Beyond Tolerance

Gustav Niebuhr, Beyond Tolerance: How People Across America Are Building Bridges Between Faiths (New York: Penguin Group), 2008.

Even though this book has been out for nearly a decade and even though Gustav Niebuhr enjoys a family name that certainly gets my attention, I didn't get around to reading this book until a book club in which I participate decided to read it. It is fairly simple and fairly straight-forward in its approach. Despite his personal roots in liberal mainstream protestantism, Niebuhr doesn't spend much time with our particular corner of Christianity and chooses to focus on other denominations, including Roman Catholics and several fundamentalist groups. He seems to put our particular corner of the faith in the same category as the Episcopalians, but that is a small criticism, barely noticed by others, I suspect.

With a journalist's eye and interview skills, Niebuhr has done his homework, looking for examples of people in America who are engaged in building interfaith connections and conversations. Christians, Jews, Baptists, Muslims, Buddhists and Episcopalians are reaching out to one another and building bridges and Niebuhr has been diligent in documenting some of those connections.

Niebuhr stands in a long line of theologians and church leaders. His great grandfather and namesake was an immigrant minister, who had three children who distinguished themselves in theology. His grandfather, H. Richard Niebuhr and his great uncle, Reinhold Niebuhr, both were meticulous and productive in their theological publications and served on the faculty of theological seminaries. This book may not quite be up to the standards of his famous forebears. While it is interesting and a good piece of sociological observation, it is a bit less impressive as a book of theology. Still I recommend it to those interested in interfaith dialogue in our time.