Section A 1. Each edition of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church since 1972 has contained the formulation that has come to be widely known as the “Wesleyan [or Methodist] Quadrilateral”— the claim that “the living core of the Christian faith is revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.” At the conclusion of their “conference” about the Quadrilateral, published as Wesley and the Quadrilateral: Renewing the Conversation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997), p. 142, W. Stephen Gunter et al. collectively make the following statement: We believe that the Quadrilateral, when defined as “the rule of Scripture within the trilateral hermeneutic of tradition, reason, and experience,” is a viable way of theologizing for United Methodism. We believe that this dialogical way of theologizing is in harmony with the teachings of John Wesley. And we believe that the theological application of this Neo-Wesleyan interpretation of the Quadrilateral is the most faithful way for The United Methodist Church to end the twentieth and begin the twenty-first century.
Do you agree or disagree with this statement about the nature of the “Wesleyan [or Methodist] Quadrilateral”? Why, and on what basis?
Of course, any methodological strategy is only as good as the researchers that use it, and the adage that it is a poor workman who blames his tools comes to mind. In many ways, though, it is difficult to challenge the assertion that the Wesleyan Quadrilateral represents a valuable framework for modern bible students who are interested in learning more about their faith because it was “revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason” (Sachs 383).
The application of these foundational pillars of support for the Quadrilateral is a highly subjective experience, however, and the process is subject to a wide array of individual interpretations that reinforce the value of a holistic methodology for modern students of the Bible. In sum, perhaps the overarching constraint to the Quadrilateral methodology is a lack of understanding concerning the proper manner in which to apply its constituent elements to obtain the optimal outcomes.
In your judgment, does this “Neo-Wesleyan interpretation of the Quadrilateral” provide an accurate characterization of Wesley’s theological position? Why, or why not?
In reality, both the “neo-Wesleyan” and “Quadrilateral” suffer from an image problem that stems in part from the polysyllabic and intimidating descriptions of relatively straightforward issues. Certainly, much has transpired in the centuries since Wesley formulated his concepts about the appropriate path to exegesis but the fundamental purpose of the Quadrilateral to provide a methodology whereby bible students can gain a better understanding of Scripture remains essentially the same. Moreover, neo-Wesleyan interpretations of the Quadrilateral are highly congruent with the acknowledgement that “rather than there being ‘one’ United Methodist Church, there are in fact ‘many Methodisms’” (Flanagan 379). Applied with these issues in the mind, the neo-Wesleyan interpretation of the Quadrilateral therefore provides an accurate characterization of Wesley’s theological position as viewed through a 21st century lens.
Does it provide an adequate basis for Christian theological reflection in the Wesleyan tradition today, as that tradition has developed over the past two centuries? Why, or why not?
Here again, the answer to this question is, “It depends.” Although the Wesleyan tradition has changed over the past 200 years, the tradition itself remains essentially the same by recognizing that the prevailing religious thinking at any given point in time may introduce changes which are not only acceptable but essential to keeping the faith relevant and alive. Likewise, the Methodists of the 18th century were faced with the same types of challenges and opportunities that confront their modern counterparts. For example, in an early letter to an Anglican vicar, Wesley pointed out that members of the church “saw or felt some impending or pressing evil, or some good end necessary to be pursued. And many times they fell unawares on the very thing which secured the good, or removed the evil. At other times they consulted on the most probable means, following only common sense and Scripture-though they generally found, in looking back, something in Christian antiquity, likewise, very nearly parallel thereto” (cited in Davies at 254). Similarly, Wesley’s guidance that “I question whether a mortal can arrive to a greater degree of perfection than steadily to do good, and for that very reason patiently and meekly to suffer evil” (as cited in Baker at 339) remains highly relevant for modern Methodists as well.
This connection to antiquity as applied to contemporary challenges makes the neo-Wesleyan interpretation of the Quadrilateral highly effective in providing an adequate basis for Christian theological reflection in the Wesleyan tradition today as it has developed over the past two centuries. In this regard, one Methodist educator emphasizes that, “Our Wesleyan theological roots provide both anchor to the historic church as well as nimble practicality. This is driven by a passion to bring the Kingdom into culture and make a difference now” (Wesleyan framework 3).
How do you understand the interaction of the separate elements of the Quadrilateral as you participate in the work of “our theological task”?
Of the multiple United Methodist Church theological tasks, task number 6 provides a useful and timely assessment of the juncture of the interactions of the discrete Quadrilateral elements with respect to my future participation in this enterprise. For example, task number 6 stipulates in part that: “As United Methodists, we have an obligation to bear a faithful Christian witness to Jesus Christ, the living reality at the center of the Church’s life and witness. To fulfill this obligation, we reflect critically on our biblical and theological inheritance, striving to express faithfully the witness we make in our own time” (Our Theological…Session two: Attendees will read and understand relevant excerpts from the theological teachings of the Methodist Church.
Session three: The origins and rationale in support of the Methodist Church’s antislavery stance prior to and following the end of the Civil War will be understood by the adult learners.
Session four: Attendees will learn about the multiple missionary initiatives and their goals and how these missionaries can be helped by parishioners at home in the United States.
Session five: Adult learners will gain an understanding concerning what actions have been taken in recent months by United Methodist Church congregations, including their own, in response to the growing needs attributable to the Covid-19 pandemic and what actions they can take to provide additional assistance to their fellow congregants and community.
Session six: Finally, all attendees will understand the contents of each session, will receive a written copy of the session summaries, and provide their feedback concerning any needed changes for future presentations.
What sources (primary and secondary) will you draw upon in your own preparation (be specific!)?
The primary sources that will be used during the study group sessions include excerpts from the established Doctrinal Standards of United Methodism as follows:
· The Holy Bible (KJV);
· The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church;
· The Confession of Faith (United Methodist) of the Evangelical United Brethren Church;
· The General Rules of the Methodist Societies;
· The Standard Sermons of John Wesley; and,
· John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the New Testament.
The secondary sources selected for this study group will include the following:
· Outler, Albert C. (ed). John Wesley.
· Outler, Albert C. and Heitzenrater, Richard P. (eds). John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology.
· Runyon, Theodore. The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today,
· Russel E. Richey, Kenneth E Rowe, Jean Miller Schmidt American Methodism: A Compact History,
· Hard-copies of PowerPoint presentations for each session.
· The summary of the Methodist Church available at http://www.religionresources online.org/religion-wiki/methodist-beliefs/.
Although there will be no written exercises or tests administered, attendees will be requested to review the selected excerpts for the next session prior to attendance. In addition, all attendees will also be asked to conduct independent research on issues of interest to them that emerged during their studies and share these findings with the group at the next session(s).
Planning and Preparation
Six one-hour sessions will require a significant amount of planning and preparation. Although the inviting church has arranged for meeting space, virtually everything else is still needed to ensure a successful outcome for this educational initiative. Of special concern will be the need to keep the material interesting and lively since the curricular offerings run the risk of being perceived as dry as dirt otherwise. Therefore, and as noted above,…
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