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A Pentecostal Appropriation of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral

John Wesley primarily appealed to the Holy Scriptures for all doctrinal authority. He believed the “written word of God to be the only and sufficient rule both of Christian faith and practice”.19  Both Reformation and Anglican heritage taught sola Scriptura, which no doubt influenced Wesley’s love for the Bible. His passion for Scripture can be best described in his own words, “O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri“.20  Wesley did not mean that other books were of no value to the Christian life, for he was an avid reader who often read on horseback and even compiled a Christian Library for his people to read.21  Once John Wesley’s view of the Bible is taken into proper perspective one can begin to understand his theological methodology.

Wesley firmly believed that the Holy Spirit inspired all the Scriptures. He took this a step further in saying “The Spirit of God not only once inspired those who wrote it, but continually inspires, supernaturally assists, those who read it with earnest prayer.”22  Wesley believed that God continually speaks and inspires the reader of the Bible through the inner working of the Spirit. This is a dual inspiration, in which the Holy Spirit inspired the ancient writers of the Scriptures and inspires the contemporary reader that they may comprehend the word of God. There is a need today for the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit in our theology and theological method. Without the assistance of the Holy Spirit, our hermeneutics will be in vain.

John Wesley had a profound appreciation and reverence for Christian tradition. He used church tradition in his complex theological method because he felt it would direct him to the strongest evidence of Christian doctrine.23  When examining the Wesleyan synthesis, we can find several major traditions at work. According to Kenneth J. Collins, the traditions that had the greatest influence on Wesley were Anglicanism, Moravianism, and the Eastern Fathers.24  It was Wesley’s Anglican heritage more than any other that pointed him to the study of patristics.25  There were also many cultural and religious tributaries, which formed John Wesley’s eclectic use of tradition.26

Wesley saw the Methodism as being a part of a long line of Church tradition, which reflected a genuine Christianity. Donald A.D. Thorsen points out that Wesley traced the Methodist genealogy back to the “Old religion.”27  Wesley describes Methodism as “the old religion, the religion of the Bible, the religion of the primitive Church, the religion of the Church of England.”28  For Wesley, Methodism was a part of an unbroken chain of true religion, religion of the heart, which was “no other than love, the love of God and of all mankind.”29  Within the context of the Universal Church, a new tradition began with John Wesley; a specific history which grew from English origins to spread across the British world and then around the globe.30  It is the tradition of “Methodism” as John Wesley intended it, that all Wesleyan-holiness churches can trace their theological heritage.

The Holy Spirit played a unique role in John Wesley’s understanding of Church tradition. Wesley’s idea of dual inspiration can give us deeper understanding of this truth. The Holy Spirit first inspired the Scriptures, and then He inspired the interpreters of the Scriptures. For John Wesley the early Fathers were “the most authentic commentators on Scripture” because they were “nearest to the fountain, and eminently endued with that Spirit by whom all Scripture was written.”31  Their authenticity as interpreters of Scripture was because they had been endued with the Spirit. John Wesley deeply believed that being filled with the Spirit was the mark of “Scriptural Christianity.”32

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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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