Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
March 20th, 2015 by Joel Watts

out with (your horrible misunderstanding of) Outler

Statue of John Wesley at Wesley's Chapel City ...

Statue of John Wesley at Wesley’s Chapel City Road, London. (January 2006) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Albert C. Outler’s papers are now archived at Perkins. There is a new story on this, and on Outler, that is filled with historical inaccuracies. They note,

He taught at Duke Divinity School, Yale Divinity School and finally at Perkins. He edited a collection of John Wesley’s sermons and formulated the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which holds that Christians should bring to bear Scripture, tradition, reason and experience as they live their faith.

Exactly how true to John Wesley’s theology the Quadrilateral is remains a matter of debate. But it’s part of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, part of the education of United Methodist clergy and a big part of Outler’s legacy.

Read this and this one, as well as mine, on the Quad. See this post by Dr. David Watson as well.

There are more than a few problems with that statement.

  1. The Quad actually gives three ways to interpret Scripture. You have Tradition, Reason, and Experience. (Experience has its own problems with being properly understood.) It is not a square, but a stool. Scripture is supported and understood by three legs.
  2. The Quad is not about “as they live their faith” but about how to understand Scripture and formulate doctrine and ethics. This may be semantics, but there is a difference that needs to be understood.
  3. I think the Quad, properly understood, does well with Wesley’s method-ology.
  4. Outler’s Quad is not what is in the the Book of Discipline, but something that has been added to since the beginning of the UMC. Maybe it once was, but now it is a camel (a horse designed by committee).

I cannot believe those statements appear on the UMC website, showing the amount of intellectual degradation when it comes to understanding, or even attempting to understand Outler’s framework.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).


11 Responses to “out with (your horrible misunderstanding of) Outler”
  1. Philip Brooks says

    Is it wise to separate how one lives out their faith from scriptural interpretation and Christian ethics, especially when Wesley himself held them together so tightly? Even if just for the sake of semantics?

    • Philip, under normal circumstances, no, but we aren’t under normal circumstances. We are in a realm when we can redefine — in a realm where we are told to redefine — words and concepts to fit a progressive meaning.

  2. My understanding may have been faulty, but I thought the Wesleyan quadrilateral was a way of understanding everything, not just scripture, and therefore scripture was one of those methods. is that not correct?

  3. I had to wrestle with this question (briefly) for ordination and I am surprised by how many people do not understand that the Quadrilateral is primarily a method of interpreting scripture through the lenses of tradition, reason, and experience. Also, Joel, I appreciate your use of “model” of atonement rather than “theory”. Dr. Kendall Soulen at Wesley Theological Seminary articulated well the difference.

  4. When I was a young student of Stanley Hauerwas, he said in class one day that certain ecclesial traditions should not be allowed to use certain words because they so abuse them. He said that Episcopalians should not be allowed to use the word Incarnation because what they mean by that word is “God became flesh and said, ‘Hey, this is pretty nice!'” He also said that United Methodist should not be allowed to use the word experience because what they mean when they use the word is, “This is how I feel.”

  5. “Outler’s Quad is not what is in the the Book of Discipline, but something that has been added to since the beginning of the UMC. Maybe it once was, but now it is a camel (a horse designed by committee).”
    Except a camel survives in a caustic environment. A horse dies.

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