Jesus and the Wesleyan Quadrilateral

You're probably familiar with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Theological reflection is guided by a four-fold combination of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

By and large, conservative Christians lean heavily on tradition whereas progressive Christians lean more heavily on experience. This is one of the reasons I identify more with the progressive Christian camp. When I think about God I heavily weigh human experience, what brings us joy and what causes us to suffer.

I pay attention to theologies and readings of Scripture that cause human pain. Suffering looms large in my theological reflections.

Jesus also used human experience as a hermeneutical and theological tool. In Matthew 12 Jesus enters a synagogue on the Sabbath and finds a man with a withered hand. The way the Pharisees interpreted the Sabbath laws prohibited Jesus from healing the man.

But Jesus disagrees, and he makes an appeal to human experience to argue for a different hermeneutical approach to Sabbath keeping. Jesus doesn't appeal to Scripture or tradition, he asks a question about how something would feel.

"How many of you," Jesus asks, "if a sheep of yours fell into a ditch on the Sabbath, wouldn't pull it out?"

Jesus asks the Pharisees to imaginatively place themselves in this situation, asking them to consult their feelings, experiences and reactions. Jesus expects this appeal to experience to lead to an affirmative answer: They would grab the sheep out of the ditch, even on the Sabbath.

And that appeal to experience--what it would feel like if you were in a similar situation--opens up new biblical and theological horizons.

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