by Tyler Lehmann
Asking questions about our faith, I believe, is an essential college experience for Christian students. You’ll never get a better opportunity than college for contemplating what you believe. However, looking critically at the beliefs you grew up with can be an admittedly uncomfortable task.
It helps, I’ve found, to follow a structure when I’m asking theological questions. Without a map to follow, we can end up just running in circles while trying to organize our thoughts.
When I’m considering where I stand on issues of faith, I like exploring them using a method called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Based on John Wesley’s technique for theological refection, this model was articulated in an essay by theologian Albert C. Outler in 1964.
Each side of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a different source we can use to evaluate an issue. My favorite part about the Quadrilateral is that it makes complicated topics easier to digest because it boils them down to four “tests.” To demonstrate, I’ll apply the Quadrilateral to the issue of whether the six days of creation are literal or figurative.
Below are the four sources in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.
God’s written Word serves as the primary source for theological reflection. It is the foundation and centerpiece for the other three sources. Scriptural support is imperative for green-lighting any issue. Without it, the remaining tests are irrelevant. The Quadrilateral is not equilateral—that is, the four sources are not equally weighted.
Creation: Two creation stories exist in the Bible, in Genesis 1:1-2:3 and 2:4-25. The first recounts God creating the universe in six steps, with each step accomplished on one of six days, and then resting on a seventh day. The second version makes no mention of days, nor any other unit of time, for that matter.
It’s tempting as a young person to disregard the teachings of those who came before us. In today’s lightning-fast world, it’s easy to feel out of touch with the beliefs of your parents or grandparents, but don’t forget that traditions don’t just materialize out of thin air. At various points in history, enough people must have agreed these things were pretty good ideas.
Creation: The majority of Christians hold that creation occurred over six literal, 24-hour days. This stems from the traditional Christian beliefs in Biblical literalism and inerrancy.
Though faith and reason may seem at odds, they need each other. Without reason, we cannot understand the essential truths of Scripture. God created us as intelligent beings—the use of reason is a gift from Him. But since reason is not a human invention, it needs assistance from the Holy Spirit. Faith and reason are meant to work together.
Creation: The Bible’s creation narratives seem more concerned with revealing God’s role as creator than presenting certain facts. For the original writer or writers of Genesis, separating creation into days may have simply been an orderly way to organize a story meant to highlight God’s creative role. Because Genesis’ original audience wasn’t focused on scientific accuracy like we are today, the timeframe probably didn’t matter much to them.
Our own lives can illuminate the truths God discloses through Scripture, tradition and reason. Personal experiences are useful for clarifying the answers we learn from these other sources. God has put us in a physical world, and it is through experiencing this world that we can seek to understand the world beyond.
Creation: By studying science throughout my education, I’ve realized how incredibly complex our universe is. Because I have a background in science, I’m even more in awe of God’s creation. With that said, we shouldn’t be making science the enemy. Instead, we should be open to using it as a tool for complementing—not undermining—Scripture.
Here at Cardboard, we’re all about connecting faith and life. With the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, this becomes much more practical. These four guideposts can help us achieve a more comprehensive understanding our God.
Try applying the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to an issue you’re not sure about. Did it help you think about the situation in a new way? Let us know in the comments!