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A Pentecostal Appropriation of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral

The term “Wesleyan quadrilateral” does not appear in the writings of John Wesley. It is a term that Albert C. Outler chose to describe the theological method of John Wesley. In fact, Outler regretted having coined it, because it had been so widely misconstrued.11  Nonetheless, it remains to be a helpful aid for understanding the context of Wesleyan thought. We can see in Wesley a distinctive theological method, with Scripture as its pre-eminent norm but interfaced with tradition, reason, and Christian experience as dynamic and interactive aids in the interpretation of the Word of God in Scripture.12

John Wesley offered no creed or catechism for his people to follow. In fact, he did not articulate an explicit theological method because he was more concerned with practical relevance and applicable theology.13  He has been called a practical theologian because he wanted every ordinary woman and man to be able to understand the Scriptures. This does not mean that Wesley was not a theologian because he did not write a systematic theology. On the contrary, Wesley’s refusal to provide the Methodist with a confession for subscription was the conviction of a man who knew his own mind on every vexed question of Christian doctrine, but who had decided that the reduction of doctrine to any particular form of words was to misunderstand the very nature of doctrinal statements.14  Some argue that Wesley was indeed a systematic theologian whose sermons, essays, journals, prefaces, and letters contain every major point of a systematic theology.15

Wesley’s distinctiveness rests not in a systematic theology, but in a theological method.16  His uniqueness of thought is evident in the way he was able to use his theological method to get his people to theologize for themselves. The effect of this was to make every Methodist man and woman his/her own theologian not be giving them an actual paradigm for their theologizing, but hoping that they would adopt his way of reflection as their own.17 Therefore, his genius was not in writing a catechism or systematic theology, but in allowing his people to “think and let think”18  in a way that was consistent with the written Word of God and doctrinal authority.

Having briefly discussed the purpose and nature of John Wesley’s theological method, we will now examine each of the four areas of the Wesleyan quadrilateral: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Each one is uniquely important and vital to the Christian faith because there is a need today for an approach to theology that has the capability to dynamically fuse the four historical sources of Wesley’s theological method together in order to bring them into contemporary dialogue with traditions. Thus, our examination will be Wesleyan, Pentecostal, and ecumenical. As we look at each area individually, the role of the Holy Spirit will be further examined.

In the Quadrilateral, the Scriptures stand first while “Christian Antiquity”, reason, and Christian experience are used as interpretive means for understanding the Scripture. The latter three provide lenses by which we can properly interpret and understand the written word of God. The Scriptures assist the believer on his/her journey of faith as they press on toward perfection. There is a dynamic interplay in which tradition, reason, and experience work to shine light on Scripture. They have a unique reciprocal interrelationship with one another, while Scripture remains preeminent. Although never a substitute for Scripture; tradition, reason, and experience are complementary to its interpretation.

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About the Author: The Rev. Dr. Winfield H. Bevins serves as the Director of Asbury Seminary’s Church Planting Initiative. He is also the Canon for Church Planting for the Anglican Diocese of the Carolinas and an adjunct professor at Trinity School for Ministry. He is the author of Plant: A Sower’s Guide to Church Planting (Seedbed, 2016), Rediscovering John Wesley (Pathway Press, 2005), Our Common Prayer: A Field Guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Simeon Press, 2013), Creed: Connect to the Basic Essentials of Historic Christian Faith (NavPress, 2011), and Grow at Home: A Beginner’s Guide to Family Discipleship (Seedbed, 2016). Amazon Author Page Facebook Twitter: @winfieldbevins

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