Wesley’s Quadrilateral and SSM

I use the Wesley Quadrilateral in several of my courses, but most specifically in my Christian Tradition classes. It is a very useful model for moral decision-making as well as doctrinal development. The four corners of the quadrilateral are: Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience. Each of these impacts how we form conclusions and identify best ways forward.

For us Evangelicals the primary point of reference is what does the Bible say. But, of course, that is the crux ofĀ the issue. What actually is the Bible saying? We also bring to the table Reason, in the belief that reason does not contradict what is true. Even to read the Bible requires reason. If a conclusion being reached, supposedly based on the Bible, and it constantly grates against objective reason, we are warned to take a pause and look again. We also use reason in extrapolating from the Bible to our present circumstance. Christians have historically made great investment in education in order to hone the skills of reason so that the Bible can be best understood. Church Tradition brings to the table 2,000 years of Christian teaching from the best, the brightest and the holiest. To ignore them would be to make the mistake of what CS Lewis calls chronological snobbery. A knowledge of Church history is necessary for a full accounting of the Bible’s teaching. The last corner is Experience. This is the most subjective and yet plays a key role. The assumption here is that what contradicts human experience is likely false. We are part of creation and if our understanding of a biblical text constantly grates and squeals, then we are led back to the text to make sure we have it right. It is true that the Bible teaches that which the flesh abhors. But it also true that the Bible completes us and brings us into a flourishing humanity. If what I believe the Bible teaches depresses, diminishes and tortures the soul, in all likelihood I have taken a rabbit trail and need to return to the Bible.

I assign students test cases where they must employ the Quadrilateral in making a moral decision. Right now THE test case is SSM. The basic argument used for SSM is Experience. A few appeal to Scripture, for sure, but on the whole the exegesis offered is not intellectually satisfying. Church Tradition speaks clearly. Reason is demanding, but both induction and deduction make SSM suspect based upon Natural Law and Social Science.

In public argumentation (school boards, legislatures, etc.) we cannot expect Scripture to be the dominating lens with which to look at SSM. But the other three corners are game. But they require minds that are alive, informed and patient.

Here is a book that offers some help. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, & Experience as a Model of Evangelical Theology. Unfortunately it is not available in a digital format.

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