As an evangelical with theology that is historically orthodox, I have nonetheless often come back to the theme of the feeble way the church– mainline and evangelical– has often failed to engage the culture in prophetic and transforming ways. In terms of broader questions of worldview and vocation, or more specific matters of social concerns, we’ve too often not lived up to our high and holy calling to be agents of God’s Kingdom.
Perhaps one of the most significant books, and certainly one of the most controversial, of the last 100 years was the important book Christianity and the Social Crisis by one of the founders of the so-called “social gospel” movement, Rev. Walter Rauschenbusch. I am not the first evangelical who came of age, politically and theologically, in the middle of the 20th century and was surprised when I finally got around to reading Rauschenbusch, who wasn’t nearly as theologically shallow as we had been lead to believe by our conservative elders. While there remains huge problems with the social gospel tradition, the good Rev. R, and other liberal theologians, it is simply untrue that W.R. wasn’t interested in Biblical truth, spirituality, evangelism or Christ’s atoning work.
Now, to celebrate that important book’s 100th anniversary, there is a spectacular new edition, being called Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century (HarperOne; $27.95) Here, each chapter of the original Rauschenbusch text is followed up by a new chapter by a contemporary public theologian, preacher, or Christian activist. Each contemporary author offers both praise and some critique, and it makes the reading of the book an exceptionally helpful learning experience. New essays are by Tony Campolo**, Joan Chittister, James Forbes, Stanely Hauerwas, Phyllis Trible, Jim Wallis and Cornel West. One who is not a follower of Christ, the important pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty has an afterward that itself is very interesting.
What a great idea! We need this conversation in 2007 as much as we did in 1907, and, to be honest, I trust this zealous reformer more than some of the exceptionally odd and arcane theological voices out there these days. This is a handsome book, a helpful resource and a very provocative approach. It is edited, with telling comments throughout, by the great minister’s great, grandson, Paul, who is now a dean of religious life at Princeton. Way to go, HarperOne! This one is fabulous.
**I hope you buy this book and read it carefully. Still, for those who may not, you may want to know, for the record, that Tony notes a concern about Rauschenbusch’s lack of clarity about the full divinity of Christ and his understanding of the nature of the Scriptures.
One of the great misunderstandings, a misunderstanding that helped create the mood that generated the “social gospel” is the accusation that conservative evangelicals, in their passion for soul-winning evangelism and personal piety, failed to develop a wholistic social witness. And while there are ways in which this is so, it is not fully true. This fallacy has been countered often, and now another new book will help dispel these inaccurate stereotypes of the socially unaware evangelical. Tim Stafford’s marvelous Shaking the System: What I Learned from the Great American Reform Movements (IVP: $17) looks like one of the best books of the year, and has been eager anticipated. (Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it “required reading for every evangelical with a social conscience.”) Ron Sider, John Perkins, Charles Marsh, Jim Wallis and others have all endorsed it. Passionate, well-written, historically colorful, this shows that many of the great reform movements (from temperance to abolition, women’s suffrage to civil rights) have been led by people of faith. As Wallis says, “Stafford closes withthe most important reminder—that what ultimately calls us into activism is the Kingdom of God breaking into our world. We are motivated not by partisan politics but by the message of Jesus.” He says, “I heartily recommend Shaking the System to all those who seek both a deeper faithulness and a better world.”
buy either of these two remarkable books and we will give you a
Practical Justice: Living Off-Center in a Self-Centered World
Kevin Blue (IVP) $13.oo
This small brief is a truly fabulous book—John Perkins calls it “a prophetic new voice that will stir your soul.” Practical, clear, passionate, this is packed full of ideas and insights about how to be more faithful and just in our efforts to serve a broken world.