A Progressive Understanding of Revelation and Experience

A Progressive Understanding of Revelation and Experience November 8, 2014

Eric Reitan wrote the following in a recent post:

Here, in a nutshell, is the idea behind a progressive understanding of divine revelation and human religion: God is imperfectly encountered in experience, filtered through the assumptions and prejudices and conceptual categories that we bring to our experience–our worldview, if you will. But experience also transforms our worldview. When a square peg is forced to go through a round hole, the hole may not be the same afterwards. And the more malleable the hole, the more this is true. A hole made of clay may actually take on the shape of the peg being pushed through it. Likewise, our worldview is transformed by our experience, including our experience of God.

Revelation stretches the limits of our worldview so that more authentic revelation can make it through, in turn leading to further stretching in an ongoing cycle. While the transformed worldview remains imperfect at each stage in the cycle, it is hopefully closer to the divine reality than its predecessors. This does not only mean that future revelations are less distorted, but that some revelations make it through the filters which would have been entirely blocked out before.

On this view of revelation, we can’t be biblical literalists, and we can’t be so tied to traditional theologies that we refuse to let new experiences transform our understanding. All inherited accounts of the divine, all traditional theologies, are the product of limited human worldviews both filtering and being transformed by the self-disclosure of God. They represent centuries of human progress–and so must be treated with reverence. But we do not revere that progress if we strive to shut down its trajectory of unfolding revelation. That trajectory is an arrow–but what it points to isn’t our worldview and our understanding of God. It points beyond us, to the truth that lies at the end of an ongoing human process–one that we are called to participate in, not try to freeze in place.

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