Fortress Press

The Paradox of Church and World: Selected Writings of H. Richard Niebuhr

The Paradox of Church and World

Selected Writings of H. Richard Niebuhr

Jon Diefenthaler (Author)


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“Ultimately,” or so H. Richard Niebuhr wrote as early as 1929, “the problem of church and world involves us in a paradox; unless the church accommodates itself to the world, it becomes sterile inwardly and outwardly; unless it transcends the world, it becomes indistinguishable from the world and loses its effectiveness no less surely.” In the same context he went on to state, “The rhythm of approach and withdrawal need not be like the swinging of the pendulum, mere repetition without progress; it may be more like the rhythm of the waves that wash upon the beach; each succeeding wave advances a little farther into the world with its cleansing gospel before that gospel becomes sullied with the earth.”

Niebuhr’s thought on the paradox of church and world is an essential piece of our understanding of twentieth-century theology in America. In this volume, Jon Diefenthaler collects for the first time over forty writings that trace the lineage of Niebuhr’s thought, presents them in a single place, and makes a case for their enduring value in a postchurch religious environment. The volume is a treasury of little-known and hard-to-find pieces, making scholarship and understanding easier. 

Author Jon Diefenthaler discusses the scope of the book:

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781451494143
  • eBook ISBN 9781506402611
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 558
  • Publication Date November 1, 2015


Engaging Truth interviews PF author, Jon Diefenthaler about The Paradox of Church and World.
Listen now! 

In this book, Diefenthaler examines a church that can be truly "in" without becoming "of" today's world. In this book he not only addresses the concerns of Niebuhr's critics, but makes a case for him to be at the table where conversation is taking place concerning the best ways to engage people who have no religious affiliation (nones) or who have left the church (dones) in this part of our 21st century world. Join hosts, John Cain and Dave Schultz, as they speak with Dr. Diefenthaler on the contradictions between the church and the world.

Jon Diefenthaler discusses The Paradox of Church and World in an interview with Concordia Theology. Watch it here!


The Paradox of Church and World featured on the website for Martin Doblmeier's film, An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story

Review on Political Theology Today

Review in Seminary Ridge Review


"Selecting from the full spectrum of Niebuhr’s work—unknown occasional pieces and major books—Jon Diefenthaler presents a welcome feast of reflections on the Christian life. For H. Richard Niebuhr, occasional writing and long texts embodied the same quest: to participate in one’s culture while transcending it. This collection captures Niebuhr’s breadth of interest across multiple fields of learning; it brings home the elegance of his prose and the creativity of his thinking about being in the world but not of it."

Richard Wightman Fox | University of Southern California

"Theology arises from a set of concerns that are right in front of you. Jon Diefenthaler has pulled together a tapestry of writings from H. Richard Niebuhr that help us know what concerns were right in front of Niebuhr. It turns out that Niebuhr’s concerns very often overlap with our own. As a result these essays are timely and transformative."

David M. Greenhaw | Eden Theological Seminary

"Students of H. Richard Niebuhr's thought are obligated to Jon Diefenthaler for this valuable collection of Niebuhr's occasional writings. Diefenthaler's judicious selection and insightful introductions enable the reader to see Niebuhr's ongoing relevance. Indeed, in these essays, Niebuhr continues to demonstrate his importance for twenty-first century theological inquiry."

William G. Chrystal | author of Niebuhr Studies

"People thinking about the challenges of navigating our pluralistic world faithfully will delight in Jon Diefenthaler's commentary. He guides us through Niebuhr’s lustrous wisdom, selecting essays that connect best with our twenty-first century complexity. This work is both accessible and certain to be authoritative."

John Arthur Nunes | Valparaiso University