Theologians of a New World Order: Reinhold Niebuhr and the Christian Realists, 1920-1948

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Theologians of a New World Order: Reinhold Niebuhr and the Christian Realists, 1920-1948

By Heather Warren
Oxford University Press, 1997
199 pp. $39.95
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With mainline Protestantism's decline in recent years, it is easy to forget the important role that a group of activist Protestant theologians, including Henry P. Van Dusen, John Bennett, Francis Miller, and the brothers Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr played in the 1930s and 1940s arguing for a realistic Christian foreign policy. These men legitimated the deployment of power by democratic societies against fascism and laid the groundwork for an internationalist postwar posture. It is a shame that this otherwise insightful book stops short of examining two contradictions within the Christian realist tradition: first, its often less than realistic appraisal of the Soviet Union later in the Cold War, and second, the difficulty that religious groups have in maintaining their moral authority when they become too realistic and immersed in social activism. While the Protestant denominations made an honorable contribution to the debates on foreign policy in the 1930s and 1940s, they may unwittingly have laid the foundation for their own decline.

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