Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
March 3rd, 2015 by Joel Watts

Why the #UMC Quadrilateral (Theological Task) does not work

umc logoIn a critique of the 1972 Theological Task ( as found in Doctrine and Theology in The United Methodist Church (Kingswood, 1991)) two authors share something I think is spot on:

Leroy T. Howe:

“Finally, though not indifferentist by intent, in practice the quadrilateral seems to be infinitely permissive. It is difficult to conceive of even a single serious theological proposal which, upon application of the four guidelines, one could exclude unambiguously from consideration as beyond the range of permissible utterance within the Christian community. By arbitrarily defining the degree of force one or another guideline is to have in a particular discussion, one could establish almost any belief as Christian.” (56)

Robert E. Cushman:

“In addition to installing intramural theological pluralism on principle, Part II is correspondingly bent upon the eradication of what it recognizes as ‘classical forms of the confessional principle.’ Perhaps it has won favor because in The United Methodist Church, as doubtless elsewhere, theological ‘indifferentism’ has for long been nurturing a favorable climate.” (74)

HT, Dr. Kevin Watson via Vital Piety.

Let me explain. The quadrilateral is an essential part to the United Methodist experience, but we cannot even agree on what “experience” means. Because of this, you have different sections approaching doctrine differently. Sometimes this is good, helpful, and healthy — with legalists reminded of the practical and the practicers reminded of the holiness and so on — but is it the case still yet? No, I would say not.

As a devil’s advocate, on the other hand… I might suggest the Quad is really trying to prevent the UMC from developing doctrine that is not Christian which would, if it did, lead to the UMC separating from historic/orthodox Christianity. Because the three legs of the Scriptural stool are often interpreted so vastly different, then no new doctrine could be added.

Note Howe’s warning: “…any belief as Christian.” I would amend that to say “orthodox Christian.” Anyway, do you really think the Theological Task works?

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).


4 Responses to “Why the #UMC Quadrilateral (Theological Task) does not work”
  1. Keith Caldwell says

    John Wesley did not use the word Quadrilateral, this term was created by theologians in an attempt to generalize the scriptures. In Wesley’s life scripture was the only book of reference, The “Anglican Book of Prayer and the “Articles or Religion” were summaries of what is found in the bible. Tradition, experience and reason are ways to study the only book, “The Holy Bible”. To fully understand the significance of using these three ways of study one must study paragraph 105 in the 2012 BoD this can be found on line at Cokesbury – The Book of Discipline, 2012 (free edition). In short probably the only books necessary today to study theology would be The Bible, The Anglican Book of Prayer and The UMC Book of Discipline.

    With Christ as Our Shield, Keith

  2. Philip Brooks says

    Joel, you’ve obviously seen my response to recent critiques of the quadrilateral. Be curious to hear your thoughts on it. Thanks.


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