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Niebuhr, Reinhold°


NIEBUHR, REINHOLD ° (1892–1971), U.S. Protestant theologian who spent most of his teaching career at New York's Union Theological Seminary. Niebuhr brought to this position a social conscience formed during a pastorate in Detroit, Michigan, in the 1920s. Active in many public causes, gifted as a journalist, he fashioned his ethical approach in countless articles and a number of books, the most famous being the Gifford Lectures, The Nature and Destiny of Man (1941–43). Niebuhr frequently acknowledged that his social passion had been born at the side of activist Jews, even as his prophetic realism was nurtured by a reading of the Hebrew prophets. His own preaching reproduces something of their cadences and much of their concern for justice. "I have as a Christian theologian sought to strengthen the Hebraic-prophetic content of the Christian tradition." His conception of Judaism and blatant opposition to Christian missionary activity among Jews are expressed in Chapter 7 of his book Pious and Secular America (1958; publ. in England under the title: The Godly and the Ungodly (1958)). By 1941 Niebuhr had begun publicly to advocate a Jewish homeland, particularly for European refugees, though he also wanted to welcome refugees to America. Though consistently arguing that Palestine should be that homeland, he had a reputation for fair-mindedness in Middle Eastern affairs and was not identified with ideological Zionism. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1967.


S.C. Guthrie, The Theological Character of Reinhold Niebuhr's Social Ethic (1959); G. Harland, The Thought of Reinhold Niebuhr (1960), includes bibliography; N.A. Scott, Reinhold Niebuhr (Eng., 1963), includes bibliography.

[Martin E. Marty]

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