Most helpful positive review
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Classic entry-level work on theology of revelation
on November 9, 2010
This classic work of a beloved Catholic theologian and cardinal boils down and categorizes the work of dozens of prominent theologians, both Catholic and Protestant, from the 19th and 20th centuries into five models. It is indispensably useful as a primer and for such reason is widely read by graduate-level theology students studying revelation.
One strength of Dulles's book is that he does not merely summarize the positions. He critiques each position, trying to identify both its positive and negative points. This does not mean they are all equal, and his critique of the third and fifth models mentions how they are difficult to reconcile with traditional Christian beliefs. Dulles does not advocate a specific model, nor does he think that the models can simply be combined (since they arrive at different positions on specific questions). Nor does he think creating a sixth model is viable at the present. Instead, he wants to improve upon the models by critiquing them in light of the other models. A clear way forward is not presented. That would be a miraculous feat, to reconcile such diversity!
The first (1) model (Revelation as Doctrine) could be called the conservative or traditional model, which is worked out by both Catholics and Protestants in the 19th century over against the theories of Rationalism. This model sees the Bible as a collection of factually true statements about God and humankind. In some ways it is made official Catholic dogma at the First Vatican Council, though not in a way that totally excludes the following four models. It is also the model generally used by Evangelical Protestants today.
The second (2) model (Revelation as History) is also worked out in the 19th century in deliberate reaction to the first model. According to this model, the Bible itself is not revelation but merely witnesses to revelation. Revelation itself is the acts of God in history (e.g., the Exodus, the Incarnation). The famous scholar Oscar Cullmann (1902-1999) belongs to this school, as does Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928- ). The former popularized the German word Heilsgeschichte, which is usually translated "salvation history." Jean Cardinal Danielou, the famous patrologist, created a Catholic version of this theory, which found its way into the Second Vatican Council's document on revelation, Dei Verbum.
The third (3) model (Revelation as Inner Experience) is essentially the view of Liberal Protestantism, whose founder may be Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), though the model is worked out by later scholars. This model sought to establish a theory of revelation in which revelation was not dependent on the Bible, which was considered historically unreliable. Instead, revelation is coterminous with a personal religious experience of God, which can be mediated by the Bible (though it can also exist outside Christianity). One living author who falls here to some degree is John Hick (1922- ), who, however, can also be placed in the fifth model.
The fourth (4) model (Revelation as Dialectical Presence) is what is sometimes called Neo-Orthodoxy, as developed after World War I specifically by Karl Barth (1886-1968), Emil Brunner (1889-1966), and Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976). It is a reaction to Liberal Protestantism. According to these Protestant theologians, God is "absolute mystery" and cannot be objectified. The object of revelation is not God himself in his absolute essence but God as he turns toward his creatures. Revelation is nothing but the fact of Jesus Christ. As in the second model, the Bible itself is not revelation, but witnesses to revelation.
The fifth (5) model (Revelation as New Awareness) was the most difficult one for me to wrap my head around. According to Dulles, in this model revelation is "the transcendent fulfillment of the inner drive of the human spirit toward fuller consciousness." It is a sort of evolutionary view, in which humankind is moving toward "fuller consciousness," and this is what revelation is. The very famous theologians Paul Tillich (1886-1965) and Karl Rahner, SJ (1904-1984), are to some degree associated with this school of thought.
After going through the five models, he tackles specific questions (for example, the Bible, the Church, Christ, eschatology) and shows what answers each model arrives at. This is, again, very useful for the beginning theology student. Overall, this book is on the short-list of must-reads for students of the theology of revelation. No doubt it could be critiqued by theologians of each school of thought, but it is inevitable that a book of this nature will not please all, and many simplifications are necessary to fit so many theologians into only five models, which Dulles himself acknowledges. Something is sacrificed in the name of utility and simplicity, but it is an acceptable sacrifice for the beginner.