Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Religious Studies


John C. Robertson


The major emphasis in this dissertation is on the development of H. Richard Niebuhr's concept of person as a key for understanding his approach to the theological problem of formulating the content of knowledge of God as it arises in the faith experience. This study begins with a brief introduction indicating the problematic character of the development of Niebuhr's concept of person, namely that while he clearly emphasized its centrality there is absent in his writings an explicit, formal statement that defines the conceptual content of what he intended by the term "person." The discussion that follows is an attempt to bring forward what seems to have been the content of Niebuhr's concept of person. This will involve the process of raising to prominence the "constants" that appear in his reflections on the relation between the divine and the human as relation between persons. The first chapter involves an investigation of the influence that the thought of Ernst Troeltsch, Karl Barth and others had on Niebuhr's own thinking. Therein is indicated the general framework of thought in which he had set for himself the task of providing for contemporary theology a means of expressing the content of faith so as to avoid the excesses of revelational dogmatism, on the one hand, and rationalistic relativism, on the other. The development of his approach--a personalistic confessionalism--appears in its general form in the second chapter, which involves a survey of his writings. The third chapter sets forth, as the cumulative effect of his writings, what appeared to be the essential components of Niebuhr's theological concept of person: act freedom, faithfulness, and dialogue. The fourth chapter indicates how Niebuhr seemed to have envisioned the role of this concept as a crucial, corrective principle for modifying such outstanding approaches to, the problem of knowledge of God as those of Troeltsch and Barth. This chapter also offers a suggestion as to what would be a consistent application of his thought to a development in theology since his death. The final chapter contains the present writer's response to certain critical reflections on Niebuhr's thought relevant to the central theme of the dissertation and a concluding section which suggests that the major emphasis and development of this discussion may be a modest but faithful and promising way to understand and appreciate more fully the essence of Niebuhr's complex and subtle thought.

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