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This chapter traces the intellectual trajectory of the young John Rawls to show how several strands of Christian personalist theology intertwined at Princeton during the Second World War. It highlights a major new archival discovery: the undergraduate Rawls’s first published essay, a piece that demonstrates his early exposure to the ideas of Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain. By considering in turn the influences on Rawls of American Episcopal Protestantism, Catholic human rights discourse, and continental dialectical theology, this chapter seeks to challenge historiographies that treat those different strands of Christian personalism in isolation. It also emphasizes the fundamentally liberal orientation of many Christian personalists, specifically their preoccupation with defending human free will as both essential to personhood and compatible with a robust theology of grace. This chapter draws attention to an oft-neglected liberal faction within the “Theological Discussion Group” of neoorthodox fame and showcases the enormous impact these liberal theologians had on reshaping elite American undergraduate religious education. This chapter ultimately argues that Rawls’s own liberalism, which would come to so define postwar political philosophy, was first forged in the cauldron of Christian personalism at Princeton and is best understood as a case for social revolution emerging from that framework.
Chapter 29 concludes this study on the development of the doctrine of justification by considering how the doctrine has been explored and expressed since the end of the First World War. The chapter opens by considering Karl Barth and Dialectical Theology, a movement of theological reconstruction and retrieval, and notes the place of the doctrine of justification within this movement, especially in the writings of Barth and Emil Brunner. The analysis then shifts to the growing interest in retrieving the existential and affective aspects of justification, particularly in response to Martin Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit (‘Being and Time’, 1927). This is followed by a discussion of the retrieval of justification as a viable theological concept in recent theological writings. Writers such as Robert Jenson, Robert Kolb, Thomas F. Torrance, Michael S. Horton and Kathryn Tanner have shown how justification remains a significant theme in modern theological reflection, despite earlier suggestions that the concept was trapped in the theological past. Finally, the work reflects on discussions of justification in recent Pauline scholarship, particularly the ‘New Perspective on Paul’, and its role in the major ecumenical dialogues of the late twentieth century. The work concludes by expressing cautious optimism for the future of justification as a viable theological category.
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