Revelation without Authority

  • Rick Elgendy
Part of the New Approaches to Religion and Power book series (NARP)


Under the heading of “Doctrinal Hermeneutics” in his 1898 Theological Encyclopedia and Methodology, Revere Franklin Weidner writes, “when we speak of a truth communicated by God, the notion of authority is inseparable from the notion of revelation. Suppose a revelation without authority: no more value, or certainty, can be attached to it than to a philosophy, and it would become, so far as it is a supernatural communication, utterly worthless.”1 Though pithy, Weidner’s view of revelation is hardly exceptional. One could just as easily cite contemporary examples such as Ross Douthat’s claim that though Christian orthodoxy does not require a “blind Biblical literalism,” it does require a “respect for the authority of … revelation.”2 The association between the terms “revelation” and “authority” seems to occur so spontaneously and, it would appear, naturally, that it is not immediately clear that the concept of revelation can survive without authority. Whether it comes from within the inherently religious human person, or without, from a dialectically transcendent God, that revelation, once accepted as such, appears to bear the indelible mark of a final authority: a source of truth that, because of its superior ontological or social status, proves irrefutable.


Creaturely Activity Indelible Mark Creative Potentiality Civil Religion Christian Doctrine 
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  1. 1.
    Revere Franklin Weidner, TheologicalEncyclopedia andMethodology, vol. 1, 2nd ed. (Chicago, New York, and Toronto: Fleming H. Revell, 1898), 253.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    George Schwab, “Introduction”, in Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. George Schwab (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 1.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Paul Tillich, “Authority and Revelation, Being the Dudleian Lecture for the Academic Year 1950–1951, Harvard University”, in Harvard Divinity School Bulletin 17 (1952): 27.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Ibid., 28. See, as the foundational example, Robert Neely Bellah, “Civil Religion in America”, in Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 96 (1967): 1–21.Google Scholar
  5. 20.
    Ronald F. Thiemann, Revelation and Theology: The Gospel as Narrated Promise (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1985), 7.Google Scholar
  6. 30.
    See, for example, Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity, andthe Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 2–3.Google Scholar
  7. 36.
    John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 60.
    Mark I. Wallace, “Theology without Revelation?”, Theology Today 45, 2 (1988): 208–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 61.
    Kathryn Tanner, Christ the Key (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 299.Google Scholar

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© Joshua Daniel and Rick Elgendy 2015

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  • Rick Elgendy

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