Sunday, October 6, 2013

Scripture and Tradition.... Just Sayin'

I've been thinking about the framing of the so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral in the Book of Discipline

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." Therefore, our theological task, in both its critical and constructive aspects, focuses on disciplined study of the Bible.
To aid his study of the Bible and deepen his understanding of faith, Wesley drew on Christian tradition, in particular the Patristic writings, the ecumenical creeds, the teachings of the Reformers, and the literature of contemporary spirituality.
Thus, tradition provides both a source and a measure of authentic Christian witness, though its authority derives from its faithfulness to the biblical message.

What's interesting about this is that it essentially reverses the role of scripture during the period of canonization. Scripture was used to teach the faith of the church, a faith one could locate in various forms of the Rule of Faith. So, in that setting, the Rule of Faith (tradition) was primary, and Scripture illumined the doctrinal claims one found in the Rule of Faith. Works that were thought useful for teaching the faith of the Church in Christian liturgy were eventually canonized. Works that did not teach of the faith of the Church did not make it into the canon. 
I don't dispute that the above statement from the Discipline captures Wesley's perspective, but did Wesley have it right? Would it be right to say that our faith is revealed in tradition and illumined by scripture? And if Wesley didn't have it right, can we dispense with the Quadrilateral? 


  1. Tim, thank you for these questions and comments. I don't think this would undermine the authority of scripture. In fact, I think it would help to clarify the matter. And can't scripture also be interpreted in a variety of ways, depending in part on cultural context?

  2. But, Tradition is inhabited by the Holy Spirit just as Scripture is. I would go so far as to say John 16 tells us the Holy Spirit will guide us (not force or immediately enlighten us) into all truth. For me, this is where the Great Tradition comes in out, but Tradition gave us Scripture and Scripture gives us Tradition. The authority of Scripture is preserved in and dependent upon Tradition.

    1. I do agree with this, Joel. The dialectic to which you point is important. Scripture and doctrine are inter-influential.

  3. Isn't a good deal of scripture a retelling of tradition, experience, and reason? It is the inspired Word of God, but contained in that word is the telling of other peoples experiences with God. The Psalms tell us of Solomon's reasoning in combination with his faith. The book is full of tradition, the creation of traditions, and the value of them. Scripture is primary because it is the starting place on which all else is grown. All else is additive.

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