Reframing the Epistemic Conundrum of Extra-Special Revelation

In The Oxford Handbook of Divine Revelation chapter entitled “Divine Revelation and The Holy Spirit,” William Abraham proposes a response to the problem of an inadequate epistemology of theology for Divine Revelation and the Holy Spirit. He establishes Wolfhart Pannenberg’s assertion that “there is no need for any ‘special’ activity of the Holy Spirit in securing the truth of divine revelation” as his foil. Abraham critiques Pannenberg on the grounds that knowing God and believing do not derive from our nature but are made possible by the supernatural work of grace by the Holy Spirit.

However, Abraham does not engage with Pannenberg’s logic in enough depth to provide an adequate epistemological foil for an analytical and constructive approach to the epistemic conundrum of extra-special revelation.

This paper posits that a full reading of Pannenberg’s epistemology in the Doctrines of Revelation and the Holy Spirit takes into account his epistemic priority for Christ’s Resurrection within history, which unfortunately creates the epistemic conundrum of a diminished articulation of the Holy Spirit’s transformative role in believers coming to the knowledge of God. This problem manifests in Systematic Theology because his conception of the state of contemporary Western society and intellectual attitudes towards Christian truth claims cause him to rely too heavily on the historical method “from below”.

The paper turns to a constructive dialogue with the epistemic and ontological commitments in Pannenberg’s ecclesiology. Pannenberg’s preoccupation with correcting widely held understandings of the person and work of the Spirit leads him to offer an alternative view of the Spirit from most of Western theology since Augustine. Pannenberg alternatively views the Spirit less as a gift or as love within the divine life and more as a life-giver in both creation and redemption.

The next section critiques Pannenberg’s Theology of Faith and doctrine of Revelation across his Systematic Theology with some helpful insights from John Calvin, Martin Luther, Pietism, John Wesley, and Paul to demonstrate the breadth of opposition to Pannenberg’s above assertion. This paper finds that the evangelical theological tradition rightly states that matters of faith are essentially spiritual and not reducible to reason being enabled for intellectual assent of historical events about the risen Savior.

As such, Pannenberg’s apologetic commitments result in divine action not being fully operative within how a believer comes to the knowledge of the Triune God. Not only must the believer be transformed by the Spirit, but the believer’s knowing and how they come to the knowledge of the Triune persons must also be operative in faith and Christian discipleship.

The paper concludes by reframing the epistemic conundrum of extra-special revelation with some constructive proposals flowing from previous sections.

The paper is a rewrite of a PhD thesis chapter, successfully defended in 2021 and updated with Abraham’s contribution, published in 2021. The goal for the paper is publication.

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