Friday, July 23, 2010

Rethinking the Wesleyan Quadrilateral

Guest T wrote an interesting post about the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and asked some important questions on Scot McKnight's The Jesus Creed blog.

How exactly do we come to think what we do about God? How do we think about each of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience separately in relation to good theology? How do we think they inter-relate in our actual practice and how should they inter-relate?

Hopefully a post on each of the four "quads" will be helpful for all of us to think about those questions and refine our own approach. Before we look at each of the four individually, though, a little background is in order. First, Wesley saw scripture as clearly primary among the four. In fact, he saw the other three as the unavoidable lens through which we viewed everything, including scripture and even God himself. We should note that the Quadrilateral is offered as both prescriptive (for how we ought to build our theology) and descriptive (of how we all inevitably assemble our knowledge of God). Of course, the emphasis we put on each "quad" may make for a wide margin between the prescriptive and the descriptive uses, as well as the ideas about God that we end up with. (And two quick points for the record: 1. I'm not Methodist, so folks from that background may want to give correction or depth to my summaries, and 2. although the quadrilateral is faithful to Wesley's theology, the term "quadrilateral" was coined by a much later admirer of Wesley's approach.)

I agree with Wesley that scripture should be primary among the four; I also agree that it should not be, perhaps more importantly, cannot be the only player in forming our knowledge of God. Scripture often supports contrasting claims about God. It presents opposite truths in tension. It leaves a sea of questions unanswered. Some explicit statements we don't take explicitly. And we place enormous weight on some Reasonable inferences (like the Trinity, for instance), especially those that have the support of Tradition. Not only do Tradition, Experience and Reason form the lens for our view of Scripture, they address, with Scripture, they explore and fill in many gaps in our understanding of God, some of which Scripture itself creates. Perhaps most importantly, they make the faith into our faith.

Please note that the highlight in bold is mine and not in the post.

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