H. Richard Niebuhr (Abingdon Pillars of Theology)

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Grid List. Order By: Top Matches. Christ and Culture by H. In stock online Not available in stores. The following essay on the double wrestle of the church with its Lord and with the cultural society with which it lives in symbiosis represents part of the result of many years of study, reflection and teaching. Previous studies of H. Richard Niebuhr's intellectual background have fallen into two groups: those that stress the German and especially Kantian sources of Niebuhr's thought, and those that emphasize the American and especially pragmatic sources of his….

This book brings together the best of the unpublished works of H. Richard Niebuhr, one of the outstanding American religious thinkers of this century. The collection includes lectures, sermons, and essays, some of which Niebuhr delivered at major universities to…. Transforming Faith: Individual and Community in H.

Richard Niebuhr by Joshua Daniel. Kobo ebook. Available for download Not available in stores. In the face of apparently rampant individualism, there has been a steady call for a return to community and tradition, particularly in religious communities and in recent Christian theology and ethics. The form of contemporary life upheld by modern ideals like…. Richard Niebuhr by Donald W. Abingdon Pillars of Theology is a series for the college and seminary classroom designed to help students grasp the basic and necessary facts, influence, and significance of major theologians. Written by noted scholars, these books will outline the context,….

With varying emphasis you will find it in every major mind since Paul. For sophisticated moderns, what is new about Lewis' argu- ment is its absolute and uncompromising dualism; for his three eternals, the creative, the discreative, and the noncreative, are morally but two; that is, the noncreative is neutral by definition.

To Lewis, once you dispose of the adversary as the source of all resistance to the love of God, on any grounds whatever, or allow him status as a secret partner in the divine enterprise, you have lost Biblical realism; the battle in which you cannot but choose sides is without hope of armistice. The God of holy love has reckoned, and must reckon forever, with the bitter opposition of the adversary. It goes down to the very roots of existence. Man's misuse of freedom is but one bitter fruit on the tree an effect, not a first cause.


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Determined resistance to divine activity is a common idea from Plato onward. In our time it has received an intriguing variety of treatments. Brightman places the resistance within God himself hence the term " finite " applied to the deity. Evil is a kind of cosmic ache within the divine abdomen; God is as baffled by it as we are, but is laboring heroically, and hopelessly, to cure it. The chief criti- cism of the view is obvious; it makes God no more and no less than an enormously large man proportionately no better equipped than man to overcome evil.

Lewis' deity is finite also, but the resistance is The Human, the Divine, and the Demonic 33 wholly outside, not inside God, outside him from all eternity, and quite as old as he, yet passive and powerless until God creates. Satan cannot create; he can only destroy. Until there is something to de- stroy he might as well be nonexistent. God initiated the conflict by initiating creation. Further, on Lewis' terms, God is able to throw into the conflict sufficient resources to turn defeat into victory.

Nels Ferre insists that all the world's dark evil, from cancer to earth- quake, is the activity of Agape, the vigilance of sovereign love, whose purpose to bring every soul through freedom to fellowship cannot and will not be denied. Man chooses his way with freedom; he is free even to disobey and defy God. But God holds all the honor count; he controls the board and can overplay or trump any card man chooses to lead. Every man will eventually see that God's will is best.

In this incarnation, or the thousandth to come, every soul will be saved. The Ferre optimism solves many problems, but creates as many as it solves. It restores sovereignty to God the Almighty and brings everything under control; you have one world instead of two. The chief criticism is evident: universal salvation is clearly alien to the mundane realism of the New Testament; on that older view, it is possible to be lost permanently. Sentimentality, however disguised, seems to be, and is, peering over Ferre's shoulder.

Lewis' view has at least no softness; it is no siren song. It does not make the monistic mistake of modifying the distinction between good and evil; it does not underestimate the reality and the tragedy of evil. It relieves God of the split personality with which Brightman endowed him; it de- prives man of Ferre's certainty of salvation.

A stimulating insecurity accompanies the soul's pilgrimage. As some humorist put it, " There is no security in numbers, or in anything else. The chief criticism of Lewis' split universe is clear: it denies the divine origin of the noncreative and the discreative; Satan is " used " to keep the whole creation under critical attack, but was not " created " to do so.

The serious critic may contend that Satan was specifically created to occupy his place on the divine payroll, that his task in the cosmic economy is to break every handiwork of God that can be broken. God wills man's salva- 34 Major Voices in American Theology tion, as an artist wills that every work of art shall be a masterpiece, but God is also the absolute critic of his art; he wills the destruction of all that can be destroyed, all that lacks the integrity and the vital- ity to survive. Man's role in the drama is desperately, breath-takingly real. His master choice is decisive; there is no in-between; he either hastens or thwarts his own completion as a divine handiwork.

Satan cannot destroy the elect who love God because he first loved them , but he can, and must, put them to the test. The winds of adversity demolish every house on sand, but strengthen every house on rock. Man must make his peace with God the Creator and Redeemer, or he will have to deal with God the Destroyer.

In any absolute dualism hope is an orphan; it finds no place to lay its head. But Lewis' dualism is not as absolute as it seems; he is, after all, a Christian first, and a dualist second; he insists upon the reality of hope. It is not to be denied that God permits evil to run its course, since he can halt it only by halting everything else, and that is to admit final defeat. It is not to be denied that God makes use of evil in many a subtle way to further his own purpose of good, not doing evil that good might come, but enduring evil that good might come,.

All is not merrily right with the world simply because God's in his heaven. Much is wrong with the world, God in heaven notwith- standing. Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, At this point the inadequacy of the "finite" God becomes apparent. By his creative act God gives the noncreative and the discreative their significance, but is not the source of their existence.

This leaves the origin of the noncreative The Human, the Divine, and the Demonic 35 and the discreative entirely unexplained. The ex nihilo theory insists simply that the noncreative and the discreative are not self-explana- tory; on Lewis' view they are self-explanatory; that is, they "exist because they exist. Lewis is not primarily interested in a neat metaphysical system; his first interest is the reality of the battle between the Creator and the adversary, and the Creator's final victory.

His view is essentially that of Martin Luther, as Reinhold Niebuhr has quoted and inter- preted him: " Luther, less philosophical than Calvin and more prophetic in temper, preserved the essential paradox more successfully. To him the devil was ' God's Devil. Thou shalt be the dung with which I will ferti- lize my lovely vineyard. I will and can use thee in my work on my vines. Therefore thou mayst hack, cut, and destroy, but no further than I permit ' " An Interpretation of Christian Ethics, p.

As Niebuhr sees it, " it is better for religion to forgo perfect meta- physical consistency for the sake of moral potency. In a sense religion is always forced to choose between an adequate metaphysics and an adequate ethics " Does Civilization Need Religion? The Macmillan Company, In any case, The Creator and the Ad- versary is a trumpet with certain sound summoning the Christian to recover his faith, and the Church its gospel. Creation is creativity in perpetual strife with discreativity, and, on any terms, the battle is as real as Christ's cross.

To every Christian life is a daily call to love, but discreativity at- tacks him most often and most effectively through discouragement. The greatest, and the rarest, virtue is simply patience. Restless moderns may well heed Lewis' similar words. From what spot may a ladder reach up to heaven? From that stone there at your very feet. The narrow limits to which you are confined by a will not your own may be another Patmos.

Fundamentalist wilderness of the first third of this century and established a base of operations for subsequent explorers. To use a different figure, personal and social Christianity were at war; Niebuhr has made possible something more than an armistice: he has mobilized the former enemies in a common crusade to lead our sub-Christian century to contrition and new venture.

He has performed the prophet's task of criticism. Every thoroughgoing critic is bound to be the center of a storm of controversy. Two groups in the main continually attack Niebuhr : on the one hand, those who feel that his view of the sinfulness and partiality of all human achievement paralyzes all human effort, and, on the other, those who are perhaps too certain that his emphasis not only accents the insufficiency of man, but also, in effect, the insuffi- ciency of God.

It is also overlooked that he perpetually criticizes Barthian theology for its failure to perceive the necessity and value of proximate solutions to difficult problems in this relative world. It is true that he takes liberalism to task for its lighthearted dismissal of the sinfulness of man and the transcendence of God. But with equal persistence he takes orthodoxy to task for its neglect of this world in its preoccupation with the next. The attack from the right insists that Niebuhr overestimates for- giveness and underestimates fellowship; that he does not see that repentance, necessary though it is, is not the end but the means to the end.

True, the broken heart is the only entrance to the Kingdom, not alone at the beginning of the Christian pilgrimage, but every day, and as much at the end as the beginning. Yet the nature of the Kingdom is mutual love, between God and the soul, and between the soul and society; the agape fellowship is the end, forgiveness the means. Intentionally or not, Niebuhr leaves you with the reverse impression. Niebuhr was fully aware of these opposite attacks from the start. I hope there is more of Christ than of Aristotle in my position.

But I would not be too sure of it. Niebuhr's chief significance lies in the fact that he has reunited theology and history in holy, and productive, wedlock. These whom The Insufficiency of Man 41 God had joined together, and man had put asunder, he has made one again, and the marriage is recorded in heaven. But what of his life and hard times? After the manner of man, he was born, June 21, , at Wright City, Missouri. He is still " from Missouri " and can never quite be shown. His father was Gustave Niebuhr, a scholarly German preacher, who died when the children were young, but not before he had taught Reinhold " that the critical faculty can be united with a reverent spirit.

Helmut Richard Niebuhr, two years Reinhold's junior, has made his own record and his own distinguished contribu- tion to American thought. The mother later served as Reinhold's assistant pastor for twelve years in Detroit. A brief glance at Niebuhr's boyhood suggests his strong Lutheran conditioning, and discloses as well his later reinterpretation of the relation between ultimate security and temporal insecurity. I remember how wonderful was the experience of rny boyhood when we ran to the barn, warned by ominous clouds of an approaching storm, and then heard the wind and the rain beating outside while safe and dry under the eaves of the haymow.

The experience had actual religious overtones. The safety and shelter o the haymow were somehow symbolic of all security against dark and tempestuous powers. When faith in an ultimate security is couched in symbolic expressions which suggest protection from all immediate perils, it is easy to be tempted to the illusion that the child of God will be accorded special protection from the capricious forces of the natural world or special immunity from the vindictive passions of angry men.

Any such faith is bound to suffer disillusionment. Nonetheless, this retrospection reveals much of his youth, and of his maturity. Louis, then of the Evangelical Church, now Evan- gelical and Reformed. He transferred from Eden to Yale in , and there received the B. The same year he was ordained by the Evangelical Synod of North America and began pastoral duties at Bethel Evangelical Church, an auto workers' congregation in Detroit.

Actually the book contains most of the insights that characterize the mature Niebuhr, yet mixes profound introspection with a delightful play-by-play ac- count of the grandeur and misery of life in church and industrial community. He was keenly interested in ethics and dubious about theology, yet some transcendence is evident on every page. He was unwilling to entertain great moral ideas without attempting to real- ize them in life and society, and equally unwilling to proclaim them in abstract terms without bringing them into juxtaposition with the specific social and moral issues of the day.

He despised the cheap scolds, and the sentimentalists, among his fellow ministers, and slowly developed his unique critical gift. His method is clear, from beginning to end, in these words from his diary: " The real meaning of the gospel is in conflict with most of the customs and attitudes of our day at so many places that there is adventure in the Christian message, even if you only play around with its ideas in a con- ventional world.

I can't say that I have done anything in my life to dram- atize the conflict between the gospel and the world. But I find it in- creasingly interesting to set the two in juxtaposition at least in my mind and in the minds of others. And of course ideas may finally lead to action" P. The Insufficiency of Man 43 It is obvious that " playing around " with the conflict between the gospel and the world not only became "increasingly interesting" but finally the master passion.

He defined religion as a reaction to life's mysteries and a reverence before the infinitudes of the uni- verse. He recognized, however, that without ethical application re- ligion might never come to grips with tragedy. The soul both rever- ently and morally vital could apprehend the infinite in terms o holiness, and worship a God transcending both human knowledge and human virtue.

During these years he was much more than a critic of the deper- sonalized society produced, along with automobiles, by Detroit in- dustry. He was also, and perhaps primarily, a critic of himself. Note these words from the diary of " A spiritual leader who has too many illusions is useless. One who has lost his illusions about mankind and retains his illusions about himself is insufferable. Let the process of disillusionment continue until the self is included.

At that point, of course, only religion can save from the en- ervation of despair.

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But it is at that point that true religion is born " P. The small working-class church grew in size and grace; presently a new building was required and obtained. Sunday evening forums centered discussion on critical social issues attracting intellec- tuals, radicals, and liberals of every shade of opinion.

Sessions were sprightly, and sometimes explosive.

There among Detroit factory workers Reinhold Niebuhr developed his profound sympathy for the proletariat. He became the doughty David of the disinherited against every Philistine Goliath. He once said, " The lowliest peasant of the Dark Ages had more opportunity for self-expression than the highest paid employee in the Ford factory.

As it was, the bitterness of the workers against their exploitation and depersonalization by the factory system became his own. The Marxian faith in the worker as the future savior of society entered into his soul. There were flare-ups between Niebuhr and Detroit employers. He entered the comparative quiet harbor of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, as associate professor of philosophy of religion. Since , he has been professor of applied Christianity. He was no less a social radical at Union. He blended conservative Lutheran and Re- formed theology; the political philosophy of John Dewey, whose naive faith in "free inquiry " he later rejected; the economic ap- proach of Karl Marx, whose utopianism became apparent to him, but whose perception of the "ideological taint" in all bourgeois thinking he continued to value; and the everyday intricacies of the American labor movement.

During the depression of the thirties he rose to commanding influence in the theological world. He con- firmed Americans' suspicion that something was radically wrong with society, and suggested a revaluation of all values as the first deep surgery. Early journeys to postwar Europe, particularly to postwar Ger- many, convinced Niebuhr that his earlier antipacifism needed revi- sion.

For a time he espoused tentatively the pacifist cause. In , with Moral Man and Immoral Society, he broke completely with pacifism, considering it a Utopian miscarriage of social responsibility, issuing from a sentimentalized view of God and man. Necessary social change for example, from a bourgeois to a proletarian society could be accomplished only by force. With Reflections on the End of an Era , he pro- nounced the doom of capitalist society. He visited strikers, talked to unions, and entered wholeheartedly into the activities of the Socialist Party.

With Christianity and Power Politics , Niebuhr had discovered, and dispelled, his Utopian illusions. He was considerably less certain what might lie on the other side of social breakdown; he no longer lightly hoped for the collapse of a social system which continued to offer a degree of freedom, and with it the possibility of achieving better social and economic adjustments.

Hope of break- down was only feasible when any alternative was preferable to an existing tyranny. Undoubtedly three well-known personalities had something to do with the change in Niebuhr's emphasis. Franklin D. Roosevelt's attempt to bring economic power under social control, whether failure or success, ameliorated working-class hatred of capi- talist society; and the rise of Mussolini and Hitler indicated to many a sensitive conscience that a contest of power between freedom and tyranny was not far away.

Every man is both imbedded in the society of which he is a part, and transcends it. The break with the Socialist Party was inevitable. Niebuhr himself tells the story, and the reasons behind it. The Party position is that this war is a clash of rival imperial- isms in which nothing significant is at stake. I answer the Socialist communication by a quick resignation from the Party. Long before December, , Niebuhr was the leader of a group of eminent churchmen who believed that war could be a lesser evil than tyranny; together they denounced the immorality and irrespon- sibility of isolation.

February 7, , the group presented to the public the first issue of Christianity and Crisis, an eight-page bi- weekly opposed to the stanchly pacifist tone of existing denomina- tional periodicals, in particular of The Christian Century. Antipacifist churchmen were given a thorough hearing. Churchmen who re- mained pacifist, Niebuhr and his group believed, were guilty of a sentimentalized Christianity which preferred slavery to war. Con- sciously or not, the pacifist was on the side of tyranny; since resist- ance to tyranny is war, tyranny is peace. Niebuhr was the fifth American to deliver the Gifford Lectures.

The lectures were given at the University of Edinburgh in , and published in two volumes, Human Nature and Human Destiny ; they are now available in one edition. Niebuhr's fresh approach to old controversies, his sharp logic, and his theological brilliance penetrated the presuppositions and pretensions of every alternative to the gospel of judgment and redemption.

Niebuhr argues that man is a paradox of finiteness and freedom, that his sin issues not from his finiteness but his unwilling- ness to accept it, his excessive self-love, which produces defiance on the one hand and fanaticism on the other. Mysticism sought falsely to save man from impulse, and romanticism from reason. Prophetic religion disclosed God the Judge who stands over against the par- tiality and idolatry in all human achievement; the Gospels disclosed God the Redeemer who meets repentance with pardon, and com- pletes in grace what man cannot complete in nature and history.

It is impossible for the reader not to be stirred to self-examination or rebuttal. Niebuhr is often criticized for his severity, but surely he is too severely criticized, for the surgeon must cut deeply before heal- ing can begin. He is said to be too clever, and in greater need of tenderness and compassion. After listening to him, one clergyman remarked, " He can skin civilization, hang the hide up to dry, and offer prayer over the carcass.

A gospel that underestimates the problem is always a greater The Insufficiency of Man 47 hazard than a criticism that underestimates the gospel. It is of special interest that Niebuhr is not unaware o his hyper- critical temper. I have my eye too much upon the limitations of contemporary religious life and institutions; I always see the absurdities and irration- alities in which narrow types of religion issue.

I can't justify my- self in my perilous position except by the observation that the business of being sophisticated and naive, critical and religious, at one and the same time is as difficult as it is necessary, and only a few are able to achieve the balance. H [probably Lynn Harold Hough] says I lack a proper appreciation of the mystical values in religion. That is probably the root of the matter. Yet I can't resist another word in self-defense.

The modern world is so full of bunkum that it is difficult to attempt honesty in it without an undue emphasis upon the critical faculty " Pp. There are, in reality, two Reinhold Niebuhrs, if not more. On the one side he is the fearless and honest critic of our age, and of the ages that have preceded ours; with exact scrutiny he weighs the Middle Ages along with Reformation and post-Reformation and finds them wanting.

On the other side, he is a messenger of good news, a bearer of the gospel. This side of Niebuhr is the lesser side. He seems considerably more a John the Baptist than a Saint John. Perhaps he that is least in the Kingdom of Love is greater than he. He himself apparently had something of the kind in mind when he wrote in his Detroit diary: "I am not really a Christian.

I am too cautious to be a Christian " P. He is more of an Arnos than a Jeremiah. Arnos prophesied doom for Israel as Niebuhr has prophesied doom for our liberal bourgeois culture. Jeremiah also prophesied doom, but wept over Judah as Christ wept over Jerusa- lem. The tears are not apparent in Niebuhr. Yet there is a strain of faith and love in him which is so rarely apparent that it is a special delight. Even in his first book, Does Civilization Need Religion?