Ordination Questions, Part 6: The Wesleyan Quadrilateral
Please see the introduction to Part 1 for the context of these questions…
h) The United Methodist Church holds that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. What is your understanding of this theological position of the church?
One of the reasons that I love Methodism is that John Wesley and the DNA of his movement are intensely practical. Wesley’s approach does not begin with a philosophical underpinning, but is deeply rooted in a phenomenology. When Albert Outler came up with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, it was an attempt to create some structure and system to John Wesley’s thoughts and writings.
What intrigues me, however, is that even in Outler’s observation of Wesley, it is much less a system than a method. The Book of Discipline refers to this as “our theological task” that is shared by both clergy and layperson. It is a method than is an ongoing task to ask and re-think what it means to be the People of God in our contemporary context. The Book of Discipline maintains that “…every generation must appropriate creatively the wisdom of the past and seek God in their midst in order to think afresh about God, revelation, sin, redemption, worship, the church, freedom, justice, moral responsibility, and other significant theological concerns” (¶ 105). In the spirit of Karl Barth, we are ecclesia semper reformanda est (reformed and always reforming).
The ordination of women in the United Methodist Church is a good example of how Wesleyan praxis allowed for a healthy theological evolution. The current debate of LGBTIQ+ inclusion is another example of how, as our understanding changes, our theology can shift to accommodate new scientific, psychological, biological, or sociological insights. (I acknowledge that this is far from a closed discussion in the United Methodist Church, but having come from a denomination in which there was no conversation at all, it is very refreshing to be talking about important issues.)
This way of doing theology stands in stark contrast to our brothers and sisters in confessing traditions. Those in confessing traditions have the unfortunate task of having to forever defend a static theological worldview that made sense in a particular time and place but may cause contemporary people to do mental gymnastics to make sense of it.