Reinhold Niebuhr’s Paradox: Paralysis, Violence, and Pragmatism by Daniel Malotky, and: Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics by Reinhold Niebuhr, and: An Interpretation of Christian Ethics by Reinhold Niebuhr

Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 35 (1):207-210 (2015)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:Reinhold Niebuhr’s Paradox: Paralysis, Violence, and Pragmatism by Daniel Malotky, and: Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics by Reinhold Niebuhr, and: An Interpretation of Christian Ethics by Reinhold NiebuhrDaniel A. MorrisReinhold Niebuhr’s Paradox: Paralysis, Violence, and Pragmatism By Daniel Malotky LANHAM, MD: LEXINGTON BOOKS, 2011. 124 PP. $52.50Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics By Reinhold Niebuhr, with a foreword by Cornel West LOUISVILLE: WESTMINSTER JOHN KNOX PRESS, 2013 (ORIG. PUB. 1932) 320 PP. $30.00An Interpretation of Christian Ethics By Reinhold Niebuhr, with an introduction by Edmund N. Santurri LOUISVILLE: WESTMINSTER JOHN KNOX PRESS, 2013 (ORIG. PUB. 1935). 278 PP. $30.00Have we been passing through a revival of interest in Reinhold Niebuhr since Barack Obama reported to David Brooks in 2007 that Niebuhr “is one of my favorite philosophers”? Or did Niebuhr’s work never go out of style in the first place? Whether current publishing trends reflect a revival or the norm, these three books highlight Niebuhr’s enduring relevance. They also show that Niebuhr’s lasting influence has not made him immune to criticism. Perhaps most important, they demonstrate that his insights can speak productively to contemporary issues whose urgency he may not have recognized.The new editions of An Interpretation of Christian Ethics and Moral Man and Immoral Society from Westminster John Knox Press contain welcome contributions to scholarship on Niebuhr. Originally delivered as the 1934 Rauschenbusch Memorial Lectures at Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, Interpretation was first published in 1935. A 1956 edition added a preface in which Niebuhr summarizes the text’s central claims and expresses a desire to revise many of his arguments. The new edition of Interpretation retains Niebuhr’s 1956 preface, and adds an introduction by Edmund N. Santurri, which precedes the preface. In his introduction, Santurri claims that this text “may well be Reinhold Niebuhr’s most important work in theological ethics,” despite Niebuhr’s confession of embarrassment in the preface (ix; italics in the original). For Santurri, Interpretation provides much-needed theological background for the ethical and political claims in Moral Man and Immoral Society. Moreover, Santurri holds [End Page 207] that the important features of Niebuhr’s mature theological anthropology were present in nascent form in Interpretation. Thus, the text’s lasting influence is clear: To understand the ethical and political insights in the other works in Niebuhr’s corpus, one must understand the developing theological anthropology presented in Interpretation.Having made this case for the text’s importance, Santurri devotes the bulk of his introduction to reviewing four arguments that critics level against Niebuhr. They are, briefly, feminist arguments against the portrayal of agape as self-sacrifice, just war arguments against the claim that the Gospels prescribe nonresistance, Anabaptist arguments against Constantinian Christianity (which Santurri traces to the differing soteriologies of Yoder and Niebuhr), and theological arguments that Niebuhr’s doctrine of God is incoherent. Santurri concludes that the first three critiques of Niebuhr ultimately fail for a variety of reasons, but suggests the fourth critique is valid. Even if he dismisses the first three arguments too easily, this is a clear, responsible, and thorough review of critical receptions of Niebuhr. The footnotes point the way to excellent resources, orienting readers to four important conversations in short order. Scholars and graduate students who study Niebuhr will benefit from this introduction, as will readers who desire a concise guide to critical receptions of Niebuhr’s work.Originally published in 1932, Moral Man and Immoral Society is more recognizable than Interpretation as one of Niebuhr’s landmark works. Perhaps for this reason, Westminster John Knox Press produced another edition of this text in 2002. That edition included an introduction by Langdon B. Gilkey, which appraised the influence of Moral Man in part by describing the fresh perspective it brought to American theological ethics in the early twentieth century. The 2013 edition of Moral Man retains Gilkey’s introduction (as well as a 1960 preface by Niebuhr), which is preceded by Cornel West’s new foreword to the book. In his brief foreword, West claims that this text “is not only...

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