The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a A Tool To Understanding The Christian Faith

Among Methodists the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, provides a useful tool for understanding the Christian faith. Derived from John Wesley’s theological approach, the Quadrilateral refers to Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. For Wesley scripture was the primary source, but the Christian tradition, reason, and experience added depth of discernment.

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

“[John Wesley] demonstrated a holistic understanding of the Christian faith that superseded his particular skills a bibilical exegete or sytematic theologian.”

Wesley “appealed to tradition, reason, and experience as complementary sources of religious authority. These sources, together with the primary religious authority of Scripture, contributed to an approach to theology that continues to provide insight for Christians today.”

-Donald A.D. Thorsen

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral” by Donald A.D. Thorsen (©1997, Light and Life Communications).

We see the scriptures and the personal experiences. These personal experiences can also be conceived to encompass the tradition, i.e., the experiences and thinking of the church “fathers” as well as the experiences of all sorts of people from peasant to pope who have been possessed of the Holy Spirit, e.g., the life and experience of Francis of Assisi as well as Thomas Aquinas, etc., etc.

The fourth side, and which might even be considered as the foundation, is reason or rationality itself, and not only as the source of experience and science in general, but also and more specifically as the formal repository of the voice of God as expressed in the conscience, and whereby we are kept from falling into sheer subjectivism. I am speaking of the moral law of God which so amazed Immanuel Kant, i.e., “the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me!”

And so now we can grasp the elements of Wesley’s quadrilateral altogether now as a unity: scripture, tradition, reason and experience, all working together reciprocally to fashion the “Christ in me” such that I too can speak authoritatively with regard to right and wrong and good and evil, and of the power of God, for the same spirit that moves me, moved the bible writers and the line of Christians from Christ to myself, and all under a rubric of rationality and sense.


Next blog post: Scripture Accounts of How God Has Been Heard to Speak     

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral