Original sin says that we are born sinners by inheriting a sin nature from Adam. Whenever Adam fell, he corrupted the entire race of man. Paul seems to make this very clear in Romans 5 and elsewhere. Total depravity describes the extent of this sin nature. Total depravity suggests that everything we do is corrupted with sin. We cannot, apart from the grace of God, do anything that is without the evil corruption of sin. This explains why justification is so important. If our sinful nature (original sin) which completely corrupts us (total depravity), then we are unable to come to God and seek forgiveness. Therefore, God must initiate salvation. God takes the first step, and redeems us. This is why we must reject any works-righteousness theology because it goes against our very nature.
Rauschenbusch rejects all of this (whenever he uses the phrase "original sin" he does so under a different definition). Rauschenbusch's theological hermeneutic comes into play here. He has completely rejected the "Old Theology," that is, orthodox, historical theology. The doctrine of sin is no different.
THE DEFINITION OF SIN
To him, sin is nothing more than abandoning the social needs of our neighbor. In the chapter "The Conscienceness of Sin," Rauschenbusch lashes out at Capitalism because he sees American Christians as those most guilty of his definition of sin. To him, too many Christians are more worried about not dancing or playing cards then about serving spoiled milk to children. By doing something against one's neighbor is how he defines sin, not necessarily disobedience to God.
You can see the great shift that he offers. Sin is no longer about offending God, but offending one's neighbor. The old theology, in which he is arguing against, taught that we must be completely obedient to God in all areas in life. Therefore, abandoning, mistreating, and essentially, not loving our neighbor is disobedience to God. Personal purity, and social responsibility do go hand in hand. Rauschenbusch misses this. Yes, in his culture at this time, he saw a lot of Christian not show love for their neighbor, and shame on them. But to radically redefine sin this way is sin itself!
Rauschenbusch dedicates an entire chapter to this doctrinal issue. He rejects it as fable, as an impossibility, and even as unbiblical. His argument is simple, later teachers and theologians have put emphasis on the story in Genesis 3 that the writer of Genesis (more than likely not Moses he would argue) didn't intend.
He points out that Jesus never discusses the story. Neither do the prophets. Therefore, he concludes, we have overemphasized it and developed an entire theology based on this overemphasis. Such an argument is ludicrous at best. He writes:
"It is important to realize that the story of the fall is incomparably more
fundamental in later theology than it was in biblical thought...The original
purpose of the story was not to explain the origin of sin, but the origin of
death and evil...The prophets were deeply conscious of the sins of men, but they
did not base their teachings on the doctrine of the fall." -pg. 39-40
His rejection of Biblical inerrancy is obvious here. One can tell how he flip-flops on the apostle Paul. He quotes Paul whenever it fits with his argument, and then turns around and writes him off. He does so here. Even if Jesus nor the prophets never spoke on the Genesis 3 account specifically, Paul does in Romans 5. Romans is just as inspired as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John!
Paul is clear the effects of Adam's fall. It has corrupted us all. We have all inherited this sinful nature because of his fall. Paul has already made it clear that all are guilty of sin (Romans 1-3), and so now he explains it in chapter 5. Because of Adam's fall, we have inherited this sinful nature. Paul does this in order to point us to Christ. Though sin entered into the world through Adam, now through Christ, sin has a way out for the believer.
But even if Paul didn't discuss this, we would still have ample evidence for original sin. Countless times throughout Scripture, we see passages that describe humans as being sinful and inherently sinful. One great passage is from Psalm 51:5:
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived
This and similar passages make it clear that we have inherited a sinful nature.
But by rejecting this doctrine, Rauschenbusch sees sin as "a present force." To him, this doctrine takes our mind off of the real issue. The problem with sin is here and now, we do not need to debate about where it came from.
But then again, Rauschenbusch is mistaken. In order to explain and understand the here and now, we've got to understand it's origins.
THE NATURE OF SIN
Rauschenbusch seems to affirm a typical definition of sin: selfishness, but he provides a different perspective. He writes:
"We have the impulse to live our life, to exercise our freedom, to express and
satisfy the limitless cravings in us, and we are impatient of restraint. We know that our idleness or sensuality will cripple our higher self, yet we want what we want. We set our desires against the rights of others, and disregard the claims of mercy, of gratitude, or of parental love. Our self-love is wrought up to hot ill-will, hate, lying, slander, and malevolence. men press their covetousness to the injury of society. They are willing to frustrate the cause of liberty and social justice in whole nations in order to hold their selfish social and economic privileges. men
who were powerful enough to do so have left broad trails of destruction and
enslavement through history in order to satisfy their selfish caprice, avarice,
and thirst for glory." -pg. 46
This is how he defines sin as selfishness. Notice that there is no reference to God or being disobedient to Him. Rather, we get an entire paragraph, and even several chapters, about sinning against others as the definition of sin. He misses the point that one who sins against his brother is guilty of sinning against God.
His redefinition and application of sin misses the entire point of the Biblical concept of sin. Sin leads us apart from God. He misses this. If sin is never a purity issue, but a social issue, then we do not need God. In fact, he defines Jesus being perfect, not in the sense that he is necessarily God (for he will redefine Christ in later chapters as well) but because he lived under the commonwealth of love and never "backslid" against this. Jesus was always working toward the Kingdom of God, and was always serving His fellow man.
This radically changes what sin is and how it is applied. Is homosexuality wrong? Not unless it harms your fellow man. Therefore, each moral issue must be applied on a case to case basis. Abortion isn't wrong, unless it harms someone, or it give you an advantage somehow. Morality, then, isn't defined by right or wrong, but whether or not it harms your fellow man.
It seems to me that Rauschenbusch was the first hippie! The idea that sin isn't a personal issue, but a social issue is exactly what the hippie movement was all about. Hippies would have sex with everyone and anyone as long as it was for the greater good and out of love (whatever they meant by love). Is this not Rauschenbusch is suggesting: Live for your fellow man and don't worry about person sin for it doesn't exist?
This sort of theology is very dangerous. It undercuts the mission, ministry, and the cross of Christ. Christ, under this definition of sin, did not die in order to save us of our sinful nature, but to show us how to love one another. This re shifting of the doctrine of sin undercuts the gospel!
To miss the doctrine of sin is to obtain heresy. And Rauschenbusch is quickly becoming the rancus of heretics!