Christianity and the Social Crisis - "A middle-class church grown lazy and comfortable . . . "
This note is a paraphrase and summary of a review that appeared in Commonweal Magazine, October 26, 2007, by Casey Nelson Blake http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/article.php3?id_article=2038&var_recherche=Casey+Nelson+Blake.
Christianity and the Social Crisis was written in 1907 by Walter Rauschenbusch. His objective was to tear down the wall that separated faith from the public world. He called on the church to address the suffering and degradation that accompanied the rapid industrialization of the United States.
A century after its appearance, Paul Raushenbush - a great-grandson of both Walter Rauschenbusch and Louis Brandeis - has edited a new edition titled Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century (HarperOne), which intersperses the original text with commentaries by several contemporary authors. Paul Raushenbush intends this new edition as more than a tribute to his ancestor’s legacy. Christianity and the Social Crisis remains a powerful statement of the social promise of prophetic Christianity, and its republication in this form is a forceful intervention in contemporary debates in American religion and politics. The book is an indispensable resource for our own age of crisis.
What Walter Rauschenbusch offered his Christian readers was a revisionist account of their history and theology. As Stanley Hauerwas observes, Christianity and the Social Crisis “is best read as a sermon seeking to convict Christians of our sins as well as call us to the redeeming work of the kingdom of God.” Rauschenbusch championed the uncompromising stance of prophetic Judaism, Jesus’ refusal of caste and custom, and the communal democracy of the early Christian church as the core of faith. Those traditions lost their force, according to Rauschenbusch, with the ascendancy of ceremonialism, priestly hierarchy, and an otherworldly orientation that easily accommodated secular authority. Even worse, in his view, was the individualistic gospel of personal salvation that followed on centuries of empire and political oppression. By the end of the nineteenth century, a narrow religious individualism had left the faithful shorn of spiritual and communal support as they faced the onslaught of an industrializing economy. Rauschenbusch urged a return to the example of an early Christian counterculture that refused the claims of the powerful and held that “the kingdom of God is at hand.”
Rauschenbusch’s book revived the proud tradition of the American jeremiad to confront readers with the unsettling, indeed shocking gospel of Jesus and his early followers. A middle-class church grown lazy and comfortable, indifferent to social evil as it called upon individual sinners to repent, stood condemned by the very creed it professed to uphold. Even as he underscored that “Jesus was not a social reformer of the modern type” - that Jesus’ greatest lesson for his followers was “how to live a religious life” - Rauschenbusch believed Jesus’ teachings were a desperately needed corrective to modern complacency. “Jesus was not a child of this world,” he wrote. “He nourished within his soul the ideal of a common life so radically different from the present that it involved a reversal of values, a revolutionary displacement of existing relations.”