Friday, March 06, 2009

a helpful quadrilateral

I find what is called the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral" helpful in approaching Scripture and life. The quadrilateral consists of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. John Wesley while well grounded in Scripture and in Reformed doctrine from his Anglican heritage moved beyond that in his time, anticipating what was to come in reference to a relational turn in theology and philosophy. And Wesley like Luther (I read)  emphasized the unity of the Spirit and the word/Scripture so that in God's work the two are never apart.

But to the quadrilateral. Scripture trumps all. But we never come to Scripture apart from tradition, reason and experience. Scripture stands in judgment of the others, but God also redeems them.  In this life we can't count on the latter three to be foolproof, but all three are an intrinsic part of our existence and humanity. So God is at work in all three. 

For example, tradition is important because in the church we find viable expressions of the faith, creatively different, yet bound together in what we affirm from Scripture. For me tradition is tied and related to the church and the work of God's Spirit in it. God gave us reason as a gift. Reason is submissive to revelation (general- nature/creation, and special- Scripture, Jesus), yet it is to be active, not passive. God gives us words (from Scripture) to reason through, and even calls us to reason together with him. Experience is where we live, and Scripture is given to us to help us learn how to live. The truth of Scripture and of God does us know good unless we taste of it! That again speaks of experience.

So Scripture, tradition, reason and experience I find helpful in seeking to approach and navigate life.

What do you think on this?


Mama K said...

This is new language to me, I will have to think on it. I agree that Scripture trumps all, and I know these other things have value, but I have not yet considered how it all fits together. I will probably continue to learn on this for awhile.

Crowm said...

Thanks for this post Ted. I too agree that Scripture "trumps" the other three. Because of our Protestant concern for tradition, reason, or experience being elevated higher than they ought, we've relagated them to less importance than we should.

There's so much we can learn from the three. However, my experience should be filtered through Scripture. My tradition is another gift God gives to assist me in recognizing Him. And reason is only beneficial if we allow Holy Spirit to speak and teach.

Just my thoughts right now...

Ted M. Gossard said...

Mama K,
It's kind of like saying God's word is not given to us in a vacuum. It's given to us from the human realm into the human realm. Or maybe through the human realm to us, but certainly from it as well. It is indeed incarnational.

Tradition, reason and experience are blessed by Scripture, not set aside as no longer needed. Part of our human existence.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I agree. They are more important, and sola-Scriptura is a problem. Though I do see Scripture as our basis for faith and practice. So in that sense I'm sola as well. But this is worked out in tradition, reason and experience. And there's too much interaction with all for me to be comfortable with a strong sola emphasis, overall, I'm afraid. Of course I can be misunderstood, and Scripture does trump all. But even saying that- we get Scripture ONLY through, or in tradition, reason and experience. Period.

Thanks for your good thoughts here.

Maalie said...

>Scripture, tradition, reason and experience

Could we not add a fifth, namely evidence?

Ted, I appreciate your words in another region.

Ted M. Gossard said...


Yes. I think "evidence" could be a worthy addition.

As I understand it, science as practiced today arose during the Renaissance (a guess) forged during an era when Modernism was on the rise and Christianity was still a dominant world view for most scientists. In this scientific tradition certainly reason and experience play a major role.

Of course I'm just speaking from what little I've read. You're the scientist so you can correct me here. I do want to learn.

Agreeing with Calvin and others, I believe in revelation from God from two books, so to speak: the book of Scripture, and the book of nature. Both can inform the other.

I believe the best exegesis of Scripture informed by archaeological and other data related directly or indirectly only confirms a view which can get along well with mainstream science. But also critiques traditions within the traditions of science which posit metaphysical dogma. Science itself needs neither supernaturalism (e.g., "God of the gaps") nor a naturalism denying the former, I believe.

But this is from what I read, and from that, what makes sense to me.

Thanks, Maalie, for stopping by, and for the gracious comment.

Every Square Inch said...

I think there is wisdom in this approach but only if Scripture frames the perspective. My concern that we look at Scripture as "trumping all" is that it's viewed as the only as a kind of "tie-breaking" vote on truth - but it's more than that - it's the lens by which the other 3 are interpreted and understood.

Just my 2 cents

Ted M. Gossard said...


Yes, I agree. Scripture indeed is the lens. Just as we don't approach Scripture apart from tradition, reason and experience, so we most certainly don't live in the others well without seeing them in light of God's revelation given to us from Scripture.

Like I said, Scripture is the basis for faith and practice. From that word alone are we led to God's final Word in Jesus.

Through redemption in Jesus- tradition, reason and experience are then means of God's grace and workings, but only on the basis of Scripture, and in Jesus by the Spirit- I believe.

I meant Scripture trumps all in that it is the authority or means of finding identity in the human element in which we live all the time in the other three. But certainly I did not mean that it is a mere tie-breaker.


Allan R. Bevere said...


This is a good and thoughtful post.

As a Methodist, I am quite familiar with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. I am not as crazy about it as some for reasons that are too lengthy for comment, but it is good to get the perspective of someone who comes at the matter from a different place.

I think what you might find interesting is that Tom Wright deals with this issue of scripture, tradition, etc. in his book, The Last Word. Instead of a quadrilateral he uses the image of the legs of a stool, which I think is actually more helpful than the quadrilateral.

If at some point you have an opportunity to read what he writes, I would be interested to know what you think.

Ted M. Gossard said...



Actually I may have read that book when it first came out, but it would be good for me to reread it. I vaguely remember that three legged stool.

Thanks for sharing your perspective on it. (Of course I'd like to hear a lot more from you, really your entire take on it!)