Christianity 201

March 2, 2017

Scripture, Tradition, Experience, Reason

Do an image search for Wesleyan Quadrilateral and you'll find various attempts to explain it.

Do an image search for Wesleyan Quadrilateral and you’ll find various attempts to explain it. I’m not sure the one on the bottom left is what Wesley had in mind.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace – Eph 1:17 ESV

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.Colossians 1:13-14

And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:24-26 ESV

With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. – Hebrews 9:12 NIV

Capt. Michael Simpson is an officer in The Salvation Army in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. He wrote this originally for the local newspaper there as part of a rotation where area pastors and church leaders contribute a weekly article.

Some days I just have to pinch myself

There have been moments over the past few months when I have suddenly had the feeling I exist in an alternate reality. I won’t use this space to talk about “Red vs. Blue” or “The Left vs. The Right,” or even about “facts.” What does concern me? What does cause me to pinch myself at times; the concepts of critical thought, truth and its reverse…“post-truth.”

Back in November of 2002 I had the task of writing a paper for my very first theology class in seminary. The title of this paper was simply, God as Redeemer. With the birthing of The Salvation Army in Victorian England and its grounding in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition, it only made sense that I would apply a new-found tool of my critical thought/theological tool box in approaching and writing the paper; the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. This is a methodology for theological reflection that is credited to John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement in the late 18th Century. In this method, tradition, experience, and reason are employed, while being subject always to scripture, when forming and applying our theology. Each of the “legs” of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral must be taken in balance, and none of the other three apart from scripture should be viewed as being of equal value or authority with scripture. None of these should be taken in isolation without the balancing effect of the others, and always Scripture should have the central place of authority.

The purpose of that essay was to look at the redemptive nature of God, specifically the idea of God as redeemer, working through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and what that means for humanity in this present age. First of all, what did the biblical story, and especially its focus on Christ, have to say concerning redemption? Secondly, how has the church throughout its history understood Christ as its redeemer? How is the notion of redemption viewed in our present context, both personally and communally? Lastly, what difference does the idea of redemption make in the personal and corporate life of Salvationists, or all those who identify with the Church.

While I will refrain from answering these questions in my remaining words I will put forth a challenge. That challenge is to think critically. Think critically regarding all that goes on around you in these days. When you read a news article or listen to a radio program… think critically. Apply these 4 “lenses”, if you will, in how you view and then respond. What does scripture say? What about tradition? Experience? What does reason have to say? At times I am guilty of allowing myself to get caught up in popular thought without really thinking for myself; without basing my response in truth. Ah, there it is… truth! My dislike of a truth does not make it less truthful. We understood this in grade school… but today… this is why I need to pinch myself sometimes.


After checking our archives, I realized we haven’t discussed the quadrilateral here and only briefly at my other blog. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, or Methodist Quadrilateral, is a methodology for theological reflection that is credited to John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement in the late 18th Century. The term itself was coined by 20th century American Methodist scholar Albert C. Outler.

This method based its teaching on four sources as the basis of theological and doctrinal development. These four sources are scripture, tradition, reason, and Christian experience.

Upon examination of Wesley’s work, Outler theorized that Wesley used four different sources in coming to theological conclusions. Wesley believed, first of all, that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in “scripture” as the sole foundational source. The centrality of scripture was so important for Wesley that he called himself “a man of one book”. However, doctrine had to be in keeping with Christian orthodox “tradition.” So, tradition became in his view the second aspect of the so-called Quadrilateral. Furthermore, believing, as he did, that faith is more than merely an acknowledgment of ideas, Wesley as a practical theologian, contended that a part of the theological method would involve “experiential” faith. In other words, truth would be vivified in personal experience of Christians (overall, not individually), if it were really truth. And every doctrine must be able to be defended “rationally.” He did not divorce faith from reason. Tradition, experience, and reason, however, are subject always to scripture, which is primary.

Each of the “legs” of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral must be taken in balance, and none of the other three apart from scripture should be viewed as being of equal value or authority with scripture. None of these should be taken in isolation without the balancing effect of the others, and always Scripture should have the central place of authority.


wesleys-quadrilateralFurther reading: Travel back to 2009 and explore the elements of the quadrilateral as flour, milk and shortening, baking powder and salt. The author contends that like the recipe for baking powder biscuits, the elements are combined in different amounts.

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: