The four disciplines for discernment in the Wesleyan quadrilateral help us to be well rounded in our faith and practice.
Scripture, Tradition, Reason, & Experience
by Bethany Hull Somers
Q: I’ve heard about Wesley’s Quadrilateral. Can you please explain it?
A: As a part of the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition we have a rich heritage of theological grappling with life. It was Wesley’s deep belief that we participate with God in the holy life—we are not mere passive observers.

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a way to define this grappling. Although John Wesley himself never broke down the pursuit of the Christian life into the following four basics, United Methodist scholar, Albert Outler, came up with this simple and profound way of parsing Wesley’s approach to life in Christ.

Wesley’s model had four points: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. The goal is that through the use of these four elements of discernment and discipline, one will be better able to live a holy life.

Scripture. The first point is the Holy Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments. Through the guidance of the story of God as found in our Holy Scriptures we are able to find insight and instruction into life in Christ. From the beginning chaos to the final prayer of Come Lord Jesus, the Bible offers us integral spiritual formation.

Tradition. The second point is tradition that is woven through thousands of years of Church history. By observing faithful followers who have sought to live out Christ’s good news, we can be enlightened to God’s will. We trust the foundation of the forefathers and mothers of the faith and build on their examples.

Reason. The third point of the quadrilateral is reason. Wesley was a serious thinker. He was methodical (which is why he and his friends at Oxford were coined “Methodists”). The reason piece invites us to use the brains that God gave us to discern, think, interpret, weigh out, and explore life in God.

Experience. The final point is experience. Both our personal experiences of hearing God’s voice and stepping out in faith, and our communal experience of living together in Christian community provide us with guides for life in Christ.

The four disciplines for discernment in the Wesleyan quadrilateral help us to be well rounded in our faith and practice. With the story of God and God’s people in the Holy Scriptures, the thousands of years of example and tradition of Church history, the God given reason we have been given to discern, and our individual and communal experiences of faith, we are able to pursue a holy life with purpose and sincerity. May the Holy Spirit be our guide as we seek God in all things.

Bethany Hull Somers is an ordained elder on the Washington Pacific District. She works part time as a chaplain and full time as mother to Nyah.


Holiness Today
, November/December 2011

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