Reinhold Niebuhr in Contemporary Scholarship
Recent studies of Reinhold Niebuhr's life and work demonstrate his continued importance in theology, ethics, and political thought. Historical studies by Heather Warren, Mark Kleinman, and Normunds Kamergrauzis provide new assessments of Niebuhr's role as a political and religious leader in his own time and trace the consequences of the movements in which he participated. They also show us more clearly how his work was connected to the ideas and programs of his contemporaries. Colm McKeogh offers a more systematic treatment of Niebuhr's political realism in relation to just war theory. Niebuhr's intellectual legacy remains disputed, with Stanley Hauerwas and Langdon Gilkey offering radically different assessments of his theology. Hauerwas sees in Niebuhr a close connection to the religious liberalism of William James that precludes any authentic Christian witness. Niebuhr's empiricism reduces God to a necessary feature of human consciousness. Gilkey notes Niebuhr's early use of James' psychology, but discerns a theology of history that is central to Niebuhr's mature work. In that theology, the ground of hope necessarily lies beyond human consciousness, and indeed beyond history itself.