Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman


Rick Warren: Social Gospel & “Marxism in Christian Clothing”

posted by swaldman

In his interview with Beliefnet and The Wall Street Journal, Rick Warren boldly challenged other evangelicals to care more about poverty. When told that evangelicals who voted for McCain listed poverty as 13th out of 14 on their set of priorities, did not hold back:

“Wow. That’s interesting. Well, that’s my whole job. I’ve got to reawaken what I call the 19th century evangelicalism.”

He argued that while evangelicals used to care about social justice, in the 20th century they’d come to care only about the soul. Meanwhile, “social gospel” Protestants cared only about the body, believing, “you don’t really need to care about Jesus’ personal salvation any more. You don’t really have to care about redemption, the cross, repentance. All we need to do is redeem the social structures of society and if we make those social structures better then the world will be a better place. …Really, in many ways it was just Marxism in Christian clothing.”
One of the leading exponents of this philosophy was Rev. Walter Rauschenbusch, author of Christianity and the Social Crisis. As it happens, his great grandson, Rev. Paul Raushenbush, moderates our Progressive Revival blog. He’s written a fascinating response to Warren:

I agree with Warren that the liberal church has lost some of the personal relevance of the Gospel. But that was never the intention of the original social Gospel, as Rauschenbusch himself said — “A perfect religious hope must include both: eternal life for the individual; the kingdom of God for humanity.” Rauschenbusch conceived of his work on the social aspects of the Gospel as an addition, not a substitution. My honest feeling is that Rick Warren owes a great deal to Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel if he were only Christian enough to admit it.

Raushenbush’s full post is worth reading.
UPDATE: Scott McNight, author of the superb blog Jesus Creed, argues that Paul mischaracterizes his great grandpapa. By the end of his career, McNight argues, Rauschenbusch was emphasizing the social far more than the personal:

Instead of trashing Warren, Paul, I’d appreciate it if you’d see that Warren represents that evangelicals themselves have come a long way. Rick Warren, my friend, is not the one to pick on. He is at least attempting to add (as did your grandfather) social justice to personal salvation.

To which Paul responded:

Anyone who has read Rauschenbusch seriously will admit that Rauschenbusch’s work was intensely personal and how the personal relates to the social desires of Jesus – we can only take him at his word after all.
I will stop trashing Warren when he stops trashing Rauschenbusch and the religous traditions that followed him and all who worked so hard for not only charity (of the warren variety) but also justice including Neibuhr, King and Gutierrez.

For what it’s worth, I think both Paul and Scott are right. Warren over-simplifies the history but the more important point is that he’s trying to argue, to both sides, that Christianity should be about personal salvation and social justice. If he succeeds in getting evangelicals to care more about poverty, that will be an enormous, historic accomplishment.



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posted December 15, 2008 at 6:01 pm


The gospel is about both individual salvation and justice, not social justice. Justice is when God’s law-word is applied to society and government. Social justice is largely anti-justice. Social justice notices an inequality such as red people are poor and green people are rich, and seeks to rectify this by forcibly taking money from green people and giving it to red people. The Bible calls this theft, which is why social justice advocates tend to down play the authority of scrioture. Instead of the “two wrongs make a right” approach of income transfer, we ought to identify policies that contradict God’s word, such as currency manipulation and fix them. That is true reformation added to true salvation.



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Your Name

posted December 15, 2008 at 6:04 pm


Evangelicals haven’t been able to honestly interact with the “real world” since the 19th century. That’s a bigger problem for them than poverty.



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Tom

posted December 15, 2008 at 6:18 pm


“The gospel is about both individual salvation and justice, not social justice. Justice is when God’s law-word is applied to society and government. Social justice is largely anti-justice. Social justice notices an inequality such as red people are poor and green people are rich, and seeks to rectify this by forcibly taking money from green people and giving it to red people. The Bible calls this theft, which is why social justice advocates tend to down play the authority of scrioture. Instead of the “two wrongs make a right” approach of income transfer, we ought to identify policies that contradict God’s word, such as currency manipulation and fix them. That is true reformation added to true salvation.”
Yeah because God would definitely prefer that some have too much and others too little than for people to share the resources of the earth so that everyone’s needs are met. Wouldn’t want that now would he? That’s stealing!



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MarcM

posted December 15, 2008 at 7:11 pm


“Social justice notices an inequality such as red people are poor and green people are rich, and seeks to rectify this by forcibly taking money from green people and giving it to red people.”
Translation: I love money more than God.



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Tim

posted December 16, 2008 at 6:37 am


“Justice, not social justice”? Good Lord, what Bible do you people read? And Mr. Waldman, please, are you just about through flacking for Rick Warren?



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ken

posted December 9, 2009 at 5:48 pm


Considering that the extremely vast majority of giving and active participation in helping people is already from the conservatives and evangelicals, who is he to insist we follow the liberal and falling apart churches into their perception of the social gospel. I already, and most I know, give beyond my means or close to it. These same liberal and falling apart churches design to fashion all churches in a communistic fashion, much like the 3 self patriotic church in China.
Tell the liberal churches to give more. Jesus said, no matter, the poor will always be there. HE will not.



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someone who knows

posted July 10, 2010 at 1:53 am


SOCIAL JUSTICE = COMMUNISM AND EVENTUALLY……… = THE END OF FREEDOM TO WORSHIP
WAKE UP, PEOPLE!



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Susan

posted January 4, 2013 at 10:30 am


SOCIAL JUSTICE = COMMUNISM AND EVENTUALLY……… = THE END OF FREEDOM TO WORSHIP

Yep, that pretty much sums it up. I still can’t believe the direction this country is moving in. I really find it hard to relate to anyone. We are in scary times



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