Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918)
Born in Rochester (NY), of German pietist parents, WR spent most of his life in his
He was educated at the University of Rochester (BA., 1884), and Rochester
Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1886), and also studied in Germany.
He had hoped to become a professor of religion and was laying a foundation for the
necessary advanced degrees.
But a short stint as a supply pastor for a German Baptist church
(summer 1886?) in Louisville, KY left him a strong and undeniable sense of call to the pastoral
As he confided in a letter to his friend Munson Ford, “It is no longer my fond hope to
be a learned theologian and write big books.
I want to be a pastor, powerful with men, preaching
to them Christ as the man in whom their affections and energies can find the satisfaction for
which mankind is groaning.
And if ever I do become anything but a pastor, you may believe that
I have sunk to a lower ideal or that there was a very unmistakable call in that direction.”
In a subsequent letter he summarized his feelings in this way:
The idea came to me that I ought to be a preacher and help to save souls.
wanted to go out as a foreign missionary.
I wanted to do hard work for God.
Indeed, one of the great thoughts that came upon me was that I ought to follow
Jesus Christ in my personal life, and live over again his life and die over again his
I felt that every Christian ought to in some way or other participate in the
dying of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in that way help to redeem humanity.
In Germany WR encountered the liberal-ethical theology of Albrecht Ritschl and others.
He did not receive a terminal degree as a result of his studies, but he did become liberal enough
in his theology (OT) that the Baptist missions board would not approve him as a candidate for
This was quite a disappointment, but WR rallied from it and accepted a call to
Second German Baptist Church on West Forty-fifth Street, NYC.
The church was on the edge of
the rough, poverty stricken section of town known as “Hell’s Kitchen.”
From that post he
ministered to destitute, fearful immigrant people for eleven years.
There were 125 members in
the church when he arrived, and numbers grew so rapidly that the church had to move to larger
quarters in three years.
The mayoral election of 1886, and the social situation of his parishioners drew WR into
the social side of Christianity, and it was in that dimension of his work that he made his most
From 1889-91 he helped found and edit
For the Right
, a monthly
newspaper written from the standpoint of Christian socialism.
During this same period of time
he, along with several other ministers in his area founded (in 1887) a Christian cell group called
“Brotherhood of the Kingdom,” and the fellowship and coordination of efforts that came out of
that group were very formative for WR.
The preamble to the founding document of the
“Brotherhood” indicated that the group was a sort of activist, covenant community: