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Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics

Volume 30, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2010

Adam Edward Hollowell
Pages 99-115
DOI: 10.5840/jsce201030133

Purposive Politics
Paul Ramsey, Repentance, and Political Judgment

IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS AND THE SIT-IN AND WAR AND THE CHRISTIAN CONscience, Paul Ramsey describes politics as a realm of "deferred repentance." Despite several troubling implications of this phrase, I believe the concept of repentance in his work provides an illuminating point of entry into a theological discussion of political judgment. I begin with the question of what Ramsey means by "deferred repentance" and proceed to a wider discussion of his theology of repentance and call for creative political reconstruction. This involves recognition of his debts to H. R. Niebuhr's war articles from the 1930s and '40s and his use of repentance as the determinative motif for a Christian response to war. I also examine the significance of the concept in Ramsey's debates in the 1960s and '70s over how the Vietnam War might be justified. He uses repentance in each of these engagements to demonstrate the reliance of all political judgments on a prior theological account of certain features of human interaction, namely, the contingency and temporality of created existence.

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