Ward presents an investigation into the nature, sources and limits of revelation with particular reference to the Christian tradition. Ward’s general conclusion is that there exists an intelligible, natural and defensible notion of revelation. The main elements of this notion can be found in a number of diverse religious traditions. Ward suggests that each tradition engage in an open and, in some important way, convergent interaction with others, and at the same time preserve the main elements of its own distinctive witness. He articulates a concept of revelation that is true to the main orthodox Christian tradition and that is also open to a fruitful interaction with other traditions, as well as to the developing corpus of scientific knowledge.
University of Glasgow
KEY WORDS: Revelation, Comparative theology, Primal traditions/religions, Thomas Aquinas, Mystery, History, Semitic Monotheism, Judaism, Vedanta, Buddhism, Islam, Morality, Christianity, Transcendence of God, Atonement, Incarnation, Trinity, Enlightenment
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Ward’s Religion and Revelation: A Theology of Revelation in the World’s Religion is the first of four volumes on comparative theology. It includes the Gifford Lectures, given at the University of Glasgow in 1993–1994, and of the Selwyn Lectures, given at St John’s College, Auckland (New Zealand), in 1993. Thus, the book is an expanded version of the Gifford Lectures and in particular includes some material on specifically Christian theology that was not in the original Gifford Lectures.
In the introduction, Ward presents a preliminary account of what sort of discipline theology is and what the methods of theological investigation are. He elects to employ a comparative method to examine the idea of revelation as it is found in primal traditions and in the great canonical traditions of the world.
This diachronic and synchronic survey, propounding a distinctive Christian idea of revelation, starts with Part I, ‘Towards a Comparative Theology’. Ward begins by investigating the idea of theological knowledge, and in so doing pays special attention to Aquinas’s doctrine on theology as a science. In the following chapter, he discusses the diversity of revelations. The fundamental disagreements between religions lead Ward, in chapter 3, to a discussion of certainty in religion and to an examination, in chapter 4, of the natural diversity of framework beliefs. The following chapters concentrate on revelation and reason. Chapter 5, ‘Barth and Brunner: Revelation without Reasons’, expounds the works of the theologians Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, who insist that reason cannot judge revelation and who also claim that religion is a work of human arrogance. Chapter 6 examines the ambiguity of revelation; chapter 7 probes the quest for certainty. Chapter 8 offers insights on the nature of theological reasoning, while chapter 9 discusses the relation between rational enquiry and the mystery contained in religion. The next three chapters expound theology as a comparative discipline: chapter 10, ‘Confessional and Comparative Theology’; chapter 11, ‘Criticism and Commitment’; and chapter 12, ‘Pluralism in Theology’.
In Part II, ‘Primal Disclosures’, Ward reflects on primal traditions, discussing the definition of religion in chapter 1. He defines comparative theology as an enquiry into the idea of God and revelation, of ultimate reality and its disclosures to human minds, as such ideas arise across the full spectrum of human history and experience. Comparative theology is to be understood primarily as an enquiry into truth and rationality. Chapter 2, ‘The Religious Dimensions’, is followed by chapter 3, ‘Primal Religions’, examining the religion of primal societies in order to place religions in historical context. Chapters 4 and 5 deal respectively with religion and imagination and with revelation in primal religion. Ward then focuses on the role of imagination. Chapter 6, ‘Images in Primal Religions’, is followed by chapter 7, ‘Distortions in Religious Imagination’, and chapter 8, ‘The Structure of Primal Religion’. The next chapter sheds light on the dimensions of religion in primal traditions. Part II closes with reflections on the development from primal to canonical traditions. Chapter 10 examines revelation as divine persuasion, followed by chapter 11, ‘The Transition from Primal Faith’, chapter 12, ‘The Prophetic Critique’, and chapter 13, ‘Semitic Monotheism’. The last chapter of Part II is a reflection on the unity of being. For Ward, it is essential to have a historical understanding if the scope and authority of revelation is to be reasonably assessed.
In Part III, ‘Four Scriptural Traditions’, Ward discusses Judaism, Vedanta, Buddhism, and Islam as part of an enquiry into the general notion of revelation considered in its widest human aspect. The first six chapters deal with Judaism, considering a general theory of revelation, the religion of moral law, laws of cult and social justice, reformist interpretations of revelation, revelation and symbolic speech, and revelation and morality. Chapters 7 to 11 reflect on Vedanta, initially examining the context of Indian religious thought. The following lectures concentrate on revelation in Indian traditions, Brahman and theism, appearance and reality, and Vedanta and Christianity. Chapter 12, ‘The Buddhist Way’, sheds light on the general idea of revelation in the Buddhist tradition, and this is followed by chapter 13, ‘Nirvana’, and chapter 14, ‘The Dharmakaya’. Finally, in Part III, chapters 15 to 17 focus on Islam, reflecting on the transcendence of God, atonement, and Islam and Christianity. Ward describes the main models in the traditions: objective moral will (Judaism), the supreme Self (Hinduism), transcendent sovereignty (Islam), and Pure Bliss (Buddhism).
In Part IV, ‘Christian Reflections: Revelation as Historical Self-Manifestation’, Ward seeks to develop a Christian view of revelation as a historical self-manifestation of the Divine. He first examines incarnation and history. Chapter 1 sheds light on the idea of incarnation, and chapter 2, ‘The Importance of History’, discusses the Christian view of religion as based on a testimony to historical acts of God. Chapter 3 expounds the idea of God as Trinity, and this is followed by an account of Greek and Hebrew concepts of God that form part of the background to Christian teaching on God. Ward continues his reflections by concentrating on inspiration and revelation in chapters 5 to 10, focusing especially on the inspired nature of Scripture and on its inspirational qualities; on the development of the canon of Scripture; on revelation as encounter, as historical action and as inner experience. Ward then reflects on the idea of taking history on faith. Chapter 11, ‘The Nature of Historical Criticism’, is followed by chapter 12, ‘The Historical Roots of Incarnational Belief’, chapter 13, ‘The Principle of Trust’, chapter 14, ‘Events and Interpretations’, chapter 15, ‘Faith and History’, and chapter 16, ‘The Presence of the Past’. The last issue covered in Part IV is incarnation as revelation. His task is the exposition of the incarnation of God in Jesus as the central revelatory act of God. Chapter 17, ‘Divine Incarnation and Human Freedom’, is followed by chapter 18, ‘An Enhypostatic Christology’, and chapter 19, ‘The Self-Involving Character of Revelation’. Chapter 20 discusses the idea of a final revelation.
The last part of the book, ‘Religion after Enlightenment’, focuses in fourteen chapters on the scientific worldview, authority and autonomy, religious diversity, and the structure of revelation. Ward initially discusses the Galilean expansion of horizons. He sheds light on miracles and their physical explanation, the evolution of the cosmos, the resurrection and the physical cosmos. The chapters on authority and autonomy examine the basis of religious authority and the authority of Jesus. Chapters 7 to 9 concentrate on religious diversity, on pluralism and the ineffability of the real, on justification, truth and salvation, and criteria of rationality in religion. The final chapters 10 to 14 discuss the structure of revelation. Ward presents an outline of different models of revelation, explains the Semitic and Indian traditions, reflects on Buddha and the Christ, and makes a plea for an open theology.
University of Glasgow