In Religion and Revelation, idealist theologian Keith Ward attempts to synthesize comparative and confessional theology and to provide an ecumenical theology of revelation which moves beyond strictly Christian terms. Acknowledging that there is no “proper” starting point for theology, Ward bases his entire intellectual project on this interdisciplinary and comparative methodology. Beginning from and modifying Aquinas’s point regarding theology being the elucidation of revealed truth, the nature, limit and sources of revelation are the topic of the whole lecture series. The lectures contain a vast array of historical and anthropological data as Ward draws from what he terms both primal and canonical religions, but the comparative methodology carries with it an irresolvable contradiction. The commitment to Christian theology presupposes Jesus Christ as the true form of human redemption, all non-Christian religions and theories of revelation are, necessarily, evaluated in light of this belief and as a result it is something of an issue for Ward to take seriously non-Christian religions on their own terms. Rather, other religious traditions have to be examined to see to what extent they conform and contribute to Christian conceptions of revelation as the lectures affirm the absolute supremacy of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Religious scholars who question Ward’s point that the orthodox claims of Christianity are essentially just true will find Ward’s argument ultimately unsatisfying. Yet despite this philosophical issue, Ward’s point that theology, in its practical and lived elements is undeniably pluralistic in nature, and furthermore, Ward does go some way to acknowledge the necessity for comparative theology to be a self-critical and open-ended discipline, and the urgent necessity for theology to take revealed knowledge seriously. This is what Ward terms ‘open orthodoxy’ and reflects a commendable and very practical engagement with the realities of modern religious plurality.
From this beginning point, of both comparative and confessional theology, the middle section of the lectures, (part two and three) attempt to place revelation in both a global and historical context, beginning with primal revelations and going on to consider four “scriptural” religious traditions (Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Vedanta respectively). In these disparate traditions, Ward tries to find a common structure within these religions, but given the methodological flaw mentioned earlier, there is a degree to which the analysis comes close to collapsing some of the historical and material differences in these religions in its attempt to build a universal model of religious revelation. The aim in this historical analysis is not about the reality of revelation, but about the criteria by which it should be judged — which as stated above, Ward takes to be the revelation of Christ. Unsurprisingly then, this is contrasted with Christian notions of revelation, which, once more, is posited in Idealist terms – what Ward terms a ‘suprasensory reality of Supreme Worth’ (343) with which the individual is supposed to seek union. Whilst a compelling, and historically sophisticated account of revelation, it’s the ecumenical nature of the argument that Ward puts forward which is most striking — attempting to construct a coherent and universal understanding of revelation whilst remaining faithful to confessional Christian theology. Whilst the aim of working within Christian (specifically Anglican) orthodoxy without succumbing to simplistic, inerrantist view of Scripture as the sole ground of knowledge may not be totally successful, it is a bold and theologically ambitious project aiming to build an open, yet orthodox model of Christian doctrine.