Toward a Christian Theology of God's Self-Revelation

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Gerald O'Collins, SJ
  • New York, NY: 
    Oxford University Press
    , November
     232 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Gerald O’Collins, S.J.’s Revelation: Toward a Christian Interpretation of God’s Self-Revelation in Jesus Christ is the latest of sixty books that O’Collins has either written or co-written. O’Collins engages a vast breadth of authors and ideas in Revelation, which is undoubtedly the fruit of working intimately in the field of fundamental theology for so many years. While I cannot speak authoritatively on any of his other works, Revelation is written from a decidedly Roman Catholic perspective, engaging the tradition with great skill and familiarity, while also entering into dialogue with many non-Catholic Christians such as William Abraham, Richard Swinburne, Paul Tillich, and Wolfhart Pannenberg.

O’Collins’ primary motive in writing Revelation is not to provide a historical overview of different theologies of revelation but to instead articulate—or begin to articulate—a genuine theology of revelation focusing on divine self-revelation in Christ, which can then adequately hold together the various specific fields of theology. Broadly speaking, O’Collins elucidates a theology of revelation that is more comprehensive and far-reaching than what is typically understood by “divine revelation.” Rather than limiting divine revelation to the Bible or sacred tradition (or some combination of both), O’Collins speaks of divine revelation in three categories—“foundational”, “dependent”, and “future (or final)”—which includes the Bible and Tradition, but highlights the ongoing act of divine manifestation that continues to occur even now and will be definitively revealed in the eschaton. This is not to say that O’Collins relativizes Jesus Christ. Instead, O’Collins bestows pride of place upon Christ who, rather than providing truths about or access to God, reveals God fully and concretely. Thus, what is primary about divine revelation is not the propositional truths that flow from God’s revelation but the encounter with God himself, which transforms and saves us. However, flowing from this encounter come truth-statements that allow the church and Christians to communicate what has been revealed and manifested. The whole of Revelation is then dedicated to unpacking what this all means and entails. The various themes can be summarized as follows: divine revelation as self-revelation, as love and mystery, as informing and transforming; its sacramental nature; the means and mediation of revelation; the relationship between revelation and inspiration; the role of tradition (and traditions) as well as the Bible; and revelation’s movement toward “others.”

O’Collins’ Revelation, like any other work, has its strengths and weaknesses. An obvious strength is its sheer scope and breadth. Each and every chapter is packed full of engagement with a wide grouping of theologians and philosophers, both old and new. With this in mind, it is an appropriate text for newcomers to the field of fundamental theology, from undergraduates to any person with interest in exactly what Catholics mean when they use the term “divine revelation.” However, this same strength can also be seen as the book’s greatest weakness. Where the more theologically informed reader would desire greater depth and discussion on a particular issue, O’Collins often does not provide it, simply due to the nature and scope of the work. Each page, however, is often filled with footnotes directing the reader elsewhere for greater treatment and further discussion.

The greatest strength of the book, in my opinion, is the truly fresh approach O’Collins takes to fundamental theology. Far from being a mere apologetic for Catholic fundamental theology, Revelation truly does attempt to move the discussion forward by maintaining a critical eye toward those areas of the field where O’Collins sees genuine need for improvement and development. There were numerous times throughout Revelation where I found myself disagreeing with O’Collins, but there were equally as many places where I gained some new insight and food for further thought.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jordan Haddad is a Ph.D. student in Systematic Theology at The Catholic University of America.

Date of Review: 
February 3, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Gerald O'Collins, SJ, AC, took his PhD at the University of Cambridge and taught at the Gregorian University (Rome) from 1973 to 2006, where he was also Dean of the Faculty of Theology (1985-91). He has written or co-written sixty published books (including Rethinking Fundamental Theology, Jesus Our Priest, and Salvation for All), authored hundreds of articles in professional and popular journals, and lectured at many universities and colleges in the UK, Ireland, USA, India, New Zealand, his native Australia, and elsewhere. As well as receiving numerous doctorates and other honorary awards, in 2006 he was created a Companion of the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC), the highest civil honour granted through the Australian government.




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