Writing this book has been a labor of gratitude. I first became acquainted with Reinhold Niebuhr’s writings when I was a college student. I was at the threshold of my own religious and intellectual pilgrimage, largely untutored and eminently sophomoric. In casting about for something serious in theology to read, I "by chance" picked up Niebuhr’s The Nature and Destiny of Man in the University library. It was a flawed work, but I could not have deliberately landed on another book written in the last half century by an American author that deserved to be read with more care. It was a muscle-straining experience for me, and because of that initial encounter with Niebuhr I have never again been the same. As the editor of this series of books on "Makers of the Modern Theological Mind," I exercised my privilege of "divine right monarchy" and greedily chose to write on Reinhold Niebuhr myself. More than any other single thinker, Niebuhr deserves credit for helping me see the moral significance of the use of power.
In writing this book I am indebted to others. My thanks go to my secretary, Sharon Massengale, for her skill at the typewriter, and to my graduate assistant, Cecil Taylor, for his skill in research. Both are models of diligence and tolerance. I am grateful to my own Department of Religion for giving me a reduced teaching load to complete this project. I am greatly indebted to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for allowing me to quote directly and extensively from my doctoral dissertation on Niebuhr written at that institution. Chapters 2-5 in this book reflect the research that I originally did in the dissertation at Southern, and the permission to quote reflects that school’s gentle love for its graduates. My sympathy and apology go: to my teaching colleagues who have had to put up with my barrage of "Niebuhrisms" at the midmorning faculty coffee break for the last several months. My thanks go to my wife, Barb, who tolerates my Niebuhrian "sin of pride" with good humor, and who encourages me in all my publishing projects. Finally, I am pleased that the people at Word are publishing this series of books on Christian thinkers, that they are my personal friends, and that they are the kind of people who make me glad that I am living in this portion of the twentieth century with them.