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The Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics

Volume 19, 1999

Charles T. Mathewes
Pages 69-94
DOI: 10.5840/asce1999195

Reading Reinhold Niebuhr Against Himself

Reinhold Niebuhr's critics rightly identify flaws in his anthropology, but err in assuming those flaws irreparably vitiate his larger proposal. In fact Niebuhr's work contains two different anthropologies, one problematically "modernist" and one Augustinian; we may use the latter to critique the former within the context of his larger program, thus retaining (and indeed sharpening) the basic theological-ethical project of Niebuhr's work. By doing so we move beyond Niebuhr's formulations in a way that incorporates his insights at the most basic level, thus showing how we might read putatively "modernist" thinkers back into the presumptively "premodern" traditions from which they spring.

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