July 28th, 2010
01:47 PM ET

New book explains Barack Obama's favorite theologian

When I first started reading about Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., I kept coming across one name: Reinhold Niebuhr.

Niebuhr was a Protestant pastor and theologian who lived during the mid-20th century. He’s best known for writing the Serenity Prayer ("God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can..."). But he also exerted a profound influence on King.

It turns out that Niebuhr is also one of President Obama’s favorite theologians, as I detailed in an article earlier this year.

Now one of the Niebuhr scholars quoted in my article has come out with a new book that should satisfy the curiosity of anyone who had the same question I did: Why is Niebuhr such a big deal.

Richard Crouter, author of  “Reinhold Niebuhr, on Politics, Religion, and Christian Faith,” writes that he wants to explain Niebuhr to "non-specialists" interested in his relevance for today.

Both liberals and conservative Christians cite Niebuhr - liberals for his emphasis on social justice and conservatives for his willingness to use force to oppose evil.

Crouter, who heard Niebuhr lecture in person, writes in his book's introduction:

He is cited by the left as a radical political liberal and by the right as neoconservative. His reputation as a Christian theologian is both assured and, at the same time, contested.

What do you think Niebuhr would say about polarizing issues like Afghanistan and Wall Street reform?

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Barack Obama • Books • Christianity • Culture wars • Jesus • Politics • Uncategorized

soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. Todd


    Your comment about truth above is incredibly naive too. There are certainly absolute truths and it doesn't matter whether everone believes them or not. Take math for example. Or the truth that Washington DC is the nations capital, despite someone saying it's detroit Are you a simpleton?

    July 28, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
  2. Anita McBride

    I enjoyed reading all the entries. I know smalltownmom has a job! Does anyone else? I mean a real job like shaping our young to respect one another. Love one another. I laugh at those who do not accept God, the Bible and truth.

    July 28, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
    • sealchan

      To laugh at those who do not accept God, the Bible and truth...that doesn't seem very Christian.

      July 28, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
  3. sealchan

    This probably isn't the best place to have this conversation...but having it also makes my point...

    I suspect that there is a mathematical model that can be used to demonstrate the practical value of belief...of faith. And it would be something that atheists will have to speak to for often their perspective does not address this concern. Namely that the idea that each of us has the luxury of using rationality exclusively to come to any deep conclusions about the nature of our lives and the world.

    Its called fuzzy logic, the idea that since people are rational but almost always don't have all the necessary information to make a perfectly logical conclusion, the resulting truths are always assailable. The fact is that we are mortal and we do not have access to all of the information necessary to make a purely rational decision. Therefore, we make decisions that are, in part, based on personal axioms. Any axiom is an irrational truth. Furthermore, we are instinctual creatures with biological needs which must be met with, more or less, in a timely way. So as we grow and develop our personalities and adaptive strategies, which are largely unconscious, we will have cause to reference various axiomatic truths that some can always find fault with. But in order to function as a person in a world moving perpetually forward in time we must make decisions and make them NOW. Therefore, fuzzy logic is the order of the day and not perfect logic.

    Now the fact that I bring this up here is a great example. This thread is about discussing a particular theologian's views on some modern issues. But look, everyone is pretty much off topic anyway. We have all used our innate biases and interests to redirect the conversation.

    July 28, 2010 at 5:47 pm |
  4. Wizard

    To Grant- First, then don't it makes no difference to me. Secondly, I never made the claims nor do I believe the points that you said I made. Many would argue that god is very involved in this world. Third, I don't care what "holds water" for you and I am sure the opposite is true with respect to me. Finally, believe whatever you want to believe. Somewhere Pascal is amused.

    July 28, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
  5. Wizard

    Grant- Wasn't much of a closer anyway. I do not think of god in those terms though, I apply no human traits such as those. Admit I don't really understand his nature either.

    July 28, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
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