In the 18th century John Wesley, the man behind the Methodist movement developed a method of theological reflection used by Methodist and other Wesleyan branches of faith. In the 20th century, The late Dr. Albert Outler, professor of systematic theology at Perkins School of Theology coined the term, “The Wesley Quadrilateral.” It is important to note that Wesley never used the term. Some have used the term “Methodist Quadrilateral” in its place.
A quadrilateral, regardless of the measurements of each side has four sides. When using a quadrilateral to demonstrate a theological idea, one must identify each side of the quadrilateral. A quadrilateral has four sides, and each side represents the elements, Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. Outler and likely Wesley as well would say it is not an equilateral quadrilateral. I am not math guy so using those words isn’t easy for me (lol).
Scripture is the most important leg of the quadrilateral. When reflecting on a theological idea of issue, one should first ask, what does Scripture say. The Bible is our basis, it is and should be the base of all we do. I believe one of the reason that Sunday school, Bible Study, small groups, and other things are important. So many in our congregations today do not, by the own admission, know the Bible. You only learn the contents of any book by opening it and reading it. Bible study, no better yet, being a Christian is not easy. We have to be willing to take appropriate actions to grown in our faith.
Tradition – Wesley the traditions of the Church were important and Methodists today still do. That being said, Wesley also understood that traditions weaken over time. The traditions weakened over time if the next generations do not know and understand the traditions and their purpose. It is necessary to teach those being raise in the faith and it is not a task for parents alone. When God baptizes a child (God is the primary actor in baptism. It may be the pastor’s hands but it is God’s action) as a congregation you made a promise before to God that you would raise this child in the faith. By tradition many people touch and impact the child’s life. Outler argued we should let tradition have its place. Tradition helps us grow our faith and understanding. Wesley states that those of strong and clear understanding should be aware of its full force. Tradition is a key link to all of Church history.
Reading the promises God makes to us in Scripture can be thrilling. What the Christian faith promises is a journey we call salvation.”What the scriptures promise, I enjoy”. Again, Wesley insisted that we cannot have reasonable assurance of something unless we have experienced it personally. John Wesley was assured of both justification and sanctification because he had experienced them in his own life. What Christianity promised (considered as a doctrine) was accomplished in his soul. Christianity is a culmination of the promises of God in Jesus Christ. Through his death on a cross, Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises of God. Tradition points to the promise and shows its reality in an abstract sense, experience makes it real. Experience makes it personal. God gives us a personal experience of salvation. God gives us eternal light.
Reason – Wesley’s time was during the Enlightenment. He and most every person working in an area that provoked thought believed Scripture is the foundation of all faith, Wesley wrote: “Now, of what excellent use is reason, if we would either understand ourselves, or explain to others, those living oracles.” Wesley believed that without reason one could not understand the truths of Scripture.
Experience – When I was in seminary I struggled with a good bit of this. My senior pastor, the late Bobbie Weber, explained by applying it in a way I had not heard of before. I don’t remember the thing Bobbie used but we will use the love of God. That was a favorite topic of Jesus.
What does Scripture say about that. Does Scripture cover the idea of a loving God who loves us and if we allow it, will direct our lives. Scripture says that if we say we love God but don’t love neighbor the truth is not in us. Scripture also says “God is love.”
I know there is more but for our purposes today, we have talked about that one enough. We know God loves us and our biggest authority says we can believe that promise.
Now, what does tradition say about God’s love for us? If we study the lives of Christian martyrs we can see evidence that they knew God loved them and even in the face of death they held on tight to the faith. Their parents and their teachers in the early Church made sure they knew the sacrifice God had made for him.
She knew about experience. As they were taught to her she heard about the pain and anguish that went with learning the faith. She started playing and when she played she felt God surrounding her. That is experience.
Now that we have seen the evidence of Scripture, what history has taught us of tradition, and what we learn through experience, ours and the church’s. Can we draw conclusions about the love of God. That would of course be a safe assumption. We might need more evidence on a more complicated theological problem but with this method we can search our way into a reasonable answer just about every time.
Have a blessed day.
Seeking the Genuine,
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved