Reinhold Niebuhr

Christian Realism


          Reinhold Niebuhr’s principal contribution to theology was his “Christian Realism.”  It contradicted with the optimistic view of the innate human goodness and their natural ability to follow the laws of God in every aspect of life, which would transform life everywhere for God that comprised the social gospel[1].  Niebuhr’s fundamental problem with the social gospel was that it necessitates people to be good and behave rationally, which would not happen on a mass scale.  Through the realistic view of Christian life, Christians were portrayed as humans who needed God, creating a philosophy people could embrace.

          In Christian Realism, man has what Niebuhr called “indeterminate possibilities.[2]  Man could achieve great things because God is alive in man, though He is not allowed full reign of man’s life[3].  With God’s presence, the work of God can be done and great things for Him could be achieved.  Vision is an integral part of Christian Realism, as a Christian visionary at a most basic level is a realist[4].   The visionaries works to fix the world, but do not despair as many idealist do because they realize the work is bigger than themselves[5]. Reinhold realized his work, the work of serving God was unending.

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved

by hope.  Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any

immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.  Nothing we do,

however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.  No

virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint.  Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness[6].”   


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His Life

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Christian Realism

Original Sin


Works Cited

Sara Manning created this web page.  It was last updated April 15, 2001.  Please email any questions to

[1] Wurth, G. Brillenbug, Niebuhr, Translated by David H. Freeman, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.: Philedelphia, 1960, 16


[2]Fackre, Gabriel, The Promise of Reinhold Niebuhr, J.B. Lippincott Company: Philadelphia, 1970, 66.


[4]Ibid, 80.


[6]Reinhold Niebuhr, The Thought of Reinhold Niebuhr, Gordon Harland, Oxford University Press: New York, 1960, 160.