Inadequate Solution

Resurrection and Historical Reason, by Richard R. Niebuhr (Scribner’s, New York, 1957, 184 pp., $3.95), is reviewed by R. Allan Killen, author of The Ontological Theology of Paul Tillich.

In its opening chapters this book promises to be one of the most daring attempts to give the resurrection of Jesus Christ a true place in history, but before it closes it proves to be the greatest of disappointments.

Niebuhr begins by pleading for the re-establishment of the Resurrection as a true historical fact. He quite ably shows how there has been a tendency on the part of many theologians, including Karl Barth, to place the Resurrection in some category that transcends real history. Barth puts it, for example, in supra-history. This manner of dealing with the Resurrection Niebuhr traces to the influence of Immanuel Kant. Kant maintained that we cannot know metaphysical or revelational truth by means of theoretical reason—that is by means of the realm of everyday knowledge. He found a place for it however in his “practical reason.” Niebuhr sees the theologians of the nineteenth century and the neo-orthodox of today as actually, in one manner or another, falling back upon Kant’s concept of practical reason in their explanations of the Resurrection. Niebuhr’s solution is that there needs to be added to Kant’s three roads to knowledge—namely theoretical reason, pure reason (which incidentally Niebuhr considers of no real value), and practical reason—a fourth, namely historical reason.

Up to this point the book contains much of real value insofar as it presents an interesting and worthwhile analysis of Ritschl, Schweitzer, Barth, and others. It is as Niebuhr starts to describe his “historical reason” that the total inadequacy ...

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