This paper seeks to discuss the origins and four areas of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, namely Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience. The paper also explains the relationship among the four areas as well as the reason why none of the other three can be more superior and significant than Scripture. Introduction The Methodist Church started in the mid-18th century out of the ideas of the English evangelists John and Charles Wesley.
John Wesley, the older of the two brothers, particularly criticized the moral laxity of the Anglican Church during that time and wrote his “Character of a Methodist” to establish not another Church but to correct the flaws of the Church of England. His main contribution not only to the Methodist Church but to all Christianity is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which is considered a holistic and practical approach to incorporating theological principles in one’s life. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral
The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a four-source system of theological reflection that forms the core beliefs of the Methodist Church and is attributed to the works of its 18th century founder and leader John Wesley, although the term “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” was actually coined by Albert C. Outler, a 20th century American Methodist. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is referred to in the Methodist Church as “our theological guidelines” (Bevins, 2009) and this is considered as the primary approach to the interpretation of the Scriptures and the acquisition of guidance in dealing with moral dilemmas in everyday life.
The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is also included in the curriculum for pastors in the seminary. Outler examined Wesley’s work and found out that the 18th century Anglican cleric and Christian theologian used four sources in order to come up with theological conclusions. These four sources are Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience. Scripture. Scripture is the primary source and standard for the Christian doctrine. Scripture refers to the Holy Bible with both Old and New Testaments.
According to Wesley, “the core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture” and that “Scripture is the primary, revealing Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation” (“Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” 2010) and he further added that Scripture is “the only and sufficient rule both of Christian faith and practice” (Bevins, 2009). Scripture forms the first and most significant of the four sources of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, for although Scripture is “illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason” (“Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” 2010), it remains the sole source of truth about God.
This means that the other three sources, namely Tradition, Reason and Experience, do not serve as additional sources for one to arrive at theological truths but rather serve as a means for interpreting Scripture. The Scripture serves to “assist the believer on [his] journey of faith as [he presses] on toward perfection” (Bevins, 2009). The purpose of faith therefore is none other than perfection of the believer and the main instrument in achieving this perfection is Scripture. Moreover, based on the teachings of John Wesley, all the Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
He says, “The Spirit of God not only once inspired those who wrote it, but continually inspires, supernaturally assists, those who read it with earnest prayer” (Bevins, 2009). It means that through the Scripture, God speaks continually and gives inspiration to the reader of the Bible. The Holy Spirit then inspires in two distinct ways: First, it inspired the people who first wrote the Scriptures during the ancient times, and also inspires the contemporary reader in his comprehension and interpretation of the Word of God. This divine quality is attributed only to Scripture.
On the other hand, Tradition, Reason and Experience, although not a substitute for Scripture, are considered “complementary to its interpretation. ” (Bevins, 2009) Tradition. Tradition is another of the four sources or areas of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and refers to the two-thousand-year history of the Church. Tradition serves as a “lens through which we view and interpret the Bible” (“Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” 2010), but it remains as an instrument which, unlike Scripture, is not infallible and “must be balanced and tested by Reason and Experience” (“Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” 2010).
According to John Wesley, Tradition does not limit its definition to the past writings and tradition of the ancient theologians of the Church. It also refers to immediate and current theological influences which inspire a person and contributes to his understanding of Christian theology and of God Himself. By definition, Tradition refers to “such influences as the beliefs, values, and instruction of one’s family and upbringing” (“Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” 2010). It therefore means that Tradition may vary from one person to another.
Kimbrough (2005) also states that Tradition, with the capital “T,” may stand for “the Gospel Itself” or witnessing the apostolic work of Jesus Christ serving as the measure of what all Christian teaching should be. Tradition is also specified by certain theologians like Kenneth J. Collins to be a combination of the influences of “Anglicanism, Moravianism, and the Eastern Fathers…[including] cultural and religious tributaries. ” (Bevins, 2009) Similar to Scripture, Wesley contended that “the Holy Spirit played a unique role in…Church tradition” (Bevins, 2009).
The Holy Spirit therefore inspired not only the Scripture but also those who interpreted the Scriptures. Wesley’s Methodist Movement is actually instrumental in “recovering the holiness of the Early Church” (Bevins, 2009) and therefore interprets the Scripture based on Tradition. The only means by which the assumptions of Tradition can be evaluated or challenged is only through Reason. Reason. Reason is the primary means by which one may want to “adjust the interpretations of the Scripture” (“Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” 2010).
Reason actually refers to rational thinking as well as sensible interpretation. According to Wesley, “Reason is much the same with understanding [and it is] a faculty of the human soul…that…exerts itself… by simple apprehension, by judgment, and by discourse” (Bevins, 2009). Unlike most religions where Reason itself does not play a significant role, it does so in the Methodist Church. According to John Wesley, Reason “can do exceedingly much, both with regard to the foundation of [religion], and the superstructure” (Bevins, 2009).
This means that reason serves a purpose as high as that of a foundation for without it religion is most likely to crumble. However, this Reason in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is one which is guided by the Holy Spirit so that it can “[enable] us to understand what the Holy Scriptures declare concerning the being and attributes of God” (Bevins, 2009), despite the fact that Reason alone cannot lead a person to faith and the revelation of God. Wesley claimed that Reason also cannot produce hope and cannot produce the love of God. He also concluded that without the guidance of God, Reason is mere useless speculation.
The importance of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in governing our Reason cannot be emphasized heavily. Wesley reiterated the need for guided Reason for “all [of man’s] ideas received by [his] outward senses are of a different kind” (Bevins, 2009). This means that without spiritual guidance, one may not be able to see the spiritual significance of the things that Reason may bring to the senses. Thus, the role of the Holy Spirit is still the key to governing Reason, and as it guides Reason so it does to Experience. Experience.
Experience, as the last area of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, refers to a Christian’s personal journey in and communion with Jesus Christ. Experience is considered by Wesley as as “a great evangelical truth [that] has been recovered [and] which had been for many years…forgotten” (Bevins, 2009). According to Wesley, Experience is also “the chief test of truth” (“Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” 2010) of how the Scripture should be interpreted and practically applied. As a pragmatist, Wesley has always considered Experience, next to Scripture, as the best evidence for the truthfulness of a specific theological view.
For example, the theological claim that God loves each one of us can be proven not only by Scripture but also by Experience, particularly the experience of acquiring abundant blessings and an appreciation of God’s works. It is said that “Experience can be verified inwardly and outwardly” (Bevins, 2009) and that such act of verification results in the fruit of the Spirit. This fruit of the Spirit is considered is considered by Wesley as essential to the continuity of the testimony of the Spirit.
Wesley’s point is that one’s relationship with Jesus Christ should be experiential and should be done through Divine encounter which is initiated by the Holy Spirit. Overall the result of this Divine encounter is for us to “know that we are children of God. ” (Bevins, 2009) Conclusion The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is made up of four areas – Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience. Scripture serves as the source of faith and the primary source of Christian doctrine. Tradition is the instrument through which Scripture is viewed and applied.
Reason is the foundation of religion and is the means by which one interprets the Scriptures through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Lastly, Experience is the mode by which theological truths are tested and Scripture is interpreted and practically applied. Each of the areas, or “legs,” of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral must be considered in balance and Scripture must remain superior to the other three as the central place of authority. However, the interaction, significance and balancing effects of Tradition, Reason and Experience should be emphasized as well.
Bevins, Winfield H. (2009). A Pentecostal Appropriation of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Retrieved May 17, 2010 from the Pneuma Foundation website: http://www. pneumafoundation. org/article. jsp? article=/article_0060. xml Kimbrough, S. T. Jr. Ed. (2005). Orthodox and Wesleyan Scriptural Understanding and Practice. New York: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 165. Wesleyan Quadrilateral. (2010). Retrieved May 17, 2010 from the Absolute Astronomy website: http://www. absoluteastronomy. com/topics/Wesleyan_Quadrilateral