In 1934, Reinhold Niebuhr delivered the annual “Rauschenbusch Lectures” at Colgate Rochester Divinity School. These lectures would form the basis for his 1935 work, An Interpretation of Christian Ethics. In the preface to the 1956 edition of that book, Niebuhr noted that this volume “was meant to express both the author's general adhesion to the purposes of the ‘Social Gospel’ of which Rauschenbusch was the most celebrated exponent, and to spell out some of the growing differences between the original social gospel and the newer form of social Christianity” ([1935] 1956, 8). When one reads this book, however, it is far easier to see the gap between Niebuhr and the early twentieth-century social gospel than the continuity between the two.

Important studies by scholars like Harlan Beckley and Gary Dorrien point to the continuities and distinctions between the social gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918) and the Christian realism of Reinhold...

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