I wrote an essay on something called the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral”, which is the system that famed evangelist and founder of the Methodist church, John Wesley, used to arrive at theological conclusions. Though it is too dense to deal with in a day, I would like to excerpt and brush over the points of the essay. The importance of the Quadrilateral is not nearly as much in its unique layout but in what it represents.
We, as Christians, spend a great deal of time considering faith and what we believe. But, there is a very small weight placed on how we actually arrive at knowing what we are supposed to be believing in. Granted, there is the simple and concise answer that we believe the Bible and that’s that, but while the Bible does answer the large questions of life (sin, salvation, eternity, God, etc…) there is a conspicuous lack of specificity when it comes to individual application in many of those issues. Basically what I’m saying is that the Bible, when taken as inerrant and Divinely inspired, doesn’t leave us in the dark about any major issue regarding our relationship with God, but at the same time it is hardly a true “road map” as some have referred to it. Road maps have all of the toads labelled and color coded, cities and towns are identified, and there is always a key that helps us understand some of the symbols that we are not familiar with. The Bible approaches things in a different way. The Scriptures seem much less concerned with labeling the streets, roads, interstates, cities, and towns and much more interested in spending the majority of its time on two specific things: the people who are doing the travelling, and the destination to which they are going. There is little, outside of the broad strokes of the Proverbs and other choice passages, in the way of counsel regarding specific situations. We have examples of other people who have been on the journey themselves and have done both good and bad along the way. Even those accounts are largely devoid of commentary or a “moral” at the end of the story like Aesop’s Fables or the stories of the Brothers Grimm.
Looking at a passage like Genesis 39 is a good example here. A girl is raped, but by a man who legitimately likes her and wants to marry her. Her father, after he finds out, tries to keep the peace by not sharing the information with anyone else. The girl’s brothers, on the other hand, strike a deal with the rapist, whose daddy is basically the mayor of this small town, that he can marry their sister if every dude in the city with circumcise themselves. Incredibly they agree and get to work almost immediately. While the townsmen are waiting for the painful procedure to heal the girl’s brothers rush into the city and execute every man in the place. Now, some clarity would be great here. We have a noble rapist, a cowardly peacemaker, and honorable murderers; who knows where any sense of a hero or moral is in this tale. And this is not an isolated chapter in the Bible, there are plenty more confusing accounts (such as the entire last third of the book of Judges).
So, simply saying that the Bible is our sole guide for life is a little like saying that a doctor’s brain will perform open heart surgery, it’s not untrue it’s just incomplete.
John Wesley began with the Scriptures, placing unequal weight on the truth of the Bible, but then utilized three additional tools. He didn’t do this to help him believe something but to help him arrive at what to believe. This is important. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is made up of the Scriptures, Reason (logic, philosophy, cognitive problem solving, etc…), Traditions, and Experience. Wesley said that he took the truth of Scripture and then used the other three elements as lenses with which to view the Bible and thereby arrived at a working belief. While I don’t fully agree with Wesley on every finer point of doctrine, I do believe that this system is an invaluable tool as we come to difficult and confusing places in life. When we don’t know what we believe regarding a certain subject or issue – which in our culture is not uncommon – we need to have a way of arriving at a place of understanding. While the pulpit in your church is supposed to do this, in part, there must be a dedication to all of us personally wrestling through the Scriptures ourselves. Unless we have satisfied our own hearts with answers that have been wrought from our own study, we may be apt to experience a disproportionate amount of passion on either end of the spectrum (too dogmatic or not enough).
I know that this seems a bit “heady”, but I feel strongly about it. We are a generation that is more and more consumed with trivialities and less and less concerned with weighty issues. Substance and nuance and density must return to our hearts and minds. A consuming passion for truth, revealed to us, by God, in the crucible of mental and spiritual struggle is not optional for anyone who is serious about following Jesus. This is not the task of theologians, but of disciples.
I will begin tomorrow talking about the role of Scripture in forming our beliefs. Today it is enough to humbly pray, not initially for information, but for the desire to know, and for the desire to wrestle. As AW Tozer prayed, “Lord I hunger to be hungry for You, and I thirst to be thirstier still.”