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Christian realism has provided a theological understanding of politics that identifies the limits within which all political choices are made. Those limits are set by a theological understanding of judgment, which reserves the ultimate meaning of history to divine judgment, and by a theological understanding of responsibility, which gives proximate meaning to the choices between greater and lesser goods that are available to human politics. The assessments of global politics offered by Reinhold Niebuhr and other Christian realists during the Second World War and the Cold War which followed owe their influence partly to an astute and historically informed reading of events, but primarily, their influence is due to this basic theological understanding of politics. While the world has changed in ways that clearly reveal limitations in the original formulations of Christian realism, the theological principles of judgment and responsibility continue to provide an understanding of global politics adequate to the new realities of the twenty-first century.

Keywords: Christian realism; Cold War; Reinhold Niebuhr; Russia; judgment; politics; responsibility

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Southern Methodist UniversityP.O. Box 317Dallas, TX 75275-0317214.768.4134, Email:

Publication date: December 1, 2009

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