Suspicions about Niebuhr’s ultimate commitments resurfaced in Stanley Hauerwas’ recent Gifford lectures ( With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology ). There Hauerwas asks, Do we have anything more in Niebuhr than a complex humanism disguised in the language of the Christian faith? For Hauerwas, It is hard to think that Niebuhr’s God is anything more or less than an unavoidable aspect of our consciousness. Which leads Hauerwas to wonder: Is Niebuhr’s theology, at bottom, merely a naturalistic view of the world, the worship of a domesticated god capable of doing no more than providing comfort to the anxious conscience of the bourgeoisie?
In fact, the rejection of both humanism and naturalism is a constant from Niebuhr’s early liberal period, when he argued in the 1927 Does Civilization Need Religion? against both the religious depersonalization of the universe and the political and economic depersonalization of society, to his post-liberal classic, The Nature and Destiny of Man (two vol., 1941-43), and beyond where he casts the issue in Christian-specific terms. Telling examples of the latter can be found in his 1956 comments on the religious naturalism of Henry Nelson Wieman:
Continue Reading »]]>