Ordination Questions: The Quadrilateral

4.) The United Methodist Church holds that Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason are sources and norms for belief and practice but that the Bible is primary among them. What is your understanding of this theological position of the Church?

In a recent book by Bishop William H. Willimon, we find the following statement, “Scripture is clearly – in Wesleyanism and in us – primary.”[1] At the same time, Willimon describes the quadrilateral itself as our primary pattern of thought and a means of interpretation, “[the quadrilateral] enables us to play some essentials of Christian thought in concert with one another.”[2]  In other words, although Scripture is our primary, “source and criterion” for theological reflection and mission in our world, we never approach it alone.  Instead, we approach Scripture together with the entire household of faith (tradition), as believers and participants in the Body of Christ (experience), who hold its truths so valuable that we submit them to the most rigorous of inquiries (reason).  Even though Scripture is our primary source and criterion, we are not fundamentalist in the way we seek to interact with it.  Anglican Bishop Tom Wright could be describing a United Methodist view of Scripture when he writes, “The Bible is there to enable God’s people to be equipped to do God’s work in God’s world, not to give them an excuse to sit back smugly, knowing they possess all God’s truth.”[3]  Above all else, United Methodist Christians believe that Scripture issues a call both to belief and action in our world.  Arguments over the exact nature of Scripture’s power are far less important to us than living out God’s will in our world while holding a rich conversation with the witness of the scriptural narrative. 

In the local Church, I have found that this approach is greatly valued.  People who have experienced being confronted in unhealthy ways with Scripture are able to fall in love with God’s Word once again when they realize they can ask difficult questions and wrestle with Scripture without being afraid they will come up empty or with handfuls of easy answers.  I believe we need to continue to emphasize the dynamic interplay between scripture, tradition, experience, and reason as a key component of our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.


[1] Willimon, William H. United Methodist Beliefs: A Brief Introduction.  (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox

    Press, 2007) p. 66

[2] ibid, p. 117

[3] Wright, N.T., Simply Christian (New York: Harper Collins, 2006), p. 184.

3 thoughts on “Ordination Questions: The Quadrilateral

  1. Haha! Thanks John.

    I’ve only got eleven out of twenty remaining (I’ve completed more than I’ve posted). These represent me nearing the end of a loooong journey toward ordination.

  2. You have to remember the old Tom Slick cartoon from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show to get my next line:


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