It is said that Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) was “the leading spokesman for the theology of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism” (from the introduction by Pelikan, 586). Although a Baptist minister, Rauschenbusch apparently rejected biblical literalism in favor of historical criticism—a method of biblical analysis that originated in Rauschenbusch’s fatherland in the first half of the nineteenth century. This method, quite popular even today, allowed Rauschenbusch to see the Gospel through the prism of the contemporary understanding of history, which in the age of social revolutions was dominated by the struggles of the lower classes. In a series of books and essays, Rauschenbusch applied principles he believed were found in the Gospel as calls for social reform that continue to ring true for many modern Christian theologians. In “The Social Principles of Jesus,” Rauschenbusch’s last essay published in 1918, the author attempted to use his reading of the Gospel as a foundation for social philosophy. It is this reading, however, that, in our view, makes the foundation rather shaky.
The problem is in the fact that Rauschenbusch’s historical analysis turns Jesus into a failed Jewish revolutionary, and the Church into a piece of corrupted machinery with aimlessly spinning wheels (587-8). Of course, Rauschenbusch curtseys to the traditional notions of Christ’s divinity in the opening paragraph of the essay, but immediately announces His losing in the “great spiritual duel … between him and the representatives of organized religion” (586). As such, however, neither Jesus nor His Church can serve as a foundation for anything, except perhaps something like Vladimir Lenin’s “we will follow a different path.” (more…)
For approximately a millennium, from the era of the first few Ecumenical Councils and through the Reformation, Christian faith was guided by a rather small number of established traditions. This was not the case in the first few centuries of Christendom, as many competing views on core Christian teachings were vetted, and theologians sought ways of talking about new concepts and doctrines. The result was not only the development of uniquely Christian ideas, such as the full humanity and divinity of Christ, but also the crystallization of a new theological language. This new language gave new definitions to already existing philosophical terms and developed many new ones. And as Christianity struggled to give precise definitions to such terms as hypostasis or ousia, among many others, strong traditions of Christian theology were established in part through the precision of language and clarity of thought. Thus, the formation of traditional Christian theologies can be seen as the result of the polemic between the greatest thinkers that Christendom could produce.
A very similar process appears to have been restarted in the West, as post-Reformation Christendom fell apart into various creeds and theologumena. And just as fitting definitions were sometimes elusive in antiquity, the language employed by modern thinkers is sometimes marked by a lack of clarity. Apart from the issue of inclusivity—a type of thinking that purposefully avoids rigid definitions on the basis that someone is sure to disagree—some modern Christian theology often lacks definitions as if unintentionally. Perhaps, this murkiness is due to a more intuitive understanding of faith that does not rely on reason as heavily as did the medieval scholastics. More likely, however, this is due to a more simplistic approach to faith, rejection of the old dogmas, and a renewed process of finding “new and improved” definitions. In this sense, in the last four hundred years Western Christian thought has been going through a process of discovering its own beliefs not unlike that of the first five centuries of Christendom. Whether this is an ascent on the eternal spiral of human self-discovery, or the West’s attempt at reinventing the wheel is a topic for a different paper. It suffices to say here that while some of the ideas born by modern Christian theologians do excite the taste with their freshness, many others fail to find their way out of the graveyard of ancient heresies. (more…)
I must admit that faced with the task of writing a short paper on “The Waste Land,” I agonized over the difficulty of pinpointing a topic—the poem seems bizarre, to say the least, and defies standard analytical thinking. I was certainly glad that I did not have to study the poem in school; although my wife, who did, could not recall either a line or a theme from the work. Perhaps, like esteemed critics of old, I too approached the poem “structurally looking for underlying mystic, symbolic, or formal coherence” (Davidson 6). (more…)
The Church is the Body of Christ, and just as Christ united in Himself human and heavenly nature, in the Church the heavenly is united with the earthly. The Church is not only comprised of apostles, saints, and holy monks, but also of us—exactly in as much as we submit our earthly selves to the heavenly—”I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20); in as much as we live in Christ. As the Lord builds His Heavenly Church through the saints, He builds the Earthly Church through us. (more…)