Dulles’s theological method in Models of Revelation
Dulles claims that method here is not obvious. There are two extremes: to treat revelation as strictly doctrinal, or as strictly rational. The first means testing revelation against itself, which is an infinite regress. The second ends up being too restrictive and contrary to the norms of faith. Some middle or third way is needed.
P. 14: “Our method, then, will be to start from a position within a faith-tradition that does appeal to revelation. More specifically, we shall write from a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, perspective. Dwelling within the tradition of faith that is common to the Christian churches, and more specifically, within the Roman Catholic phylum of that tradition, we shall be guided by the tradition and by its classical and binding expressions of faith. We shall… provisionally assume that revelation is implied in biblical and Christian faith, but we shall not presuppose that any given doctrine of revelation is the right one.”
He goes on to specify what he calls “criteria of assessing” revelation. These are the fundamental lines of what is “common to the Christian churches,” as he says above. Again, he gives a list:
1. Faithfulness to the Bible and Christian tradition
2. Internal coherence
4. Adequacy to experience
5. Practical fruitfulness – namely, “sustains moral effort, reinforces Christian commitment, and enhances the corporate life and mission of the Church” (p. 17)
6. Theoretical fruitfulness – humanly satisfying in the quest for religious understanding, and thus be of assistance for theology more broadly
7. Value for dialogue
He admits that these criteria are somewhat abstract, that their definitions can be ambiguous, and that they may not be decisive for choosing between proposed solutions. He’s looking for a starting point, here, not an end point. He promises to return to this list of criteria in his conclusion.
Chapter II lays out what he means by “types” or “models,” with a fairly extensive discussion (see pp. 24-7, and 29-35) of the limits to be understood in approaching a topic in this manner. He lists five models, which he will examine in detail in the next five chapters:
1. Revelation as Doctrine – “clear propositional statements attributed to God as authoritative teacher”
2. Revelation as History – “God reveals himself primarily in his great deeds,” especially in biblical history
3. Revelation as Inner Experience – “a privileged interior experience of grace or communion with God… held to be immediate to each individual…”
4. Revelation as Dialectical Presence – neither objective nor subjective; “the word of God simultaneously reveals and conceals”
5. Revelation as New Awareness – “an expansion of consciousness or shift of perspective” shared as a movement in history
So what he’s going to try to do, basically, is evaluate each of the five models against the seven criteria. In the end, one can either choose the best one and discard the others; or choose the best one and integrate bits of the others; or amalgamate the best bits of all of them into a new model; or discard them all.