The Kingdom Is Always but Coming: A Life of Walter Rauschenbusch

Article excerpt

The Kingdom Is Always But Coming: A Life of Walter Rauschenbusch. By Christopher H. Evans. [Library of Religious Biography] (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 2004. Pp. xxx, 348. $25.00 paperback.)

Evans's biography of the most influential and sophisticated Protestant theological social ethicist and reformer early in the twentieth century serves two audiences.

It offers those who have studied Rauschenbusch in depth a rich account of his life and thought in relation to other Christian writers during this period and in relation to Christian scriptures and tradition. Evans exhaustive, and sometimes repetitive, reporting on his subject's personal life surpasses in comprehensive detail the only other balanced biography of Rauschenbusch, the one by Paul Minus. Evans has combed the many boxes of the Rauschenbusch archives at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School for correspondence revealing personal matters such as Rauschenbusch's relations to the institution of the family and his own family members and his embrace of an upper-middle class financial and social status. Evans ably uses these discoveries to show connections between his subject's life and his theology and ethics that have escaped other interpreters of Rauschenbusch. I, for one, would have written a richer understanding of Rauschenbusch on justice had Evans's book been available.

Second, Evans offers those interested in American Christian social ethics a readable and enjoyable introduction to its principal Protestant progenitor. Evans competently explicates Rauschenbusch's most prominent theological and ethical innovations as well as the evangelical and Anabaptist roots of these contributions to social ethics. Although this biography does not render Paul Minus's book otiose, it provides at least as adequate an entree into the fertile thought of Rauschenbusch.

Relying solely on Evans to introduce Rauschenbusch, however, can mislead and diminish the penetrating creativity of his theology and his legacy for social ethics. Evans proposes to interpret Rauschenbusch as a window for a better understanding of Protestant thought in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century in a strictly chronological approach to his subject, mingling interpretations of Rauschenbusch's professional and personal activity during distinct periods in his life. The result portrays Rauschenbusch as embodying the most prominent typical expression of Protestant liberal theology and the Social Gospel within the cultural constraints of his era. …