Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Leg (or four) to Stand On

In an earlier post I alluded to the Wesleyan quadrilateral as a way to help grasp my understanding of scripture. The four sources Wesley cited for coming to theological conclusions were: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. I have to admit that I have not been Wesleyan in my theological development, rather that Wesley's quadrilateral has been a tool to help organize my theological thinking more or less "after the fact" (although I'm obviously never done developing my thinking).

After my radical break from a belief in scriptural inerrancy, I had to reintegrate the Bible into my beliefs. I realized that the most important check on my behavior, even when I believed in inerrancy, was the community of faith. By committing myself to walk with fellow Christians as they also struggle to find meaning and apply that to their daily lives that I am more likely to grow spiritually than if I were to lock myself in a room with my Bible. The application of Biblical truth to contemporary situations best happens in a group, not as individuals. If we are to take the Biblical image of the church as the Body of Christ seriously, then we must value all the input of all the members. Why should I expect to be the only person receiving God's revealed truth in scripture? Of course that is absurd. So the covenant community provides a check to any interpretation errors I may make influenced as my thinking will always be by my ego.

So when I learned that experience, both personal and communal, was a piece of the Wesleyan quadrilateral I felt an immediate resonance. I also resonated with the obvious inclusion of reason as a source. Our rational minds are wonderful gifts from God. I cannot imagine that God would expect us to use reason to improve our conditions in every area except in theology. Why should logic be excluded from the realm of the spiritual? In my personal experience, I recognize that the more I learn, the more I realize that I have yet to learn. The more I contemplate reality, the more I appreciate that it is filled with mystery. Reason and faith are not mutually exclusive. Indeed they each mutually enhance the other. But that is likely a topic for another post.

Finally, tradition is used to establish authority by every theological camp that I can think of. Even in the narrow confines of Fundamentalism there is the appeal to "the fundamentals." While the list of things considered to be fundamental is drawn from an interpretation of the Bible, it is not like there is a list to be found in a particular chapter and verse in scripture. No, that list comes as a result of reason being used to interpret the Bible and then passed along by tradition within the communal experience of the church.

The four legs of Wesley's quadrilateral are always at play in the lives of Christians who choose to affiliate with others gathered in churches. The differences between individuals and groups tends to be based on how much weight is placed on each leg. I doubt that any of us distribute the weight equally (certainly not all the time). For me, I'm biased toward the experience leg, specifically on the communal side. I don't throw out the Bible in this process, I just take the time to examine it with a variety of lenses.

10 comments:

Hollands Opus said...

Ian
Respectfully, does that not make you the arbiter of reality? Or perhaps more fairly, how does that not ultimately make you the arbiter of reality? I could not agree more that reason cannot be torn asunder from faith. I am glad you offered that.

Your assumption seems to be, correct me if I have misunderstood, that God has left man to his unaided reason and experience with no standard for adjudicating between rival theories about the nature of God and His presense among His creation.

The apostles taught that the logos became flesh and dwelt among men. Is that not possible? Can it be and not be at the same time and in the same way? Can both Islam and Christianity be correct as to who Jesus actually is?
HOllands Opus

Ian said...

I'm not sure how you could miss the main point of my post...the main arbiter of reality (to use your expression) is not me but us. Theological understanding and faith formation are always better done in community, thus providing a check on the individual ego.

And you did misunderstand my point about reason and experience, they are two sources in addition to scripture and tradition. All four are used as sources for theological decisions and faith formation.

Hollands Opus said...

Does man constitute reality through language, experience, etc., or is there a mind independent reality out there. Can we know things as they actually are?

It seems your view ends in pluralism, which is not a sustainable position.

Hollands Opus said...

Oops, left this out! Is there a hierarchy in the quadrilateral? AT May one supercede the other?

mkz said...

Ian, what happens when `us` does not agree? Does a theology then become relevant to only those who participate in agreeing? you can see the problems this poses. If a faith is only binding to some, what happens to those who disagree with the group who defines God? Do they recieve a free pass on transgressions against said god? Are they entitled to a blissful hereafter, Or do they simply not count? Do the individuals in the group that decide on what `god` should be, choose what becomes of the soul of a heretic or a non-believer?
Before I was Saved, I believed in a single all powerful `god`, but not in a `devil`, my reasoning being if I did not give a devil any creedence by believing in his existance, he could not harm me, or take my soul.
In order for a theology acrhtype like the one you seem to purport to hold together, the central diety would have to be limited to the parameters the `us` applies to it. This does not sound like an idea of a god omnipotent, to be worshiped and respected. This seems more like a man created being, to be shaped and educated by the expieriences of a group who feel the need to elevate a responsible figure in their lives to guide them in their existance, even to give them reason for it.

sojourner said...

Well, Ian, I agree with a great deal of what you say. I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture but my interpretation certainly is not inerrant and I lean on a combination of influences to interpret God's word. The wisdom and experience of fellow believers contributes to my understanding. While the ultimate responsibility for studying the Bible is my own (and your own), God gives us many instruments to fascilitate the endeavor. The Scriptural instruction to fellowship is certainly not limited to drinking coffee together, but to help one another in our spiritual quest to follow Christ.

Ian said...

HO, is there a mind-independent reality out there? How can I know without being independent of my mind? The only thing that keeps us from solipsism is a belief that there is an independent reality. Proof of that "reality" is nothing more than belief.

The quadrilateral as I understand it (and as I use it) is intended to help provide an understanding of scripture, i.e. scripture receives the greatest weight of the four sources.

I assume that the pluralism to which you allude is what mkz questions as well. To that, all I can say is that yes, there are many different philosophies in the world. Each group must decide how to relate to the other groups. Some will contend that the others have no hope, some will be open to believing that the others may be also seeking the truth.

The issue about God and the devil is an issue best taken up in another post, but it raises interesting questions about monotheism. If God is omnipotent, what power can the devil have? Certainly the devil cannot have any power not granted by God. What does this say about God's benevolence?

Hollands Opus said...

Ian
of course I agree that there is a mind independent reality - that it would be there whether or not we ever thought of it. Therefore, it is not the cse that "proof" is nothing more than belief. But perhaps I have misunderstood you.

I hope you do not think that I would dissavow the utility of reason, tradition and experience. And that scripture receieves the greatest weight we would also agree on. I would suggest that God gives us reason, tradition and experience so that we may understand His word, but that reason, tradition and experience must be informed by the scripture. Obviously we need reason to access the scripture and interact with it, but we have reason in part so that we may interact with scripture, so that we may indeed know the mind of God as He has revealed it.

You mentioned that "application of Biblical truth to contemporary situations best happens in a group, not as individuals". What then of various groups are at odds over the situations? Can we not know the mind of God? I think we can.

I do not think one has to hold to the inerrancy of scripture in order to be Christian. I think he is wrong not to and I have would welcome a cogent arguement against innerancy.

I am unsure as to whether or not you are suggesting that God's benevolence is compromised by God allowing the devil to carry out evil acts. If God is not omnipotent, then there is no hope that the evil we see has any purpose at all, and that God may be incapable of stopping it. Do you see something inbetween those two positions Ian.

I look forward to your thoughts on that.
Hollands Opus

mkz said...

A simple test Ian, ask someone older than you by some years if they can remember anything before your birth, if they can, you can be fairly sure there was a reality outside of your minds` perception. If that does not convince you, God will confirm it for you upon your death. Either way, you have your proof! Unless you believe you don`t exist, in which case I`m hooked into a 10 lb. bass. swimming in a warm lake somewhere in Tennessee, at this moment, only daydreaming the cold is here.
I will leave the God-v-devil for the future but for this, You assume Gods` benevolence. He assures of His love and care, and the Promise to do that which is best for those who believe in Him and His Word. Much like a child feeling his parent my be unfair in disciplining him over a misbehavior , so we assume God should condone what we desire, when we desire it.

David J said...

I think this post has more to do with our realities and how our minds grapple with them. I for one, welcome the honesty and candor of this approach. It doesn't neccessarily exalt human experience over God, I think it's more about reason and experience.