The Niebuhr Legacy

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A Theologian's Theologian

He integrated social theory with theological reflection to illuminate the relationship between churches and culture.

H. Richard Niebuhr was a leading theologian of the twentieth century, best known for his work in Christian ethics and American religious history.

He was born on September 3, 1894, in Wright City, Missouri, the son of Lydia and Gustav Niebuhr. His father was a minister in the Evangelical Synod of North America (later the Evangelical and Reformed Church, now part of the United Church of Christ). He was raised in Lincoln, Illinois, and attended Elmhurst College, from which he graduated in 1912. He continued his studies at Eden Theological Seminary in Missouri and at Yale Divinity School. He was ordained a minister in the Evangelical Synod of North America, a forerunner of the United Church of Christ, in 1916.

Niebuhr taught at Eden, served as president of Elmhurst College from 1924 to 1927, and taught theology and Christian ethics at Yale.

In his scholarship, Niebuhr emphasized the need for believers to integrate their faith into their daily lives, and argued that church teachings should be articulated so as to make them relevant to contemporary culture. In books such as Christ and Culture (1951), he explored ways in which Christian principles have shaped American culture. He also warned the faithful not to be overwhelmed by the influence of secular society.

His works include The Kingdom of God in America (1937), The Meaning of Revelation (1941), and The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry (1954).

He died on July 5, 1962, in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

Additional Resources

H. Richard Niebuhr: Religion Online Library
The complete texts of Niebuhr's essays: "The Reconstruction of Faith" and "The Responsibility of the Church for Society." Also, three essays on Niebuhr's theology.

On Christ and Culture
From The Christian Century, a 2002 re-examination of H. Richard Niebuhr's classic work, by Peter R. Gathje.

Transforming Niebuhr's Categories
George Mardsen looks at the contemporary relevance of Niebuhr's typology for interactions between Christ and society.

God and Ourselves
The Christian Century reviews a collection of H. Richard Niebuhr's work, Theology, History, and Culture: Major Unpublished Writing, in 1997.

H. Richard Niebuhr Obituary
From the July 6, 1962 edition of The New York Times.

 

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