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Dalferth, Ingolf U., and Michael Ch. Rodgers [Eds.]
Revelation. Claremont Studies in the Philosophy of Religion, Conference 2012.
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2014. IX, 292 S. = Religion in Philosophy and Theology, 74. Kart. EUR 74,00. ISBN 978-3-16-153198-9.
Christina M. Gschwandtner
This collection on the topic of revelation is based on the 33rd Philo-sophy of Religion Conference at Claremont in 2012, with papers from various disciplines, especially philosophy, theology and liter-ature. Several of the longer papers are followed by brief and often illuminating replies from Claremont graduate students. For rea-sons of space I will, however, here focus on the full-length contributions.
The collection is divided into three sections: Revelation and Reason, Hermeneutics of Revelation, and Phenomenology of Revela-tion. Dalferth begins with an introduction that lays out the difficulty of understanding revelation and provides the systematic and historical context for various philosophical approaches to the topic. He focuses on the role the topic of revelation has played in Pro-testant systematic theology, especially in regard to its methodol-ogical placement in the overall theological construct, showing how God serves as the first principle of revelation whether in word or creation. He also demonstrates how (in contrast to Hegel and Barth) late 20 th c. thinking about revelation is characterized by particul-arity, plurality, difference, diversity and depth/mystery. In these new approaches hermeneutics and phenomenology play an im-portant role.
Part I contains articles by Abraham (Perkins), Davis (Claremont McKenna) and Caputo (Syracuse & Villanova) and replies to each. Abraham addresses the question of revelation from an epistemo-logical perspective showing its consistency with reason rather than its opposition to it. He deals with several of the objections that see reason and revelation in contradiction and shows how they do not hold up. He defines revelation as essentially about God as an agent (analogous to human agents) who is made known via creative and redemptive acts in the world rather than in contrast to science (which he suggests is not adequate as an account of human agency either). Ultimately Abraham thinks of revelation as the highest form of reason, although he does not work out that particular claim here.
Davis articulates Christian revelation as the notion that humans might be conceived as part of God’s intellectual (we know something God knows), moral (we accept the authority of God’s commands), and redemptive (establishing personal relationship with God) community. He also refutes the idea that if something is identified as revelation it can therefore no longer be discussed or disputed. Revelation is not immune from debate, but there is good public and private evidence for it. He concludes that it can be rational to believe things on the basis of revelation.
Caputo draws on Hegel and Derrida for speaking of revelation in terms of »invention« (in the older French sense of »discovery« rather than »creation«), as what comes to us and »re-invents« us. He reads religion as a kind of »presentation« (Vorstellung) without concept, a poetics without a Real. Revelation is a world-disclosure (in Heidegger’s sense) that need not be other-worldly. It comes in surprising ways and upsets our expectations. It is the interruptive poetic disclosure of a world, the promise and call of desire. He argues that this theo-poetics empties myth of its supernaturalism. Using Latour’s challenge to the distinctions between ontology and empistemology, he argues that this revelation is »real« in the sense of »entangled.« God is »with us« as the event that »haunts« us. Revelation is not about »existence« but about »insistence« and the promise of the event.
Part II features hermeneutic approaches by Fredericks (LMU), Welz (Copenhagen), Gerdes (Claremont), and Pattison (Glasgow); only the final has a reply. Fredericks draws on Gadamer and Lévinas in order to articulate and rethink the difference between Rahner’s and Brunner’s models of revelation. He identifies Gadamer’s work as a rhetoric of disclosure that enables understanding within tradition and yet also is open to an excess of meaning that comes in the encounter with the classic. He uses Lévinas for a rhetoric of discourse that challenges ontology with its insistence that the Other cannot be integrated into a totality, but instead comes in surprising ways. In the final section Fredericks contrasts disclosure and discourse with each other and draws out their implications for a theology of revelation in terms of what he calls liminality (fusion vs. breach of the horizon), divine initiative (and the possibility of natural theology or the analogia entis), and belonging (how to encounter the strange), concluding that both approaches (Rahner/Gadamer and Barth/Levinas) are necessary.
Welz analyzes Jewish theology, philosophy and poetry, focusing especially on Lyrianic mythology. She wonders how God can still be heard today and whether God’s image can still be seen in human beings. Drawing on Sholem, Rosenzweig, Heschel, Lévinas, Jabès, and Benyoëtz she articulates seven steps (which I cannot all summarize here) to show that revelation is a paradoxical encounter that ultimately allows us to see God in the neighbor (here, in the finite world) via a metaphorical language of love. God reveals himself in human beings when we are attentive to the divine; he »wishes to be found by us« (183).
Gerdes focuses on the centrality of materiality for revelation, especially in metaphors of embodiment. She points out that many metaphors are necessary for the inbreaking of the transcendent into the immanent. She draws especially on Jüngel’s insistence that metaphor is an essential vehicle for revelation and religious language, but shows how metaphors are always already material. Drawing on the example of Hadewijch’s vision of the Eucharist, she argues that this is not merely a spiritual but also an embodied vision. This enables us to think the incarnation more fully.
Pattison argues that the locus of revelation is the human, especially the heart, where revelation of the divine and the human come together. He employs Heidegger’s discussion of truth and its Bultmannian elaboration in order to analyze a poem by Edwin Muir. Genuine self-knowledge is possible through the interplay of self-revelation and revelation of the world. Muir’s poem shows that the ambivalence of the heart (which can be inclined to both good and evil) requires the incarnate love of Christ to reveal God to us and us to ourselves. We recognize the truth about ourselves with others and in the world, as we are broken by misfortunate, but also can come to a more truthful way of speaking if we are ready to hear and listen.
Part III focuses on phenomenological approaches from Eisenstadt (Pomona) and Carlson (Santa Barbara), both with student replies. Eisenstadt provides a reading of Lévinas on revelation which leads in her view to a »humanization of theology« (229). She provides a fairly straight-forward reading of Lévinas’ account of ethical obligation and alterity in Totality and Infinity, drawing out its implications for subjectivity and talk about God. Analyzing Lévinas’ hermeneutics in a brief reading of his Talmudic lecture »An Eye for an Eye« she argues that one might get to a third level of interpretation between a literal and a metaphorical reading. She also explores the difference between eschatology and messianism (in this case drawing on Derrida). She concludes that theism always includes atheism.
Carlson investigates an American fictional Border trilogy by McCarthy, arguing that it provides a secular account of revelation. He begins with a brief analysis of Emerson’s romantic »sanctity of the secular« before applying it to the more explicitly secular novels of McCarty. His essay traces the pain and brokenness in the main character’s denouement in great detail, showing that they are »tales of loss and love« (254).
As these briefer reviews indicate the collection contains many interesting contributions. I was wishing, however, that there had been some way for the contributors to interact with each other or a way of drawing together some of their insights (maybe in a concluding piece by the main editor). As it stands, there is not much cohesion to the book overall, which admittedly is hard to achieve in a collection of disparate articles. Maybe the most constant theme – surprisingly – is the strongly Lévinassian current in several of the contributions, especially in Fredericks, Welz and Eisenstadt, but to some extent in more veiled fashion also in Caputo and maybe in Carlson. Revelation is not an obvious topic in Lévinas and there are far more »Christian« contributors than Jewish ones, so it is fascinating that Lévinas’ philosophy emerges as a central inspiration of several texts. In light of Marion’s recent Gifford Lectures on phenomenology and revelation, it would be interesting to consider how his articulation of revelation as central to phenomenology might interact fruitfully with the contributions in this volume on the same topic.