Models of Revelation

Avery Dulles defines “revelation” as “God’s free action whereby he communicates saving truth to created minds, especially through Jesus Christ as accepted by the apostolic church and attested by the Bible and by the continuing community of believers.” In Models of Revelation, Dulles identifies five models of revelation: Revelation as Doctrine, Revelation as History, Revelation as Inner Experience, Revelation as Dialectical Presence, and Revelation as New Awareness. He explains that the propositional view of revelation to which he links Conservative Evangelicalism and the propositional view of Catholic neo-Scholasticism both fit within his model of Revelation as Doctrine. Dulles’ view, however, does not paint a complete picture of the “Conservative Evangelical” view of revelation.Dulles traces his description of the Conservative Evangelical view of revelation to the views presented by B.B. Warfield, through the defenses of Gordon H. Clark, J.I. Packer, J.W. Montgomery, and Carl F.H. Henry, to the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy’s “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.” Dulles concludes that this view holds that God makes himself known through nature (natural or general revelation), but that salvific truth requires supernatural (special) revelation. Natural revelation makes God “available always and everywhere.” Special revelation provides for effective knowledge of salvific truth because God’s tanscendence and the devastating effects of original sin prevent humans from attaining a sure and saving knowledge of God by natural revelation alone. God’s revelation is deposited in the canonical scripture, so the Bible is the whole and final revelation of God, thereby allowing revelation without prophets, Jesus Christ, or apostles.

Dulles finds that the “propositional model stands up well in terms of its faithfulness to tradition, its internal coherence, and its practical advantages, but less well when judged by other standards.” He also notes that it promotes unity through its doctrines, provides firm doctrinal standards, facilitates full commitment to biblical and ecclesiastical teaching. This model “safeguards the meaning and authority of revelation, which is seen as providing clear, firm answers to deep and persistent questions concerning God, humanity, and the universe, and thus as offering sure guidance through the confusions of life.”

However, Dulles concludes that this model provides too narrow an approach, that it is authoritarian and extrinsicist. He criticizes its as implausible, inadequate to experience, and as valueless for dialogue. Dulles believes that this model requires submission to propositions in the Bible held to be revelation, regardless of whether they seem to apply to the believer, thereby ignoring the believer’s own life and experience. Its apparent rigidity stemming from its acknowledgment of Holy Scripture as the complete deposit of revelation rejects “members of other groups as heretics or infidels.” Because he doubts the authority of every passage of Holy Scripture as God’s word, Dulles questions this model’s treatment of the Bile as peremptory authority. Nevertheless, Dulles does not imply “that the clear teachings of Scripture and the creeds are without grounds in revelation.”

Dulles clearly identifies the elements of God’s revelation in his descriptions of five models. What he views as the weaknesses of the Evangelical’s conservative model, presumes his bias that Holy Scripture, without the Church through the pope, is incomplete. He discounts that the conservative model actually accounts for the role of history, experience, and faith because of his desire to “compartmentalize” God’s revelation. Nevertheless, Dulles’ analysis does lead to the conclusion that God’s revelation is important to the believer because it conveys God’s nature and purposes to the community of believers.


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