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The Essential Reinhold Niebuhr: Selected Essays and Addresses Paperback – September 10, 1987
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The first book of Niebuhr's that I read was 'Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic', in which Niebuhr reflects on life, society, and his time as a pastor at a church. That set the stage for a lifelong love of Niebuhr's way of thinking (if not always his particular conclusions), a love that is obviously shared by the theologian Robert McAfee Brown, the editor of this collection. These essays are somewhat different in tone from the first book I read, but there is a consistency of spirit. According to Brown, 'Niebuhr's resources in this sort of writing were always two: (1) the particular heritage of the Christian faith that he had appropriated, drawing especially on the Hebrew prophets, Jesus, Paul, the Reformation and Kierkegaard, and (2) a viewpoint in scrutinising the world around him not only in the light of this faith, but also with the tools of social science, political philosophy, and history that he acquired during his adult life.'
Niebuhr's influences drew him into a prophetic ministry. Prophetic ministry is not one in which the minister predicts the end of the world, but rather one in which the minister dares to speak the truth (and tells the consequences of such actions in no uncertain terms).Read more ›
The volume's consistent theme is the Augustinian realism that Niebuhr expounded in the darkest years of modern history, when the western democracies faced the tyrannies of Nazi Germany and expansionist Communism. Against these messianiac creeds, Niebuhr posited the merits of democracy, *not* because of its supposed congruence with the characteristics of the Kingdom of God but because of its effect in tempering the destructiveness of man's urge for dominion.
He did so, moreover, when many Christians were susceptible to the romantic illusion that discipleship required them to oppose the militant defence of western values. No one has better exposed these pretensions than Niebuhr in his essay 'Why the Christian Church is not Pacifist', included in this volume. Those Christians' mistake was to fail to understand the nature of evil. To regard the Sermon on the Mount as a manual for political action without seeing it in the context of Jesus's expectation of the irruption of the Kingdom of God into human history is a misreading. The message of the Gospels is not non-violence, but the immanence of the Kingdom. Niebuhr argues that while conflict is not part of the Kingdom of God, it does not thereby dissipate if Christians act as though they are already living in the Kingdom.
This is a powerful corrective to much wishful thinking that passes for Christian social ethics.Read more ›