Revelation as divine testimony : a philosophical-theological inquiry

Wahlberg, Mats Anders (2014-04)

Thesis (DTh)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The dissertation examines, on the basis of insights from contemporary analytic philosophy of testimony, the intellectual viability of the traditional Christian conception of revelation as divine testimony. This conception entails that God reveals by speaking, and that people can acquire knowledge of God and divine things by believing what God says. In academic theology of recent decades, this view is often dismissed – under the label of “propositional revelation” – as authoritarian and intellectually problematic. Recent developments within the analytic philosophy of testimony, however, provide grounds for a re-evaluation. The dissertation has two purposes. One is to clarify the concept of propositional revelation and to examine what the consequences are, for Christian theology, of rejecting this idea. The second purpose is to investigate whether there is a way of explicating the divine testimonymodel of revelation (traditionally the most prominent version of propositional revelation) so as to render it intellectually credible today. Chapter 1 introduces the topic and describes the dissertation’s purposes, methods and sources. Chapters 2 and 3 address the first purpose by distinguishing, following Nicholas Wolterstorff, between manifestational and propositional conceptions of revelation, and by arguing that unless theologians posit some form of propositional revelation (e.g. revelation as divine testimony), theology will be threatened by incoherence. On the basis of a survey of a number of manifestational theories of revelation, selected from different categories in Avery Dulles’s classificatory scheme, the author argues that manifestational theories in general suffer from certain systematic limitations and therefore provide an insufficient basis for theology. This means that theologians have strong reason to take a second look at the idea of revelation as divine testimony. To evaluate this model is the second and main purpose of the dissertation, and it is addressed by the method of hypothesis construction and testing. In the present context, this means to construct a version of the divine testimony-model with the help of the best philosophical and theological tools available, and to examine whether internal coherence and coherence with established knowledge can be achieved. In chapters 4 and 5, the author describes the philosophical tools that will be used, viz. Nicholas Wolterstorff’s analysis of the idea of divine speech, and insights from recent analytic philosophy of testimony, especially John McDowell’s anti-reductionist theory of testimonial knowledge. In chapters 6-8, the divine testimony-model is elaborated using these tools and tested for internal coherence, coherence with external knowledge such as contemporary biblical scholarship, and coherence with traditional views of the nature of Christian faith. The model’s ability to withstand philosophical objections of various kinds is also scrutinized. The tentative conclusion of the dissertation is that the model is intellectually viable in light of current knowledge, but that further testing in the context of a wider scholarly debate is needed.

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