
    • p. 55
  • Ascetic Christianity called the world evil and left it. Humanity is waiting for a revolutionary Christianity which will call the world evil and change it.
    • p. 91

Ch.4 Why Has Christianity Never Undertaken the Work of Social Reconstruction?[edit]

  • The fundamental purpose of Jesus was the establishment of the kingdom of God, which involved a thorough regeneration and reconstitution of social life.
    • p. 143
  • Primitive Christianity cherished an ardent hope of a radically new era, and within its limits sought to realize a social life on a new moral basis. Thus Christianity as an historical movement was launched with all the purpose and hope, all the impetus and power, of a great revolutionary movement, pledged to change the world-as-it-is into the world-as-it-ought-to-be.
    • p. 143
  • The organization in which this movement was embodied, after three centuries of obscurity and oppression, rose triumphant to be the dominant power of the civilized world. Christian churches were scattered broadcast over the Roman Empire. ...Its churches were endowed with the ancient properties and rights of the temples. Its clergy were given immunity from the taxes and exactions which crushed all other classes. Its members filled the civil service. Its great bishops had the ear of the men in power.
    • p. 143-144
  • When the machinery of [Roman] imperial administration broke down in the provinces under the invasion of the barbarians in the fifth century the machinery of the Church remained unbroken. ...Ancient families became extinct and the Church became the heir of their lands and slaves and serfs. Small proprietors sought security by committing their lands to the Church and becoming its tenants.
    • p. 144
  • The landed wealth of the Church alone sufficed to make it a power of the highest rank in the feudal system of the Middle Ages, in which all power finally rested on the possession of the land. Bishops and abbots became feudal dignitaries, sometimes almost sovereign princes in their own domains, and always with a potent voice in the government of their nations.
    • p. 144
  • The Church was the preserver of the remnants of intellectual culture, the sole schoolmistress of the raw peoples. Her clergy long had almost a monopoly of education, and were the secretaries of the nobles, the chancellors and prime ministers of kings.
    • p. 145
  • The Church had its own law code and its own courts of law which were supreme over the clergy, and had large rights of jurisdiction even over the laity, so that it could develop and give effect to its own ideas of law and right.
    • p. 145
  • Throughout the Middle Ages the sway of the Church over the moral and spiritual life of the people, her power to inspire and direct their enthusiasms and energies, her chance for molding their conceptions of life, were amazing and unparalleled by any other force.
    • p. 145
  • Christianity was rising when the ancient world was breaking down. By the time the Church had gained sufficient power to exercise a controlling influence, the process of social decay, like the breakdown of a physical organism in a wasting disease, was beyond remedy.
    • p. 146
  • Amid the general anarchy, against the coarse vice and brutality of the barbarians, herself harried by the rapacity of the nobles and weakened by the ignorance and barbarism of her own clergy, the Church did what she could, but a thorough social reconstruction was impossible. In modern life her power is broken by the prevalent doubt and apostasy, and the current of materialism and mammonism is now too great to be stemmed.
    • p. 146
  • Why has it [the Church] never done what it was sent to do? Others ...will say it has done so. Has it not lifted woman to equality and companionship with man, secured the sanctity and stability of marriage, changed parental despotism to parental service, and eliminated unnatural vice, the abandonment of children, blood revenge, and the robbery of the shipwrecked from the customs of Christian nations? Has it not abolished slavery, mitigated war, covered all lands with a network of charities to uplift the poor and the fallen, fostered the institutions of education, aided the progress of civil liberty and social justice, and diffused a softening tenderness throughout human life? It has done all that, and vastly more.
    • p. 147
  • The influence of Christianity in taming selfishness and stimulating the sympathetic affections, in creating a resolute sense of duty, a stanch love of liberty and independence, an irrepressible hunger for justice and a belief in the rights of the poor, has been so subtle and penetrating that no one can possibly trace its effects. ...And yet human society has not been reconstituted in accordance with the principles of Jesus Christ.
    • p. 147-148
  • We are apt... to forget that the moral force of Christianity was usually only one factor in producing such a change as the abolition of slavery or piracy, and that over against the benign influences of the Church must be set the malign and divisive influences which she created by persecuting zeal, intellectual intolerance, or religious wars. In short, we must soberly face the fact that a good many deductions have to be made from the popular panegyrics, and that the Church has not accomplished all that is often claimed for her.
    • p. 149
  • The social effects which are usually enumerated do not constitute a reconstruction of society on a Christian basis, but were mainly a suppression of some of the most glaring evils in the social system of the time.
    • p. 149
  • In general, the Church has often rendered valuable aid by joining the advanced public conscience of any period in its protest against some single intolerable evil, but it has accepted as inevitable the general social system under which the world was living at the time, and has not undertaken any thoroughgoing social reconstruction in accordance with Christian principles.
    • p. 149-150
  • The most important effects of Christianity went out from it without the intention of the Church, or even against its will.
    • p. 150
  • The position of woman has doubtless been elevated through the influence of Christianity, but... it is probably fair to say that most of the great Churches through their teaching and organization have exerted a conservative and retarding influence on the rise of woman to equality with man.
    • p. 150
  • Christianity has been one of the most powerful causes of democracy, but the conscious influence of the Church has more widely been exerted against democracy than for it.
    • p. 150
  • It is this diffused spirit of Christianity rather than the conscious purpose of organized Christianity which has been the chief moral force in social changes. It has often taken its finest form in heretics and free-thinkers, and in non-Christian movements. The Church has often been indifferent or hostile to the effects which it had itself produced. The mother has refused to acknowledge her own children.
    • p. 150
  • It is only when social movements have receded into past history... that the Church with pride turns around to claim that it was she who abolished slavery, aroused the people to liberty, and emancipated woman.
    • p. 150

Christianizing the Social Order (1912)[edit]

  • We who know personal religion by experience know that there is nothing on earth to compare with the moral force exerted by it. It has demonstrated its social efficiency in our own lives.
  • All social movements would gain immensely in enthusiasm, persuasiveness, and wisdom if the hearts of their advocates were cleansed and warmed by religious faith.
    • p. 103
  • But will reënforcement work the other way, also? Religion strengthens the social spirit; will the social spirit strengthen personal religion? When a minister gets hot about child labor and wage slavery, is he not apt to get cold about prayer meetings and evangelistic efforts? When young women become interested in social work, do they not often lose their taste for the culture of the spiritual life and the peace of religious meditation?
    • p. 103
  • If this is indeed the alternative, we are in a tragic situation, compelled to choose between social righteousness and communion with God.
    • p. 103
  • Personal religion has a supreme value for its own sake, not merely as a feeder of social morality, but as the highest unfolding of life itself, as the blossoming of our spiritual nature. Spiritual regeneration is the most important fact in any life history. A living experience of God is the crowning knowledge attainable to a human mind.
    • p. 104
  • If, therefore, our personal religious life is likely to be sapped by our devotion to social work, it would be a calamity second to none. But is it really likely that this will happen? The great aim underlying to whole social movement is the creation of a free, just, and brotherly social order. This is the greatest moral task conceivable. Its accomplishment is the manifest will of God for this generation. Every Christian motive is calling us to do it. If it is left undone, millions of lives will be condemned to a deepening moral degradation and to spiritual starvation. Does it look probable that we will lose our contact with God if we plunge too deeply into this work? Does it stand to reason that we shall go astray from Jesus Christ if we engage in the unequal conflict with organized wrong? What kind of ‘spirituality’ is it which is likely to get hurt by being put to work for justice and our fellow-men?
    • p. 104
  • Some of the anxiety about personal religion is due to a subtle lack of faith in religion. Men think it is a fragile thing that will break up and vanish when the customs and formulas which have hitherto encased and protected it are broken and cast aside. Most of us have known religion in one form, and we suppose it can have no other. But religion is the life of God in the soul of man, and is God really so fragile?
    • p. 105
  • Personal religion collapses with some individuals, because in their case it had long been growing hollow and thin. ... In reality there was little personal religion to lose, and that little would probably have been lost in some other way.
    • p. 106
  • A new factor enters the situation when we encounter the influence of ‘scientific socialism.’ It is true, the party platform declares that ‘religion is a private affair.’ The saving of souls is the only industry that socialism distinctly relegates to private enterprise.
    • p. 108
  • The socialism of continental Europe, taking it by and large, is actively hostile, not only to bad forms of organized religion, but to religion itself.
    • p. 109

The Social Principles of Jesus (1918)[edit]

Full text on

  • We have to harmonize the two facts, that wealth is good and necessary, and that wealth is a danger to its possessor and to society. On the one hand property is indispensable to personal freedom, to all higher individuality, and to self-realization; the right to property is a corollary of the right to life; without property men are at the mercy of nature and in bondage to those who have property. On the other hand property is used as a means of collecting tribute and private taxes, as a club with which to extort unearned gain from laborers and consumers, and as the fundamental tool of oppression.
    • p. 127

Quotes about Walter Rauschenbusch[edit]

  • Not until 1948, when I entered Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, did I begin a serious intellectual quest for a method to eliminate social evil...I came early to Walter Rauschenbusch's Christianity and the Social Crisis, which left an indelible imprint on my thinking by giving me a theological basis for the social concern which had already grown up in me as a result of my early experiences. Of course there were points at which I differed with Rauschenbusch. I felt that he had fallen victim to the nineteenth-century "cult of inevitable progress" which led him to a superficial optimism concerning man's nature. Moreover, he came perilously close to identifying the Kingdom of God with a particular social and economic system-a tendency which should never befall the Church. But in spite of these shortcomings Rauschenbusch had done a great service for the Christian Church by insisting that the gospel deals with the whole man-not only his soul but his body; not only his spiritual well-being but his material well-being. It has been my conviction ever since reading Rauschenbusch that any religion that professes concern for the souls of men and is not equally concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried.

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