28 August 2006

Niebuhr’s Presuppositions 2

No Last Judgment?As we discovered Friday, Niebuhr could have been classified as a liberal Trinitarian and a postmillennial universalist. Because I am a firm believer in the Kabbalahic mystery number, 320, I was only able to address his liberal (modernistic) view of Scripture.

By Trinitarian, I mean that Niebuhr would have agreed that, in some sense, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both God and distinct persons from the Father. This relationship was significant for Niebuhr because, if Jesus and God the Father are eternally related to each other as God, then the demands of Christ and the demands of the Creator cannot be in ultimate conflict. For instance, Christ’s command to hate father and mother (Luke 14:26) must be in some way compatible with God’s command to honor father and mother (Exod 20:12) because the Son cannot be in ultimate conflict with the Father.

Niebuhr’s postmillennialism was made clear in his preference for the “Christ Transforming Culture” viewpoint. He believed that Christ’s teachings would eventually prevail in every individual life and in all societies worldwide. Niebuhr claimed Augustine and Calvin as early proponents of his own view, but he faulted them for not taking their philosophy of history far enough. This criticism is where his universalism came into full view. Niebuhr saw Christ transforming all of culture, not through eschatological judgment and establishment of a just kingdom, but through gradual diminution of evil in every person (human and angelic) and in every society. Any judgment is interpreted as remedial, not as penal.

This is not to say Niebuhr did not acknowledge human depravity. He was sympathetic with Calvin and Augustine’s understanding of depravity, but his view of the solution to that problem sharply opposed their own. Eternal punishment was the just solution in Augustine’s and Calvin’s understanding (as much as in Luther’s), but Niebuhr was not satisfied with this solution. Only transformation would do.

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