Skip to main content
Select Source:

Walter Rauschenbusch

Walter Rauschenbusch

The American clergyman Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) broke the complacency and conservatism of late-19th-century American Protestantism, propounding a Social Gospel capable of responding to the challenges of an industrial, urban era.

Walter Rauschenbusch was born on Oct. 4, 1861, in Rochester, N.Y., the son of a German missionary, and reared in a pietistic environment. Years of study in his youth in Germany provided him with scholarly intellectual equipment and introduced him to the then revolutionary ideas shattering traditional dogmas. On graduation from the Rochester Theological Seminary in 1886, he was ordained to the Baptist ministry.

Rauschenbusch's first pastorate was on the edge of New York City's infamous Hell's Kitchen area, and daily observance of the terrible poverty of his block led him to question both laissez-faire capitalism and the relevance of the old pietistic evangelism with its simple gospel. As he observed during the depression of 1893, "One could hear human virtue cracking and crumbling all around." In these New York years he edited a short-lived labor paper; founded the Brotherhood of the Kingdom, a band of prophetic ministers; and formulated a theology of Christian socialism. In 1897 he left parish work for a professorship at Rochester Seminary, partly because deafness was reducing his ministerial effectiveness.

A series of books now came from Rauschenbusch's pen, most notably Christianity and the Social Crisis, Christianizing the Social Order, A Theology for the Social Gospel, and Prayers of the Social Awakening. These volumes, widely translated, reached hundreds of thousands. Penetrating in his critique of society, solidly grounded in theology, he towered above all the other prophets of the Social Gospel in the Progressive era.

Rauschenbusch believed that men rarely sinned against God alone and that the Church must place under judgment institutional evils as well as individual immorality. He held that men are damned by inhuman social conditions and that the Church must end exploitation, poverty, greed, racial pride, and war. The Church must not betray, as it had done since Constantine, its true mission of redeeming nations as well as men. But he was no utopian. He recognized the demonic in man, understood the power of entrenched interest groups, and predicted no easy or early establishment of God's reign of love. Therefore his theology, unlike that of so many bland modernists of the Progressive era, continues to speak for contemporary tragic conditions. Rauschenbusch died on July 25, 1918, deeply saddened by World War I, by the failure of pacifism to check the holocaust, and by the hatred poured out on all things German.

Further Reading

Dores Robinson Sharpe, Walter Rauschenbusch (1942), is a satisfactory but not definitive biography. Vernon Parker Bodein, The Social Gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch and Its Relation to Religious Education (1944), covers its limited subject well. Three fine studies of the Social Gospel are Charles H. Hopkins, The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865-1915 (1940); Henry F. May, Protestant Churches and Industrial America (1949); and Robert T. Handy, ed., The Social Gospel in America, 1870-1920 (1966). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Walter Rauschenbusch." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Feb. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Walter Rauschenbusch." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/walter-rauschenbusch

"Walter Rauschenbusch." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved February 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/walter-rauschenbusch

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Rauschenbusch, Walter

Walter Rauschenbusch (rou´shənbŏŏsh), 1861–1918, American clergyman, b. Rochester, N.Y. In 1886 he was ordained and began work among German immigrants as pastor of the Second German Baptist Church in New York City. He studied (1891–92) economics and theology at the Univ. of Berlin and industrial relations in England, where he became acquainted with the Fabian Society. In 1902 he was appointed professor of church history at Rochester Theological Seminary. He was a leading figure in the Social Gospel movement, which sought to rectify economic and social injustice. His writings include Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907), Christianizing the Social Order (1912), The Social Principles of Jesus (1916), and A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rauschenbusch, Walter." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Feb. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Rauschenbusch, Walter." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rauschenbusch-walter

"Rauschenbusch, Walter." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved February 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rauschenbusch-walter

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.