Scripture (The Wesleyan Quadrilateral Part 1)
Updated: Jan 24
“Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Scripture is primary, revealing the Word of God ‘so far as it is necessary for our salvation.’” – The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, pg. 82
It is hardly surprising that a framework for reading scripture should begin with, well, scripture. There is obviously a lot that can be said about scripture, so I’ve selected this quote from the Book of Discipline (BOD) to narrow my focus. Part of that focus involves a switch. Instead of looking to the content of scripture at the moment, let's instead look to the purpose of scripture. I could write all day about the various genres, languages, authors, ideas, and events contained in scripture, but it helps to take a step back from such granular detail. This quotation from the BOD reorients us and takes us from a question of content to a question of purpose. What does scripture actually do? The BOD directs us to a vitally important function, which is that scripture points us to the Word of God. But what is this Word of God? Or more accurately, who is this Word of God? John tells us that “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (1:14). Jesus is the Word of God, the fullest and most definitive self-disclosure of God’s character and will. His is the glory of an only son, distinct and separate from any other revelation in its intimacy with God. So scripture, as that which the Spirit uses to reveal God’s definitive self-disclosure in Jesus, is to be valued and cherished. This is sometimes referred to as Christocentric theology, which is by no means unique to Methodism but is especially important to it, as the BOD quotation shows.
There are a lot of implications that can be discussed, but for now I’d like to focus on what this means for the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. What does a Christocentric reading of scripture have to do with tradition, experience, and reason? Again, it’s important to look to scripture as a witness to Jesus as God’s self-revelation. In scripture we see people from all kinds of lands and times far apart from one another. We read of their encounters and experiences with God in the stories contained in scripture. We read of people like the authors of Ecclesiastes, Job, and Proverbs probing deeply into theological questions and grappling with God as they try to ponder and reason through life’s toughest questions. We read of changing traditions and ideas of God, whether it is the changing law codes from Leviticus to Deuteronomy or Israel’s evolving understanding of God’s rule over all peoples in the midst of their exile. In Jesus’ revelation we see all of these united. Jesus both confirms and upends tradition, encounters us in a radically different and new experience, and confronts us with the reason-bending mystery of the incarnation. Scripture points to a variety of witnesses, experiences, traditions, and thought systems. In all of these, scripture tells us, Jesus comes to unite us and to reveal that everything is united in God’s loving will and redemptive desire for all of us. And so we are encouraged to look to all of our reasoning, traditions, and experiences, for in scripture we see people do those same things until they ultimately encounter the Word of God. The word of God points us to the Word of God, and it encourages us to use every thought system, experience, and tradition to live in light of that glorious encounter.
*Cover photo: Lindau Gospel, front cover (~9th century)