The Thought of Reinhold Niebuhr

The Thought of Reinhold Niebuhr

The Thought of Reinhold Niebuhr

The Thought of Reinhold Niebuhr

Excerpt

Reinhold Niebuhr's thought and work have been dominated throughout by one persistent concern. He has sought to clarify the insights and resources of Christian faith in such a way that they may be savingly related to the structures, dynamics, and decisions of large social groups.

It is an immense task, beset by countless problems and pitfalls. The greatest problem, however, inheres in the very nature of Christianity itself, as its history abundantly reveals. The heart of the Christian revelation is Agape--heedless, sacrificial, sin-bearing love. But how can a social ethic be derived from agape? A social ethic demands prudent, discriminate judgments, not heedless sacrifice of self. What meaningful relationship can agape have to the struggles of power upon which the securing and maintaining of justice are necessarily dependent? What relevance can such a faith have to the policy of nations when the first responsibility of the leaders of nations is to maintain national security and further the national interest?

The very possibility of a Christian social ethic is dependent upon a clear and honest facing of such questions. To blunt the radicality of the Christian norm, or to minimize the peculiar problems and dynamics of collective life, can serve only to obscure the genius of Christianity and to spread confusion into social analysis. And that has happened, perhaps especially in the period in which Niebuhr has done his work. The result has been that the task of clarifying the relation between Christian faith and social responsibility has been complicated by the necessity to disclose the inadequacy of a wide variety of Christian and "secular" approaches to the problem. Thus in order to get the dimensions of the real problem before us . . .

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