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The Doctrine of Humanity in the Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr

Kenneth MorrisHamilton, JaneBarter Moulaison

Publication Year: 2013

Reinhold Niebuhr was a twentieth-century American theologian who was known for his commentary on public affairs. One of his most influential ideas was the relating of his Christian faith to realism rather than idealism in foreign affairs. His perspective influenced many liberals and is enjoying a resurgence today; most recently Barack Obama has acknowledged Niebuhr’s importance to his own thinking.

In this book, Kenneth Hamilton makes a claim that no other work on Niebuhr has made—that Niebuhr’s chief and abiding preoccupation throughout his long career was the nature of humankind. Hamilton engages in a close reading of Niebuhr’s entire oeuvre through this lens. He argues that this preoccupation remained consistent throughout Niebuhr’s writings, and that through his doctrine of humankind one gets a full sense of Niebuhr the theologian. Hamilton exposes not only the internal consistency of Niebuhr’s project but also its aporia. Although Niebuhr’s influence perhaps peaked in the mid-twentieth century, enthusiasm for his approach to religion and politics has never waned from the North American public theology, and this work remains relevant today.

Although Hamilton wrote this thesis in the mid-1960s it is published here for the first time. Jane Barter Moulaison, in her editorial gloss and introduction, demonstrates the abiding significance of Hamilton’s work to the study of Niebuhr by bringing it into conversation with subsequent writings on Niebuhr, particularly as he is re-appropriated by twenty-first-century American theology.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Series: Editions SR


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

The number of books and shorter studies interpreting Reinhold Niebuhr’s thinking is already large and continues to grow, so that the need for an additional work in this area may not seem obvious. Nevertheless, there are at least four reasons why the present study is by no means redundant and has, therefore been undertaken. ...

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pp. xi-xii

This book had a lengthy gestation. Its birth, to me, is nothing short of a miracle. I want, therefore, to thank its many midwives, coaches, and cheerers- on. First, thanks must go to my research assistants: Katie Schewe and Kristian Klippenstein. Katie was heroic as she ably transported a faded and lengthy typewritten thesis into the twenty-first century. ...


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pp. xiii-xiv

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Editor’s Introduction

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pp. 1-18

It was an unlikely meeting. I had been told that Kenneth Hamilton had become a recluse, barely making the usual rounds of school and church, gallery and concert hall—those usual haunts where clergy and academics tend to gather. It was 2007 and he was almost ninety; he deserved the rest, I thought, and contented myself ...

Part One: Reinhold Niebuhr’s Doctrine of Humanity: An Investigation

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1. Niebuhr as a Theologian and His Relation to Theological Tradition

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pp. 21-28

Few people of the twentieth century have been more effective in leaving their mark on the thinking of their generation than has Reinhold Niebuhr. An intellectual, yet with a predominantly practical turn of mind, he is admired and respected for his involvement in social and political action as well as for his work as a Christian author of theological originality. ...

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2. Niebuhr’s General Theological Method

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pp. 29-38

“Man is primarily a historical creature,” writes Niebuhr.1 This judgment reflects the writer’s intense preoccupation with history, both concretely considered and as an idea. The word history appears in the titles of three of his books and in the subtitle of a fourth.2 ...

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3. Human Nature: Self-Transcendence

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pp. 39-52

In the Preface to the first volume of his Gifford Lectures, Niebuhr writes, “The study is based upon the conviction that there are resources in the Christian faith for an understanding of human nature which have been lost in modern culture.”1 Both at the time when the lectures were first delivered and in later years, ...

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4. Human Nature: Sin

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pp. 53-64

When Niebuhr speaks about the Christian view of the human being, he often follows biblical terminology, describing the human relationally as God’s creature both in body and spirit; but often, too, he explains the Christian understanding of the human being in terms of his own choosing, attempting by means of these terms to make a substantial analysis of human nature. ...

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5. Human Nature and the Norm of Love

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pp. 65-76

The tension between the kerygmatic and the ontological strains in Niebuhr’s teaching about sin becomes increasingly evident as this teaching is brought into relation with historic Christian doctrine. The kerygmatic strain is dominant in the central position that Niebuhr accords the sinfulness of humanity. ...

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6. Humanity and the Problem of History

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pp. 77-90

Niebuhr considers the human creature to be at once marked and bound by temporality and to contain within itself intimations of eternity—a capacity to transcend the temporal in the realm of pure spirit. The relationship of the human creature to time and eternity is also the question of history, and here Niebuhr wrestles with the problem ...

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7. Humanity and Its Faith: The Apprehension of Total Reality

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pp. 91-102

In Niebuhr’s view, religious faith is a question arising out of the question of what it means to be human. Once the latter question has been answered the former is, in principle, answered too. For if we know the nature of humanity and the human situation, we can tell how it must proceed in order to apprehend the real and the true, i.e., God. ...

Part Two: Reinhold Niebuhr’s Christian Anthropology in Its Context

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8. Away from Nineteenth-Century Religion

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pp. 105-114

In the history of theological thought in the twentieth-century Reinhold Niebuhr holds an assured place. Although he is still insufficiently recognized in Continental Europe1—perhaps because his writings are so largely “practical” and are directed so prominently to the problems facing Christians in Anglo-Saxon democracies— ...

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9. Christian Realism

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pp. 115-128

In the Preface and Apology introducing Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic, Niebuhr explains that “if a minister wants to be a man among men he need only to stop creating devotion to abstract ideas which every one accepts in theory and denies in practice and to agonize about their validity and practicability in the social issues ...

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10. Neo-Supernaturalsim

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pp. 129-142

In his Preface to Reflections on the End of an Era, Niebuhr wrote of the “tracts for the times” which his book offered: “The basic conviction which runs through them is that the liberal culture of modernity is quite unable to give guidance and direction to a confused generation which faces the disintegration of a social system and the task of building a new one. ...

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11. The “Christian Interpretation” of the Human Situation

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pp. 143-152

The strength of Niebuhr’s appeal to the wisdom and abiding relevance of the great theologians of Christian orthodoxy lay very largely in his emphasis on realism. In a sense, the return to an appreciation of the classic theologians was part of the revolt against the nineteenth century. ...

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pp. 153-156

Some theologians win respect and disciples because of the massive range of their teaching. Others make their mark through their ability to proclaim insistently and persuasively truths they believe to be both important and neglected. Niebuhr belongs with the latter. Declining to claim for himself the title of theologian, he has been called a prophet and a preacher; ...


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pp. 157-226


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pp. 227-238


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pp. 239-244

E-ISBN-13: 9781554586448
E-ISBN-10: 1554586445
Print-ISBN-13: 9781554586288
Print-ISBN-10: 1554586283

Page Count: 260
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Editions SR

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Niebuhr, Reinhold,--1892-1971.
  • Theological anthropology--Christianity--History of doctrines--20th century.
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