Revelation without Holy Writ

The question of revelation is very important today. Many of the traditions are grappling with how to regard scripture. Is it holy writ in the sense of God “dictating” to the prophets? This seems to be the approach taken by conservative traditions where scripture is considered inerrant. If scripture is not a direct transmission from God how can it be revelatory? With the advent of in-depth examination of scriptures (historical-critical method) it has become apparent that scriptures are very human documents. They contain errors, contradictions, various theologies and many of the books were written by more than one person over long gaps in time. If scriptures are human documents and not something where God dittled with neurons and dendrites, how is revelation possible? It seems to me that the only alternative is to view scripture as just one more (very special) example of natural theology. By this I mean the revelation of God is not something that falls from the sky, but something that constantly emerges in the natural occurences of life: in personal refection, historical events, the beauty and order of the world, as well as the chaos and destructive forces that are at play. If God is the ground of reality, then revelation of God can be found in everything that occurs. Now critics of religion are quick to claim that natural theology would be such a blunt instrument that it is worthless. How could a thoroughgoing theology be built on such? Theologians have answered this charge in various ways. Perhaps the most compelling is that within humans there is an inherent “sense” about God. Plato claimed that there is a unity of being and knowing. If that is so and creatures are part of God then they also can have the ability to sense something about their deep core. Calvin called this sense “sensus divinitatus”, a sense of the divine. Tillich called this the “mystical a priori”, the mystical ability to participate in God that precedes everything else. Karl Rahner follows Aquinas in asserting a self-presence or luminosity.

The nature of being is to know and to be known in an original unity, in other words, self-presence, luminosity. First when we inquire about the being of all beings, we admit that we have already a provisional knowing about being in general. … Mysterious though it may be, the being we inquire about is also always already a being we know about.

Another criticism of this type of revelation is that it is too subjective. After all the pluralism of scripture offers many different takes on reality in its depth. Apparently this innate sense of the divine is fallible. Doesn’t this destroy the any credibility for a particular claim to be revelatory. It only does if one looks for an absolute revelation. If, however, one accepts that all forms of scripture that speak to the divine have some element of truth to them, then the task is not to find the “right” one but to embrace them all and seek out that which is transparent of God. Of course this may seem fragmentary and fallible but that is really the situation with any search for the truth. However, the fact that the Spiritual Presence does speak through scripture and all other forms of human experience can create a warranted faithing fallibilism. A faith that although accepting its fallibility can act. What this approach does is put the responsibility for religious insight and belief squarely on the individual and the religious community. If there is no ecclesiastic authority for revelation, it is up to each person to decide what to believe and act on it. This is, in my opinion, how it should be.

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