Devote, grow, abide, and go are essential elements in our relationship with God through Jesus. But how can we devote ourselves to a God we don’t understand or grow when we’re unsure of how? Abide in what and how if all we have are words thousands of years old without context, sound guidance, or meaningful application? And go where and why?
The truth is that faith, devotion, and staying power are built by hearing, seeing, experiencing, and supernatural guidance. John Wesley understood this and developed a four-pronged approach to understanding the things of God and, I would argue, enjoying spiritual growth. The four parts we call the ‘Wesleyan Quadrilateral’ are Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. I’ll add one more: the supernatural. Let’s unpack each.
Scripture. The Bible is central to our faith. Authoritative information in it should frame our thoughts and actions. Of course, this can only happen when we correctly read it, understand what we’ve read, and apply what we’ve learned. This is where tradition, experience, and reason—all formed by correctly interpreted and applied Scripture—come in.
Tradition. We’re 2,000 years removed from the New Testament authors. Most of us aren’t Jewish, know nothing about the TaNaKh (the writings, the Law, and the prophets Jesus referenced), or read biblical Greek or Hebrew. And most people understand nothing of the original poetry or figures of speech that made the Scriptures so rich and applicable. Our ignorance has often resulted in destructive doctrines and unholy practices. Wesley believed that doctrine must align with orthodox Christian traditions, probably to reduce that risk. In other words, we must consider how the earliest Church understood and experienced biblical texts or concepts.
Experience. Belief about God and Christ without action is useless, fruitless, and fuel for destruction. Faith must be experienced in several ways, including love, justice, mercy, and introducing God’s Kingdom to others. It then becomes an experience for the giver and receiver, the teacher and the learner. One more thing: everything in the Scriptures was born out of experiences. God created and spoke through prophets; someone wrote it down. History and genealogy happened; someone wrote it down. A vision was received or a prayer happened; someone wrote it down. You get the point.
Reason. God gave us a brain to help us make sense of things and rationally defend what we believe. For instance, “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD (Isaiah 1:18). Also, check out 1 Peter 3:15. Don’t divorce logic from faith!
The supernatural. God’s Spirit, given freely to Jesus’ followers, provides wisdom and helps clarify otherwise difficult things.
In summary, the Bible, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, should frame our traditions, experiences, and theological reasoning. These things working together help us understand God’s nature and what He desires and apply what we learn meaningfully. Next, I’ll take you on an exciting journey about our Supernatural God.
Blessings and peace,
Dr. Ron Braley, MDiv, DMin.