Saturday, July 11, 2009

William Abraham's "Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation"...

So, I'm TA'ing an ethics class next week and have other stuff to work on as well, but...

I just finished reading "Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation" by William Abraham, a professor of theology at Southern Methodist University, and I have felt the urge to engage with the text and respond to his approach. So, for the next several posts, I'll be commenting on the book, and some of the language may get a bit technical. I apologize for any irritation this may cause to my readers! :-) At any rate, I begin with an introduction to the book, and to Prof. Abraham, for those who may not be familiar with his work.


William Abraham is the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Theology and Wesley Studies at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, TX. He has written several valuable books, the most well-known probably being "Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology." He is also the primary proponent of what he calls "Canonical theism," which he says "is a term invented to capture the robust form of theism manifested, lived, and expressed in the canonical heritage of the Church. It is proposed as both a living form of theism and a substantial theological experiment for today." (Visit the above link for a more complete account of Canonical theism.)

It was actually my discovery of the online overview of Canonical theism that led me to Abraham's work. Upon discovering that he is also very interested in the intersection between philosophy and theology (particularly epistemology, the study of knowledge and how we know things), I decided that it might be helpful - and fun! - to read one of his primary texts and find out, among other things, whether he and I might share similar academic interests and ideas. As we will see, the answer to that question is both 'yes' and 'no.' It was with this basic background that I picked up a copy of "Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation."

Essentially, "Crossing the Threshold..." is a treatise on a particular type of religious epistemology (from a Christian perspective, naturally). In the preface, Abraham explains that one of his goals in writing the book was to provide theologians with details about "recent developments within epistemology," (p. xi) and to provide philosophers with a novel analytic treatment of divine revelation.

[Side note: Another reason for my interest in Abraham's work is that he is a thinker in the Anglo-American tradition of "analytical philosophy" who actually seems to be friendly with those thinkers in the "continental philosophy" camp, which is where I tend to resonate. It's always good to be in dialogue with those who approach things from a different angle or methodology.]

At its center, this epistemological approach to revelation is tied to the goal of making Canonical theism both tenable and approachable. As I have not read "Canon and Criterion...", and I am not primarily concerned here with Canonical theism, I will keep my comments concerning that arena to a minimum. Instead, I intend to explore some of Abraham's epistemological claims concerning divine revelation, and respond to what I take to be the strengths and weaknesses of his assertions. With any luck, all of us will understand a bit more about epistemology and divine revelation when I am done!

So, with this introduction in place, my next post will be a response to chapter one. Hope you enjoy this series. If not, I take all the blame! :-)

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