Around the middle of the twentieth century, Reinhold Niebuhr was the most prominent Protestant theologian in America. He was on the cover of Time magazine (March 8, 1948). More recently, Barack Obama called Niebuhr his favorite philosopher (Brooks). Niebuhr is author of the well-known serenity prayer.
God give us the grace to accept things that cannot be changed.
Courage to change the things that should be changed.
And the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.
While many readers admire Niebuhr’s wisdom, fewer have been able to discern his theology. Some find none at all. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. spoke for many agnostics in wondering whether Niebuhr’s wisdom on human nature had anything to do with his Christian theology (Crouter, p 96). He was wrong. Niebuhr’s theology is deep, sophisticated, and informs the two concepts by which he understands the day-to-day world: idolatry and sin. Yet about one of the most terrible issues of our age, annihilatory evil, Niebuhr is led astray by his own theology.