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Revelation as Divine Testimony: A Philosophical-Theological Inquiry
Stellenbosch University, Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch, South Africa.
2013 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

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,” and viewed as authoritarian and intellectually problematic. Recent developments within the analytic philosophy of testimony, however, provide grounds for a reevaluation of the view.  

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 testimony-model of revelation (traditionally the most prominent version of propositional revelation) so as to render it intellectually credible today.

Chapter 1 describes the research problem and the method. Chapters 2-3 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 several manifestational theories of revelation, selected on the basis of Avery Dulles’s categorization, the author argues that they all suffer from certain systematic limitations connected to their manifestational character. Since manifestational models of revelation provide an insufficient basis for theology, theologians have reason to take a second look at the intellectual viability of the propositional model of revelation as divine testimony.      

   To evaluate the viability of 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, and if the model can withstand various types of criticism. 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 John McDowell’s analysis of testimony as a source of epistemic justification and knowledge. In chapters 6-8, the model is elaborated using these tools and tested for internal coherence, coherence with external knowledge such as contemporary Biblical scholarship, and coherence with Biblical and traditional views of the nature of Christian faith. The model’s ability to withstand philosophical objections of various kinds is also examined. 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.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stellenbosch: Stellenbosch University , 2013. , 243 p.
Keyword [en]
National Category
Religious Studies
Research subject
Studies In Faiths and Ideologies
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-93650OAI: diva2:750615
Public defence
2014-02-06, Stellenbosch University, Faculty of Theology, 171 Dorp Street, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 13:00 (English)
Available from: 2015-02-12 Created: 2014-09-29 Last updated: 2015-02-12Bibliographically approved

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Wahlberg, Mats
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