the Lord over all, including Scripture, tradition, reason and experience

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

According to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which is simply gathered from John Wesley’s writings, something he did not explicitly teach himself, we have Scripture, tradition, reason and experience in the mix, to go by. The experience part has been critiqued surely with some truth in that criticism. We can easily be misled by our experience. But actually our reception of any of it is far from foolproof. Hardly a case has to be made to realize that.

Yes, all four have their place I think, and you can show that right from Scripture. But what we need undergirding that is what’s pointed out to us in the above passage from Proverbs. We need God’s hand over and on us, God’s guiding hand. And we need to have the attitude of trust, dependence and submission to the Lord, no less.

Yes, we need to remain in Scripture. Tradition has it’s place, too. How has God guided the church? What has the church gotten right, and what has the church been mistaken in? And perhaps the key point on tradition is that we’re in this together. And God appeals to our reason right in Scripture. The fact that Scripture is a revelation from God given to us in words says a lot in itself. Certainly that revelation has all kinds of ways of communicating: prose, telling of story, poetry, apocalyptic. But the picture given to us is in words. That certainly involves reason.

This is especially difficult when we’re working through issues in which not all of God’s people agree. We need to hold on to humility, and realize we might have somehow gotten something important wrong. But the bottom line is that we need to hold on to trust in God. And look to the Lord to lead us, yes as individuals, but above all, together, as his sheep. We need to look for that as we remain in Scripture, in the light of Jesus’s teaching and what followed. In and through him.

scripture, application and experience

I think the genius of the teaching at the church we initially found to take our grandchildren, and now are a part of ourselves is its combination of scripture, emphasis on application, and getting right down to the nitty-gritty of life, where we live, our experience. And that certainly comes from the teaching gift of the senior pastor, who ably, I’m sure has mentored others, who have their own unique gifting from God in the teaching ministry of this church. And a great teaching ministry, by the way, to the children and young folks.

We really don’t need anything fancy nowadays, just a straight shot of God’s word. But when we receive that, we find not only an appeal to doctrine, but also to application and experience. The so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral, gathered from John Wesley’s writings, but which Wesley himself would not have approved of, as has recently been brought to light by Methodist theologians: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, kind of correlate to this thought. But scripture not only has primacy of place, but a place all by itself. Whatever role tradition, reason, and experience have is all under scripture. Which is why I believe in what our church is seeking to do in helping us grow as disciples of Christ to become more and more like him.

When we go to scripture, we don’t have to worry about drawing this out, if we take scripture itself seriously. Scripture will ably do that for us, if we pay serious attention to it. We just take it for what it is, going through it, letting it, really God’s word do it’s work. Nothing more, nothing less. All of this in and through Jesus.

scripture, yes, but also the church

In my own life of over forty years of professing the faith, scripture has been more than less central. Church has been important all the way through in shaping my reading of scripture, but it’s been mostly about reading (and probably even more, hearing) scripture, something which is still of central importance for me to this day.

What has been lacking, I’m afraid, is a sufficient realization of just how central the church ought to be in both our identity and practice. It is as good to be part of a church tradition, as to have a well worn Bible. Understood rightly, I think they go hand in hand. But in our western individualistic mindset, church can be relegated to a secondary status, and a theological commitment to “sola-scriptura” can feed right into this error, even though it doesn’t have to do so. On that point, I tend to see this theological construct as a fiction in that there is no such thing as scripture alone, when you consider the place the church and tradition is given in scripture itself. Scriptura-primera, scripture-first, might better describe the more Catholic, yet still Protestant approach I might take along with others. That plays itself out in wanting to test everything by scripture. Though understood in the full theological context, even the Roman Catholic Church attempts to do the same. It is just that their understanding of tradition goes somewhat beyond, so that part of what can be accepted in the teaching and practice of the church ends up coming from implications or what could follow, or maybe just be in alleged harmony with scripture, rather than from scripture itself. But to some extent, even Protestant churches do that in their tradition as well, in my Anglican church, the bread and wine are consecrated to be in some sense the body and blood of our Lord for us in our participation in Holy Communion.

The so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral posits the church, tradition, reason and experience in that order as givens in our life in Christ. And some Anglicans like N. T. Wright would insist on the first three, leaving experience out. All four rightly understood can surely have their place, and I especially would not want to lose sight of reason (although experience, as in “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” seems right along this line, also), scripture itself openly and by implication appealing to human reason.

So tradition is important, and has its place. What is of uppermost importance in tradition, I think, is simply the reality and practice of church. After all, the church is Christ in a sense, specifically his body in the world, of which he is the head. So it seems to me that a full-orbed life in the Lord, will certainly put an emphasis on church which minimally means faithful participation in meeting and giving, and in both the common, and the sacramental life.

In my own life, I’m afraid church hasn’t been central enough. I’ve always been a part of a church, but that may not mean all that much to many of us, certainly not enough in terms of what scripture makes church to be. That has played out in my life in a number of ways which were not helpful. Raised Mennonite, after conversion I was influenced by someone, and left the Mennonite tradition, and in my faith journey ended up traversing through a number of traditions in search of the most scriptural tradition. That could be called mistake #1. I frankly would have been better off to pray and become settled in one tradition, which well could have been Mennonite, or something after that. I do appreciate my Mennonite/Anabaptist heritage, which I think in some ways, after coming back to something of it, remains with me for good, not in length, though that’s probaby true, too.

Maybe this is where the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox have it over on us, one of the ways: Your obedience to the faith, to Christ, includes your obedience to the Church. You can protest, and for example become an advocate for women in the priesthood, etc., but you still have to be obedient to the Church to be obedient to Christ. I think there’s plenty of wisdom in that. Not to mention that it is plainly taught in scripture.

I hope and pray that scripture will continue to have primacy in my life, in the attempt to keep Christ and the gospel central. And part of that ought to be a complete identification with and participation in the church.

being faithful as God’s children in and through Jesus

Eternal Father,
who at the baptism of Jesus
revealed him to be your Son,
anointing him with the Holy Spirit:
grant to us, who are born again by water and the Spirit,
that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Book of Common Prayer

God calls us to faithfulness as his children, to be obedient children in and through his Son, Jesus. That involves seeking to discern God’s will through scripture and the church, or through the church and scripture. We can’t separate the two. Scripture has primacy, since everything has to be judged by it, so we can say scripture first. But the church isn’t called “the pillar and foundation of the truth” for no reason. The church is not infallible, but it is the body in which the truth resides by the Spirit. Reason is involved along with experience. But the two prime movers are scripture and the church.

We are to be in prayer together and individually. Seeking to faithfully live out God’s will day after day. That even as our Lord pleased the Father, we in our following of Jesus might bring pleasure to him as well in and through Jesus, even in the midst of the struggle of this life.

humility (in theology)

Scripture, then tradition, reason and experience. In that order, I take it, I think there is much help in the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” Of course scripture and tradition is perhaps the most tricky part. God used the church to write scripture as well as to recognize what books are scripture, or have canonical status. But the scripture accepted is to be the primary means of judging everything. And yet on the basis to some major extent of how the Spirit has led the church to read the text over time. Circular reasoning, as is often the case in a good number of things in life I suppose. Actually all four in the quadrilateral are in play most all the time. But the primacy I believe must go to scripture. Scripture as God’s word ends up judging the church, reason and experience.

I think one ought to take the utmost care before willingly rewriting theology, which is best done in community. But there are those professional theologians. They had best adhere to tradition or Christian orthodoxy, unless they can make a compelling case or argument from scripture, at least one that can be respected in trying to weigh all of God’s written word along with the church’s reading of it.

What can be a problem is when people go off one way or another, not carefully doing the necessary work beforehand. They even may be humble in what they are doing, while simply ill-informed, or perhaps unwise, or maybe both. Such a person may not be entering heretical territory. I’m understanding heresy here as disagreement over issues which are foundational to the faith according to the church at large and what this term has come to mean, and not as much in light of what the corresponding term means in scripture, simply divisions among God’s people. Sometimes the church has done better than its pronouncements. A careful study of church history will reveal that many of us are “heretics” today, but the church within the Great Tradition simply winks or practically speaking (to some extent) ignores such pronouncements.

One example: Openness theology. It all depends, but I doubt that a lot of that is heretical if measured in terms of orthodoxy. Not to say that some of it could possibly become that. Are all “heretics” outside the faith? They may be outside of the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy, but they still may well be among those who belong to the Lord. I think now of the Jesus Only Pentecostals who deny the Trinity, yet believe God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one person, Jesus.

We must be slow in making any statements theologically, especially statements we know are outside the boundary lines drawn by the church. If we do, we had better be ready to defend any such argument from scripture and in line with the faith of the gospel. Of course certain things are entirely nonnegotiable. That God became Incarnate in the person of Jesus is one such nonnegotiable. The same can be said concerning Jesus being raised from the dead. Either Jesus was resurrected, or we have no faith at all.

We must beware or at least be reticent to think that we can speak anything new or novel at all (C.S. Lewis). We do best to turn over the old again and again, seeing more and more of its beauty from so many angles. At the same time, yes, questioning or challenging perhaps established interpretations of scripture from time to time. But hopefully with the utmost humility before God and others. Together in Jesus in this in and for the world.

one’s life

I am a Protestant evangelical, even though I’m not anti-Roman Catholic, nor do I like a negative labeling. But I’m not with the Reformers in using the phrase: sola scriptura. I get what they were getting at.  We must appeal to scripture, God’s word, as far as the basis for our understanding of God in Jesus, of life. Nevertheless in practice no one has ever lived that out. What I mean is that scripture is not just a text, even living, which we draw from, apart from other factors necessarily involved in life.

The Wesleyan quadrilateral of scripture followed by tradition, reason and experience I find not only appealing, but helpful in understanding how God’s truth in Jesus comes to be understood. God is our authority, no less. And scripture is the “norming norm.” So that one way to term my position would be prima scriptura. Or that scripture holds priority, but along with that God speaks through tradition, reason and experience. That somehow that word of God in scripture is worked out and understood in that mix. There’s much more to be said on that.

But the point I want to make here is that one’s own life is a part of this. Often my posts relate to something which has been occurring to me recently, or something impressed on me through life, the day before.

What informs that is scripture, to be sure. We think scripture alone, but actually the Spirit who gave scripture, even through the church we could say, or through servants of God, also gives the church insight together on its meaning. We don’t do well when we want to emphasize private readings. Not that the Spirit doesn’t guide us individually. But we’ll do better to be open to the Spirit’s guiding of us together in Jesus. In fact, to a certain extent that is essential.

At the same time “always reforming” is likewise important. The Spirit will be giving fresh ways of seeing God’s revelation in Jesus. In fact in a sense we stand on the shoulders of those who have preceded us. Oftentimes they are creative thinkers, and we do well to learn from them without accepting all they say. But we have a better view so to speak through them.

God’s revelation in Jesus given in scripture is for life no less. Tradition as in the church, along with reason: we are rational beings, are always involved, and should never be dismissed. Experience in part here means God’s revelation worked out in our lives. By the Spirit. And together in Jesus for the world.


John Frye, a pastor, writer, scholar, and Scot McKnight, a New Testament and Jesus scholar and professor, both bloggers and friends, have recently been highlighting the high place they think discernment occupies in the Christian life. Both the Holy Spirit and the parables of Jesus seem to indicated the premium God puts on this. The Spirit is moving and in a sense unpredictable, and is a person, and therefore personal. And that not only to us as individuals, but as those together with others in Jesus.  Parables were used both to conceal and reveal. To those who really had no heart for God and his ways, they would conceal. But to those whose hearts were opened to God, they would reveal, after some painstaking work in imagination. Jesus complained at his disciples for evidently not getting the meaning of his parables, asking them if their hearts were hardened so that they could not understand.

I do think discernment is a large part of what the outworking of the faith of Christianity involves. It is not so much rule oriented, though there are commands that are no-brainers such as, “Do not steal.” But at its heart it is interactive in following the Lord by the Spirit in community in mission. I think the heart of that is relational: to God, and to others. And having to do with love in those relationships.

Discernment involves scripture first, then tradition, reason and experience (called, the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” drawn from the writings and teaching of John Wesley). The last three may be in the order we would want to put them, but in reality, each are fallible. Whereas scripture itself as the word of God is not. However our interpretation of scripture would fit under the category of tradition, along with reason, and I think experience can and does affect it as well. And experience can involve feelings which arguably are intertwined with reason (stay tuned for an upcoming review on this book, which I think you’ll find interesting).

Discernment is needed to be learning how to walk in Jesus by the Spirit in everyday life. And it is needed when facing major decisions, or problems which leave one unsure on what to do, or how to respond. It seems like the idea of faith itself fits in well with the ongoing need for discernment.

I know I’ve thrown a lot out in this post over one subject. I find discernment particularly a need I have at this time. And I also see more than ever I think,  the need for it in our everyday existence.

How do you see discernment as important for life and  in your life?