Theology and dogma

I am reading (rather randomly) the various articles in The Craft of Theology: From Symbol to System by Avery Cardinal Dulles (check my Book List page to see what I am currently trying to read). Cardinal Dulles writes from a position I would not feel 100% comfortable with. (For example, he has a rather negative attitude to scholasticism and neo-scholasticism.) Yet the book has given me a new view of theology. (Maybe I am a negative theologian?)

In one article Dulles reflects on the question what is the relationship between theology, revelation, and dogma? Dulles gives three styles of theology (which he takes from Lindbeck) which have their individual ways of seeing revelation:

  1. propositionalist-cognitive: revelation is ‘a body of truth that is intended to inform people about the nature of ultimate reality so that they may rightly direct their lives to their last end. … Theology in this model is a deductive science that uses the propositions of revelation as premises’.
  2. experiential-expressive: revelation is ‘held to consist of privileged inner experiences. … Doctrine aims to express and communicate the experience of grace.’
  3. cultural-lingustic (which Dulles renames this to ecclesial-transformative: revelation is ‘a real and efficacious self-communication of God, the transcendent mystery, to the believing community. The deeper insights of revelatory knowledge are imparted, not in the first through propositional discourse, but through participation in the life and worship of the Church’.

The three styles (I am not terribly happy with that word) show how the elevation of one of the three sources of theology can create fundamental differences. Yet, as with all of life, I wonder if they are really that clear cut. (As I have become older I am less comfortable with being put in a box!) I am by nature propositionalist-cognitive but I am intrigued and excited by ecclesial-transformative. I’ll keep reading and see where I end up!

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