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“A Bad Kind of Magic”: The Niebuhr Brothers on “Utilitarian Christianity” and the Defense of Democracy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 January 2014

K. Healan Gaston*
Harvard Divinity School


In August 1947, a few months after President Harry S. Truman pledged the United States to fight communism around the globe, Time magazine delivered a stern warning to its wide readership from Reinhold Niebuhr, the nation's best-known theologian: “The new idolatry in the U.S. may be a blind, uncritical worship of democracy.” The Time article excerpted a Christianity and Crisis piece on “Democracy as a Religion” in which Niebuhr stressed the hidden dangers of the increasingly ubiquitous paeans to democracy in postwar America. That spring's commencement addresses, he noted, would give any sensible observer the distinct impression that “Americans have only one religion: devotion to democracy. They extol its virtues, are apprehensive about the perils to which it is exposed, pour maledictions upon its foes, rededicate themselves periodically to its purposes and claim unconditional validity for its ideals.”

Copyright © President and Fellows of Harvard College 2014 

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1 Reinhold Niebuhr, “The Dimension of Faith,” Time 50 (1947) 76; idem, “Democracy as a Religion,” Christianity and Crisis 7 (1947) 1–2, at 1. For more on this source, see Martin Halliwell, “Niebuhr and the Limits of American Culture,” and Daniel F. Rice, “Niebuhr's Critique of Religion in America,” in Reinhold Niebuhr Revisited: Engagements with an American Original (ed. Daniel F. Rice; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009) 286–301, at 298, and 317–37, at 335, respectively; and Daniel F. Rice, Reinhold Niebuhr and His Circle of Influence (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013) 212. For more on Niebuhr's Christianity and Crisis, see Mark Hulsether, Building a Protestant Left: Christianity and Crisis Magazine, 1941–1993 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999). For more on Niebuhr's views of democracy in general, see Daniel F. Rice, “Reinhold Niebuhr on Democracy,” and Robin W. Lovin, “Prophetic Faith in American Democracy,” in Reinhold Niebuhr Revisited, 123–38 and 222–34, respectively.

2 Niebuhr, “Democracy as a Religion,” 1–2.

3 Rice, Daniel F., Reinhold Niebuhr and John Dewey: An American Odyssey (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993) 227–28Google Scholar.

4 Fox, Richard Wightman, Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996) 232–33Google Scholar.

5 Biographers of both Reinhold and H. Richard have stressed the centrality of the intellectual and personal relationship between the two for the development of their respective intellectual projects. For example, Fox relies heavily on the illuminating correspondence between the brothers contained in Reinhold's personal papers, then in the hands of his family and now deposited at the Library of Congress. Until quite recently, however, it was generally believed that H. Richard had destroyed the correspondence with Reinhold that was in his own possession, in an effort to shield the inner workings of their relationship from public scrutiny. Jon Diefenthaler writes that the bulk of H. Richard's personal correspondence from his years at Yale was “either discarded or destroyed” (H. Richard Niebuhr: A Lifetime of Reflections on the Church and the World [Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1986] xiii). Likewise, Fox explains that “later in life [H. Richard] burned all of his correspondence—including his letters from his brother” (Reinhold Niebuhr, 146). To my great surprise, upon viewing the newly catalogued 2006 addition to the H. Richard Niebuhr papers at Harvard Divinity School's Andover-Harvard Theological Library in September 2008, I discovered several letters between the brothers that, to my knowledge, were previously unknown to scholars and have never been quoted in print.

6 Diefenthaler, H. Richard Niebuhr, 68.

7 Niebuhr, Reinhold, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of Its Traditional Defense (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1944) 118, xiiiGoogle Scholar.

8 Niebuhr, Reinhold, The Irony of American History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1952)Google Scholar.

9 Niebuhr, H. Richard, “The Relation of Christianity and Democracy,” in H. Richard Niebuhr—Theology, History, and Culture: Major Unpublished Writings (ed. Johnson, William Stacy; New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996) 143–58Google Scholar, at 143–44.

10 In addition to the Fox and Diefenthaler biographies, see also Fox, Richard Wightman, “The Niebuhr Brothers and the Liberal Protestant Heritage,” in Religion and Twentieth-Century American Intellectual Life (ed. Lacey, Michael J.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989) 94115Google Scholar; idem, “H. Richard Niebuhr's Divided Kingdom,” American Quarterly 42 (1990) 93–101; Halliwell, Martin, The Constant Dialogue: Reinhold Niebuhr and American Intellectual Culture (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005) 104–28Google Scholar; Dorrien, Gary J., The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, & Modernity, 1900–1950 (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003) 452–54Google Scholar; Roger L. Shinn, “Reinhold Niebuhr as Teacher, Colleague, and Friend,” in Reinhold Niebuhr Revisited, 3–18, at 14–15; and Heim, S. Mark, “Prodigal Sons: D. C. Macintosh and the Brothers Niebuhr,” Journal of Religion 65 (1985) 336–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 For an overview of the movement and related terminological issues, see Gaston, K. Healan, “Neo-Orthodoxy,” in Encyclopedia of Religion in America (ed. Lippy, Charles H. and Williams, Peter W.; Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2010) 1533–38Google Scholar. My use throughout the piece of terms such as “man” (to describe “humanity”) and “America” (to describe “the United States”) mirrors the linguistic conventions of the Niebuhr brothers and their age and should not be read as indicative of my own views.

12 For more on the differences of emphasis between the brothers, see especially Dorrien, Gary J., Social Ethics in the Making: Interpreting an American Tradition (Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) 226–87Google Scholar. Both Fox (Niebuhr's primary biographer) and Dorrien (American religious liberalism's most comprehensive interpreter) have cautioned against reading the moniker “neo-orthodox” too literally. Fox insists that Reinhold remained a liberal despite his critiques of liberalism, and Dorrien suggests that Niebuhrian neo-orthodoxy should be viewed as a form of “neo-liberalism.” These interpreters build on the recognition by an earlier scholarly generation of the dissimilarities between American neo-orthodoxy and the European theologies that originally inspired the label “neo-orthodox.” Cognizant of this divergence, many recent interpreters have come to prefer the term “Christian realism” for these American thinkers: e.g., Lovin, Robin W., Reinhold Niebuhr and Christian Realism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For more on H. Richard's view of God as “the center of value,” see Niebuhr, H. Richard, Radical Monotheism and Western Culture: With Supplementary Essays (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960)Google Scholar, especially 100–113.

13 This episode anchors Fox's interpretation of the Niebuhr brothers’ respective projects (Reinhold Niebuhr, 132–34).

14 Niebuhr, H. Richard, “The Grace of Doing Nothing,” Christian Century 49 (1932) 378–80Google Scholar.

15 Niebuhr, Reinhold, “Must We Do Nothing?,” Christian Century 49 (1932) 415–17Google Scholar.

16 Niebuhr, H. Richard, “The Only Way Into the Kingdom of God,” Christian Century 49 (1932) 447Google Scholar.

17 For more on Reinhold's theology, see Gary J. Dorrien, “Christian Realism: Reinhold Niebuhr's Theology, Ethics, and Politics,” in Reinhold Niebuhr Revisited, 21–36, at 23–24. For more on Reinhold's attempts to speak to secular thinkers, see Hollinger, David A., “Epilogue: Reinhold Niebuhr and Protestant Liberalism,” in After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2013) 211–25Google Scholar.

18 For more on the debate, see Halliwell, Constant Dialogue, 112–15.

19 For more on the circle of thinkers surrounding the Niebuhr brothers, see Warren, Heather A., “The Theological Discussion Group and Its Impact on American and European Theology, 1920–1945,” Church History 62 (1993) 528–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar; eadem, Theologians of a New World Order: Reinhold Niebuhr and the Christian Realists, 1920–1948 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); and Edwards, Mark Thomas, The Right of the Protestant Left: God's Totalitarianism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

20 Quoted in Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr, 191–92.

21 H. Richard Niebuhr to Reinhold Niebuhr, September 12, 1942, H. Richard Niebuhr Papers, 1912–1962, bMS 695 [hereafter “HRN Papers”], box 2, folder 6. Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

22 Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr, 222.

23 See Niebuhr, Reinhold, Moral Man and Immoral Society (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932)Google Scholar.

24 In his biography, Diefenthaler describes the debate over Manchuria as evidence of H. Richard's frustration with Reinhold's “utilitarian approach to problem solving.” He points out that, in another 1932 article entitled “Faith, Works, and Social Salvation,” H. Richard identified “the heretical notion of ‘salvation by works’” as “the common denominator of modern fascist, democratic, and socialist societies. All trusted humanity's ability to reason and to master its own fate. All employed social engineering techniques to improve society.” By contrast, H. Richard stressed, “Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century versions of liberal democracy . . . had come much closer to the more theologically accurate notion of ‘salvation by faith.’ In these societies, people did not try to control nature or to manipulate the future. Nor were they as prone to bondage to capitalist and nationalist ideologies. Instead, they trusted that God was both above and working through history.” Diefenthaler concludes that “although this article did not mention Reinhold by name, it clearly refuted his willingness to rely on America's ability to manipulate Japan into withdrawing from Manchuria” (H. Richard Niebuhr, 44–45).

25 Quoted in Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr, 145–46. See also Dorrien, Making of Liberal Theology, 453.

26 Reinhold used the term “political religion” in “The Future of Europe,” Radical Religion 3 (1938) 4–5, at 5.

27 Diefenthaler, H. Richard Niebuhr, 56.

28 Samuel McCrea Cavert to H. Richard Niebuhr, January 14, 1939, HRN Papers, box 1, folder 9.

29 H. Richard Niebuhr to Samuel McCrea Cavert, January 17, 1939, ibid.

30 Niebuhr, H. Richard, “The Limitation of Power and Religious Liberty,” Religion & Values in Public Life 3 (1995) 14Google Scholar, at 4.

31 Ibid., 2. H. Richard proposed that the relationship between church and state in America should be conceived not in terms of “separation” but of “limitation,” including both “the limitation of the state so that it might not interfere with the ultimate loyalties of citizens to an infinite sovereign” and “the limitation of the church so that it might not in turn put itself in the place of God, seeking to dispose men with absolute power.” He continued, “The distinction of church and state is not first of all the right of the state to be irreligious or the right of the church not to concern itself about politics, but the duty of the state to give freedom to the church and the duty of the church to carry out its responsibilities in the state without taking recourse to political power” (4).

32 H. Richard Niebuhr, “The Relation of Christianity and Democracy,” 149.

33 Ibid., 143–44.

34 Ibid., 144.

35 Ibid., 157.

36 Agar, Herbertet al., The City of Man: A Declaration on World Democracy (New York: Viking Press, 1941) 72, 2735Google Scholar. For an example of how closely Reinhold tied the fate of democracy to religion in this era, see “Can Religion Save Democracy?,” Christian Century 56 (1939) 1038–39.

37 Agar et al., City of Man, 30–32, 34–35, 38.

38 Ibid., 35, 45–46, 67–68, 70–71.

39 See Niebuhr, H. Richard, The Meaning of Revelation (New York: Macmillan, 1941)Google Scholar.

40 See Niebuhr, Reinhold, The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation (2 vols.; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1941–1943)Google Scholar.

41 Reinhold Niebuhr to H. Richard Niebuhr, n.d. [1940], HRN Papers, box 1, folder 14. See Niebuhr, Reinhold, Christianity and Power Politics (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1940)Google Scholar.

42 Reinhold Niebuhr to H. Richard Niebuhr, September 12, 1942, HRN Papers, box 2, folder 6.

43 Whereas H. Richard received a doctoral degree from Yale Divinity School in 1924, Reinhold's formal studies ended with a master's degree from the same institution in 1915. For more on the educational experiences of the Niebuhr brothers, see Diefenthaler, H. Richard Niebuhr, 2–8 and Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr, 22–40.

44 Reinhold Niebuhr to H. Richard Niebuhr, September 12, 1942, HRN Papers, box 2, folder 6. Reinhold stated elsewhere in the letter, “I know you think I'm arrogant,” repeating the charge that had surfaced in their correspondence two years earlier.

45 Niebuhr, Reinhold, “The Christian Faith and the World Crisis,” Christianity and Crisis 1 (1941) 46Google Scholar, at 4.

46 Ibid., 6.

47 Niebuhr, Reinhold, “A Faith for History's Greatest Crisis,” Fortune 26 (1942) 99100Google Scholar, 122, 125, 126, 128, 131, at 99–100.

48 E.g., Niebuhr, Reinhold, “The Perspective of Faith upon History,” Christianity and Society 9 (1944) 47Google Scholar.

49 Niebuhr, H. Richard, “The Christian Church in the World's Crisis,” Christianity and Society 6 (1941) 1117Google Scholar, at 11.

50 Niebuhr, H. Richard, “War as the Judgment of God,” Christian Century 59 (1942) 630–33Google Scholar, at 630–31. According to Fox, this article “rebuked those who, like Reinhold, tried to join Christian repentance and worldly assertiveness. They were ‘di-theists’ who honored God in private and forgot about Him in public” (Reinhold Niebuhr, 222). See also Diefenthaler, H. Richard Niebuhr, 64.

51 Fox calls Reinhold “a firm, though sometimes qualified, backer of the Zionist cause” who rejected the liberal assumption that “the Jewish problem was solved when Jews were guaranteed their rights as individual citizens” and instead emphasized “collective rights . . . such as the right of a people to exist and cultivate its unique identity” (Reinhold Niebuhr, 210; see also 226). For more on Reinhold's views of Zionism, see Naveh, Eyal, “The Hebraic Foundation of Christian Faith according to Reinhold Niebuhr,” Judaism 41 (1992) 3756Google Scholar, and Ronald H. Stone, “Reinhold Niebuhr and Perspectives on Middle East Foreign Policy,” in Reinhold Niebuhr Revisited, 183–200.

52 H. Richard Niebuhr to Morris Lazaron, June 12, 1944; Lazaron to H. Richard Niebuhr, June 15, 1944; both in HRN Papers, box 2, folder 8.

53 Niebuhr, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, xv.

54 Ibid., 134.

55 Ibid., 135.

56 Niebuhr, Reinhold, “The Religious Level of the World Crisis,” Christianity and Crisis 5 (1946) 47Google Scholar, at 4.

57 Ibid., 6.

59 Ibid., 7.

61 Niebuhr, Reinhold, “Positive Defense,” Christianity and Crisis 6 (1946) 12Google Scholar.

62 Niebuhr, H. Richard, “Utilitarian Christianity,” Christianity and Crisis 6 (1946) 35Google Scholar, at 3 and 4.

63 Ibid., 4–5. For more on this source, see Diefenthaler, H. Richard Niebuhr, 68.

64 Reinhold Niebuhr to H. Richard Niebuhr, n.d. [1946], HRN Papers, box 2, folder 10.

65 This episode has received remarkably little scholarly treatment, especially from students of Niebuhr and liberal Protestantism. When John Courtney Murray's unpublished 1948 speech “A Common Enemy, A Common Cause” appeared in First Things in 1992, the editors thanked Father Joseph Komonchak for finding the piece in the archives and mentioned that the Christianity and Crisis statement “emerged from a meeting in New York City that was addressed by both Murray and Reinhold Niebuhr” (John Courtney Murray, “A Common Enemy, A Common Cause,” First Things 26 [1992] 29–37, at 29). John T. McGreevy briefly mentions the NCCJ meeting in Catholicism and American Freedom, but he cites only National Catholic Welfare Conference sources and, in keeping with the interpretive orientation of his book, focuses almost exclusively on Reinhold's attacks on Catholicism (Catholicism and American Freedom: A History [New York: Norton, 2003] 205–6). For evidence of the overlap between Reinhold's and Murray's positions, see Komonchak, Joseph A., “‘The Crisis in Church-State Relationships in the U.S.A.’: A Recently Discovered Text by John Courtney Murray,” Review of Politics 61 (1999) 675714CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

66 The signers were James C. Baker, Eugene E. Barnett, John C. Bennett, John Crosby Brown, Robert L. Calhoun, Angus Dun, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Charles W. Gilkey, Douglas Horton, Walter M. Horton, Lynn Harold Hough, Umphrey Lee, Henry Smith Leiper, Benjamin E. Mays, Francis J. McConnell, Francis P. Miller, H. Richard Niebuhr, Reinhold Niebuhr, Justin Wroe Nixon, Edward L. Parsons, Andrew H. Phelps, Liston Pope, Francis B. Sayre, William Scarlett, H. Shelton Smith, Henry P. Van Dusen, and Charles T. White (“Statement on Church and State,” Christianity and Crisis 8 [1948] 90).

67 Bennett, John C., “Implications of the New Conception of ‘Separation,’Christianity and Crisis 8 (1948) 8990Google Scholar.

68 “Protestants Take Catholic Line,” Christian Century 65 (1948) 643.

69 For more on this episode, see Gaston, K. Healan, “Demarcating Democracy: Liberal Catholics, Protestants, and the Discourse of Secularism,” in American Religious Liberalism (ed. Schmidt, Leigh E. and Promey, Sally M.; Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012) 337–58Google Scholar. For more on views of Catholicism in Christianity and Crisis, see Hulsether, Building a Protestant Left, 61–66.

70 “Report of a Conference on Church and State, April 26, 1948,” in National Conference of Christians and Jews Records, Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota, box 3, folder 13.

71 Murray, “A Common Enemy, A Common Cause,” 36.

72 “Report on Conference of Church and State, April 26, 1948.” In a letter to Justice Felix Frankfurter, Reinhold explained that “living across the way from Teachers College” had convinced him “that the prevailing philosophy which is pumped into our public schools day after day is itself a religion, and I think a very erroneous one. It preaches the redemption of man by historical development and by the illusory ‘scientific objectivity.’ It does not have to worry about the separation of church and state” (quoted in Rice, Reinhold Niebuhr and His Circle of Influence, 213).

73 Niebuhr, Reinhold, “Protestants, Catholics and Secularists,” Christianity and Society 13 (1948) 45Google Scholar. See also Niebuhr, Reinhold, “One World or None,” Christianity and Crisis 8 (1948) 910Google Scholar.

74 Niebuhr, Reinhold, “Editorial Notes,” Christianity and Crisis 8 (1948) 34Google Scholar.

75 Niebuhr, “Protestants, Catholics and Secularists,” 4–5.

76 Niebuhr, Reinhold, “Religion and Tolerance,” Messenger 13 (1948) 6Google Scholar

77 H. Richard Niebuhr, “Reinhold Niebuhr's Interpretation of History,” in H. Richard Niebuhr—Theology, History, and Culture, 91–101, at 101.

78 Niebuhr, Reinhold, “Utilitarian Christianity and the World Crisis,” Christianity and Crisis 10 (1950) 6669Google Scholar, at 66.

79 Ibid., 66. Foreshadowing his emphasis in The Irony of American History, Reinhold concluded the 1950 piece by recommending “statesmanlike common sense” rather than the “religious hysteria” of Catholics or the “religious idealism” of liberal Protestants (Ibid., 69). Reinhold's enthusiasm for the “practical statesman” soon morphed into a more inclusive respect for “practical men of affairs,” by which he meant primarily politicians and businessmen. According to Reinhold, these figures cultivated a “wisdom” derived from “common sense” and real-world experience that eluded academic intellectuals in their ivory towers (Niebuhr, , “The Cultural Crisis of Our Age,” Harvard Business Review 32 [1954] 3338Google Scholar, at 33).

80 Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr, 244.

81 Ibid., 244–47. Fox notes that Reinhold's use of the concept of irony allowed him “to incorporate a principle of self-criticism into his own argument” (244).

82 Herberg, Will, letter to the editor on “Marxism and Judaism,” Commentary 3 (1947) 488–91Google Scholar, at 488.

83 Gaston, K. Healan, “The Cold War Romance of Religious Authenticity: Will Herberg, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Rise of the New Right,” Journal of American History 99 (2013) 1133–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

84 For recent thoughts on Reinhold and conservatism, see Dorrien, “Christian Realism,” 31.

85 Herberg, Will, “Democracy and the Nature of Man,” Christianity and Society 11 (1946) 1219Google Scholar, at 18 [italics in original].

86 Herberg, Will, “Prophetic Faith in an Age of Crisis,” Judaism 1 (1952) 195202Google Scholar, at 199.

87 Herberg, Will, “Faith and Politics: Some Reflections on Whittaker Chambers’ Witness,” Christianity and Crisis 12 (1952) 122–25Google Scholar, at 123.

88 Herberg, Will, “The Biblical Basis of American Democracy,” Thought 30 (1955) 3750CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 50, 42, 41, and 49. Herberg increasingly connected this analysis to the contentious question of religion in the schools. In his view, the “counter-religion of secularism” worshipped “society (or the nation or the culture) . . . as the highest majesty” and made “the public school, operating as an arm of the state . . . into an engine of the official cultic indoctrination,” directed from above by a small secularist minority entrenched in the teachers’ colleges. Herberg described this educational philosophy as “a corollary of the basic secularist philosophy of life, which denies man any dimension of existence beyond the social.” He credited the Catholic Church with offering the most active resistance to this trend in the field of education and cited Reinhold's positive response to the Catholic position on religion and education (Herberg, Will, “Religious Communities in Present Day America,” in Review of Politics 16 [1954] 155–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 166, 168). For more on FRASCO, see Inboden, William, Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945–1960: The Soul of Containment (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

89 Herberg, Will, Protestant-Catholic-Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1955) 101–2Google Scholar. Herberg's book took its central insight from Reinhold's 1952 essay “Prayer and Politics”: that America was “at one and the same time, one of the most religious and most secular of nations” (quoted in ibid., 286).

90 Herberg, Will, “A Yankee Looks at Marxism,” National Review 9 (1960) 314–15Google Scholar. Buckley responded enthusiastically to Herberg's rendering of the new conservatism. In July 1961, he and the other National Review editors agreed to offer Herberg a monthly column and a permanent editorial position (Gaston, “Cold War Romance,” 1150−55).

91 Niebuhr, Reinhold, “Democracy, Secularism, and Christianity,” Christianity and Crisis 13 (1953) 1920Google Scholar, 24, at 19.

92 Niebuhr, Reinhold, “Christian Faith and Political Controversy,” Christianity and Crisis 12 (1952) 9798Google Scholar.

93 Niebuhr, Reinhold, “The Relation of Religious to Political Convictions,” Messenger 17 (1952) 7Google Scholar.

94 Niebuhr, “Democracy, Secularism, and Christianity,” 20.

95 Niebuhr, H. Richard, “The Idea of Covenant and American Democracy,” Church History 23 (1954) 128–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 134–35.

96 See Bellah, Robert, “Civil Religion in America,” Daedalus 96 (1967) 121Google Scholar.

97 Niebuhr, Reinhold, “About Christian Apologetics,” Episcopal Churchnews 120 (1955) 13Google Scholar.

98 As Gary Dorrien puts it, Reinhold believed “that theologians must translate the moral, social, and religious meaning of Christianity into secular terms, in order to help Christians play a role in the political sphere and enable modern secular observers to make sense of Christian claims.” From Reinhold's vantage point, the fact that much would be lost in translation did not obviate the imperative to translate (Dorrien, “Christian Realism,” 31–32).

99 Niebuhr, “About Christian Apologetics,” 13. For more on the evolution of Reinhold's view of secularism, see “The Question of Secularism,” Episcopal Churchnews 119 (1954) 8; “Piety and Secularism in America,” Atlantic Monthly 200 (1957) 180–84; and Pious and Secular America (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958). For a different interpretation of Reinhold's take on secularism, see Rice, “Niebuhr's Critique,” 332–37.