The Use of Scripture in the Wesleyan
by Donald W. Dayton
Donald W. Dayton is associate professor of historical theology at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, and chair of the steering committee of the evangelical theology section of the American Academy of Religion. A layman in the Wesleyan Church of America, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Among his writings are Theological Roots of Pentacostalism (Scarecrow 1984), Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (Harper & Row 1976), and (editor) Contemporary Perspectives on Pietism (Convent 1976). The following is Chapter 7 in Robert K. Johnston (ed.), The Use of the Bible in Theology: Evangelical Options (John Knox 1984).
The more I have tried to comprehend the nature of the Wesleyan tradition and to develop a theological method informed by its distinctive vision of Christianity, the more I have had difficulty understanding my own tradition and myself within the outlines of what most people seem to mean by evangelicalism. On one level this is very puzzling and perhaps ironic because it would seem that the Wesleyan tradition ought to be paradigmatic of what it would mean to be evangelical. After all, John Wesley was perhaps the major figure in what came to be known as the "Evangelical Revival," and the heyday of the evangelical experience in American life is often described by American church historians as the "Age of Methodism in America."
Because of this ambiguity we need to give some attention to the question of in what sense the Wesleyan way of using Scripture in theology represents an "evangelical option." My own efforts to probe the present and historical uses of the word "evangelical" have caused me to wonder if it is possible to give the word a common meaning applicable to all the contexts in which it is used. I have come to agree with those who would argue that evangelicalism is, to borrow a phrase from the British analytical tradition of philosophy, an "essentially contested concept." This is to say that the core meaning of the word is necessarily under dispute-alternative visions of evangelicalism fill the word with such different content that its use in other contexts is confusing without consideration of that transformation of meaning.
My own efforts to bring clarity to this discussion have centered on an analysis which suggests that the word evangelical is used in three primary ways. Each of the ways of using the word is derived from a historical paradigm and struggle in which there emerged an "evangelical" party. Because of the historical particularities involved in each period and the differing nature of the struggle in each case, these uses of the word evangelical convey a different vision of Christian faith. They arrange the elements of Christian faith differently and, as a result, use and understand the nature and purpose of the Scripture in significantly differing ways.
These three basic paradigms of evangelicalism derive then from the period of the Reformation centered in the sixteenth century, the "awakenings" of the eighteenth century, and the fundamentalist/modernist controversies of the last hundred years or so. Any effort to describe, and especially to contrast, these ways of being evangelical will necessarily be subject to the sorts of criticisms often leveled at efforts to think "typologically" or to describe "ideal types"; namely, (1) that the emphasis on defining major motifs may over-accentuate differences, (2) that the resulting analysis may be somewhat abstract, (3) that historical illustrations of the types will generally be mixed and intermingled, and so on. But I do believe that such a typology can bring clarity to many discussions, and I will attempt to describe my own emerging understanding of the use of Scripture in the Wesleyan tradition primarily through this sort of analysis.
The Reformation Paradigm
The Reformation defined itself basically over against Roman Catholicism. To be evangelisch was to be "Protestant" and, more particularly, Lutheran. The core of this Protestant faith could be described in several ways, but perhaps the most useful is through the great Latin slogans of the Reformation: sola scriptura; sola Christe; sola gratia; and sola fide. These expressions direct our attention to issues of authority and soteriology. On the level of authority, the Scripture is set over against reason and tradition (understood both ecclesiastically and as the cumulative and collected wisdom of personal experience). On the level of soteriology, the focus may be said to be on both the personal appropriation of grace understood christologically and the theme of "justification by faith alone." This has resulted in a way of understanding Christian faith that maximizes the "forensic" rather than the actual impact of grace and tends to contrast faith and reason, faith and works, and so on. In this way of conceiving evangelicalism the issues may be focused on questions of anthropology where the basic starting point is an Augustinian tradition of human inability (the "bondage of the will") leading as a necessary consequence to the classic Reformation articulations of election and predestination.
The "Awakening" or Wesleyan Paradigm
This paradigm was anticipated in the Puritan transformation of the Calvinist tradition and the Pietist reaction against the efforts of post-Reformation orthodoxy to articulate systematically the insights of the Reformation. A certain soteriological orientation was maintained, but there was a basic shift away from the organizing motif of justification-at least as understood forensically-toward themes of regeneration and sanctification. The result is basically a "convertive piety" with its call to self conscious conversion, the experience of the "new birth," and a life of "holiness" that is demonstrably and empirically distinct from the rest of the world in its expression of "actual righteousness." The enemy in this paradigm is primarily a nominal Christianity that is not serious in its appropriation of the faith but is too often satisfied with orthodoxy that fails to make Christianity a genuine "disposition of the heart." This led to an activism that produced, at least within the Protestant experience, both the great missionary impulse and the massive efforts at social transformation not characteristic of Reformation Christianity. And in the process there was an erosion of Augustinianism that emphasized the soteriological significance either of human will in a form of synergism or of human cooperation with the divine and a growing attack on such classic Protestant doctrines as limited atonement and predestination. This form of evangelicalism is so distinct from classical Protestantism that the Germans, for example, would not describe it as evangelisch but would speak of Pietismus or the Christianity of the Erweckungsbewegung (the "awakening movement").
The Fundamentalist Paradigm
Both of the above two paradigms of evangelicalism have faded into the background, especially in the American experience, because of another major controversy in the church-the fundamentalist/modernist controversy that may perhaps best be viewed as a fight over the extent to which the Enlightenment, the rise of the scientific world-view, and the emergence of a heightened historical consciousness require a theological reformulation of classical Protestantism. In the nineteenth century a growing secular rationalism, such new sciences as geology and Darwinism with their implications for traditional interpretations of the Scriptures with regard to human origins, the rise of biblical criticism, and so forth, all raised fundamental challenges to accustomed ways of conceiving of Christianity and especially biblical authority. The emerging struggles produced within American Protestantism two basic parties: the fundamentalists, who were committed to the defense of the shape of classic Protestantism and feared that any accommodation to these new currents of thought meant the demise of Christianity; and the modernists, who felt that intellectual integrity required some form of adaptation and rethinking of classical modes of articulating Christian faith. (Other issues were also at stake, especially a shift in eschatology in which premillennialism tended to erode the commitment to social reform and probably various sorts of social class sortings out, but the themes sketched above better represent the fundamentalist self-consciousness.)
Much intellectual confusion would have been spared if the label "fundamentalist" had been (properly I think) maintained. The problem, however, is that after World War 11 a Party of fundamentalists again adopted the evangelical label to express a "neo-evangeliical" agenda that included an intellectual apologetic for the theological articulation of classical Protestantism, a repudiation of fundamentalist separatism in favor of a more inclusive ecclesiology, and a renewed social agenda. Because many of the leaders of this movement had roots in the revivalist experience, as currently represented by the rise of Billy Graham, there were some points of continuity with classical evangelicalism, but the fundamentalist experience had shifted the orientation of this form of evangelicalism along a new axis. Now the fundamental issue had become the preservation of orthodoxy and the classical or pre-critical view of the Bible over against the liberal reformulators. The rallying cry became the "inerrancy of the Scriptures" (the doctrine that defined for its advocates the limits of the post-fundamentalist, "neo-evangelical" coalition which found expression in the National Association of Evangelicals, the Evangelical Theological Society, Christianity Today, and other institutions of the movement). Evangelicalism, in this paradigm, is now no longer a distinct theological tradition (i.e., "Reformation Christianity," though it tends to be dominated by a "Reformed" articulation of Christian faith) or a particular piety and ethos (as it tended to be in classical evangelicalism) but has become a theological position staked out between conservative neo-orthodoxy and fundamentalism on a spectrum from left to right that is defined essentially by degrees of accommodation to modernity. And, again, this form of evangelicalism so differs from the others that the Germans have had to invent a new word, Evangelikal, to describe the growing evangelical self consciousness in Europe after the Lausanne Congress on Evangelization that represented the neo-evangelical coalition.
This is not the best place for detailed analysis of this typology and its strengths and weaknesses. The point here is basically that each way of conceiving of evangelicalism produces a different population when each net is used to pull out of both church history and contemporary experience a coherently related and defined subset. Thus consistent articulators of the Reformation paradigm tend to dismiss Roman Catholicism, liberalism, and Wesleyanism as equally unevangelical because they are predicated on a defective anthropology. Similarly, consistent advocates of the second paradigm find equally unevangelical all forms of nominal Christianity, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, orthodox or liberal, and are likely to receive genuinely "born-again" Catholics, say from the charismatic renewal, as "evangelicals." And only when one begins to understand the neo-evangelical coalition in terms of its opposition to modernity can one comprehend recent convergences like the influx of neo evangelicals like Carl F. H. Henry and faculty members of such colleges as Wheaton and Gordon into the orbit of the New Oxford Review with its roots in the reaction of the traditional (and high church) party within the Anglican tradition. Such illustrations could be extended indefinitely.
The Distinctive Shape of Wesleyan Theology
With this typology in the background we can better understand the shape of Wesleyan theology. Much of the distinctive way in which the Wesleyan tradition uses Scripture is wrapped up in theological context and method. Only as we grasp this more fully can we understand the significance of the Wesleyan mode of handling Scripture. Complete explication of the themes of Wesleyan theology would be beyond the limits of this essay. Here we will only hint at some of the basic differences that set the Wesleyan tradition off from the other two types.
Wesleyanism shares much with Reformation evangelicalism-so much so that many interpreters (William Cannon, Franz Hildebrandt, Philip Watson, George Croft Cell, and others) have emphasized the continuities and basically seen the movement as a recovery of the basic impulse of the Reformation. On some levels this is true. One may notice the personal soteriological orientation of both Wesley and Luther in the emphasis on the pro me significance of the work of Christ. One must also understand the Wesleyan movement as preaching a gospel of free grace that at times sounds very much like the Reformation theme of "justification by faith."
But there are other significant levels on which Wesleyanism must be understood as a corrective to the Reformation thought and even in many basic ways as a reversion to basically Roman Catholic patterns of thought. The "solas" of the Reformation are basically a disjunctive way of thinking while Wesleyanism is more conjunctive in its thought. While Luther was inclined to speak of faith or reason, gospel or law, faith or works, and so on, Wesley was much more inclined to speak of faith and reason, gospel and law, faith and works, and so on. It is true that Wesley had his Aldersgate experience under the influence of a public reading of Luther's preface to the commentary on the epistle to the Romans, but when he got around to reading the commentary he found Luther blasphemous in his treatment of law, works, and reason. Wesley was inclined to the text that the "law is established by faith" and was offended by the Lutheran denigration of the law and works. Several of Wesley's key texts were taken from the book of James which Luther so devalued. Indeed, it was characteristic of Wesley that he spoke easily the language of both the epistle to the Galatians and the book of James.
In most of these moves Wesley was more like the Roman Catholic tradition. Another way of saying a similar thing is to notice that, for the Reformation, faith tended to be the organizing virtue. But Wesley was quite dear that faith was instrumental to love. For Wesley love was the organizing motif of his thought. The image of God in Eden was the ability to love, and it was this ability to love that was lost in the fall. justification brings forgiveness for Wesley, but the real point is the therapeutic work of grace in restoring the ability to love in regeneration and sanctification. The goal of the Christian life is to be found in the experience of "perfect love," and the eschatological hope is expressed in similar language. This is a significant shift of axis and a movement away from the "forensic" categories of the Reformation to the "organic" and "biological" categories of Pietism and some branches of the Reformed tradition. The emphasis is on regeneration more than justification, on the impartation of grace and virtue rather than its imputation. All of this may be viewed as corrective to the Reformation and something of a reversion to Catholic patterns of thought.
Such a shift has great implications for theological method in the Wesleyan tradition and for its view of biblical authority. It may be overstating a significant truth to notice that, in part because of the emphasis on faith, the generations after the Reformation were devoted to the clarification of the faith and they left us the legacy of great creeds and doctrinal symbols. The Wesleyan tradition, on the other hand, has left us a legacy of works of love-the crusade against slavery, concern for the poor, campaigns for the reform of society, and so on-in its effort to " spread scriptural holiness across the land and to reform the nation."
Unfortunately, historians of doctrine and theology have most often stood in the Reformation tradition and have concluded that Wesleyanism made no lasting theological contribution because its legacy was not one of speculative theology. Wesley did not play on their turf, and their usual response was either not to notice him at all or, if they did, to place him in the category of ecclesiastical leadership rather than theologian. But this is to miss much of the point. Wesley's mode of doing theology differed from theirs, but it was no less theological or rigorous. Wesley plumbed the whole of the Christian tradition and the Scriptures but bent this work to practical rather than speculative purposes-to issues of the shape of Christian life and existence. In all of this he was doing creative theological work and articulating a significant theological vision but not primarily in the mode of speculative theology.
Under the influence of the recent varieties of liberation theologies we are learning to appreciate this way of theologizing, and some of the more creative work in the interpretation of Wesley and the Wesleyan tradition has drawn on correlations of theological method with the liberation theologians. While there are of course many differences, there are also some significant convergences on the emphasis upon praxis, on the use of a different model than that of abstract truth being applied to a context, and so on. This work may be most easily seen in the report of the Sixth Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies (1977), published as Sanctification and Liberation (Nashville: Abingdon, 1981) and edited by Theodore Runyon of Emory University. Again the common Catholic background of much, especially Latin American, liberation theology and the basically Catholic matrix of Wesley's thought-and these congruences are not entirely accidental.
With regard to biblical authority the picture is similar. At many points Wesley sounds like a son of the Reformation in his emphasis on the finality of biblical authority and in his desire to be, in the much quoted phrase, a homo unius libri (a "man of one book"). But Wesley's conjunctive way of thinking puts Scripture in a larger context of authority quite different from that produced by the "solas" of the Reformation. Wesley was quick to castigate his ministers who read only the Bible. The Book could be understood only through the study of books. Wesley restored the Scriptures to a matrix of authority that gave a more positive value to reason, experience, and tradition. The Scriptures held pride of place in this matrix but in a conjunctive rather than disjunctive mode. This will be developed more fully momentarily in a fuller discussion of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.
Similar contrasts may be drawn with the more modem fundamentalist paradigm of evangelicalism. Here the discussion is more complicated and perhaps more speculative. It is very difficult to try to understand how an eighteenth-century figure would have reacted to the later struggles of the nineteenth century and how the tradition should be interpreted with integrity in a new age. As a result the Wesleyan tradition, like most other classical traditions, has had both its fundamentalist and its more liberal wings of interpretation. But even the more conservative wings of the Wesleyan tradition (which because of their basically orthodox stance and their commitment to a "supernatural" articulation of Christian faith, have often felt some affinity with the fundamentalist wing of modem Protestantism) have not been able to find a home in the circles of either modem fundamentalism or more recently in neo-evangelicalism. This has been symbolized in recent years by the founding of the Wesleyan Theological Society. Some theologians in the Wesleyan tradition, especially those most under the influence of neo-evangelicalism, in the early years of the post-World War II Evangelical Theological Society attempted to work in the neo evangelical coalition. But this was so dominated by modes of theology so foreign to the Wesleyan tradition that in little more than a decade the Wesleyan Theological Society was founded to begin to articulate its own style of theology.
There are still those, of course, who will argue that Wesley would find his place today among the fundamentalists. Wesley did make some comments that sound like the "slippery-slide" argument of Harold Lindsell: "If there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may as well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth" (citation from the standard edition of Wesley's journal, volume 6 , p. 117, the entry having been dated Wednesday, July 24, 1776).
Wesley's comments on the Scripture often reflect the classical doctrines of the inspiration of the Scriptures and a view of them as the "oracles of God" directly. But, as with other classical figures Eke Luther and Calvin, Wesley reveals another side which is illustrated in his dealing with problems of chronology, his understanding of the biblical use of non-biblical sources, his judging of much of the Psalms as "unfit for Christian lips," and so on. These debates will no doubt continue as they do for other classical figures whom the fundamentalists wish to claim for their side of the argument. The growing consensus of the Wesleyan Theological Society is that the tradition is not well stated in the logic and ethos of the fundamentalist tradition. And the basic reasons for this are larger considerations about the shape of Wesleyan theology that set it apart from fundamentalism. Among these would be the following.
(I) The neo-evangelical tradition has its roots in the fundamentalist effort to preserve intact the structure of classical post Reformation Protestant orthodoxy (indeed, it is here that the doctrine of inerrancy received its classical expression). This tradition, however, produced the reaction of Pietism with its alternative strategy of how to "complete the Reformation." Wesleyanism stands in this latter tradition. It will be a while before the question is resolved about whether these traditions were significantly different in their approach to Scripture. Some would argue that Pietism merely assumed the orthodox doctrine of Scripture. I am more inclined to accentuate the differences. Orthodoxy tended to locate the doctrine of Scripture in theological prolegomena as the transcendent grounding of speculative reason; Pietism was more inclined to see in the Scriptures the charter of the church and consider it under a different theological locus. The traditions of exegesis of the key text of 2 Timothy 3:16 differ: orthodox exegesis (restated among the fundamentalists by old Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield) emphasized the once-for-all givenness and absoluteness of the process of biblical inspiration; Pietist exegesis (as illustrated by Bengel and adopted by Wesley and most of his followers) emphasized the ongoing process of inspiration in the church and the present work of the Holy Spirit in making the Scriptures alive and vital today. And perhaps most significantly we should notice that some would trace the emergence of early forms of biblical criticism to Pietism and its attack on the abstract doctrinal character of orthodoxy. There is a sense in which the intention of early biblical criticism was an effort to restore a "biblical theology" in which the Scriptures were freed from their dogmatic imprisonment. In all of this the Wesleyan tradition is more naturally seen in the Pietist rather than in the orthodox line.
(2) It is not often noticed that the Wesleyan tradition is the first major Christian tradition after the Enlightenment. In this it differs from classical Reformation theology, and we have already hinted that the difference may be seen in the different attitude that is taken in the Wesleyan tradition toward reason. The new social and intellectual context required a different articulation. And, again, the pietist and the enlightenment critiques of orthodoxy were often intermingled and mutually supporting. On the other hand, modem post-fundamentalist evangelicalism generally seems committed to the maintenance of the structures of classical Protestant theology in the face of enlightenment critique. These are quite different theological agendas and lead to different methods and concerns. The Wesleyan openness to reason and the fact that the Wesleyan tradition was more easily adapted (contextualized?) to the new intellectual environment, combined with the fact that Wesley did seem easily to appropriate the emerging biblical scholarship of his day, are grounds for suggesting that the Wesleyan tradition is more appropriately viewed as non-fundamentalist, even among those who wish to live in more direct continuity with the spiritual dynamic of the founder.(3) Related to this enlightenment location of Wesleyanism is the fact that Wesleyanism differs from fundamentalism in its analysis of the human problem. Modern neo-evangelicalism focuses on the problem of belief and the maintenance of orthodoxy and makes the modem crisis of unbelief the key issue. While orthodox in a broader sense, Wesley did not locate the basic problem here. He was fond of quoting the suggestion of the book of James that the devils are orthodox but obviously not examples of true or scriptural Christianity. For Wesley, true Christian religion was not a matter of opinion or even of mere orthodoxy but more a matter of the will and a "disposition of the heart." This orientation and the fact that Wesley was working along a different axis of thought have meant that the Wesleyan tradition has not been so traumatized by the Enlightenment. The problem of Christian faith may be complicated by the rise of secular rationalism, and Wesley was quick to repudiate its manifestations in his own time, but the basic problem of Christian faith, at least as perceived by the Wesleyan tradition, remains the same both before and after the Enlightenment. And, on the other hand, since the Wesleyan tradition is working on a fundamentally different axis, it is more easily able to adapt to a new intellectual context.
(4) One may make the same point in a slightly different manner. Perhaps more significant even than the rise of the rationalism of the early era of the Enlightenment is the rise of the historical consciousness" of the late Enlightenment and the nineteenth century. Modem forms of biblical criticism, for example, are probably more clearly rooted in this development. Also a part of this was the emergence of the social sciences which, in the application of the psychology of knowledge and the sociology of knowledge to classical modes of thought, had a significant relativizing impact. One may view the fundamentalist wing of modern Protestantism as that branch which was unable to assimilate these modern forms of thought because of its roots in more rationally articulated forms of theology and its ahistorical and biblicist patterns of thinking. Certainly the recent neo-evangelical polemics against any forms of relativism or situationalism would seem to confirm this tendency. It could be argued that Wesleyanism is more capable of assimilating these modern modes of thought. One reason for this would be that, in the shift to regeneration, the category of change is imported into the center of Wesleyan thinking. This would be true both with regard to the individual, where the Christian life is developmentally described as a series of stages, and more broadly in society. Thus the Wesleyan tradition has an inherent affinity to historical process and movement, which puts it at odds with the more absolutistic traditions that try to deny relativity and the historical conditionedness of Christian life and thought. This may perhaps best be seen in the Wesleyan attitude toward the ministry of women. While the fundamentalist experience on this question has been quite slow in allowing the ministry of women, lagging far behind the churches of the mainstream, the Wesleyan churches have often been the pioneers of this practice, especially in the nineteenth century when the conservative Wesleyan churches were far in advance of the more established denominations. The Wesleyans did not see the biblical injunctions against the ministry of women as providing a norm and pattern for all time. Instead they saw the Bible as the medium of a new source of life and power which changed persons and the world so that application of the spirit of the Scripture could not be achieved by a mechanical application of the letter of the Scripture.
(5) All of this is to argue that the very logic of the Wesleyan tradition is basically at odds with the fundamentalist experience and that this extends to the understanding of the nature and function of Scripture. A final illustration will have to suffice. The fundamental contrast between Wesleyanism and fundamentalism (including neo-evangelicalism) became clear to me when I happened on two late nineteenth-century charts. The first derived from the dispensational pre-millennial tradition and was a classic dispensational chart of the outline of history and eschatology. (Ernest Sandeen has argued in his Roots of Fundamentalism that dispensationalism is in many ways the defining characteristic of the modern fundamentalist experience which lies behind neo-evangelicalism.) The second was a chart in the front of the classic statement of the Salvation Army by its founder William Booth, In Darkest England and the Way Out. It is hard to describe how violently different these are. The Wesleyan chart, as represented by the Salvation Army, pictured sin in historically concrete terms: infidelity; drunkenness; greed; oppression; racism; etc. The "salvation" pictured was also historically concrete and actual, involving a range of dimensions from personal salvation and transformation through all kinds of social agencies and reform from credit unions for the poor to day care centers for working mothers. By contrast with this vision, embedded as it was in history and actual transformation, the dispensational chart appeared contrived, ahistorical, and almost gnostic in character. The function of Scripture-its role, its product, its use-is fundamentally shaped by these differing contexts.
The Wesleyan Quadrilateral
In summary, then, of what has been hinted at above we should note that, as much as theological method has been formulated in the Wesleyan tradition, it has often been described in terms of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. Wesley does not use this formulation in his own writings, but it does echo patterns of thinking that are demonstrably characteristic of Wesley. One of his major treatises, for example, was entitled The Doctrine of Original Sin, According to Scripture, Reason and Experience. This title does not fully reproduce the quadrilateral, but the terms change in various of Wesley's statements and usages so that the quadrilateral may be said to systematize Wesley's thought and to describe the method of theological reflection within the Wesleyan tradition. Only very recently, with the formation of the merged United Methodist Church in 1968, has this really been formalized in a statement of "Our Theological Task" which appears regularly in The Book of Discipline, though similar analyses have been developed elsewhere, for example, in Colin W Williams, John Wesley's Theology Today.
This articulation speaks quite self-consciously of four norms or sources of theology. Within these it is generally understood that Scripture is the "norming norm" or the fundamental authority in theological reflection. But the Wesleyan vision includes a high respect for the tradition of the church as a source for theological formulation and a willingness to be judged by it, though flexibly, with Scripture as the final judge of the value of tradition. We have already indicated Wesley's more positive appreciation of reason, especially as a tool of reflection and analysis; one of his most characteristic types of writing was various "appeals" to "men of reason and religion." And, finally, Wesley not only wished to find true religion expressed experientially, but he also had a more positive role for experience in judging and correcting his theological formulations.
We have already provided several brief illustrations of how these norms have influenced theological reflection within the Wesleyan tradition. A final illustration will have to suffice. One place to see easily the variety of theological norms coming into play is in Wesley's Plain Account of Christian Perfection, perhaps both the key text for those who wished to sustain continuity with the spiritual experience of classical Wesleyanism and a source of much controversy with outsiders who found the key doctrine of the Wesleyan tradition offensive. In this tract Wesley seems to come to his high ideal of "perfect love" in his reading of Scripture informed by a variety of the great spiritual teachers of the church who emphasized similar themes. His understanding of the possibility of the achievement of this ideal and the fact that it often was achieved in a "crisis experience" seems to be elaborated out of an analysis based on the collected experiences of a number of his followers-a sort of "phenomenology of Christian experience." And in the process he appeals regularly to what is required by logic and reason, as well as to themes of a sort of natural theology in which he makes analogies to the experiences of birth and death. The result is a very subtle interplay of theological norms and sources that Wesley understood to be guided and directed by the Scriptures.Much of the debate about the Wesleyan Quadrilateral has centered on the theological pluralism that it necessarily leads to. The interplay of the various sources is subtle and the judgments are often "aesthetic" and dependent upon a variety of factors that include the personal history and psychology of the theologian as well as the extent to which the sources have been grasped and understood. This is certainly an issue, but it is both a strength and a weakness at the same time. From one angle the use of the quadrilateral merely brings to self-consciousness factors that seem to be present in all theological reflection, even among those who deny that they are operating with multiple norms. And it is precisely because of these dimensions that Wesleyan theology can assimilate modern patterns of thinking and can find contextualization in a variety of situations. It is for such reasons that I have found within the Wesleyan tradition a useful pattern of theological reflection and the resources for trying to think theologically in the modern world.
Viewed 15759 times.