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On Niebuhr: A Theological Study [Hardcover]

By Langdon Gilkey (Author)
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Item Number 159879  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   276
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.3" Width: 6.28" Height: 0.85"
Weight:   1.18 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Jan 1, 2001
Publisher   University Of Chicago Press
ISBN  0226293416  
EAN  9780226293417  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
During the troubled times of the Depression and two World Wars, many troubled souls turned to the political and ethical writings of Reinhold Niebuhr for guidance. The author shows that Niebuhr was able to help because his social understanding was a theological understanding.

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More About Langdon Gilkey

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Langdon Gilkey has taught most recently at Georgetown University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he is the Shailer Mathews Professor of Theology (emeritus). He is the author of a number of books, including "Shantung Compound," "Gilkey on Tillich," and "Nature, Reality, and the Sacred."

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Product Categories
1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > General   [8607  similar products]
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology   [1535  similar products]

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
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. Notable are the Gifford Lectures, compiled in The Nature and Destiny of Man (two volumes) and a later work, Faith and History. Gilkey mines these with thoroughness.

Niebuhr's style tended to be free-wheeling, topical, and often polemical. Gilkey occasionally illustrates a yearning for a more disciplined theological method in Niebuhr, symbolized by his frequent appeal to another of his theological mentors, Paul Tillich. Though often helpful, this is sometimes distracting. While Niebuhr would have agreed with Tillich on many points, his approach was much further removed from the academy. Still, Gilkey does this in moderation and does not attempt to recast Niebuhr in the mold of Tillich.

In the final, reflective, chapter, Gilkey notes that Niebuhr did not address (and could not have addressed) two issues that now loom large on the theological horizon. One is the stewardship of nature. The other is the relation between religions. Gilkey finds no help in Niebuhr for the first. He gives Niebuhr credit for advancing Christian-Jewish friendship, which was a major thrust of his age, especially after the Holocaust. Given his otherwise firm grasp of Niebuhr's thought, it seems odd that Gilkey does not note the obvious: Niebuhr would have said that the Christian commitment to love and justice extends to stewardship of the earth because we humans are ourselves part of nature. To care for nature is to care for ourselves and, in some small way, to help overcome the effects of sin. As for the pluralism of religions, Niebuhr would likely view current relationships between Christians, Israel, and the Islamic states in a larger context than simple faith commitments. Niebuhr would have been interested in the ways that the central myths of each faith have been co-opted for political ends. This, of course, is illustrated by an American president who appeals to Christian symbols in order to make war on an Islamic country, a reversal of the behavior of Osama bin Laden. This is why those of us who have long appreciated Niebuhr found ourselves in March, 2003, saying, "Reinhold Niebuhr, where are you now that we need you?" Still, Gilkey helps us recover a sense of Niebuhr's ongoing relevance.

Niebuhr defined religion as the human response to revelation. As the years pass, and events do more and more to prove him right, it begins to feel that, in certain ways, Niebuhr's thought itself approaches the heights of revelation. Not that he was divine. But God spoke through him in powerful ways. Langdon Gilkey does him justice, and then some.


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