Publication Date

Winter 1-1-2008

Journal

Journal of Liberal Religion

Volume

8

Issue

1

First Page

1

Last Page

8

Abstract

It has been nine decades since Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) published a slim volume entitled The Social Principles of Jesus. Though today less well known than his other works Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907) and Theology for the Social Gospel (1917), it is Social Principles that most adeptly summarizes the theological ethics of Rauschenbusch’s “social gospel.” Taking the form of a pedagogical treatise, Social Principles reads as both a finely tuned analysis of the modern relevance of the teachings of Jesus, and an impassioned plea on the part of its author for an end to the folly of interpreting Christianity solely in “individualistic” terms. It is Rauschenbusch’s expressed aim to resurrect the core teachings of Jesus, which are social and ethical, and apply these to a renewed, socially conscious liberal democracy, establishing a grand harmony between religion, ethics, and social evolution. How far this vision was from the burgeoning “fundamentalism” of his day (and ours) is more than evidenced by the critical reaction of many of his more conservative peers, but also indicates the continuing relevance of his work for theologians and others looking for alternative paths. The following exposition is supplemented with appreciative and critical comments.