Wednesday, February 03, 2010

What is the Quadrilateral to...


I am excited to say that we have two Anglicans in our MA program (hello if you're reading :-) The significance of Christian tradition has come up a few times in the biblical interpretation course and eventually, I was asked exactly what the Wesleyan Quadrilateral meant to Wesleyans. For good or ill, here is my general, but slightly expanded response.

Most Wesleyans in our small churches (about half our membership) are basically fundamentalist or pre-modern in their use of the Bible--little sense of any role for tradition (although it's always there whether we realize it or not). Most Wesleyans in our larger churches (the other half) are broadly evangelical, again with little sense of any role in their conscious thinking for Christian tradition, although we do have some emergent churches who are into the ancient-future trend that does highly value tradition.

I would also divide seminary trained Wesleyan ministers and leaders into two broad types. What I call Calvino-Wesleyans are again broadly evangelical or fundamentalist who might be interested in key Protestant figures as interpreters of Scripture but who are still overwhelmingly focused on the literal meaning of the text as the be all and end all of the truth process.

I'm not sure what I would call the other group but I have in mind here Wesleyan leaders that either because of our revivalist stream sit more loosely to the literal meaning of the text or who have come to see tradition as a major factor in any Christian appropriation of the biblical text (and thus who sit more loosely to the literal meaning of the text). So the experience of the Spirit and the tradition of the Church can play a much larger role in the truth process.

Perhaps all that amounts to say that there is a spectrum of Wesleyan use of Scripture ranging from fundamentalist to evangelical to emergent to pneumatic to mildly postmodern. And all of them affirm that the Bible is without error--the church never having identified a hermeneutic by which the divine meaning of the text is properly to be identified.


npmccallum said...

"Most Wesleyans in our small churches (about half our membership) are basically fundamentalist or pre-modern in their use of the Bible--little sense of any role for tradition (although it's always there whether we realize it or not)."

It seems odd to me to equate a pre-modern reading of scripture with the rejection of tradition. Perhaps that is not what you intend here. However, it is the rejection of tradition/history which is precisely one of the modernist hallmarks. In fact, all the reformers are quite clear: their dispute with the Catholic Church is the result of the Catholic Church *departing* from the Christian tradition.

For instance, Wesley says: "But whatever doctrine is new must be wrong; for the old religion is the only true one; and no doctrine can be right, unless it is the very same 'which was from the beginning.'" -- On Sin in Believers III.9

It is precisely this fact which makes such a "fundamentalist" reading (and indeed all of the old Princeton school and its ideological progeny) so distinctly modern and, to wax Hegelian for a moment, why the liberal thesis and fundamentalist thesis are culminating in the synthesis of "New Orthodoxy" in Protestantism (of the McLaren, Cizik, Warren ilk).

If I were to describe the average Wesleyan reader, I would say: they are generally uncritically accepting of the Lutheran/Calvanist/Wesleyan/Revivalist/Evangelical tradition(s), yet, also being uncritically modernist, they do not recognize their tradition as such and instead see the consequences of that tradition as being the only "sensible" reading. Further, this tradition is unevenly applied. It holds fairly strong weight in terms of scriptural interpretation, but almost none as regards liturgics.

Well, those are my $0.02...

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks Nate. I didn't mean "pre-modern" epexegetically. I meant it as an alternative, with fundamentalist being more anti-modern (that is, consciously opposed) and pre-modern being unaware of context.

npmccallum said...

If by anti-modern you mean anti-liberal, I think we agree. However, if by anti-modern you mean anti-modernist, I would have to disagree since I consider both liberalism and fundamentalism to be two sides of the modernist coin (with that third group, in spite of its lack of context, decidedly modernist, though uncritically so).

I think it'd be really tough to argue that old-Princeton and Scottish "Common Sense" epistemologies aren't uniquely modern answers to the questions raised.

As for myself, I think the "questions raised" are fundamentally flawed. But that is another matter. In short, I think it a grave error to conflate pre-critical/critical/post-critical with pre-modern/modern/post-modern. This is nothing more than the myth (which CS Lewis called "chronological snobbery") undergirding new-atheism . It is this myth which demands the neo-evangelical synthesis (any such necessity in this "synthesis" is generated by the myth itself).

Michael Cline said...

Great post!

Your next one needs to be dedicated to how those of us who are more in the "pneumatic to postmodern" camp can facilitate the reading and hearing of Scripture in a more "fundamentalist to evangelical" setting.

Or do we just start planting churches, as some of my peers seem to think?