M is for . . .


As a United Methodist I’m influenced by John Wesley’s quadrilateral. Ah-oh, that’s a fancy faith-muttering kind of word. But it’s inspired by Methodist founder Wesley’s belief that faith is discerned by four “tests”: scripture (always #1), tradition, reason, and experience. Most Methodists I know appreciate the open-mindedness this four-legged stand on faith encourages. I certainly do. After all, it affirms that my experiences with God, with Creation and Christ, may be different from yours, but should be honored. Listened to. Considered.

Here’s the toughie, though. As always, it works both ways. Arrggh! How hard it can be to realize another’s interpretation of scripture or another’s personal experience may be dramatically different than mine. Wouldn’t living out our faith be easier if you could easily identify who’s right (people that agree with me) and who’s wrong (people that don’t agree with me). Alas, faith is not easy, nor easily categorized. At least that’s been my personal experience.

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  1. It’s interesting that you focus on the ways scripture and experience can be centrifugal forces separating us. I submit that three out of Wesley’s four (now honestly, did Wesley himself come up with that precise formulation, or did later Methodist theologeans adduce that from his writings) points, scripture, reason, and experience, are actually forces which bring people together. And, if, in spite of these three, people continue to fly apart, one is totally justified in suspecting the motives are sinful (don’t you wish there were an adjectival form of “vice”). Oddly, scripture is the least well-behaved of the three, as it has a nasty habit of contradicting itself. Reason and experience are powerful unifiers. Try to breed a better strain of wheat, and you cannot avoid the gospel according to Darwin and Mendel. As Job’s three friends found out, there is just so long that you can continue affirming the consequent before the LORD Boole (and YHWH, as it turns out) brings you to a bad end. That said, as I leaned in Physics class, in nature there is a perfect balance between centrifugal and centripedal forces. The balance, and not one direction or the other, is nature (and God’s) ideal.
    Sorry if this is a bit abstruse. I could go on for hours on this one.

    1. One easy answer is no…as I understand it, Wesley didn’t create the quadrilateral. Later thinkers/interpreters of his writing fashioned it. I think it’s a valid, bullet-point overview of his central beliefs. All four “tests” bring us together as much as they become ways to shove people apart. I cherry-pick scripture. I emphasize one tradition at the expense of another. I identify certain believers/theologians as more “reasonable” than others. And oh how hard it is to acknowledge another’s personal experience is not only different from mine, but is one I can learn from. I have a love/hate relationship with Mr. Wesley, but I claim my Methodist heritage. In the context of his time, Olde John seemed remarkably insightful about slavery and so dim-witted about, for example, a nice glass of Bob Wine from my favorite Whalebone Winery in Paso Robles, California!

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