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On Niebuhr: A Theological Study Paperback – December 15, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0226293424 ISBN-10: 9780226293424

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (December 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780226293424
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226293424
  • ASIN: 0226293424
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,104,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Reinhold Niebuhr, the author of Faith and History and other seminal works, may come to be regarded as the most important American theologian of the 20th century. In On Niebuhr: A Theological Study, fellow theologian Langdon Gilkey dissects the interplay of Niebuhr's theology and his political theories, as informed by the Depression and World War II. Gilkey argues that for Niebuhr, everything sprang from theology; politics and ethics were not separate from it. This is a serious and challenging book and a worthy read.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) was one of the most influential American theologians of the 20th century. Gilkey (emeritus, Univ. of Chicago Divinity Sch.; Reaping the Whirlwind; Nature, Reality, and the Sacred) considers Niebuhr's mature theology in relation to his political theory, which arose from the crises of the 1930s and 1940s. Concentrating on his subject's ideas regarding sin and history, the author shows, in this well-written and not uncritical volume, how Niebuhr adapted the traditional teachings of St. Augustine and Martin Luther to a modern context. At the same time, Gilkey speaks of Niebuhr's influence on his own thought. Readers seeking a general biography of Niebuhr should consult Richard Wrightman Fox's Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography (Cornell Univ., 1996); for a more expansive view of his theology, one should still consult Gordon Harlan's The Thought of Reinhold Niebuhr (1960. o.p.). Highly recommended. Augustine J. Curley, Newark Abbey, NJ
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Rev. C Bryant on April 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The irony of this review's title is that Reinhold Niebuhr (1895-1971) would not have claimed the title of theologian. He was a preacher and Christian apologist who sought to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian approach to history over common secular approaches. These latter included both Marxism and liberalism, the first as it took shape in the Soviet Union and the latter as it influenced Niebuhr's colleagues in pulpits and seminaries. Langdon Gilkey, late of the University of Chicago Divinity School, begins with a personal memoir that illustrates the impact of Niebuhr on Gilkey's generation. Full of pacifist sentiment in the wake of the horrors of World War I, Gilkey and his peers found it increasingly difficult to reconcile a thoroughgoing pacifism with the obvious excesses of the Nazi regime. With the beginning of World War II in 1939, the issue could no longer be ignored. About this time, Gilkey heard Niebuhr preach. He was mesmerized and heartened. Niebuhr's analysis of the dilemmas of the self in history, taking seriously the reality of sin and eschewing an otherworldly approach to eschatology, had a lasting effect on Gilkey. Simply put, Niebuhr taught that the proper arena of concern for Christians is living in history in such a way that the amount of justice and love in the world is maximized. Niebuhr criticized what he considered the undue optimism of liberals, particularly in the Social Gospel movement, who believed in the myth of progress. Against this, Niebuhr asserted the reality of sin, or the universal human tendency for even our best efforts to be corrupted by self-interest, or pride. Because of this focus on history as the locus of Niebuhr's theology, Gilkey limits himself to the study of only a few books.Read more ›
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By Joyce on September 26, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Langdon Gilkey was a boy when he first encountered Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr was a friend and colleague of Gilkey's father, who was dean of the University of Chicago Chapel. Later, in 1940, when Gilkey was about to graduate from Harvard and was in turmoil about the state of the world as World War II was beginning, he heard Niebuhr preach at Harvard Chapel. His response was "Who the hell was that?" as Niebuhr opened up the possibility of a realism about social affairs that did not lead to cynicism, and which, in fact, supported renewed moral commitment. Gilkey read Niebuhr's books prior to his experience in China (narrated in the book Shantung Compound) and was guided through that experience by Niebuhr's thinking. After the war he returned to the U.S. and entered Union Theological Seminary, where he was a student and later a colleague of both Reinhold Niebuhr (1898-1971) and Paul Tillich (1886-1965). Before his death in 2004, Gilkey was professor of theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. This book and his book, Gilkey on Tillich, mostly summarize the theology of these two influential theologians, and include personal stories from Gilkey's relationship with them as he developed his own thinking.

Reinhold Niebuhr was convinced that all cultures have a "religious substance," that all are relative and, including Christian culture or U.S. culture, become demonic whenever they claim to be absolute and universal. Like Tillich, he was an existentialist, in that he did not connect faith to doctrines or beliefs. He saw meaning as the main gift of religion, giving a sense of purpose to who we are and what we do.
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