In Models of Revelation, Avery Cardinal Dulles presented five models (descriptions) of revelation that seem to be in conflict: (1) propositions about God (including the statements in the Bible), (2) God’s deeds and the prophets' insights about these events, which are recorded in the Bible, (3) an inner and immediate experience of communion with God, (4) a dialectical presence in which God speaks to a believer who better understands his true powerlessness, and (5) a new perspective or higher level of consciousness that leads to activity to transform the world.
Dulles gave a definition inspired by all five models:
Dulles then proposed an approach based on the power of symbols, which are divine signs that suggest more meanings than they clearly state and have properties in common with revelation: they are engaging, transforming, influential, and insightful.Revelation is God’s free action whereby he communicates saving truth to created minds, especially through Jesus Christ as accepted by the apostolic Church and attested by the Bible and by the continuing community of believers.
I would synthesize his ideas as follows: First, in the past, God revealed Himself in deeds and events and through the life, death, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. God’s people have perceived (and continue to perceive) these events as symbols, and the propositions (doctrines) of the Church (in the Bible and Tradition) state truths that interpret and explain these symbols (in a limited way), but the symbols also express things that propositions cannot. Second, a person may have an inner experience of God, but this must be through symbols that provide a way for the person to articulate the experience. Third, through God's grace, with or without an inner experience, any Christian, by knowing about God’s deeds and agreeing to the Church’s doctrines, can hear God speaking to him (through these symbols) and better understand who God is. Moreover, “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe,” (Ephesians 1:18-19) the Christian will have a new perspective on his vocation and the meaning of his life, which will yield a higher consciousness that results in serving God and transforming the world by loving his neighbor.
Avery Cardinal Dulles, Models of Revelation, Orbis Books, 1992.
Thomas G. Guarino, “Why Avery Dulles Matters,” First Things, May 2009.