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The Quadrilateral of Chrisian Theology

Written by: on October 30, 2014

Wesleys_Quadrilateral3-150x150The Quadrilateral of Christian Theology

 

October 30, 2014

 

The renewal of my love for Theology has come full circle again. Studying Christian Theology this week has renewed my interest and pointed me to a point of theology that I believe is timeless in its nature, the quadrilateral. Before I get into that I want to also talk about a couple of thing before that. Standing out to me is a similar situation that we have today. The theology of the east and the theology of the west is almost the same today.

In Christian Theology scholars pointed out a significant difference in how the east and the west thought in early Christianity. “Many scholars discerned a marked difference in theological temperament between theologians of the east and west: the former are often philosophically inclined and given to theological speculation, where as the latter are often hostile to the intrusion of philosophy into theology, and regard theology as the exploration of the doctrines set out in scripture.”[1] I believe as the west did then that theology should be the exploration of what is already in scripture and the experience with it. I will get into that in a minute. But it is important to me to not get so far into speculations that you get away from what is right in front of you. I have been in classes in graduate school and some professor told us that they did not believe certain stories in the bible to be taken literally. They actually relegated it to hyperbole to make a point. For instance the story of Jonah and the big fish has been written off as just hyperbole. But even Jesus referenced it in scripture as being a foreshadowing of his death and resurrection. So I believe scripture should not be left up to speculation we should approach scripture with blind faith.

Which led me to the quadrilateral of Christian Theology. “Broadly speaking, four main sources have been acknowledged within Christian tradition:

  1. Scripture
  2. Tradition
  3. Reason
  4. Religious Experience.”[2]

I was a student of this teaching at Azusa Pacific and read a book The Wesleyan Quadrilateral. I believe Christian Theology and thinking should be really focused and interpreted from these 4 areas because they are the foundation of our faith.

Scripture is paramount to them all because this is where are doctrine comes from. It is the place that our doctrines our dictated from for our theology to exist. Tradition is what the book Christian Theology is about to me. It gives us how we got where we are now. This must be distinguished from denominational structures though. My denomination will advocate our distinct tradition as the tradition that the Bible is speaking of not church history as a whole. So we have to be careful not to confuse what the quadrilateral is speaking of. Tradition here is speaking of church tradition as a whole. Then reason is important. Growing up it seemed like we were forbidden to do deal with the last two of this quadrilateral for some reason. But our thinking about theology and our questioning it is important to the formulation of our theology. As long as our theology is in line with scripture and Christian tradition we should be able to reason with our God given faculties to understand God. Then finally experience. There is a saying “experience is the best teacher.” This is true but I don’t think you have to experience everything in life to understand it. But experiencing God to me is so important because how another theologian or Christian experiences God can be totally different than how you did. Our Christian theology is shaped and formed by our experience with God, scripture, traditions, and reason. I don’t think that you can really understand Christian theology without this quadrilateral. No matter how much theology we read or study, nothing can substitute an experience with God one on one.

[1] McGrath, Alister E.. Christian Theology : An Introduction [eBook]. Wiley, 2010, accessed 30 October 2014;

 

[2] Ibid, 128.

About the Author

mm

Travis Biglow

Pastor of Victory Empowerment Center. Regional Chaplain High Desert Regional Center Graduates Azusa Pacific University. Licensed General Contractor B. I am the married with one daughter, two grandsons and one step son.

15 responses to “The Quadrilateral of Chrisian Theology”

  1. mm Nick Martineau says:

    Travis…good word. Thanks!

    I really took Tradition as a main strength of Mcgraths book too. It seems more and more these days people are casting tradition to the side and interpreting scriptures by just their experience alone. It truly is important to have an understanding of our church history/tradition yet we rarely if ever teach this in the local church.

  2. mm Brian Yost says:

    Travis,
    High five on embracing the quadrilateral. ; )
    It really is a great tool, but as you say, it only works when we have all the parts. When we reject any one of them, it is really hard to understand Christian theology.

  3. mm Jon Spellman says:

    But Travis, what do we do then, when a person’s experience with God runs counter to the words from scripture? I mean if the pinnacle of a person’s theology is an experience with Him one-on-one? Can’t emotions be deceiving at times?

    Thanks man!

    J

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Jon, great question! I’d ask the person if their experience was really with God. If truly honest, then I’ve never had anyone claim their experience “with God” runs counter to Scripture…rather it is typically their experience “with church”, “with religion” or “with Christians” that runs counter to Scripture. I definitely agree that “emotion” can blind us from seeing the truth…

  4. mm Travis Biglow says:

    Thanks Nick, i agree we cant separate where we are now as a church if we forget our cherished tradition and tenets!

  5. mm Travis Biglow says:

    Brian, so true brother. It amazing though in church how so many people accept the quadrilateral that they like and reject the ones they dont like. I guess people do that with scripture too.

  6. mm Travis Biglow says:

    Jon

    I was speaking of the one on one experience with God in light of the quadrilateral. Experience is just one of the quadrilateral. We expereince God one on one in relation to the quadrilateral through our one on one in scripure, exprience, tradition and reason. This is not to say that we need to be isolated from other people with other experiences. But we have to have a relationship with God personally to know Him. I was taught for years that emotions was the Spirit. When in reality I was not feeling saved all the time. I had inner sins that plagued me that they told me i was not supposed to have and i did. It was not until i got out of this bubble that they had me in that i was able to explore the God of scripture, experience him, understand him through tradition and then be able to reason about him on my own. I call that one on one!

  7. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Travis, Props on the quad! Obviously we are all liking Brian’s triangle as well with the SCRIPTURAL foundation. Not at all suggesting that scripture shouldn’t be that ultimate filter, but I do get scared when there is a misunderstanding of scripture and then it is applied as unfailing truth because it is scriptural when it is actually mis-scriptural from an individual or straying-sect. Glad your theological interest is back and that you are swinging for the fence!

  8. mm Dave Young says:

    Travis,

    So you mentioned two things that I’d like to comment on. First, “we should approach scripture on blind faith” and second “Scripture is paramount”. I couldn’t agree more with the second comment, in my tradition maybe yours as well, we understand scripture as “inerrant and authoritative”; it seems like that view of scripture is eroding. I also see from your post that the quadrilateral also holds scripture in a high regard or paramount position. This isn’t a tool I’ve studied so thanks for the introduction.

    But might I encourage that instead of taking scripture “on blind faith” that we should allow hermeneutics to guide how we approach scripture. It doesn’t need to be blind faith, it can be “faith seeking understanding”. Of course the question becomes what approach do we take to hermeneutics? You started your post with a comparison of east and west Christianity and some of the theological difference. Alexandrian (east) as a school of thought treated hermeneutics largely as allegorical, while Antiocheane (west) held more to a historical-literal bent.

    I’m so glad you brought this up because really we can’t understand theology without scripture, and we can’t understand scripture without hermeneutics.

  9. Mary Pandiani says:

    When I first saw the title “quadrilateral,” I got a little nervous (even though I teach math to ESL students). But when I saw your use of the four sources in the simplicity of the Wesleyan model, it brought to mind how creative God is in helping us understand how to recognize and live into the work of God. He recognizes that we need checks and balances, similar to what Dave mentioned about the use of hermeneutics and scripture. That’s why I also love how the gospels don’t necessarily line up with the same exact details. It’s a reminder that we’re part of a narrative, a story that continues to take on dynamic meaning.

  10. mm Travis Biglow says:

    Thank you Phill the pendullam is swinging back!

  11. mm Travis Biglow says:

    God bless you Dave,

    In Isaiah the word of the Lord says, “who is as blind as my servant.” Going to seminary has only reinforced my faith in the word of God. For years i did not believe certain things that would require me to put everything on the line. It is until you get to this point in your faith that you will really see God in action. We were taught that college and seminary will educate you too much and you will miss God. Im glad the Lord revealed to me that you need to know what to believe and thats how i view it now. I have stepped out in faith more since ive learned more. And I hope that is where we all are headed – that is to a great walk by faith! Blessings to you Dave!

  12. mm Travis Biglow says:

    Mary,

    Amen, i love hermenutics and most of the sermons i prepare i do a whole inductive method to studying it. Knowledge is imporant to wisdom. But you should have both or there is no application of the knowledge that will make it relevant. I believe the more you anaylze things (when God only requires your faith) the more you will have to wait till you see it happen. Thats just me. I love education, it makes me believe God more!

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