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H. Richard Niebuhr (1894–1962)

Author of Christ and Culture

28+ Works 4,453 Members 14 Reviews 5 Favorited

About the Author

H. Richard Niebuhr was one of the most influential and creative theological ethicists of the twentieth century. He was Sterling Professor of Theology and Christian Ethics at Yale University Divinity School.

Works by H. Richard Niebuhr

Christ and Culture (1951) 2,378 copies
The Ministry in historical perspectives (1956) — Editor — 77 copies
The Church Against the World (1935) — Author — 11 copies

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From Goodreads:

It is hard to find public theologies today that are not engaging with Niebuhr's classic work. And from that perspective, it really is worth reading. It will illumine just about everything else you read on the subject since most authors either assume his typology or are building from it. While this may not always be the best course of action, it is the reality.

On the whole, I'm left rather dissatisfied--not because I think he's completely wrong but because I'm unsure of its overall value. His conclusion encapsulates this tension well. On the one hand, his point about the "historical and cultural relativity of our reasoning" (236) is apt: public theology is not necessarily a plug-and-place enterprise. Some situational awareness is required if one wants to navigate the road between these two polarities well. But Niebuhr stresses relativity (importantly not relativism) so much so that no answer is really available (However, his lack of criticism for the conversionist type leads the reader to believe that this is the most acceptable one to the author). What each type needs is the other--a pluralistic band of brothers checking and balancing each other's worst tendencies. How feasible that fellowship is remains a mystery.

Some helpful contributions that many evangelical Christians may consider is Niebuhr's attention to the act and event of Jesus Christ as the God-man. Within my own Reformed camp especially, most public theologies begin in God's creative act--a position which Niebuhr himself is sympathetic to. But most of the book roots the question of Christ and culture in the implications of God made man and the hypostatic union. In the person of Jesus, the obvious tension is most evident. Christ saves men from the cares and concerns of this world, focusing their attention on his spiritual kingdom. And yet, his incarnation and commissioning of his disciples into the world for the sake of man impregnates this world with present significance. It is a double movement.

Niebuhr works from a number of assumptions--either because of personal conviction or historical context--that today's reader must constantly keep in the back of his mind. The first is that Niebuhr writes during a high point of American Mainline Protestantism. The question of what hath Christ to do with culture was hardly relevant--culture was Christian and Christianity was the culture. That it is not the same today is self-evident. Of all the types that seem most backward to Niebuhr it is Christ Against Culture. Today, Rod Dreher can become a best-selling author encouraging Christians to adopt a Benedict Option. Niebuhr accepts historical relativity in his conclusion. It must not be applied.

Finally, Niebuhr is a liberal in the broadest sense meaning he accepts pluralism not just as fact but as good. There is an outstanding lack of confessional clarity in Niebuhr's work. He can easily lump individuals of all different stripes together and comfortably call them all Christian. His bar for orthodoxy is set so low that one wonders who doesn't qualify. Of course, the phenomenon is not original to Niebuhr; it was the water he swam in. But a more complete picture of the historical realities of that liberal movement reveal a much more concentrated effort to restrict membership into respectable company than build a big-tent movement.

Overall, Christian readers will enjoy Niebuhr's prose--far more literary than the kind today--and the insight it will offer for further reading in the field
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rdhasler | 7 other reviews | Nov 14, 2023 |
The author denies that mankind is but a cog in an impersonal universal machine. He affirms the existence of a great personal God who does reveal himself to men. He then demonstrates that this supreme revelation can come only through a personal act of self commitment with a vastly renewed and more fervent faith.
PendleHillLibrary | Jul 21, 2023 |
How supreme loyalty to "God beyond the gods" transforms the life of men in religion.
PendleHillLibrary | Jun 9, 2023 |
ecpclio | 1 other review | Jul 2, 2021 |



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