Using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral in personal study

As United Methodists, we like to come up with complicated terms or acronyms to describe or categorize our beliefs. Chief among the complicated terms is “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” This is the invention of Wesleyan scholar Albert Outler who stated that the founder of our denomination, John Wesley, used four sources to inform his beliefs:

  1. Scripture
  2. Reason
  3. Tradition
  4. Experience

Here’s a link to explore this further and here’s two pictures (Picture 1 and Picture 2) to show how it might look. But essentially, this was a lens that Wesley used to inform his beliefs and the way how he adapted to an ever-changing world while remaining faithful to the gospel values that he found authentic. For example, while the Bible may have some passages that explicitly prohibit women from church leadership, reason and experience clearly trump such¬†antiquated¬†views. And now we have a strong tradition of women’s empowerment, while being faithful to the Scripture’s overall message of empowerment and inspiration.

But it doesn’t have to be on such a big topic.

In our Young Adult / Young Family sunday school class this past Sunday, we used the Quadrilateral to inform our conversation. We used these discussion questions as we looked at a scripture passage.

Experience:

  1. What experience was this passage originally for or about?
  2. What did this passage mean to and for the first readers?
  3. Is the experience written about timely (meant specifically for the original audience but not applicable today) or timeless (has meaning for all readers of any time)?
  4. How is this passage similar or different than your own experience of God?

Reason:

  1. What might have been the thought processes of the original writer?
  2. How does this logic inform your own ways of thinking?

Scripture:

  1. How is this passage similar to or different than other passages of Scripture you have read before?
  2. Is this passage based on another passage of Scripture? If so, what was the original context for the other Scripture passage?

Tradition:

  1. What traditions (Jewish, pagan, philosophical, etc) did this passage of Scripture come out of?
  2. What traditions is it speaking to?
  3. What do others (i.e. commentators, other people, etc.) have to say about this passage?
  4. How does this passage affirm or conflict with the traditions in your church or family?

Feel free to apply them to your personal study and see what new things you might get from it. The hope is that when you are done, you can take these questions to a different scripture or group and learn something else new!

I encourage you to attend a Sunday School class as each one uses scripture, reason, tradition, and experience in helpful ways to guide our faith development as we become more sure of ourselves and our role in God’s reign on earth. Blessings until we see each other again.

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