Saturday, April 26

Wesleyan Quadrilateral

I was asked to describe my thoughts on the insufficiency of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral which simply says that a Christian's authority of truth is four sided: Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason with Scripture the largest of the sides. It's not a bad model, per se, but it's drastically oversimplified to the point of being unhelpful. It is only two dimensional, after all. I appreciate Matt Zahniser's pentilaterial which appends Creation as a fifth side. Even so, these "sides" are misleading because they don't merely connect at their ends as the following prototypical quadrilateral implies:
In reality, all four (or five) are a huge jumble of intersections and overlaps. I think the following Venn diagram (in no particular order) is a little more telling:
This is oversimplified too, but it's a start. Allow me to dissect the elements one by one. Experience This is perhaps the only element that can exist independently. (I say can, not should.) A person outside the Bible or Qur'an probably lives without scripture. If they live in the West, the probably live without Tradition. If they're an idiot, they live without Reason as well. Nevertheless, they're religious beliefs are always influenced by Experience. Experience is ubiquitous and influences every facet of our life. Everything you believe, think, feel, or do is influenced by your individual, previous experience. If a person has experience, even just a little, with seeing, for example, mercy, their beliefs will include mercy. If they have no experience of, say, discipline, their beliefs will not include discipline unless influenced by the other elements. Reason Nearly everyone will let their Reason influence them as well. (At least this is true in my post-Enlightenment experience; like everyone, I cannot live outside my own experience.) I use my Reason to determine that God acts in history, but only because I have experienced God acting in history. Usually I encounter an experience, filter it through my Reason, and then say "that experience is an authority for me." This happens in reverse as well: Experience acts as an authority for or against our Reason. I may use my reason to think war is allowable, but the amount of authority I give that belief will change once I experience war or the belief may change altogether. Tradition Here's where things get interesting. Tradition could also be called Communal Experience and/or Communal Reason. The purpose of Tradition is pass down the Experience and Thoughts from one person to another and one generation to the next. This means Tradition creates Experience in the soul of the next person. "What does God feel like?" "How do I pray?" These are answered by Tradition. Tradition doesn't create Reason, but it does demonstrate Reason. "How do I understand the Trinity?" "What is the paradigm for divine justice?" Tradition can demonstrate how to use Reason to approach these thoughts. And again, all this work in reverse. Tradition doesn't come from thin air; it is born from both Experience and Reason. "How do we communicate God's smell?" "What is our Communal Reason regarding the Trinity?" Experience is the raw material and Reason is the mold from which we convert Experience to Tradition. It might go like this: We reason that God is holy and we experience holiness by music. Therefore, let's include music into our Tradition. A person comes to a church, experiences music, and reasons that God is holy. Scripture This is actually very simple when you realize that Scripture (to the horror of Protestants!) is simply written Tradition. Like everyone who makes Tradition, they use their Experience of God or Reason about God as a catalyst and then their Reason both as a filter and as a toolset. And like all Tradition, the community of believers must take the proposed Tradition and approve or reject it. Does it fit their Experience and their Reason? If so, it is canonized and passed on to become the Tradition of the catholic Church. When we hear the Scripture, we hear it within our entire Experience; when I hear "God is holy" I have a previous experience of who God is, what "holy" means and even what "is" is. Then we fit it together using our Reason. Now I think there's one major element missing from this model. Revelation Revelation is a kind of Experience - the experience of God. This should really be first and I think warrants separation from all other experiences. Without Revelation, authority is only human. I include Zahniser's Creation as a form of Revelation. Besides Creation and those burning bush revelations, there is the revelation of the Holy Spirit who potentially through all Experience - Rick's "miracles ordinary proportion," the wisdom of Community, the inspiration of Scripture, and things like that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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