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  • Revelation as Testimony: A Philosophical-Theological Study by Mats Wahlberg
  • Matthew Levering
Revelation as Testimony: A Philosophical-Theological Study by Mats Wahlberg (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), x + 246 pp.

This book makes two interrelated arguments: divine revelation involves propositional knowledge, and faith on the basis of testimony is rationally warranted. In his introduction, Wahlberg notes that it is now commonplace to emphasize that "revelation" occurs in historical events, not in the words or propositions that mediate revelation. Wahlberg grants that revelation involves an encounter with a person, Jesus Christ, but he makes clear that the propositional element cannot be excised. He also notes that the act of faith, by which we believe on the authority of the divine revealer, is now often set in opposition to reason, which proceeds largely without appeals to authority. This way of differentiating faith and reason is a mistake, since it is reasonable to believe things on the basis of testimony, as faith does.

After this introduction, the second chapter focuses on revelation and propositional knowledge. Wahlberg begins by pointing out that a non-propositional revelation would have difficulty in defending the claim that the revelation comes from "God." Since non-propositional revelation could give no propositional knowledge about God, believers could suppose that the revelation comes from "God" only on the basis of an incommunicable personal experience or intuition, or on the basis of a strong natural theology, which those who deny propositional revelation are unlikely to affirm. Christian belief in the self-revealing God would thus be a pure fideism, impossible to defend rationally. [End Page 334]

Furthermore, how could a personal relationship with God be established unless one knows something (inevitably as expressed in a proposition) about God? Wahlberg astutely observes that "the object of knowledge always includes some proposition; it is never merely, say, a physical object" (27). Propositions involve concepts, and we cannot think without concepts. It follows that, in order to know God personally, we must have some true propositional or conceptual knowledge about him. As Wahlberg states, "if there are no true propositions about God that we can grasp, then God cannot have personal communion with us" (28). These propositions must be ones that uniquely specify God, who is the transcendent source of all creatures.

What about "manifestational" revelation, in which something is revealed without words? Even in such a case, says Wahlberg, propositions are involved because "God, or any agent, cannot make knowledge of some reality available to a subject except by making knowledge of some proposition available" (30). When God manifests himself without words, we cannot know that God is doing so or has done so without propositional knowledge. Wahlberg gives the following example: "if God manifestationally reveals that he loves a certain person—for instance, by making her feel his love in a mystical experience—then it is the receiver of that revelation who must conceptualize the relevant proposition (that God loves her) herself" (32). For this reason, even a "manifestational" revelation is in a certain sense propositional, although, in propositional revelation that involves words, the revealer is more fully in charge of the meaning of the revelation.

Wahlberg also notes that the symbolic language of prophecy and parable should not be contrasted with propositional revelation, since metaphors and symbols in fact have a central role in propositional communication. Nor should the information provided by propositional revelation be thought to be opposed to spiritual transformation. On the contrary, the latter requires some propositional knowledge. In the case of the self-revelation of God, since "it is highly doubtful that infinity (and other theistic properties) can be represented in experiences" (45), God's own propositional testimony is needed for us to know that it is God who is revealing himself.

To buttress this case, the third chapter reviews various ways of understanding revelation, following Avery Dulles's fivefold typology in his Models of Revelation: doctrine, history, inner experience, dialectical presence, and new awareness. Doctrine is obviously propositional. Regarding history, we can know that something is an act [End Page 335] of God only if God tells us so; otherwise, the most we would be warranted in affirming is that a very powerful...


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pp. 334-342
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