Cover image for On Niebuhr : a theological study
On Niebuhr : a theological study
Gilkey, Langdon, 1919-2004.
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Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xiii, 261 pages ; 24 cm
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BX4827.N5 G55 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Langdon Gilkey's insightful, engaging book offers a detailed--and not uncritical--examination of one of the most influential American theologians of the twentieth century.

Author Notes

Born in Chicago, Langdon Gilkey received his B.A. at Harvard University (1940) and earned a Ph.D. at Columbia University (1954). He has been a Fulbright scholar at Cambridge University (1950--51) and has been awarded two Guggenheim fellowships, the first to Germany in 1960--61, and then to Rome in 1965. Gilkey is currently a professor of theology emeritus at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Gilkey's pedagogical concern is in examining the place of religion within a secular culture. With the prevailing appearance of religious sentiments such as fundamentalism, cult practices, meditation, and private ideology, he notes religion to be very much an aspect of our scientific and technological age. The question for our age, Gilkey says, will be "not will religion survive, as much as will we survive and with what sort of religion, a creative or demonic one?"

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Gilkey's engaging style, healthy dose of autobiographical reflection, and lucid exposition of Reinhold Niebuhr's theology enable readers to learn a great deal about him as well as Niebuhr. This makes the book an excellent general introduction to two of the most influential twentieth-century theologians and a good entry point for understanding the kind of influence theology may exert in the twenty-first century. Gilkey dismisses interpreters of Niebuhr who see his theological language as mere rhetoric and his understanding of history as "gloomy." For Gilkey, theological language is central, not peripheral, to Niebuhr's work. Niebuhr's theological emphasis on God and God's grace allowed him to abandon the liberal project without succumbing to cynicism. In an age as prone to cynicism as the present, Niebuhr's theologically informed ethical-political reflections are more relevant than ever. Gilkey does a real service by making Niebuhr's work accessible to a general audience without sacrificing the academic rigor characteristic of all his own work. --Steven Schroeder

Publisher's Weekly Review

Reinhold Niebuhr, the author of Faith and History and other seminal works, may come to be regarded as the most important American theologian of the 20th century. In On Niebuhr: A Theological Study, fellow theologian Langdon Gilkey dissects the interplay of Niebuhr's theology and his political theories, as informed by the Depression and World War II. Gilkey argues that for Niebuhr, everything sprang from theology; politics and ethics were not separate from it. This is a serious and challenging book and a worthy read. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) was one of the most influential American theologians of the 20th century. Gilkey (emeritus, Univ. of Chicago Divinity Sch.; Reaping the Whirlwind; Nature, Reality, and the Sacred) considers Niebuhr's mature theology in relation to his political theory, which arose from the crises of the 1930s and 1940s. Concentrating on his subject's ideas regarding sin and history, the author shows, in this well-written and not uncritical volume, how Niebuhr adapted the traditional teachings of St. Augustine and Martin Luther to a modern context. At the same time, Gilkey speaks of Niebuhr's influence on his own thought. Readers seeking a general biography of Niebuhr should consult Richard Wrightman Fox's Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography (Cornell Univ., 1996); for a more expansive view of his theology, one should still consult Gordon Harlan's The Thought of Reinhold Niebuhr (1960. o.p.). Highly recommended. Augustine J. Curley, Newark Abbey, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Renowned theologian Gilkey (emer., Univ. of Chicago Divinity School) pays homage to his mentor Reinhold Niebuhr by giving readers a succinct but reverent analysis of Niebuhr's theology. Gilkey begins with autobiographical recollections of Niebuhr's impact on his life in the years leading up to WW II and how Niebuhr changed him from an idealist liberal (an isolationist) to a realist liberal who felt that radical evil must be challenged, even with force. Gilkey divides his work into two parts: Niebuhr's early political writings (chapters 1-3) and his mature theology (chapters 4-11). The second part constitutes the bulk of the book and proceeds systematically to treat the salient themes in Niebuhr's theological works: myth and revelation, human nature, sin, history, and eschatology. Gilkey concludes with an assessment of Niebuhr's critique and acceptance of modernist assumptions that make him relevant to a postmodern age. While noting that there are lacunae in Niebuhr's thought (e.g., environmental issues and religious pluralism), Gilkey argues that Niebuhrian principles hold promise as a way of relating Christian faith to 21st-century concerns. Recommended for upper-division undergraduates, graduates, and faculty. C. R. Piar California State University, Long Beach

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviationsp. ix
Prefacep. xi
Part 1 First Encounters and Early Political Writings
1. Early Encountersp. 3
2. The Structure of Niebuhr's Theologyp. 16
3. Early Political Writingsp. 29
Part 2 Niebuhr's Mature Theology
4. Meaning, Mystery, Myth, and Revelationp. 53
5. The Doctrine of Human Naturep. 78
6. Sin: Anxiety, Pride, and Self-Deceptionp. 102
7. Sin: In Bondage yet Free, Inevitable but Not Necessaryp. 124
8. The Understanding of Historyp. 142
9. The Biblical Understanding of Historyp. 169
10. The Enigma of History and Eschatologyp. 200
11. Reflectionsp. 223
Indexp. 251