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The Wesleyan Quadrangle I – Introduction3 min read

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This post is part of a series.

wesleyan_quadThe Wesleyan Quadrangle (wikipedia) is “a methodology for theological reflection that is credited to John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement in the late 18th Century.”

More good intro from wikipedia on the Wesleyan Quadrangle (WQ):

Wesley used four different sources in coming to theological conclusions. The four sources are:

  • Scripture – the Holy Bible
  • Tradition – the two millennia history of the Church
  • Reason – rational thinking
  • Experience – our personal and communal journey in Christ

In practice, at least one of the Wesleyan denominations, The United Methodist Church, asserts that ‘Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Scripture [however] is primary, revealing the Word of God  – so far as it is necessary for our salvation.’ ~ (The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church-2004, p. 77).

The important thing to recognize here is that scripture is in authority over the other three, but we use tradition, reason, and experience to help us understand scripture rightly. You could call these four the spiritual authorities in our life.

What is interesting is to try to describe the ordinal and cooperative relationships between these four – that is, their order of importance, and the principles that guide their use with the other ones.  Often, the last three are examined in diads, each paired with the first, Scripture.   But before examining these diads individually, I wanted to comment on Middlebrow’s theological review.

The original article he was reviewing discussed the error of one of the five solas, sola scriptura, in arriving at valid theology.  While this cry of the anti-Catholic Protestant reformers may have seemed an appropriate response to the Catholic Church’s elevation of church tradition and papal decrees ABOVE scripture, this call to scripture ONLY is really not how theology is or should be done.  However, such a radical call did expose the abuses and errors of Catholicism, and served to liberate people from its theological and political clutches.

Of course, this begs the question, if these same Catholics assembled the Canon in the first place, what difference does it make if you are still beholden to their bible?  While this is another topic altogether, I will note that:

  • One traditional answer is that God providentially oversaw the assembling of the scriptures, negating the errors that man could introduce – this providence was clearly seen in the life of Jesus, who was not killed until “his time had fully come.”  This idea is a little shaky to me, but it is offered.
  • The scriptures themselves were and are different enough from 17th century Catholic doctrine and practice to liberate people from Catholicism.

But this point needs to be made – to develop one’s theology from scripture alone, without the balancing weights of tradition’s vetting of bad ideas and preserving of enduring ideas, reason’s insistence on resisting obvious illogic and contradictions, and experience’s testing of our understanding, living by sola scriptura is a dangerous, if not untenable way to live or develop theology.

Now, on to the first diad that forms from The Wesleyan Quadrangle – Scripture and Tradition.