A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The All Important Approach to the Study of Scripture

Scot McKnight has a recent blog article on the topic of the Wesleyan quadrilateral, the Anglican/Wesleyan approach of interpreting and understanding the scriptures. His article reminded me of how important it is for us to utilize this study of scripture approach. Any other approach that doesn't take scripture/tradition/reason/experience seriously can easily lead us into an ill informed interpretation of scripture. But a note of caution here: this approach to the study of scripture requires effort and time, unlike the simplistic approach of "The bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!"

Of the four parts of the quadrilateral, tradition is perhaps the most difficult one to utilize because it requires a well rounded understanding and knowledge base of 2,000 years of how the church has interpreted various scripture passages and theological topics. Or we may cut ourselves short by focusing on only one era of church history such as the Reformation period while neglecting how the church has intepreted the scriptures from other historical periods.

The United Methodist Church offers this definition of the Wesleyan quadrilateral as John Wesley understood it.

Wesleyan Quadrilateral
The phrase which has relatively recently come into use to describe the principal factors that John Wesley believed illuminate the core of the Christian faith for the believer. Wesley did not formulate the succinct statement now commonly referred to as the Wesley Quadrilateral. Building on the Anglican theological tradition, Wesley added a fourth emphasis, experience. The resulting four components or "sides" of the quadrilateral are (1) Scripture, (2) tradition, (3) reason, and (4) experience. For United Methodists, Scripture is considered the primary source and standard for Christian doctrine. Tradition is experience and the witness of development and growth of the faith through the past centuries and in many nations and cultures. Experience is the individual's understanding and appropriating of the faith in the light of his or her own life. Through reason the individual Christian brings to bear on the Christian faith discerning and cogent thought. These four elements taken together bring the individual Christian to a mature and fulfilling understanding of the Christian faith and the required response of worship and service.

Source: A Dictionary for United Methodists, Alan K. Waltz, Copyright 1991, Abingdon Press.

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