Thursday, July 29, 2010

Models of Revelation 11

In Chapter 8, Dulles does a quick compare-and-contrast of his five models.

First, six points in common across all five models (p. 117):
(1) Revelation is God’s free action, a “turning toward” us of some kind, and a gift more-than-natural.
(2) Revelation communicates truth in some way, truth which is otherwise unknowable by natural reason.
(3) This truth of revelation is spiritually important in some way; it is “for salvation”.
(4) Revelation comes in a finally decisive way in Jesus Christ.
(5) Access to revelation is through the Church proclaiming the biblical message. (Note the very careful phrasing here.)
(6) Revelation demands some sort of response of faith.
I’m always surprised when I get to this point in the book by how much the very different models actually have in common. Nevertheless, it is necessary to include in all six points some qualifier (“in some way, of some kind,” etc.). These qualifiers hide the underlying differences even within the commonalities. Are these differences so great that the common points are effectively meaningless, or is there some shared meaning after all?

To answer, Dulles lists the differences (118):
(a) In each model, revelation has a different form: proposition, history, subjective experience, dialectic, and new awareness. Some of these can overlap, as we’ve said, but some are mutually exclusive.
(b) In each model, revelation has a different content. Again, some are comparable, some exclusive.
(c) What each model means by “for salvation” is very different.
(d) What each model means by “response of faith” is very different.
Now the differences begin to seem overwhelming to the shared points. Dulles investigates further by posing five additional questions, which emphasize the differences (120). I won’t rehearse all the questions, but take #2 as an example: “Does revelation give infallible certitude?” Model 1 (proposition) says definitely yes. Models 2 (history), 3 (experience), and 4 (dialectic) also say yes, but not in a way reducible to propositional statements. The certainty is there, inexpressibly. Model 5 (new awareness) also asserts certainty, but only of a limited kind (is it certainty at all?). On the basis of all these differences, Dulles argues that it is not possible to hold all the models together.

In order to move forward, Dulles is going to introduce a new concept, what he calls symbolic communication. “I shall contend that revelation is given and transmitted by symbolic communication. Symbol, I shall maintain, is a pervasive category that functions… in each of the five models. [It] can be of great value as a dialectical tool for bringing out the strong points and overcoming the weaknesses [of each]…. I am not proposing a sixth model, the “symbolic,” to be played off against the other five. The variety of models has advantages that should not be sacrificed by the adoption of a single model, however apt…. By recourse to symbol as dialectical tool it will be possible, I believe, to enrich and correct the existing models…” (128).

Here he’s making two implicit claims: (1) the category of “symbolic communication” is not a different mode of communication (not a "sixth model"). It is somehow more profound, more basic, than the mode of communication each of the five models selects (proposition, historical event, inner experience, dialectical experience, new awareness). Thus, each of these five modes fits in some way within the category of “symbolic communication,” or in other words, some symbolic communication is proposition, some historical, etc. Each of these five modes is potentially able to serve in God’s communication of saving truth.

(2) Even more, it seems that each of these five modes carries some unique aspect of saving truth without which revelation would be incomplete. Theologically, this is a very bold claim. Can it be shown that his category of “symbolic communication” is at least implicitly grasped as part of the deposit of faith from the beginning? (I.e., if this is a new element in theological discourse, not part of the deposit of faith at all, then that deposit has been incomplete in its reception of revelation until now, which has devastating consequences for the whole idea of “tradition”). We need to be paying attention to see if he can support this claim convincingly.

If he can't support the claim convincingly, then he has to justify including each of the five models individually in his synthesis, rather than the inclusive assertion of "advantage to variety" he asserts above.

This is really getting suspenseful! On to Chapter 9!

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