My topic the last couple of days has been the process of arriving at a working belief system. In a nation that has its roots so firmly in a Judeo-Christian ethos it may seem odd that we should go back to the beginning of things and critically question what we believe, but the subject matter isn’t just a business ethic but the eternal truth that we are basing our entire life on, so perhaps some attention is warranted.
John Wesley’s “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” is a method by which we can sort through what we believe. I wrote yesterday about the first element of the system, and the most important by far, the Scriptures (read here). Today, the second tool in the system is Reason.
Building on the firm foundation of the Scriptures the block of Reason is laid. Wesley, among other Christian thinkers (Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Augustine, and Anselm among others) believed that the truth of the Scriptures were not antithetical to Reason. To a certain degree it was like our American court system in that there is a Supreme Court, representative of the Scriptures, whose ruling is beyond appeal. Then there are lesser courts that may arrive at decisions in different ways, but ultimately are subject to the decrees of the Supreme Court. Reason is subject to faith, not the other way around. From Wesley’s perspective, if something the Bible said was not immediately understandable then it was the reader’s lack of understanding that was to blame, not the Bible’s lack of truth or accuracy. That being said, Wesley believed that God could be understood. This was at least partly true because God is not an irrational Being. Reason gives us insight and understanding that helps us see the world in more discern-able ways. The example of miracles was given regarding the oft perceived tenuous relationship between faith and Reason. Rightly, miracles are a difficult thing to fully understand, and there have been many different opinions offered throughout the course of church history, but there isn’t one miracle that has been performed that we would have a difficult time picturing in our imagination. No matter how small we believe the chance of actually witnessing it is, it is not difficult to imagine a blind person seeing or a dead person being alive again. It is a Reasonable idea.
Reason is a valuable asset in this search for me. I enjoy reading philosophers and thinkers both from a sacred and a secular perspective. While I do not necessarily share Wesley’s confidence that God can be understood, I do believe that He reveals Himself through the world He created. I see Reason and logic and the philosophical method as a study of what already is, and being a Biblical believer in Creation the idea of studying what already exists is a safe pursuit. Seeing my own tendencies and proclivities exposed through Reason, as well as things as important as the orderly nature of the universe, are invaluable in the search for accuracy in shaping a working theology. Taking the analogies, metaphors, and illustrations contained in the Bible, particularly the New Testament, and exploring the principles in the realm of academic study and practical wisdom is important on at least two levels. First, it ensures that our theology is not separated from “real life”, and therefore it does not exist only in certain, spiritual aspects of life but in the whole of it. Also, in the matter of witnessing and sharing our faith, there is a much wider “front door” into meaningful dialogue when you can begin a conversation from the platform of reason and then move to the Scriptures and spiritual truth.
The tool of Reason is worth honing as we consider what we believe. As I said at the beginning of this discussion, there are the solid truths that the Bible states that are beyond the realm of argument and opinion (original sin, virgin birth, substitutionary death on the cross, etc…). Reason may or may not help us do more than affirm some of those black and white issues. Where reason and logic and study helps us is in the day to day, practical life activities. We look at the condition of the world, the condition of ourselves, and the Bible’s truth about citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven and we look to create a working understanding of what it might look like to live “that” life. Without a direct road map in the Scriptures Reason is an invaluable tool in arriving at that picture.