Essay / Theology

Review: Re-Thinking Rahner’s Rule and Revelation

In the current issue of the International Journal of Systematic Theology, you can read my review of Dennis Jowers’ recent book on the Trinity, Karl Rahner’s Trinitarian Axiom: ‘The Economic Trinity is the Immanent Trinity and Vice Versa’ (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2006).

The book itself (and consequently the review) is not for the general reader. Based directly on Jowers’ dissertation, the book is a technical piece of systematic theology scholarship, minutely examining one sub-sub-sub-sub topic. But Jowers makes one major point in the book that had never occurred to me before I read it here, which means that it’s a point nobody else in all the published literature has made so clearly. Here is an excerpt on the point, from the review:

He reminds us that Rahner is so committed to revelation as a transcendental phenomenon, in which God is known by creatures only as he imparts himself to them, that as a corollary Rahner rejects any direct verbal self-revelation of God. Refusing to countenance any verbal, propositional, or at least cognitive revelation of the Trinity, which he thinks of as necessarily extrinsic and requiring the most crassly interventionist sort of miracle, Rahner is almost forced to posit his axiom in order to underwrite any knowledge of the Trinity. Rahner’s project requires that the economic Trinity must be God’s self-revelation through deeds, and this revelation must be clear and distinct enough to serve as the sole foundation for the entire edifice of traditional orthodox trinitarianism in at least its broad outlines.

Jowers’ insight about Rahner’s view of revelation is simple enough, and quite obvious once he draws our attention to it: Rahner’s anti-propositionalism is a pervasive and consistent theme in is work. But no previous author has identified this problem so sharply nor traced its implications for Rahner’s trinitarian axiom. Jowers has indeed tapped a rich vein that runs straight through Rahner’s trinitarian theology. With precise and insistent argumentation, Jowers highlights what enthusiastic followers of Rahner’s trinitarian axiom have overlooked for decades, which is the self-imposed poverty of a trinitarian theology which avails itself only of the events of salvation history. Again, this runs counter to the intuitions of most practitioners of contemporary trinitarian theology, who think of Rahner’s trinitarian axiom as the key to a storehouse of salvation-historical insight into the Trinity. But Jowers has put his finger on a real problem, and he pursues it doggedly in a way that must challenge any theologian who would like to continue operating under Rahner’s rubric. If the economy is our sole source of knowledge of the Trinity, how are we to interpret the diversity of economic trinitarian configurations in which, for instance, sometimes the Spirit brings the Son, while sometimes the Son sends the Spirit?

You can read the whole review in the current issue of the IJST.

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