Sharpened Knives ... (Letters)

Article excerpt

THE LATE H. R. Niebuhr would have welcomed serious analytical criticism of Christ and Culture, but he would have preferred his critics to use his own open scholarly approach rather than coming after him with their positions set and their knives sharpened (see Peter R. Gathje's "A contested classic," June 19-26). Niebuhr offered the substance of that book to his students at Yale in a course titled "Christian Ethics in History." So fair and responsible were his presentations, so clearly did he seek to investigate from the standpoint of the authors themselves, that at the end of each treatment of a thinker or position the students would suppose that at last they had found an unassailable theological standpoint. At that point, however, Niebuhr would comment, "Now, this is true, but isn't there something else involved here?" Only then would the critique begin.

Compare that approach with John Howard Yoder's outrageous caricature: "Behind this posture of humble nonnormative objectivity, it will become clear to any careful reader that Niebuhr has so organized his presentation as to indicate a definite preference for `transformation. …