Monday 7 December 2009

Gabriel Fackre on the Doctrine of Revelation

Gabriel Fackre, The Doctrine of Revelation: A Narrative Interpretation, Edinburgh Studies in Constructive Theology (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997).

Following the previous entry on the book by Gregory C. Higgins which tries to match a distinctive emphasis of a particular theologian on to a specific part of the biblical story line, I was reminded of Gabriel Fackre’s 1997 volume on the doctrine of revelation which does something similar.

As well as containing individual narratives, the Bible tells an ‘overarching story’, and Fackre explores the doctrine of revelation from this perspective, tracing it through various stages of the biblical story. God is revealed as the main character in a continuous and coherent narrative, divided into several ‘chapters’ – creation, fall, covenant with Noah, covenant with Israel, Jesus Christ, Scripture, the Church, salvation, and the consummation.

Fackre uses the narrative structure as a framework in which to discuss the views of various theologians on revelation. Some theologians, he claims, choose to focus on one phase in the narrative rather than another. But why not look at the whole story?

He takes his cue from William Abraham:

‘Divine revelation must not be approached in independence from delineating the divine activity through which God reveals Himself. To pick out any one act or activity as the essence of revelation is to miss the total picture, yet this is what has happened in the history of the doctrine of revelation. One generation focuses on divine creation as the bearer of revelation; another in reaction focuses on divine speaking to prophets and apostles; another focuses on Jesus Christ as the bearer of revelation; another highlights the supreme significance of the inner illumination of the Holy Spirit; yet another argues that revelation comes only at the end of history… What unites each element to the other is a narrative of God’s action that stretches from creation to the end.’

[William J. Abraham, Divine Revelation and the Limits of Historical Criticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 13.]

Fackre thus seeks for a more comprehensive approach to revelation.

After an Introduction (outlining models of revelation and his own narrative interpretation), and a Prologue (on God, ‘the trinitarian source of disclosure’), the individual chapter titles are as follows:

1. Creation: The Invitation to know God
2. The Fall: The Noetic Consequences of Sin
3. The Covenant with Noah: The Grace of Preservation
4. The Covenant with Israel: Elective Action
5. Jesus Christ: Incarnate Action
6. Scripture: Inspiration
7. The Church: Ecclesial Illumination
8. Salvation: Personal Illumination
9. Consummation: Eschatological Illumination

In the epilogue he writes:

‘Viewed from the vantage point of the journey traversed, the Christian doctrine of revelation affirms that the triune God by a common grace gives sustaining glimpses of the divine purpose, and by anticipatory action in Israel and definitive incarnation in Jesus Christ discloses who God is and what God wills, as communicated to us by inspired Scripture appropriated by an illumined church and believer, and revealed in its full glory at the End’ (226).

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