Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. — Reinhold Niehubr
Reinhold Niebuhr has long been one of my favorite theologians. He was a true religious leader. His intellectual power and capacity to realistically deal with the social issues of his day ranks him among the ablest of philosophers, as well. He was a Christian idealist that demonstrated the essential spirit of Christianity.
Through his early experience as a pastor for thirteen years in Detroit, Niebuhr developed his own interpretation of Christianity. He came to understand that the true meaning of the gospel was in direct conflict with most of the customs and attitudes of contemporary society.
Niebuhr finally reached the conclusion that the church cannot save a person’s soul without addressing the kind of life they live in the world. That’s when the Christian gospel became a social gospel for him.
And what is so compelling for me about Niebuhr is that he fully understood that Christianity could not be allowed to be seen only as vague generalities.
That the ministry is particularly tempted to the self-deceptions which afflict the moral life of Christians today is obvious. If it is dangerous to entertain great moral ideals without attempting to realize them in life, it is even more perilous to proclaim them in abstract terms without bringing them into juxtaposition with the specific social and moral issues of the day.
But, as shown by the opening quote, even Niehubr’s passionate concern for Christianity to have a direct and practical impact of the economic and social issues of his day never displaced his deep and essential religious faith. That’s the power of Christian idealism.