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The Polictical Implications of the Theology of H. Richard Niebuhr - L. Earl Shaw

The Polictical Implications of the Theology of H. Richard Niebuhr - L. Earl Shaw

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Published by Cocceius
For well over a quarter of this century H. Richard Niebuhr, along with his brother Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich (who fled Germany in the thirties), stood as one of the giants of American Protestant religious thought. Though less well known than his brother, Richard is perhaps more widely respected and has had greater influence within theological circles. In fact, because of hiscareful, penetrating, and creative scholarship, he has been referred to as the "theologian's theologian."

Actually he was not a "systematic theologian" as that term is normally understood in seminaries and divinity schools; he was, as he claimed to be (and as his title at Yale indicated) a philosopher of the Christian moral life. But since for him theology and ethics were inseparable, a great deal of his reflections and writings were on the nature and actions of God, as well as reflections on man's appropriate response to God's nature and actions.

The Political Science Reviewer, Volume 7, Number 1, Fall 1977, pp. 53-90.

http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/journal/issue.aspx?id=7f73facd-5e7a-4cb9-a52b-e498e2da6b01

L. Earl Shaw, Jr. passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack on April 22, 2002 at Northern Arizona University. He was 64. Shaw had been a faculty member and former chair of the Department of Political Science at Northern Arizona University where he taught since 1988. Before that he was a faculty member at the University of Minnesota from 1962 to 1988.

In addition to a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of North Carolina, a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Yale where he studied with H. Richard Niebuhr. Editor of Modern Competing Ideologies and Readings on the American Political System. Professor Shaw co-authored The United States Congress in Comparative Perspective.
For well over a quarter of this century H. Richard Niebuhr, along with his brother Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich (who fled Germany in the thirties), stood as one of the giants of American Protestant religious thought. Though less well known than his brother, Richard is perhaps more widely respected and has had greater influence within theological circles. In fact, because of hiscareful, penetrating, and creative scholarship, he has been referred to as the "theologian's theologian."

Actually he was not a "systematic theologian" as that term is normally understood in seminaries and divinity schools; he was, as he claimed to be (and as his title at Yale indicated) a philosopher of the Christian moral life. But since for him theology and ethics were inseparable, a great deal of his reflections and writings were on the nature and actions of God, as well as reflections on man's appropriate response to God's nature and actions.

The Political Science Reviewer, Volume 7, Number 1, Fall 1977, pp. 53-90.

http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/journal/issue.aspx?id=7f73facd-5e7a-4cb9-a52b-e498e2da6b01

L. Earl Shaw, Jr. passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack on April 22, 2002 at Northern Arizona University. He was 64. Shaw had been a faculty member and former chair of the Department of Political Science at Northern Arizona University where he taught since 1988. Before that he was a faculty member at the University of Minnesota from 1962 to 1988.

In addition to a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of North Carolina, a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Yale where he studied with H. Richard Niebuhr. Editor of Modern Competing Ideologies and Readings on the American Political System. Professor Shaw co-authored The United States Congress in Comparative Perspective.

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 THE POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE
 THEOLOGY OF H. RICHARD NIEBUHR
F
or
 well over a quarter of this century H. Richard Niebuhr, along
 with his brother Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich (who fled
Germany
in
the thirties), stood as one
o
the giants of American
Protestant religious thought. Though less well known than his
brother,
Richard is perhaps more widely respected and has had
greater influence within theological circles. In fact, because of his
careful, penetrating, and creative scholarship, he has been referred
to as the "theologian's theologian."
1
Actually he was not a "syste-
matic theologian" as that term is normally understood in seminariesand divinity schools; he was, as he claimed to be (and
as
his title at
Yale indicated) a philosopher of the Christian moral life. But since
for him theology and ethics were inseparable, a great deal of his
reflections and writings were on the nature and actions of God, as
 well
as
reflections on man's appropriate response to God's nature
and actions.
The Man 
an
His Work 
Helmut Richard Niebuhr was born in Wright City, Missouri, in1894, the son of 
a
distinguished pastor (who fled to the United
States from Germany at the age of 17) in the German Evangelical
Synod of North America." He followed his older brother to Elm-
hurst College (1908-1912) and later to Eden Theological Seminary 
(1912-1915).
He pastored a church in St. Louis from 1916-1919,
during which he received an M.A.
in
history from Washington Uni-
versity. In 1919 he returned to teach at Eden. Feeling the need for
more intellectual development, he left Eden to continue his studiesat Yale in 1922, while he pastored a church nearby. After receiving
his B.D. and Ph.D. (writing a thesis on "Ernst Troeltsch's Philoso-phy of Religion" under Professor D.C. Macintosh), he spurned an
offer to stay on to teach at Yale and returned to be President of 
Elmhurst College in 1924. After a highly successful three years, he
i Clyde A. Holbrook, "H. Richard Niebuhr in
 Handbook of Christian
Theologians,.
eds.,. Dean Peerman and Martin Marty (Cleveland and New York:
World Publishing Co., 1965), p.
375.
2
For a more detailed survey of his life, see James Fowler,
To 
See the King-
dom: The Theological Vision of H. Richard Niebuhr 
(New York: Abingdon,
1974), pp. 1-8.
 
54
 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER
 yearned for the classroom and returned to the Eden faculty where
he taught until 1931 when he took a Yale professorship to teach
Christian ethics, a position he held until his death
in
1962.
H. Richard Niebuhr was a dedicated and active churchman
throughout his life. He was an early advocate of church union and
ecumenical cooperation. His first major book,
The Social Sources of 
Denominationalism 
(1929),
3
in a highly critical tone, pointed to
how economic, racial, regional, ethnic, nationalistic, and politicalforces had molded churches in their own image. In a 1935 book,
Church Against the World 
(with Francis
Miller and
William
Pauck) he pointed to the "captivity" of the churches by the culture
and pleaded for the church's liberation and independence from
capitalism, nationalism, and humanism. In his masterful study of 
1937,
The Kingdom of God in America,° 
he seeks to provide a cor
-
rective to
some
of his early writings, arguing
in
effect that socio
-
historical factors cannot account for all religious belief and events.
 That is, to use social scientific language, religion (specifically in thiscase, the conception of the Kingdom of God) can be an independentvariable.
In 1941 he published one of his finest theological works,
Th
Meaning of Revelation,° 
 which Paul Tillich once referred to as
"the 
introduction
to
existential thinking in present American theology."7A 1951 book,
Christ and Culture° 
explores the normative patterns
Christians have used to relate to the "world" or culure. Four years
later he edited (with Waldo Beach)
Basic Christian Ethics.° 
In 1954-55, with the assistance of James Gustafson and Daniel
Day Williams, he directed a study of theological education in theUnited States and Canada for the American Association of Theo-
logical Schools.
The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry 
The Social Sources
of   
 Denominationalism
(New York: Henry Holt and Com-
pany, 1929).
4
The Church Against the Worl
(Chicago,
New York: Willell, Clark and
Company, 1935), hereafter
CAW.
5
The Kingdom of God in America
(New York: Harper Torch Books, 1959),
hereafter
 KGA.
6
The Meaning 
of   
 Revelation
(
New York: The Macmillan Company, 1941),
hereafter
MR:
7
Paul Tillich, "Existential Thinking in American Theology,"
 Religion in
 Life X 
(Summer 1941), p. 4551.
 s Christ and Culture
(New York: Harper, 1951) hereafter CC.
 Basic Christian Ethics
(
New York: Ronald Press, 1955).
 
 THEOLOGY OF H. RICHARD
NIEBUHR
55
(1956)
1
0
and
The Advancement of Theological Education 
(1957)
11
resulted from the study. A related book,
The Ministry in Historical 
Perspectivel2 
 was edited by Niebuhr and Williams.
His last book before his death,
Radical Monotheism and West- 
ern Culture 
(1960)
13
develops his central concept of radical mono-theism and distinguishes it from the polytheistic and henotheistic
faiths in the history of Western science, religion, and politics.
The 
Responsible Self 
(1963) was published posthumously, but it can only
be regarded as prolegomenon to his projected
opus
on ethics which
religious academics had long anticipated.Niebuhr is difficult to classify using the usual categories or labels
for schools of thought. In fact he eschewed such labels. Claude
Welch's characterization of his thought as "critical orthodoxy" will
serve as well as any. Welch writes:
 This critical orthodoxy, as I shall call it, is characterized by less
animus toward liberalism than is present in some neo-Reformationtypes of thought (especially those of the European variety). Indeed,it includes what some interpreters would prefer to call a chastened
evangelical liberalism. Yet the distinctive complex of liberal the-
ology's doctrinal emphases has not persisted. . . . And where lib-eralism was apologetic about the creeds and the biblical symbols,this theology is happy to rediscover their meaning and continuing
relevance. It
is
i
mpressed less by the newness of an epoch in which
the past formulations must be radically revised and new principles
of authority articulated than by the perduring validity of the
central theological traditions. In this sense it may be called keryg-
maticand orthodox. Yet this is plainl
a critica
orthodoxy, incor-
porating many of the concerns of liberalism, its historicritical ap-proach to scripture, its interest in relevance to culture, etc., andthere is an openness to new symbols that will not replace but will
interpret the classic statements. Further, this critical orthodoxy isdistinguished from its European counterpart by much less concern
to identify a
depositum fidei
or
body of revealed truth or unchang-
ing doctrinal content.
15
1o
H. Richard Niebuhr,
 Purpose of the Chuch and Its Ministry
(
New York:
Harper and Brothers, 1957), hereafter
 PCM.
11
The Advancement of Theological Education
(
New York: Harper and
Brothers, 1957), hereafter
 ATE.
12
The Ministry in Historical Perspective
(
New York: Harper and Brothers,
1956).
13
 Radical 
Monotheism an
Western
Culture
(New
York: Harper and
Brothers, 1960), hereafter
 RM
 ,
'C.
14
The Responsible Self 
(New York: Harper and Row, 1963) hereafter
 RS.
13
Claude
Welch, "Theology" in
 Religion,
ed.,
Paul
Ramsey (Englewood
Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1965).

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