Occupy until I Come: A. T. Pierson and the Evangelization of the World. By Dana L. Robert.
These latest volumes in the Library of Religious Biography offer a vivid comparison and contrast between two of
In time, their theological perspectives changed. Pierson abandoned postmillennialism to become a leading spokesman for the nascent fundamentalist movement. Rauschenbusch, while continuing to affirm the need for individual conversion, picked up the gauntlet of liberalism and became its leading proponent in
Occupy until I Come is a well-researched and thorough treatment of the life and ministry of A. T. Pierson. It traces his life from his days as a student at Union Theological Seminary to his writing of five articles for The Fundamentals, conservatism’s answer to higher criticism. Dana Robert, Professor of World Mission at
Pierson was reared in
Robert points out that this was just one of several theological crises in Pierson’s life. Others included his receiving a “baptism in the Spirit” (not of the speaking in tongues variety) during the 1857-58 Businessmen’s Prayer Movement. Another came at the age of forty, while serving as pastor of the largest church in
Through Robert’s meticulous research and clear explanations, the modern reader gains much insight into many nineteenth century American church customs, movements and practices, such as the pew rental system, the Women’s Temperance Movement, the influence of dispensationalism on missions, and the sense that industrialization was driving a wedge between management and labor. Many evangelicals, including Pierson, were social activists who believed that the rich had a moral responsibility for the welfare of the poor.
As a missionary speaker A. T. Pierson influenced Robert Speer, Samuel Zwemer, and John R. Mott to give their lives to missions. He was also the keynote speaker at the
Besides his contributions to missions, Pierson’s most notable legacy was his commitment to orthodoxy. When liberalism began sweeping through the mainline denominations, Pierson joined other concerned Christian leaders in publishing The Fundamentals, a series of booklets designed to “contend for the faith” and answer the critics of Christianity. Because of his prolific pen and apologetic abilities, Pierson was invited to write five of the major articles. Each booklet was distributed free to pastors throughout
On two occasions Pierson successfully served as pastor of Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle. He spent the final two decades of his life “on the road,” the last ten devoted to teaching believers how to live victoriously. He was a favorite speaker at the Keswick conferences in
Robert has written a superb book. It should be read by all who wish to understand the contribution A. T. Pierson made to the cause of Christ.
The Kingdom Is Always but Coming by Christopher H. Evans, Associate Professor of Church History at
The Kingdom Is Always but Coming is the third book written about Rauschenbusch in the past sixty years, and of the three it is the definitive biography. The first, Walter Rauschenbusch (Macmillan, 1942) by Doris Sharpe, paints her subject in glowing terms. Evans avoids such a temptation by showing Rauschenbusch’s weaknesses as well as strengths, his legitimate contributions as well as his controversial theories. For example, because of his German ancestry, Rauschenbusch had divided loyalties during WWI and called for American neutrality; he embraced religious pluralism toward the end of his life, possibly because his children were outside the fold; he became the leader in the Men and Religious Forward Movement, a 1910 version of the Promise Keepers; he petitioned the local government to build New York’s first public playgrounds; he believed a woman’s place was in the home (despite his daughter becoming a feminist); he called for a redistribution of wealth; and he stated that “the religions of Jesus and Paul were antithetical to each other” (278).
Paul Minus’s Walter Rauschenbusch: American Reformer (Macmillan, 1988) was much more factual and scholarly than Ms. Sharpe’s, but lacked some of the research data available to Evans.
Evans forcefully presents Rauschenbusch as a man in pursuit of the Kingdom, who believed that as more converts were won to Christ, the social conditions of the world would improve, setting the stage for the second coming.
One wishes Evans would have dealt more with the relationship between Rauschenbusch and Augustus Hopkins Strong, the noted “New Light” Calvinist theologian and president of Rochester Theological Seminary. Despite being apprehensive about Rauschenbusch’s acceptance of the moral view of the atonement and his questioning of the Old Testament’s divine authority, Strong brought him on as a faculty member. Although not stated, this may have been out of kindness to Rauschenbusch’s father who was one of the seminary’s founders. By the end of his presidency, Strong who himself flirted for a while with liberal theology, filled half of the seminary’s teaching positions with liberals. At the close of his life, he regretted it.
Like many biographers, Evans has difficulty at times presenting a clear chronological narrative. When dealing with certain major themes in Rauschenbusch’s life, Evans is forced to jump ahead of his story to carry out the train of thought. In the next chapter, he turns back the clock. This leaves the reader to sort things out chronologically.
Evans briefly mentions a few fundamentalist’s reactions to Rauschenbusch’s theological writings. Much more was needed in this area. Did he have friends in the opposite camp? Did he ever correspond with or debate his theological adversaries? Evans mentions only two: Pastor I. D. Haldeman (FBC, New York City), who believed Rauschenbusch’s theology was “clearly outside the boundaries of biblical Christianity” (225) and Pastor William Bell Riley, who Evans fails to identify as pastor of FBC, Minneapolis and President of Northwestern Schools. This reviewer knows from other reading that Rauschenbusch spoke on occasion for the Student Volunteer Movement. How did this relationship change as the Modernist-Fundamentalist debate heated up in the early 1900s? Did Rauschenbusch and Pierson ever cross paths?
Overall these deficiencies are minor and only concern the hard-nosed student of history.
When Walter Rauschenbusch died of colon cancer in 1918, postmillennialism was also in the throes of death. WWI had unofficially turned the idealistic theology on its head. Until his last breath, however, Rauschenbusch was looking for the Kingdom. A half-century later, Martin Luther King, a graduate of Crozer Theological Seminary, said that Rauschenbusch’s writings gave him the theological basis for non-violence.
The Kingdom Is Always but Coming is a fascinating read and helps us to understand the evolution of the Social Gospel in
Those desiring to understand the early development of American evangelicalism and modernism, as seen through the eyes of their respective leaders, will find Occupy until I Come and The Kingdom Is Already but Coming very helpful.