In Part I, I mentioned the 4 elements of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Now I shall explain how each part works and what sort of information you can draw out to make a good theological conclusion. I will include an example of a paper I wrote on the doctrine of “Original Sin”. However, I will not critique on the doctrine but the methods involved. That’s a separate (and big) topic by itself.
The best way to go about this is what I call the “Information dump.” Dump everything out on paper then sort out the mess later.
The first and main aspect to any topic is: What does the Bible say about it? Does it say anything at all? Do a word search or concordance to find and list all verses that speak about your topic. Don’t be biased and choose the verses that support your pre-existing beliefs. Choose all of it. However, verses are parts of paragraphs and must be taken together or else the meaning of verses can be misinterpreted.
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12)
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Ps. 51:5)
The second aspect is asking: What did the early church fathers (Augustine, Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian etc.) have to say about the issue? Or John Calvin? Or John Wesley? The more sources the better. Write them down. The views of church fathers and leaders over the centuries are important for our understanding of a topic. What the church believes today is a result of the thinking of earlier Christians. We cannot come to a conclusion in a vacuum. Look what the earlier Christians taught and believed as an example how they interpreted a certain Scripture passage.
“Indeed, through the first Adam, we offended God by not observing His command. Through the second Adam, however, we are reconciled, and are made obedient even unto death. For we were debtors to none other except to Him, whose commandment we transgressed at the beginning.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies)
“On account of his transgression Man was given over to death; and the whole human race, which was infected by his seed, was made the transmitter of condemnation.” (Tertullian, On the Soul)
The third aspect is asking questions of reason and logic. If XYZ about this topic is true, then ABC is true. This takes some time to figure out and might be the hardest part.
“If man is born good, why do all fall into sin?”
“If man can be sinless, Jesus would have died in vain.”
The last aspect is asking: What do I see in my daily life? What can I learn about the issue in the light of human experience? I think this is one of the most subjective aspects and must proceed with caution. As fallen human beings, our lens through which we interpret the world is clouded by sin and corruption. We can’t see thiings as they really are.
“Babies naturally sin without being taught.”
“The world is filled with more evil than good.”
I think this exercise is extremely helpful to explore different areas of a topic. However, all elements must be subject to Scripture as the highest authority. People have used the Quadrilateral to condone sinful LGBT relationships because they didn’t put Scripture above all else. Let me stress this again:
If Scripture is clear on a certain point, no other elements are needed.
As killing, stealing and homosexuality are clearly prohibited by God, we don’t need to look any further for counter-arguments. If we distort the truth, we would be twisting God’s Word to say what we want it to say.