There is no one proper starting-point in theology, since every question leads on to every other. I have chosen to begin with an attempt to say what sort of discipline theology is, and what the proper methods of theological investigation are. Only when the study is complete will one be able to check back to see if such a preliminary analysis was correct.
Theology is in fact a well-established intellectual discipline, which the most ancient universities in Europe, including my own, were founded to teach. So rather than beginning completely anew, it seems appropriate to start by examining the definition of one of the greatest of classical theologians, Thomas Aquinas. Accepting a modified version of Thomas's account of theology as the rational elucidation of revealed truth, it is natural to proceed to a study of what revelation is. The main body of this volume is concerned with an investigation into the nature, sources, and limits of revelation.
The most distinctive feature of the book is that it espouses a comparative method, examining the idea of revelation as it is found both in primal religious traditions and in the great canonical traditions of the world. In the light of this diachronic and synchronic survey, a distinctive Christian idea of revelation is propounded. I then investigate how far this idea must be revised or adapted in the light of developments in scientific and historical knowledge, which provide a new and extended context for religious traditions originating in a pre-scientific age.
My general conclusion is that there is an intelligible, natural, and defensible notion of revelation, the main elements of which can be found in a number of diverse religious traditions. I suggest that each tradition, including the Christian, with which I am particularly concerned, may hope to preserve the main elements of its own distinctive witness, while engaging in an open, and in some important ways convergent, interaction with others.
My intention is to articulate a concept of revelation which will be true to the main orthodox Christian tradition, yet which will be open to a fruitful interaction with other traditions, and with the developing corpus of scientific knowledge. This will make possible a committed, open, and developing understanding of faith in the contemporary world. It might be seen as a defence of a sort of ‘open orthodoxy’.
As an essay in comparative theology, this work is intended to lay the foundation for the holistic and eirenic study of religious belief and practice, which is an important, even essential, task for believers and non-believers alike as the world moves into the third millennium.