Reinhold Niebuhr on Politics, Religion, and Christian Faith

Reinhold Niebuhr on Politics, Religion, and Christian Faith

Reinhold Niebuhr on Politics, Religion, and Christian Faith

Reinhold Niebuhr on Politics, Religion, and Christian Faith


A primer on the current "Niebuhr revival" of the political left and right, this book traces the significance of Reinhold Niebuhr's thought for secular as well as deeply Christian minds. Placed in the context of religious and cultural history, Niebuhr's theological views deepen and challenge contemporary expertise on issues of war, peace, economic, and personal security.

While rejecting cynical pessimism and naive optimism, Niebuhr's Christian realism reinvigorates age-old teachings of the Bible, St. Paul, Augustine, and Kierkegaard. His thought enriches present-day debates between science and religion and between atheists, agnostics, and believers. To live with Niebuhr's legacy is to combine critical acumen with humble self-awareness. It is to pursue a larger common good - for him, God-given - that is shared among individuals, nations, and the world community.


Many have longed for a new Reinhold Niebuhr to inspire a new generation
of religious liberals. I have shared in that longing. But it is doubtful that
even Niebuhr could be Niebuhr now. In any event, can you think of a talk
show that would book him?

E. J. Dionne, Jr., Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after
the Religious Right

The war on terror has brought Niebuhr’s broader vision into focus: not only
the struggle between realism and idealism in our foreign affairs, but the
ongoing debate over the place of religion in America’s sense of itself. The
fresh interest in his work, then, ought to be invigorating
a source of clarity
and perspective.

It hasn’t been. On the contrary, the Niebuhr revival has been perplexing,
even bizarre, as people with profoundly divergent views of the war [in Iraq]
have all claimed Niebuhr as their precursor ….

Paul Elie, “A Man for All Reasons,” Atlantic (November 2007)

Liberal and conservative political pundits, journalists, and writers have rediscovered the rich legacy of the premier twentieth-century Protestant theologian and public intellectual Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971). A lifelong critic of American hubris and overreaching arrogance, Niebuhr was radically dedicated to social justice and the processes of democracy, while resolutely critical of authoritarianism, whether in religion or in politics. Led by the new prominence of Niebuhr’s name, diverse Americans are apparently fascinated as well as perplexed by his complex way of plumbing the human condition. His popularity was always greatest among secular opinion-makers, academics, and intellectuals. That situation is echoed today, even if it is less clear to many of these figures how much Niebuhr’s central teaching was shaped by the Christian tradition.

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