Interpreting the Scriptures

2 Peter 1:19-21

What are the guiding principles by which we interpret the Scriptures? How shall we know that what we believe is true? A sound foundational method is needed, and I contend that our own Wesleyan heritage provides that method for us with what is termed the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. As the name suggests, it identifies four keys for establishing Christian truth and doctrine: the Bible first, and then the interpretation of the Bible by tradition, reason and experience.

John Wesley held that Scripture has the first and ultimate authority, as the Reformers had taught before him. However, people interpret Scripture from various perspectives, and Wesley believed that the three major perspectives should be tradition, reason and experience.

The tradition of the church is of vital importance in determining theological truth. We need to look not only to our own church history, and not only to Wesleyan history. We must look to the tradition and teaching of the historic, orthodox Church and learn from that tradition.

Reason is also of utmost importance. People are mistaken when they pit experience against reason, as though we can serve God with our hearts but not with our minds. God is the creator of our minds as well as our feelings. He has given us the capacity to reason, and our minds are redeemed at the moment of salvation just as much as any other aspect of us. Full intention of the Scriptures will never be realized without careful study and thoughtful interpretation.

Finally, our experience has a contribution to make. Not the primary contribution. Too often Christian people make experience the chief means by which they interpret the Bible, their touchstone of theology. In experience there is both a danger and glory. The danger is that our experiences and feelings come and go. They can beget all kinds of strange and wonderful thoughts, as well as strange interpretations of biblical texts.

The glory is that God works through our feelings and emotions and accepts them as part of the way we understand Him. He has implanted in us a heart with which to worship, a mouth to praise Him, hands to clap, feet to dance and imagination to create in rejoicing in God our Savior. We rejoice in our experiences when we recognize their place in our lives. However, we recognize that there is no sustaining power in experience without Scripture, tradition and reason.

Roger J. Green, The War Cry

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