How can we understand God and what He wants of us and from us? This is, call it, The Quest of the human heart. Some call this the purpose of religion. Me? I hate religion! So I call it being a follower of Jesus. My Quest has placed me firmly in the tradition of this radical man known as John Wesley. John Wesley’s Quest for God radically changed after he finally learned to accept and believe in God’s Grace revealed in Jesus. His primary (and most important) source in his Quest was The Bible.
But Wesley understood that The Bible cannot be studied in a vacuum. In his Quest he used his experiences, his traditions, and reason to help him. Now, the late Albert Outler, a Wesley historian and theologian, recognized it and coined the phrase: The Wesley Quadrilateral. (See the above pic) But now, some are using–make that MISUSING Outler’s phrase. Later on Outler expressed regrets for creating that term. And here’s why! Many have chosen to make all sides of the Quadrilateral equal in importance; even though they are not equal. If one follows the entire life of John Wesley they could see that even he did not see they were equal. By the way, John Wesley never used the phrase The Quadrilateral.
Many today want to use this tool and device in ways they were never meant to be used. By saying all 4 sides are equal creates that moment when one or more of those sides will disagree with the others. And the result, at least in the United Methodist Church, has been chaos and division. Reason and Experiences have concluded that Scripture and Tradition has been wrong. Now, if all 4 sides carried equal validity, then let’s follow our Reason and our Experiences. And the result should be no chaos nor division. Everyone agree to set aside for the moment Scripture and Tradition and run with Reason!
But all 4 sides are not equal! One side of this Quadrilateral must be more powerful than any or all 3 of the other sides. Look at the side of Tradition! When Tradition has the power the result is Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters who are stone cold dead; spiritually speaking. Or if Scripture is left in a vacuum, then we end up with Fundamentalists and New Breeds Of Pharisees; and they are not cold, but definitely spiritually dead. If Experiences are given the nod, the result is a quagmire of pain and disinformation. And if Reason is the only source? Well, look and listen to the gibberish that is being espoused by those who are using only Reason in the United Methodist Church.
The Quadrilateral doesn work because it doesn’t have a single and final source of authority. John Wesley used Experiences, Traditions, and Reason–but he always weighed them against one single authority in his life: The Scriptures! Look, sometimes Experiences do not point us to God. Sometimes Traditions do not point us to God. And dear Lord, most times Reason never points us to God; but that doesn’t meant it never points us to God–for it does.
Remember that The Quest is to understand God and what God wants of us. Experiences, Traditions, and Reason will sometimes–maybe often times–lead us away from God–whom our hearts long for. But Scriptures will always point us to God and what He wants of us. Our experiences, our traditions, and our God-given ability to reason are valuable tools to help us discover The Truth. They are NOT The Truth. That’s what Scriptures Are For: The Final Authority Over Our Lives.