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Rauschenbusch No. 2: Jesus and the Social Gospel

Walter Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th Century continue to impact Christian response to political questions. For this reason, if for no other, taking a few weeks to come to understand the Social Gospel movement is important for the project of understanding American political and social theology.


By the time Rauschenbusch wrote Christianity and the Social Crisis, [1] Enlightenment rationality and what is called “Higher Criticism” was impacting Biblical scholarship in American Protestant circles. Since the 17th Century, scholars had engaged in a “Search for the Historical Jesus,” which was a project of “demythologizing” Scriptural interpretation to try to determine the human character of the historical person, Jesus bar Joseph of Nazareth. Under the impact of the Enlightenment and its skepticism towards the supernatural, these scholars attempted to construct a life of Jesus and an interpretation of his ministry consistent with the view that he was a human being working from a premodern world-view.

Rauschenbusch was profoundly impacted by the early “Quest for the Historical Jesus” in writing Christianity and the Social Crisis and brought its conclusions into his work. [2] He was, however, careful not to cut himself entirely off from the Baptist tradition in which he worked, especially in Christianity and the Social Crisis. His goal was to educate and motivate not just theologians and pastors, but lay people has well. He was not disappointed, as the book sold well and was extremely influential among American Christians.

Begining with Albert Schweitzer (1875- 1965), the Enlightenment “Quest for the historical Jesus” faced increasing and devastating criticism, in particular because of the participants’ obvious inability to distance themselves from their own naturalistic assumptions. According to Schweitzer, the scholars of the Quest for the Historical Jesus went searching for the “real Jesus” but instead found a typical, post-Enlightenment critical scholar with the views and prejudices of the time during which they wrote. This insight has been true both of participants in the initial quest and its modern and postmodern participants. [3]

Rauschenbusch was particularly impacted by Albert Harnack (1851-1930), who interpreted Jesus as a prophet whose message was remarkably similar to the and social ideals embraced by 19th-century liberalism. As one commentator put it:

Harnack believed that the doctrine of Jesus as the divine savior was an invention of the early church. He saw Jesus instead as the ideal ethical humanist. The essence of Christianity, according to Harnack, lay in a few timeless spiritual principles that Jesus taught: the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, and the infinite value of the human soul. Jesus’ primary message was to individuals and their inward spirituality. The kingdom of God was an invisible spiritual kingdom in the hearts of well-mannered men and women which would gradually grow in the world through human efforts of personal morality and civic duty. [4]

Before going further, to give credit where credit is due, the “timeless spiritual principles” of which Harnack spoke are, in fact timeless principles that are embedded in the Christian message, the essential humanity of all people, the value if human life, and the need for social morality and Christian activity in public life.

The Social Aims of Jesus

Rauschenbusch begins his analysis of the social thought of Jesus by confessing that he believes that the human race is in a revolutionary period. The modern world ushered into existence a new era in which the study of history and the interpretation of nature had vastly changed. As a part of that revolution, new histories of Jesus and the new interpretations of his life in ministry had developed, and Rauschenbusch proudly places himself within that tradition. [5] Nevertheless, before launching into a discussion of the political importance of Jesus, he connects himself to the Christian tradition by expressing the view that Jesus was not primarily a social reformer but a religious figure whose life and teachings have social importance. [6] Thus:

No man is a follower of Jesus in the full sense who has not through him entered into the same life with God. But, on the other hand, no man shares his life with God whose religion does not flow out, naturally and without effort, into all the relations of life and reconstructs everything that it touches. [7]

Here again, we see a view with which every disciple of Christ can agree: To enter into the life of God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit is to enter into a life from which there must issue “rivers of Living Water” (John 7:37-39). It is, therefore, not possible to uncouple one’s religious self from one’s social self as if they were two entirely separate regions of life.

Rauschenbusch believes that it is important to observe that Jesus’ ministry was preceded by the ministry of John the Baptist, whose message was one of repentance, including repentance from national sin. In Rauschenbusch’s view, John’s message of preparation for the Messianic kingdom of God involved repentance from personal and social sin and the institution of a brotherly life that would involve the equalization of social inequality. [8] In support of this view, Rauschenbusch quotes Luke 3, where it is recorded:

What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay” (Luke 3:10-14).

In Rauschenbusch’s interpretation, in this and similar passages, contain the essential message of the prophets of the Old Testament and the roots of Jesus’ social gospel. Jesus was not the initiator of the movement of the prophets, but its consummator as he proclaimed the Kingdom of God. [9]

Jesus’ Use of the Kingdom of God

The Gospels reflect that Jesus’ preaching was profoundly impacted by and contained the essential message of the Messiah as the institutor of the Kingdom of God. From the time of the fall of the Davidic dynasty, the Jewish people had look forward to a restoration of the kingdom of David. In the beginning, their hope was for the physical restoration of the dynasty that David had begun. During and after the Babylonian captivity, that hope of Israel began to take a different and more universal turn. According to Rauschenbusch, by the time of Jesus, the idea of the kingdom of God included not only a physical restoration but also a time of social justice, prosperity and happiness for which the people of Israel longed. [10]When Jesus used the term, “kingdom of God”, it was Inevitable that people would hear him in light of the collective history of their people, and a way of thinking that had developed in the post-exilic era. On the other hand, Jesus brought new thinking to the whole concept of the kingdom of God.

At this point, it is helpful to think about how language works. Whenever one wants to communicate an idea to another person, one must use terms with which the hearer is already familiar. This is true and important in every translation of the Bible or any other document into another language. For example, if we want to talk about “God” then we must use a word from a language that has that or a similar meaning.

In my view, Rauschenbusch has an incomplete understanding of the metaphorical use of language in any form of human inquiry, which causes him to assume that Jesus must have meant at least as much, if not more, by his use of the term “Kingdom of God” than was intended by the people of his day. [11] This is not correct. He may have used the term metaphorically to carry his own and different interpretation of the term. Nevertheless, I think Rauschenbusch is correct in his view that Jesus is using the term “Kingdom of God” to mean both and internal blessedness and the impact of that blessedness on the ordinary lives of his hearers.

In one of my favorite passages, Rauschenbusch attributes to Jesus an understanding of the organic nature of human society and human social growth, an view that rejects the violent and revolutionary elements of the millennial thought of his own days, and instead embraced the slow, sure and organic growth of the Kingdom of God in the little things of life and human history:

It takes more faith to see God in the little beginnings than in the completed results; more faith to say that God is now working than to say that he will someday work. Because Jesus believed in the organic growth of the new society, he patiently fostered its growth, cell by cell. [12]

Rauschenbusch believes Jesus rejected just what modern people are anxious to see.  revolutionary change. Jesus, however, was content to see the Kingdom of God grow one human life at a time.

Having set the stage, Rauschenbusch moves on to a discussion of whether the Kingdom of God should be seen as a future, eschatological reality, never accomplished within human history or a present reality. In an eloquent passage, he sets out his view;

This, then, is our interpretation of the situation. Jesus, like all the prophets and like all his spiritually minded countrymen, lived in hope of a great social transformation, of the national, social, and religious life about him. He shared the substance of that hope with his people, but by his profounder insight and loftier faith he elevated and transformed the common hope. He rejected all violent means and thereby transferred the inevitable conflict from the field of battle to the antagonism of mind against mind and of heart against heart. [13]

Nevertheless, Jesus is still, in Rauschenbusch’s view urging the complete transformation of the social order of his day and of ours. The Kingdom of God which Jesus prophesies and the salvation Jesus offers involves the complete social organism we know as “human society.”[14]


There is much for the contemporary Christian to learn from Rauschenbusch’s analysis. It is clear that Jesus was in fact concerned with the human person, and through the human person with all of society because changed hearts cannot but change the social order in which they live and work. By focusing on the human Jesus, his sociability, and his connection with the common people and society of his own day, Rauschenbusch does a service Christian thinking about politics and society at large. [15] Neverthless, one can at the same time recognize that the naturalistic impulse of the Englightenment and the tendency of modernity to attempt to construct a perfect world (“Kingdom of God”) within history is present in his thinking. As I was preparing this blog, one of my quiet time readings included Jesus’ confrontation with his disciples over leadership in the church, where he says:

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles sexercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:24-29).

The most natural way to interpret this passage is that Jesus is contrasting the nature of leadership among the secular nations with leadership within the body of believers who have become part of his “kingdom,” which would be the extension of Israel into human history through the ministry of the Apostles. This kingdom is not a current reality in any age, but a future reality towards which his followers work in their own lives and communities within the boundaries of human history.

Rauschenbusch is committed to a kind of millennialism in which the church brings in a physical millennium within history by a process of social change which does involve changing human hearts and minds as Jesus did but also a kind of social transformation. I am inclined to believe that his view underestimates the inevitable results of human sin and brokenness, which renders that vision incapable of accomplishment within any secular history.

He is to be commended for his rejection of the revolutionary violence that accompanies the Marxist and Nietzschean vision of human history and for this understanding of the organic roots of human society and the need for gradual, rational, organic change. It is a message that needs to be heard in our own age.

Copyright 2022, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press,1991). hereinafter “CSC.”

[2] The quest for the historical Jesus was an attempt by scholars determine what words and actions contained in the New Testament, and particularly the Gospels could be properly attributed to Jesus in the attempt to create a biography and picture of the historical Jesus. It continues to this day in the work of the so-called, “Jesus Seminar.”

[3] The Tablet: The Internaytional Catholic Weekly (downloaded March 2, 2022) puts it this way: “In The quest for the historical Jesus Schweitzer concluded that the quest was largely futile and that scholars’ reconstructions of the historical Jesus were subject to Feuerbach’s comment in The essence of Christianity (1841) “Man … objectifies his being and then again makes himself an object to the objectivised image of himself thus converted into a subject” In other words, “what man wishes to be, he makes his God”; the historical Jesus became a projection of what the scholars questing after him wanted him to be.”

[4] Kurt Struckmeyer, “The Search for Jesus” in Following Jesus: The Life of Faith in the Post-Modern World (downloaded February 28, 2022).

[5] CSC, 45-46.

[6] Id, at 47.

[7] Id, at 48.

[8] Id, at 50.

[9] Id, at 54.

[10] Id, at 56-57.

[11] Id, at 57. Rauschenbusch defends his view of the social intentions of Jesus by assuming that he would not have used the term Kingdom of God unless he intended to mean by it the entire cluster of hopes that the collective people of Israel had invested in the term. I think this is not correct.

[12] Id, at 60.

[13] CSC, at 64.

[14] Id, at 65.

[15] Id, at 69.

Constitution 7: Article 4 and Federal State Relations

Article IV of the Constitution defines the relationship between the states and the federal government and establishes additional federal powers over intrastate relationships. Under Article 4, all the states are equal to each other and must respect each other’s laws and recognize official decisions made by other states, guarantees a republican form of government in each state, protects the nation and the people from foreign or domestic violence, and determines how new states can join the Union. It also

As the preceding six blogs have indicated, the Articles of Confederation provided no legally enforceable structure for the states to interact with each other. During the period leading up to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, there were frequent conflicts among the states regarding the matters dealt with in Article IV, and it is a testimony to the success of the Article that today it is regarded as one of the least controversial parts of the Constitution. This does not mean that there has not been and may not be future conflicts that return the provision to prominence. It is important to note that the matters dealt with appear immediately after the establishment of the organs of government. This testifies to its importance at adoption of the Constitution.

Section 1: Full Faith and Credit Clause

Section 1 provides that full faith and credit be given by each State to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. In order to provide a means for this to occur, Article IV empowers Congress to prescribe the manner in which such acts, records and proceedings are to be proved and the effect of such proof.

During the period of the Articles of Confederation, it was not always the case that the several states fully recognized the laws and proceedings of other states. The intention of the founders was to improve on the situation before adoption of the Constitution. To do this, Section 1 of Article IV requires that states recognize and take due notice of and respect for the actions of other states. Unlike the Articles of Confederation, the second clause of this section permits the Federal Government to establish how this full faith and credit is to occur. In fact, Congress has enacted laws that implement this constitutional power. [1]

Section 2: Privileges and Immunities

Section 2 of Article IV provides that the citizens of each state are entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states. In addition, this section provides that person charged in any state with treason, felony, or other crime, who flee from justice, and are found in another state, shall on demand of the executive authority of the state from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the state having Jurisdiction of the crime. [2]

The purpose of this provision is ensure that each state granted to citizens of other states the same rights that they were granted by their home state. Thus, states are to treat all citizens of the United States fairly and equitably. The second sentence was designed to allow for the extradition of criminals, so that every state is required to extradite to any other state criminals properly charged under state law for trial in the state in which the crime was committed.

This provision is of particular importance today, as extraditions occur all the time. Perhaps more importantly, it allows citizens of the various states to travel freely, knowing that they will not be deprived of civil rights and privileges just because they have traveled for work or pleasure to another state.

Section 3: Admission of New States

Section 3 of Article IV provides that new states may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; However, no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any state can be formed by the union of two or more states, or parts of any states, without the consent of the legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

The Articles of Confederation had no provision dealing with this important matter other than to provide for Canada’s admission if it so desired. [3] As indicated previously, there were disputes among the states regarding the how and which new states were to be admitted. In addition, there were jealousies between the several states that needed to be mollified. This provision was added to regulate the admission of new states to the union by making admission a federal matter. In order to protect the interests of existing states, Congress is forbidden to admit states containing parts of what was previously another state without the consent of the states concerned. This provision has continuing importance for at least the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Maine, West Virginia came into the Union by this method. [4]

Article 4, Section 3 also provides that Congress alone has the power to dispose of and make all rules and regulations respecting territory or other property belonging to the United States; and, nothing in the Constitution can be construed as to prejudice claims of the United States, or of any state. Madison notes that this provision was made necessary to make clear the power of Congress regarding the Western territories, which had already been the subject of conflict. [5]

Section 4: the Guarantee Clause

Article 4, Section 4 obligates the United States to guarantee to every State in the Union a republican form of government, and to protect each of them against invasion and domestic violence. This latter duty is activated upon application of the legislature or the Executive (when the legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.

This part of this provision is called the “Guarantee Clause.” The provision is designed to ensures that each state’s form of government is a representative democracy. At the time the Constitution was formed, democratic republican institutions had not fully developed. As Madison notes in the Federalist Papers, there was a need for the states to have assurances against the creation of monarchies or aristocracies in any state, which would have created difficulties for the union. [6]While today, no one considers that any state would want to be ruled as a monarchy or oligarchy of some kind, at the time it was not be so clear, as the attempt by Aaron Burr to establish a state ruled by himself indicates. The founders put this provision in the constitution to prevent such an event.

The section also gives Congress the duty to protect the states from an invasion by a foreign country and/or from violent uprisings within a state. It authorizes the legislature of each state (or the executive, if the legislature cannot be assembled in time) to request federal help with riots or other violence. This provision has both historical and current importance. Historically, Madison recognized that the union would be in constant fear of invasion, and the powers ceded to the union would render the states helpless unless the national government had the obligation to defend the several states not just from foreign invasion but also from domestic disturbance. In a quote that our current government might ponder, Madison writes that, “A protection against invasion is due from ever society to the parts composing it. The latitude of expression used here seems to secure each State not only against foreign hostility but against ambitious or vindictive enterprises of its more powerful neighbors.” [7]


Article IV of the Constitution provides an opportunity to think about the nature of the political union that the founders envisioned. As indicated with respect to the Preface to the Constitution, the goal of the founders was not to create a perfect, but a “more perfect” union. [8] The former colonies were bound together by the Articles of Confederation, but the nature of the legal bond created stresses and difficulties because the powers of the national government were not sufficient to prevent constant strife, a strife that threatened the common bond and mutual affections of the states. Article IV is a practical article designed to provide a better constitutional structure within which the bonds of union could continue and be strengthened.

The Greek word, “Pragma” is a word mentioned in a prior blog. It is a form of love that is built upon commitment, understanding, and long-term best interests. It is a love that leads into and flows from a kind of covenant commitment that underlies and supports a relationship. The founders, in drafting the Constitution, were creating a covenantal, legal structure that would underlie and support the union of the states, which was more than a political union—it was a culture and society formed by social bonds deeper than mere law.

The situation we face today is that the legal structure of our union and the activities of political units, often does not support the deeper political love that that must underlie and is the ultimate goal of the union we have. I have made reference in a footnote to the situation at the Southern border of the nation. There is no question but which one party hopes to make itself the permanent dominant party as a result of the actions being taken, actions which are not in the best interests of several of the states, and arguably not in the interests of any of the states. By defending the borders of the nation, and even seeking the best interests of states not ruled by the dominant political party, the bonds of unity would be strengthened. The same thing could be said of the refusal of Congress to guarantee both freedom of speech over the internet and to restrict the power of oligarchs to control the political system. It seems to me that, while not a violation of the Constitution per se, it does involve a failure to guarantee a functional republican/democratic form of government for the nation and the states.

A return to the ideals and goals of the founders is not a retreat into the past. Instead, it is a movement into the future, a movement that will involve change, innovation, and careful attention to strengthening the social bonds that underly our political system.

Copyright 2021, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] 28 U.S.C. § 1738, declares that The Acts of the legislature of any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States, or copies thereof, shall be authenticated by affixing the seal of such State, Territory or Possession thereto. The records and judicial proceedings of any court of any such State, Territory or Possession, or copies thereof, shall be proved or admitted in other courts within the United States and its Territories and Possessions by the attestation of the clerk and seal of the court annexed, if a seal exists, together with a certificate of a judge of the court that the said attestation is in proper form. Such Acts, records and judicial proceedings or copies thereof, so authenticated, shall have the same full faith and credit in every court within the United States and its Territories and Possessions as they have by law or usage in the courts of such State, Territory or Possession from which they are taken. (June 25, 1948, ch. 646, 62 Stat. 947.)

[2] A portion of the section was overturned by the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Originally this provision required escaped slaves to be returned to their state of origin. This was made obsolete by the Thirteenth Amendment, which will be the subject of a later blog.

[3] The Federalist Papers Clinton Rossiter ed.  (New York, NY: Mentor Books, 1961), No. 43 (Madison). All references to the Federalist Papers are to this edition and cited, “Federalist Papers Number, and Author.”


[5] Federalist Papers, 43 (Madison).

[6] Federalist Papers, 43 (Madison). Madison quotes Montesquieu on this matter and relates the experiences of European confederations where there were differing forms of government.

[7] Federalist Papers, 43 (Madison). In my view the situation at the southern border involves the unwillingness of the duty that the Federal government has to protect the borders of the several states. It would be interesting to see what would happen if a state invoked this provision over this matter.

[8] United States Constitution, Preface (1787).

A Gentle Soul: Erasmus of Rotterdam

Desiderius Erasmus (1468-1536) was a leading figure of the European Renaissance and contemporary of Martin Luther. Erasmus was born in the city of Rotterdam, orphaned at an early age, and educated by the Brothers of the Common Life. He became an Augustinian monk in 1486. Eventually, Erasmus moved to Paris, where he met William Blount, who introduced him to his friend, Sir Thomas More (who we will look at after Thanksgiving), a. leader of the English Renaissance. Erasmus was instrumental in creating a new, standard Greek New Testament. [1] Though he admired Luther, he refused to join the Protestant Reformation. During the Reformation, Erasmus engaged in a controversy with Martin Luther concerning free will and predestination, which had negative consequences for their friendship.

At this point, I want to relate a personal experience. In the late 1980’s, our church in Houston went through a divisive vote concerning leaving a mainline denomination. Many people spent a long time reading various study papers on the situation. I began my own thinking by reading Luther’s Bondage of the Will and Erasmus’ reply. I could never overcome the notion that, as impressive as Luther was in argument, Erasmus might have the better view. In the end (after a lot of study of the issues), Kathy and I formed a group that simply tried to keep our local congregation intact. Years later, we ended up leading a congregation that departed the same mainline denomination, but we did not leave with the kind of anger that characterized many departures. I credit God’s grace for this (not Erasmus), but the figure of Erasmus is one I have long admired and his example one that our society might embrace. His example has been a source of guidance more than once—and may be again.

This blog is not as detailed as some previous blogs. I decided that I would experiment with a different format. This post is largely a dialogue between Erasmus and a figure I have called, “Socrates” in honor of the dialogues of Plato in which Socrates plays such an important role.

Erasmus as a Renaissance Humanist

Socrates: My dear Erasmus: It is good to see you, for I have long desired to know more about your teaching. I understand that, like me, many people do not consider you as a technical philosopher, and systematic theologian, but as a brilliant a dilatant with an agreeable personality. In my case, many people thought me a busybody for the trouble I caused! They even put me to death! Yet, I was and am a searcher for truth, not necessarily a possessor of it.

Erasmus: I am so glad to meet you, Founder of Philosophy: My critics are correct. I was not a systematic philosophical thinker. Instead, I was what is sometimes called a “Man of Letters.” I wrote no technical philosophical treatise in either philosophy or theology. I was a Biblical Scholar, monk, moral writer, and wise counselor throughout my active life. Because of my pleasing personality and wit, I made friends easily and was an advisor to many influential people, most particularly Sir. Thomas More, who I understand will be reviewed in a following blog. In other words, like you I was a simple searcher for truth, not necessarily its possessor. Like you and your pupil, Plato, I also felt that living a set of beliefs was just as important as having them.

The Philosopher King

Socrates: I am glad to have learned a bit more about you—and I hope to understand a bit more as our conversation continues. In 1516, you published a work known as “The Education of a Christian Prince,” dedicating the treatise to Charles, King of Spain, who succeeded his grandfather Maximilian as Holy Roman Emperor, as Emperor Charles V. [2] I love the book because in it you evoke my most famous student, Plato, and the idea that no government is fortunate unless and until philosophers are kings or their kings embrace philosophy. [3] Tell me more about it!

Erasmus: I certainly will. However, to begin with by “philosophy,” I did not mean the technical disciplines of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and the like, that modern people call “philosophy.”  Instead, I meant that a good king should be a lover of wisdom with the practical ability to govern wisely after the model of Christ. The figure of Marcus Aurelius is more what I had in mind than Thomas Aquinas or even my great student Plato.

Socrates: So, my friend, what did you believe was necessary in a good governmental leader?

Erasmus: Like Luther, I was Augustinian in my education. It is not surprising, therefore, that I believed that the state cannot be governed without justice and that a true commonwealth must somehow reflect the will of the people in order to be rightly and justly administered, whether by one monarch, by a few, or by the many. I was also aware, from City of God and other readings, that earthly kingdoms do not approach the perfections of Christ. [4]Nevertheless, I believed that rulers could and should emulate Christ. [5]

Socrates: I suppose you know that this idea that a prince in this world should emulate The Prince of Heaven has caused many to ignore and criticize your writing. How could any earthly ruler, for example, “turn the other cheek” to the invasion of his or her nation? This, and other advice of the New Testament, seems foolish indeed to those with a practical or skeptical frame of mind.

Erasmus: I have heard and pondered this critique. I think I can give two responses in my defense:

  1. First of all, I did not say, nor do I believe, that a Christian Prince inside of human history can perfectly perform all the teachings of Christ in the New Testament. In fact, the New Testament and the Gospels are designed to show human beings that they cannot achieve justice on their own and need a savior. This includes those who have political authority.
  2. Second, to say that something is impossible to achieve is not to say that it should not be attempted. In fact, the greatest virtues of the human soul cannot be fully achieved in this life, but these values, like Justice, continue to drive us towards a better perfection. Princes may not be able to perfectly follow Christ, but they can endeavor to do so.

Socrates: Say more about this.

Erasmus: I was a Christian, and I believed then and now that even a Christian prince should seek to emulate Christ in all things. In this you may also see my background at work and my early education among the Brothers of the Common Life. [6] They were devoted to Christ and to following Christ in all things.

The basic teaching of the New Testament concerning leadership is found in the synoptic gospels in this form:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45).

I knew this passage well, for I was a student of the Greek and a translator of the New Testament. Our Lord made it clear that the standards of this world would not be the standards of his kingdom, as this passage indicates. Nevertheless, Christians (even leaders) are called to undertake to conform our lives so much as we can to the teachings of the Lord. To give you another example, although perfect peace may not be possible in this world, Christian Princes should be peacemakers.

Consensus and Peace

Socrates: Indeed, one aspect of your thought that many people fail to understand is your devotion to consensus and your opposition to war, if indeed you were opposed to war. This is another area in which those of a more practical mind cannot understand your thinking.

Erasmus: In my writings, I suggest that rulers should set out to rule by discussion and consensus and seek arbitration when disputes could not otherwise be settled. As I ponder the democracies of the modern world, I think that they would do well to set out to limit conflict as much as possible and to dialogue instead of engaging in constant political debate and combat. I hope to see David Bohm in Eternity, who also believed this, and learn more about his ideas. [7]

Socrates: It is easy to see that the world would be a better place if conflict could be avoided and rulers would seek consensus. Nevertheless, I was a soldier in the wars of Athens, and so have many other people been over the years. War, it seems, will always be with us. As my pupil Plato says, “Only the dead will never know war again.” [8] I find it hard to understand your thought in this area. Can enlighten me”

Erasmus:  As you have said, my thought about war was dominated by a vision of universal peace. My pacifism is well-documented in my writings and I even wrote a treatise on the subject. Perhaps it will be easier for you to understand my thinking about war and peace if you remember my life as an Augustinian monk. St. Augustine taught that the goal of all government is peace. The goal of all conflict is peace. Even earthly rulers seek peace even as they engage in war. The Christ is referred to as “The Prince of Peace.” Therefore, it seemed to me that Christian Princes and followers of Christ should seek a kind of universal peace, even though we understand that war is inevitable.

Socrates: Why, therefore, did you not simply endorse a kind of Just War theory, as did Augustine and Aquinas?

Erasmus: My critics often mention my stated belief that some wars are justified. Where there is danger to the state or to freedom of Christian faith, my views were that war was justified. For example, in my day, the Muslim nations were seeking to invade Europe, and I justified those wars to prevent a military conquest of our homeland by a foreign religion. I am not sure how this would be applied to circumstances beyond my times.

I would say that I am something like a “Just War Pacifist.” War is and evil to be avoided if at all possible, and Christian leaders should be willing to take risks to avoid war. However, if the survival of the state and its central institutions is at risk, then war may be justified if all reasonable alternatives to war are exhausted. I know that this position will not satisfy my pacifist critics, but it is the best way to understand my thought, I think.

In my thinking about war, there is a subtle, but important, difference between my thought and that of St. Thomas and Augustine. In my mind, the great division between the kingdoms of this world and the Ruler of Heaven, which Augustine and Luther maintained, was a mistake. You might say that it was my belief that, in the persons of Christians and the Christian Prince, some small part of the heavenly kingdom was to be brought upon the earth.


Socrates: This might be a good place to stop, for our discussion has gone on longer than I imagined. However, I wonder if you might answer one more question: You agreed with much of the critique of the Catholic Church by Martin Luther, yet you were never willing to leave it. Can give us some reason why?

Erasmus: As you know, I was a critic of the church of my day, just as I would be a critic of the church of any period of human history. Some might think my unwillingness to leave the mother church was because I was an orphan and the church was my home, and so it was. More importantly, I was wise enough to see that all human institutions are imperfect. This alone, however, does not mean that good men and women should not work to improve them rather than destroy them. In my mind, my calling was to renew and restore not to tear down and rebuild. This is the best defense I can make of my thinking. Others have felt and acted differently, and I respect them all. In the place where we now dwell, Martin Luther and I have renewed our friendship, for the battles of your world are now long behind us.

Socrates: Thank you for this time we have had together today. Eternity is a big place, but I hope we will see each other again.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] On March 1, 1516, Desiderius Erasmus published the Greek New Testament’s first ever “critical edition”—a version that drew from all available Greek manuscripts to compile a text with wording as close as possible to that of the original inspired authors. That work, which went through four revisions, was the first published Greek text available to the public. It is credited with changing Bible translation, preaching and even the course of church history. David Rouch How Erasmus’ Greek New Testament Changed History” Western Recorder (March 22, 2016, downloaded November 17, 2020).

[2] Erasmus, The Education of a Christian Prince ed. Lisa Jardine, tr. Lisa Jardine (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1997).

[3] “Desiderius Erasmus” in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (downloaded November 9, 2020. This section is based upon this article.  See, Plato. Republic. From Book VII.” Morality and the Good Life: An Introduction to Ethics through the Classical Sources. 5th ed. Eds. Robert C. Solomon, Clancy W. Martin, and Wayne Vaught. Trans. G.M.A. Grube. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2009 for further information about the notion of the Philosopher King.

[4] St. Augustine, City of God tr. Gerald G. Walsh, S.J. et all, abridged ed. (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1958)

[5] Avinish, Erasmus’ The Education of a Christian Prince (August 21, 2016) found at (Downloaded November 9, 2020).

[6] The Brethren of the Common Life was a Roman Catholic pietist religious community founded in the Netherlands in the 14th century by Gerard Groote, a secular educator who had had a religious experience and preached a life of simple devotion to Jesus Christ. Without taking up irrevocable vows, the Brethren banded together in communities, giving up their worldly goods to live chaste and strictly regulated lives in common houses, devoting every waking hour to attending divine service, reading and preaching of sermons, laboring productively, and taking meals in common that were accompanied by the reading aloud of Scripture. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia November 12, 2020).

[7] The thought of David Bohm will be the subject of a later blog. I am much indebted to David Bohm and especially to the digest of his thought published as On Dialogue (New York, NY: Routledge, 1996).

[8] This quote appears in movies like “Patton” and “Black Hawk Down”. Douglas MacArthur attributed the quote to Plato in his famous “Long Grey Line” speech at West Point. It was used by George Santayana and is found in the British War Museum, all attributed to Plato. However, scholars have difficulty actually finding then quote in Plato.

Because of Easter: Nothing Need Ever Be The Same Again

Many of our church  members and readers of this blog have seen a recently released movie, “Risen.” [1] Risen is the story of a Roman soldier named, “Clavius.” imgresThe movie begins with Clavius putting down a rebellion begun by Barabbas just after he was released. Upon returning to Jerusalem, he is sent by Pontius Pilate to oversee the crucifixion of Jesus. On the way, he experiences the earthquake and the darkened sky. Clavius arrives at Golgotha just after Jesus dies. The next day, he is summoned again by Pontius Pilate, this time to seal the tomb into which Jesus has been placed. The next morning, he is summoned by Pontius Pilate and given the task of finding the now missing body of Jesus. The story line involves Clavius’ search for the body of Jesus.

Clavius is a kind of typical cynical, world-weary American  who happens to be a soldier looking forward to retirement. What he wants is a place away from the battle and peace. The movie is the story of Clavius’ journey from being an ambitious, competent, intelligent, and surprisingly intelligent and sensitive Roman soldier, who is convinced he will eventually find the body of Jesus, to a believer in the resurrection. Critics have liked the movie because of its acting and because it is not too preachy. It simply follows the spiritual journey of a Roman Tribune caught up in the events of the resurrection.

Many people first hear the Easter story in the same way Clavius begins his spiritual journey: suspicious and certain that it can’t possibly be true. I began my own spiritual journey in just that frame of mind. This blog is not intended to prove the resurrection. Many other pastors and not a few evangelists have written very fine defenses of the truth of the resurrection. When I was a young Christian one of those defenses meant a lot to me. It was the first time I sat down and examined the facts. Today, however, we are going to be talking about the results of the resurrection, the difference it makes in our lives.

The Day the World Changed Forever.

Jesus was most probably crucified at about 9:00 in the morning on Friday, April 3, 33 A.D. [2] He died about 3:00 that same afternoon. It probably took some time for the soldiers to recognize this fact and verify that he was dead. After the soldiers confirmed that Jesus was dead, he was taken down from the cross (John 19:31-37). At about the same time, Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy and prominent member of the Sanhedrin, went to Pontius Pilate and asked for permission to bury Jesus (Matthew 27:58). Because it was getting late, and it was the Day of Preparation for Passover, Jesus was hurriedly placed in the tomb. His body was not fully prepared for burial (Mark 16:1). Joseph simply wrapped the body as was the Jewish custom in linen cloths and rolled the large stone that would have sealed the tomb into place (Matt. 27:60).

The next day, on Passover, the chief priests and the Pharisees, who rarely cooperated on anything, went to Pilate and asked for an official seal on the tomb (vv.62-63). Pilate agreed and placed an official Roman seal on the tomb. This meant that anyone tampering with the tomb would be subject to Roman punishment. The remainder of Saturday was quiet, so far as we know. The disciples were in hiding. We pick up the story at Matthew 28:1:

imgres-1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (Matt. 28:1-10).

Prayer: God of Hope, who have us eternal hope this Easter, please come into our hearts and give us all renewed hope in the power of your Holy Spirit to change our lives so that we may become more like you. Amen.

His Life and Ours.

This Easter season we have focused on Jesus as our Deliverer. We began by noting that the notion of God as Deliverer is deep in both the Old and New Testaments. The Jews were delivered from captivity in Egypt and in Babylon by the power of God who was their savior. The idea of the Messiah as it developed was that the Messiah would come and free Israel, delivering them from bondage and forming a kingdom that would never end. All Christians believe that we are saved (or delivered from our captivity to sin and death  through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Too often, we restrict that salvation to eternal life that we will receive in heaven. Our salvation means a lot more than that. It is for today.

In this series of blogs, we are focused on the kinds of human suffering we all endure—and the fact that Jesus endured the same kind of suffering. We’ve had a reason for this: it is our hope that our members experience the healing power of God right now, so that the Holy Spirit can work in us to give us a new kind of eternal life right now in this world. We noted that God delivers us from something and to something else. It is not enough to saved from sin. We are delivered from sin to righteousness and a new kind of life that will never end.

Jesus, in the last twenty-four hours of his life endured betrayal by Judas Iscariot. He endured disappointment with the behavior of Peter and the other disciples. He endured injustice at the hands of the leaders of the people of Israel and the Roman leader Pontius Pilate. Pilate, who knew he was an innocent man, subjected Jesus to scourging (a terrible punishment). The soldiers who crucified Jesus mocked him. Once crucified, he endured the ridicule of his fellow prisoners, the chief priests, the rulers of the people, and ordinary passersby. He even experienced feeling abandoned by God, a Dark Night of the Soul.

The meaning of all this is that God, in Christ, understands our suffering and sympathizes with us when we are undergoing times of trial. God unconditionally desires to deliver us from the negative experiences we have to joy and new life. God is always with us in our suffering , even when we believe he is absent, and wants to relieve our suffering if at all possible. We can’t understand God’s sovereignty or why he answers some prayers and does not seem to answer other prayers (Job 40:3-5). What we can know is that God desires to answer all prayers that are in his will and God does not want his people to suffer. He wants us to have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and all the other gifts of the Spirit (I Peter 1:6-9; Galatians 5:22-25).

The Great Reversal.

We can imagine the feelings of the disciples and followers of Jesus. They had hoped that Jesus would reveal himself to be the Messiah during this Passover. They had hoped that all of their hopes and dreams would come true. Then, suddenly, in a few hours, their hopes and dreams were shattered. They saw Jesus arrested, and they knew it could happen to them. They saw Jesus subjected to an unfair trial, and they knew it could happen to them. They saw Jesus mocked and scourged, and they knew it could happen to them. They saw Jesus crucified and put to death, and they knew it could happen to them. They were scared and hopeless.

The next day, what we call “Sunday” and the Jews the “First Day of the Week,” the women rose early and hurried to the tomb hoping to finalize the embalming of Jesus body before it decayed any further. As they arrived, there was an earthquake that broke the Roman seal, while an angel rolled away the stone covering the Tomb (Matt. 28:1-3). The Roman guards were frozen with fright and apparently ultimately ran away (v. 4). This left the angel to tell the women that Jesus was no longer in the tomb but alive (vv. 5). He told the women to go tell his disciples (v. 7). As the women were returning home, they met the risen Christ and worshiped him. Jesus then also commanded the women to tell the disciples that he would see them in Galilee (v. 7, 10).

I don’t have time today to tell you the rest of the story; however, by the end of that first day the gloom of the disciples and the followers of Jesus had turned to joy. They had seen and experienced the risen Christ. They were certain of the power of the resurrection. They were changed forever. A day that began with their hopes and dreams shattered ended with their hopes and dreams answered in an unimaginable way. [3]

Our Great Reversal.

The great reversal that the disciples and followers of Jesus experienced that first Easter is available to us today. Just as the disciples experienced a reversal of their shattered hopes and dreams that first Easter, we also by the power of the Holy Spirit can experience a reversal of our shattered hopes and dreams today.

Jesus said, “I came that you may have life abundantly” (John 10:10). Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Paul says in Romans, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism in to death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead to the glory of the father so we too may have new life” (Romans 6:4). in other words, Jesus came to deliver us from a kind of spiritual and emotional death so that we can be delivered into a completely new way of living and being in the world.

The promise of the Christian life is not that bad things will never happen to good people. The Bible and human experience clearly teach that Christians are subject to the same problems to which everyone else in the world is subject. We experience betrayal, disappointment, injustice, mocking, ridicule, feelings of abandonment, and all of the other negative experiences that afflict human beings. The difference is that we look forward to a great reversal that we believe can be experienced in this world, and if not in this world, in a world to come by the power of the resurrection we celebrate on Easter Sunday.

He is Risen—and So Are We!!

One of my favorite characters in the movie Risen is Bartholomew. As Clavius seeks to find the body of Jesus and investigates rumors of the resurrection, he ultimately arrests Bartholomew. During the course of his interrogation, Clavius threatens to harm Bartholomew and even to have him executed. imagesDuring this entire scene, Bartholomew has a kind of childlike expression on his face. When Clavius finishes threatening him, Bartholomew invites Clavius to go ahead, indicating that he is certain that death and suffering can have no final victory in his life. Bartholomew has seen the risen Christ, and fear of Rome no longer has a hold on him.

This feature of the movie is not in Scripture; the writers made it up. However, it is not unbiblical. The Bible and the Christian tradition are filled with examples of Christians, from Stephen who was stoned, through the death of other disciples, through the experience of the early church martyrs, and even the experience of martyrs today, who have endured great suffering with joy. We are here today to celebrate the fact that death will not have a final victory over us nor can anything separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Paul puts it this way:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

It is Easter 2016. This year, God has put on our hearts the hope and prayer that the Holy Spirit will come upon us in a mighty way. We can be certain that God loves us and wants to hear this prayer. We can be sure that God wants us to experience his Divine Life by the power of the Holy Spirit. God wants to heal our families, our colleagues, our friends, our neighbors, and others we know and care about. We can be sure that God wants to heal all of us from old hurts, betrayals, disappointments, injustices, ridicule, abandonment, and even death. The God who is love loves us and wants all of us to experience the power of the resurrection now and in the world to come. We cannot know when or how God will answer our prayers, but we can know that God will answer our prayers!

Easter is the ground of this  hope. We can be certain of our deliverance, now or in the world come come, for today we celebrate the resurrection and victory of our Deliverer. As the old hymn says, “Because he lives we can face tomorrow. Because he lives all fear is gone. For we know who holds the future. Life is worth the living just because he lives.” [ref] I have slightly paraphrased the old Gospel Hymn, “Because He Lives,” written by Gloria and Bill Gaither, music by Bill Gaither (1971).  [/ref]


Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Risen, wr. Kevin Reynolds & Paul Aiello, dir. Kevin Reynolds. Starring Joseph Fienes, Tom Felton, Peter firth, Cliff Curtis (LD Entertainment, 2016).

[2] A careful examination of the facts reveals that it is most likely that Jesus was crucified on April 3, 33 A.D. See, Jimmy Akin, “Seven Clues tell us * Precisely * when Jesus Died” National Catholic Register (March 20, 2016). Mark 15:25 places the crucifixion at the third hour (9:00 am) Matthew 27:45-56 tell of the crucifixion and give us the times of the darkness (noon) and death in the ninth hour (3:00 pm).

[3] Although Matthew does not record them, Mark, Luke and John all indicate that his disciples saw Jesus during that first day. First, he was seen by the women as Matthew records, then by two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, and finally by the Twelve in the Upper Room (see, Mark 16:12-14; Luke24:13-43; John 20:19-29).