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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XVI. Later Theology

§ 11. Walter Rauschenbusch

From this social viewpoint, two eminent educators, in particular, have wrought at a revolution in theology, William DeWitt Hyde, already mentioned, and Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918) of Rochester Theological Seminary—the latter perhaps the most creative spirit in the American theological world. The heart of their gospel may be presented, though inadequately, in a few sentences:

  • This glorious work of helping to complete God’s fair creation; this high task of making human life and human society the realization of the Father’s loving will for all his children; this is the real substance of the spiritual life, of which the services and devotions of the church are but the outward forms. They ought not to be separated. Yet if we can have but one, social service is of infinitely more worth than pious profession.… The world has been redeemed from the moment when Christ came into it; from the moment when Love was consciously accepted as the true law of human life. This Christian principle of loving service and willing self-sacrifice for the glory of God and the good of man… is the spiritual principle of the modern world.… It is not always explicitly conscious of the historic source of its inspiration; it is not always in intellectual sympathy with the formulas in which the Christian tradition is expressed. But…the presence of this Spirit of Love as the accepted and accredited ideal of conduct and character is itself the proof that the world has been redeemed. It is the promise and potency of its complete redemption.
  • The religion that lived in the heart of Jesus and spoke in his words not only had a social faith; it was a social faith… The Kingdom of God calls for no ceremonial, for no specific doings.… Like Jesus, it makes love to God and love to man the sole outlet for the energy of religion and thereby harnesses that energy to the ethical purification of the natural social relations of men.… We are a wasteful nation. But the most terrible waste of all has been the waste of the power of religion on dress performances.… The Kingdom of God deals not only with the immortal souls of men, but with their bodies, their nourishment, their homes, their cleanliness, and it makes those who serve these fundamental needs of life, veritable ministers of God.…If the Kingdom of God on earth once more became the central object of religion, Christianity would necessarily resume the attitude of attack with which it set out. It had the temper of the pioneer. But where it has taken the existing order for granted and has devoted itself to saving souls, it has become a conservative force, bent on maintaining the great institution of the church and preserving the treasure of doctrine and supernatural grace committed to it. When we accept the faith of the Kingdom of God, we take the same attitude toward our own social order which missionaries take toward the social life of heathenism.…The Church would have to “about face”. The centre of gravity in the whole Christian structure of history would be shifted from the past to the future.