Using the seven criteria of evaluation, Dulles notes several strengths of the historical model:
• It emphasizes our relationship with God in more concrete ways, in the sense that actions speak louder than words.
• It retrieves some biblical themes that can be missed or downplayed in the propositional model.
• It is “more organic” than the propositional model. “The meaning of events is capable of being formulated in many ways… The flexibility, however, does not [necessarily] lead to relativism. Believers in every age and culture can find their identity in relationship to events that have objectively occurred…” (61). I would add, though, that this risk of relativism must be consciously avoided.
• It is less authoritarian.
There are some weaknesses to note also:
• Words do remain intrinsically meaningful and indispensable. “God’s self-disclosure in words and visions is not unrelated to his self-disclosure by deed, but there seems to be no cogent reason for unilaterally subordinating the former to the latter…” (63).
• Some biblical categories (e.g. Wisdom books) make little sense in purely historical terms.
• Some biblical categories (e.g. Genesis) are not “history” in terms meaningful to this model.
• It is not well attested in early Christian thought or tradition; this raises the question of continuity and resulting change of identity (if discontinuous with Tradition).
• It has questionable value for the ecumenical project of Christian unity, or for interreligious dialogue generally.
• The idea of an historical “act of God” (this is not the same thing as the Catholic meaning of “miracle”) is difficult to define coherently. If, in terms of the second form of this model, one posits two strains of history, human and sacred, one can avoid the definition but still needs criteria for which acts belong to which histories. If, in terms of the third form of this model, one posits only one strain of history, the definition risks denying the possibility of the miraculous, or else becoming merely a circular definition. (This problem, as I noted in the last post, is linked to the use of “scientific” standards of objectivity for history treated as a social science.)
• Finally, if events are not self-interpreting, as most theologians using this model agree, it seems to be implied that the event is not primary to the word which interprets it.
Dulles concludes the chapter with a quote (on p. 66) from Dei Verbum: “This plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them.” He suggests, in other words, that these two models must be used together, as if one model, to understand the “inner unity” of revelation in Scripture.