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Theology, History, and Culture

Theology, History, and Culture: Major Unpublished Writings

Edited by William Stacy Johnson
Foreword by Richard R. Niebuhr
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 244
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  • Book Info
    Theology, History, and Culture
    Book Description:

    This book brings together the best of the unpublished works of H. Richard Niebuhr, one of the outstanding American religious thinkers of this century. The collection includes lectures, sermons, and essays, some of which Niebuhr delivered at major universities to general audiences, and others that he prepared for circulation and discussion among colleagues at Yale and elsewhere. Contemporaneous events, religious figures, important issues in theology, and interpretations of American history and culture-all engaged Niebuhr's broad-ranging interest and revealed his concern with integrating theology and practical living.For those approaching the author's work for the first time, this volume opens the way; for readers already familiar with his concerns, it invites a deeper understanding of his theology. The collection will enrich contemporary public theological discussion, adding Niebuhr's confessionally grounded yet publicly focused voice to the conversation. Richard R. Niebuhr contributes a Foreword in which he recollects his father and offers insights from private writings, and William Stacy Johnson's Introduction orients the reader to Niebuhr's life and work, locating his writings in appropriate theological and historical contexts.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14711-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Richard R. Niebuhr

    This volume presents eighteen previously unpublished essays and lectures by H. Richard Niebuhr. Since HRN was not only a teacher and author but also minister to various congregations in his lifetime and preached regularly in Yale Divinity School’s Marquand Chapel as well as at various commencements and ordinations, it also offers the complete texts of three of his sermons, which are representative both of his personal faith and of his preaching style. (The greater number of his extant sermons are in annotated outline form only.) Selecting the particular writings to be included in this book has been an exacting task,...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxxviii)
    William Stacy Johnson

    The influence of H. Richard Niebuhr on twentieth-century theology has been long-lasting and profound. This may surprise those who have come to think of theology as primarily a matter of “doctrine.” In the narrow sense of creedal formulas, doctrine was never the primary focus for H. Richard Niebuhr. Niebuhr fits much more readily into Karl Barth’s category of the “irregular” or “occasional” theologians, that vast majority of theologians for whom what matters most is not the system-building of dogmatic treatises but the application of theological insight to the pressing problems of the day, whose highest work is not creating a...


    • 1 The Cole Lectures: “Next Steps in Theology”
      (pp. 3-49)

      “Theology,” said P. T. Forsyth in a series of lectures delivered to young theologians fifty years ago, “simply means thinking in centuries. Religion tells on the present, but theology tells on the religion of the future.”¹ It is a part of the duty of the church in certain sections and on certain occasions to be less concerned about the effects of the Gospel on the individual immediately or on the present time and to look ahead to certain changes in the future. Forsyth’s statement is doubtless directly contradictory to many of the experiences most of us have had many times...

    • 2 An Ecumenical Vision
      (pp. 50-74)

      The newer tendencies in theology may be interpreted in various ways. From one point of view they appear to be efforts to recover the Christian theological heritage and to renew modes of thought which the anti-traditional pathos of liberalism depreciated. So regarded they are aptly called by ancient names, being designated as neo-Catholicism, neo-Protestantism, neo-orthodoxy, neo-Calvinism, and neo-Lutheranism. But in many respects they seem more closely related to the present than to the past. If they turn to old ideas they do so for the sake of rethinking man’s relations, nature, and destiny as these are put in Question by...


    • 3 The Meaning of History
      (pp. 77-101)

      In our age of specialization and of the separation of [a] onetime unified knowledge into many divisions the work of relating the fragments is of great concern and interest to modern scholars. We reflect on each other’s specialties and in doing so occasionally make contributions to the companions from whom we are divided. But quite as frequently the efforts are profitless because we cannot construct a unity of what has been atomistically conceived and developed (like aCambridge Modern History) or because specialization has left us in great ignorance of fields of learning beyond our own gardens. A physicist’s comments...

    • 4 Historical Interpretation
      (pp. 102-140)

      The subject chosen for this lecture requires more than a formal apology. We are all more than a little weary of keeping our religion up-to-date, of adjusting and adapting our theology to changing intellectual fashions. We have had gospels for an age of doubt, theologies for periods of social reconstruction, religions for the era of science, faiths for democratic civilizations and philosophies for modern life, until we have begun to wonder whether there is such a thing as a faith for life and a theology for man, a gospel for the common human situation. We have admonished ourselves so often...


    • 5 Religion and the Democratic Tradition
      (pp. 143-191)

      To speak again of the relations of Christianity and democracy is to venture on ground well-trodden by angels and fools. If we would avoid the folly of the latter as well as the greater folly of pretending to an angelic wisdom beyond our reach, we shall do well to define our terms and to limit our discussion. For both words—Christianity and democracy—are basket-words, containing all sorts of meanings and lending themselves to vagueness in thinking.Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary,for instance, defines the word “Christian” as meaning: “1. One who believes, or professes or is assumed to believe, in...

    • 6 Sermons
      (pp. 192-214)

      1. Our service today is one of a series of symbolic actions. For many members of the audience it is connected with graduating exercises in yale University and with ordination. For us of the faculty it is a part of that symbolic ritual with which we celebrate the arrival in port of our ship after another voyage across seas of ignorance and knowledge. Our predecessors and we have made one hundred and twenty-six such crossings. But the joy of arrival does not diminish with repetition. There is no genuine repetition. Every year is new. The seas are always changing. Strange...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 215-230)
  9. Index
    (pp. 231-236)