Rauschenbusch Heritage

Rauschenbusch Heritage

December 12, 2007

I have a friend in California who wrote the administration of NABS back in the early seventies to complain that he did not understand how we as an evangelical institution continued to identify with August Rauschenbusch.  His reasoning came from what he believed were Professor Rauschenbusch's liberal viewpoints on the so-called "social gospel."

I am currently in the process of reading August's autobiography (he only finished half before his death; then it was finished by his son, Walter).  It is an intriguing work, translated by Don Madvig, former Old Testament professor at NABS, from the original German, and soon to be published by the NAB Heritage Commission.  Rauschenbusch was born in 1816 and died in 1899.

Rauschenbusch's schooling and spiritual journey testifies to the best in German learning.  His father, a Lutheran pastor, started him at an early age on a classical education.  He learned Latin, Greek, French, Hebrew and English early on.  He wrote German poetry.  His university included the best in theology at Berlin and later at Bonn.  He studied with Hengstenberg (conservative) and Vatke (liberal) along the way, names revered or hated in Old Testament studies, among others. 

He journeyed from deepest skepticism to a conservative pietism (a brand of Lutheranism that believed in adult conversion), much to the chagrin of his parents.  With his conversion he prepared for the pastorate and took over his father's church when he died.  His revivalism did not stand him in good stead with the presbytery.  After nine years pastoring and leading revivals in Westphalia region, he felt called to follow the two million or so immigrants from Germany to the USA.

In the US, he went to work for the American Tract Society and was a great help to immigrants.  He wrote hundreds of tracts in German and oversaw around 100 German speaking itinerant workers who went to German communities around the US with the gospel.  He became convicted that his revival speaking among what he called "non-converted" German Lutherans only met with moderate success because of infant baptism.  Most German scholars of his time believed that immersion was the biblical mode of baptism, but also believed that the church doctrine had moved beyond it.  Rauschenbusch became convicted that he needed to experience immersion as an adult.  When he was baptized in the Missouri River it caused a large stir among German-speaking peoples because he was so well known.

Without reviewing the whole book for you, let me encourage you to buy it yourself when it is published.  Let me also turn your attention to the 30 years in which he taught at the German department of Rochester Seminary.