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Obama’s Favorite Philosopher: Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture February 27, 2009

Posted by G.L. Campbell in Uncategorized.

I was recently listening to NPR’s Speaking of Faith program one Sunday morning, and the topic was President Obama’s favorite theologian.  It was an interesting discussion (you can listen to it here).  The program spurred a memory of another NPR report I had heard referencing Obama’s favorite philosopher.  Both pertained to liberal theologian Richard Niebuhr, Yale professor and Christian ethicist, who is widely regarded as one of the most important Christian thinkers of the 20th century.  carson1

Browsing through the local Lifeway store this week, I happened upon D.A. Carson’s Christ and Culture Revisted.  I’d heard of the book but hadn’t yet had time to pick it up.  Carson is a favorite author of mine and speaks to many of the church’s and society’s challenges today, obviously both theological and cultural, as overtured by the title of his latest work.  As soon as I picked up the book and opened the jacket, Niebuhr’s name caught my attention.  I read through several chapters standing there and came away appreciative of Carson all the more and also of the discerning eye all Christians should bring to a consideration of Niebuhr’s insights.  Interestingly, Carson’s book was published in March of 2008, a providential timing to coincide with the year of Barack Obama’s election to the presidency.

One point did raise an eyebrow as Carson, in a footnote referencing Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth, mentioned how he thought it strange to label any truth as “total”.  On one level that is understandable, given that any particular proposition is either true or not.  However, I think Pearcey, in titling her work, shrewdly addresses the broad spectrum of truths discoverable but, moreover, contextualizes these truths within the confines of one profound, singular overarching Truth — there is a God, the triune God of the Bible, with whom we have to do.  This is similar to Christian theists speaking of the “heart of hearts” when discussing that men, deep inside the seat of their wills and passions, are aware of, in some sense, and thus culpable concerning God’s law (see Romans 1). 

In any event, I highly recommend any of Carson’s works and this, his latest work in particular, not only to rightly grasp Niebuhr’s insights, but to also grasp where we must leave Niebuhr behind. 

For futher thinking: read a review of Carson’s book at Christianity Today.



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