A Friendly Critique from Hauerwas: Rauschenbusch and the "Kingdom of Evil" (5)
Walter Rauschenbusch was an evangelist of the kingdom of God. The sermon that is Christianity and the Social Gospel is as desperately needed in our day as it was in his. The passion for justice, his prayers for social awakening, the hymns of social solidarity, and the institutions for humane care he created cannot be taken for granted. The work he began we must continue (176).
Still, Hauerwas does proffer criticisms. The problem is not that Rauschenbusch is a woolly-eyed optimist. Rather, the issue (it is claimed) is that his ecclesiology is deficient. Rauschenbusch, on this reading, links the regressive character of much classical Christianity to the very phenomena that are most fecund for vitalizing a radical social witness -- for example, the monastic movement, sacramental theology, traditional doctrine, a "churchly" ethos and the subordination of church to state. Rauschenbusch, thus, deflates the vital "eschatological tension" between church and world characteristic of the Constantinian arrangement (Yoder's work informs Hauerwas' comments here). Rauschenbusch's gospel risks identifying Christian praxis too closely with the ideals of Western civilization and democratic institutions.
Granted, Hauerwas might have a point in his claim that a lack of eschatological tension may hinder Rauschenbusch from being yet more radical than he is (for more on this, see my previous post). Still, I question whether the best solution to this problem comes from a renewed embrace of traditional ecclesiastical structures and practices. If we proceeded along more apocalyptic lines, by contrast, we might risk fostering a "pie in the sky" escape from socio-political realism in ethics. Or, maybe, this move might uncover possibilities for a critical alternative to both Rauschenbusch and Hauerwas.
Source: Stanley Hauerwas, "Repent. The Kingdom is Near," in Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century, edited by Paul Rauschenbusch (New York: HarperOne, 2007), pp. 173-176.