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Psalm 146: God has a ‘social gospel’

November 4th, 2006 by isaac · 9 Comments

I already worked out my sermon for tomorrow based on the lectionary passages from Ruth and Mark. For whatever reason, I didn’t pay much attention to the assigned text from Psalm 146. I have to admit, many times the Psalms sound all the same to me. But, after meditating on Psalm 146 this morning, it now echoes throughout the political landscape as I read the news.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, the maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—the Lord, who remains faithful forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoner free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

Apparently God has a social gospel. I realize that phrase has an interesting and controversial history for Christianity in America. And despite the allergic reaction to Protestant liberalism I’ve developed from spending so much time in Stanley Hauerwas’ texts and classes, I can’t help but turn to Walter Rauschenbusch to help me understand that Psalm. At the very least, Rauschenbush taught us that Christianity isn’t necessarily about a personal salvation. Rather, it’s about God’s redemption of the whole world. That’s what Rauschenbush gets at in this very typical quote (forgive his gendered language):
Men seek to save their own souls and are selfishly indifferent to the evangelization of the world. Because the individualistic conception of personal salvation has pushed out of sight the collective idea of a Kingdom of God on earth, Christian men seek for the salvation of individuals and are comparatively indifferent to the spread of the spirit of Christin the political, industrial, social, scientific, and artistic life of humanity, and have left these as the undisturbed possessions of the spirit of the world. Because the Kingdom of God has been confounded with the Church, therefore the Church has been regarded as an end instead of a means, and men have thought they were building up the Kingdom when they were only cementing a strong church organization.

Walter Rauschenbusch quoted in Dores Sharpe, Walter Rauschenbush (1942), p. 119.

Tags: theology

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 palletjackracer // Nov 4, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    this may be a dumb question, but i didn’t attend seminary…what is a ‘lectionary’ passage?

  • 2 isaac // Nov 4, 2006 at 1:08 pm

    Jason, that’s not a dumb question. I had the same question a few years ago. I grew up in charismatic and evangelical churches that didn’t use the lectionary. So, it’s a relatively new thing for me too. But I’ve definitely grown to appreciate it and think it offers an important corrective to preachers who take the easy road and constantly preach different versions of the same pet sermon.

    Anyhow, the lectionary is selection of passages from the bible that are assigned every week. There’s a passage from one of the Gospels, from an Epistle, and two from the Old Testament as well (one of which is usually a Psalm). There’s a whole lot more information about the lectionary here: Revised Common Lectionary.

    I think one of the most important things about the lectionary is that it offers a way for many different churches across the country, and across the world, to hear the same parts of the bible on the same Sunday. It seems like a small gesture toward church unity.

  • 3 palletjackracer // Nov 4, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    that’s interesting. i hadn’t heard of that before. i guess i do remember when i was really young sometimes hearing friends at school who had attended different churches often having had nearly the same message on sunday that i had. i guess perhaps we were attending churches that used lectionary passages then. hrm.

    thanks for definition!

  • 4 tinzel // Jan 31, 2007 at 3:05 am

    thank 2 god for letting us a chance/chances.Explain why?

  • 5 isaac // Feb 5, 2007 at 11:14 am

    I’m not quite sure what you are asking, Tinzel.

  • 6 Steven // Nov 1, 2008 at 5:11 am

    For one class assignment, I am creating a sermon based on Psalm 146. I find the correlation from Isaiah 2:3 to the words “God of Jacob” very good.

    I hope that your sermon goes well. Can you tell me the passages from Ruth and Mark?


  • 7 isaac // Nov 2, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    Here are the other passages that were also assigned for that Sunday:
    Ruth 1:1-18
    Mark 12:28-34

    And here’s the sermon I preached on those passages:

  • 8 Pete K. // Aug 30, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Building a defense for a social gospel out of this Psalm is irresponsible. The wonderful attributes of God displayed in Psalm 146: 6-10 do not afford the sinner salvation and are listed primarily as reason to praise God. Walter Rauschenbusch denied subsitutionary atonement, and therefore any writings of his must be viewed with this cautionary lens. I will remind the pastor who quotes him of his responsibility to protect the flock.

  • 9 Steven // Aug 30, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Walter Rauschenbusch said Jesus’ death was, “to substitute love for selfishness as the basis of human society.” I believe he doubted substitutionary atonement as anyone has doubts. People start to doubt creationism etc. But, did Walter lose his faith? It might have been shaken but never lost. Was he not just trying to better understand it for his flock instead of denying it?