Richard Fox compiles a very informative, but complex resource in his full-scale biography about America's greatest twentieth-century theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr. Although sometimes over-indulging the reader with somewhat trivial facts, the material covered provides an in-depth portrayal of the life of this religious thinker, political organizer, preacher, and famed teacher.
Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr was born in Wright City, Missouri, on June 21, 1892. He was the son of a pastor in the Evangelical and Reformed Church, Gustav, who had immigrated to America in 1878 and then attended Eden Theological Seminary in Missouri, which was associated with the German Evangelical Synod of North America. Karl's father had a tremendous impact on his life. Daily, Gustav read from the Bible in Hebrew and Greek. His father considered himself an American and a liberal. Reinhold took hold of his father's liberal values and followed his example to Eden Seminary in 1912.
Niebuhr studied at Eden for a year and then entered Yale Divinity School, receiving both bachelor's and master's degrees within two years.
In 1915, the mission board of his denomination sent him to Detroit as pastor where he served for 13 years. The congregation numbered 65 on his arrival and grew to nearly 700 when he left. In 1928, Niebuhr became Professor of Practical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York.
During the Great Depression, Niebuhr became a leading spokesmen for "religious socialism," a political ideology drawn from both clergy and laity who took seriously both the "prophetic" moral values of the Bible and the apparently insoluble contradictions of the capitalist system. During the early 30's he supported socialist candidates, but became disenchanted with socialist politics and, in 1940, voted for Roosevelt, a liberal Democrat (Fox 45).
In 1932, Niebuhr wrote Moral Man and Immoral Society, his first significant writing.