This blog entry is exactly that: a quick how-to guide for orthodoxing generously.
First, something needs to said: Christians do not form their theology from Scripture alone (nor have they ever).
Scripture is always in conversation with…something else. Sometimes it is one something. Sometimes it’s many somethings. But it is never just Scripture alone.
There are many lists available about what these somethings are. Everyone seems to have their own preferences, and they go by many names: Anglican Triad (Scripture, Tradition, Reason), Wesleyan Quadrilateral (Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience), etc.
For our purposes here, I’m going to use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral plus one additional element (borrowed from Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson. I will provide a link to their book at the end of this blog). Because all Christian traditions use Scripture to form their theology, I’ll will forgo any commentary about it for the time being.
There are some segments of the church that rely on their traditions almost as much (maybe as much) as Scripture. This is because Scripture is seen as part of the entire tradition, not separate from it; therefore, the entire tradition, Scripture included, is sacred. We need to remember that when the church began, their Bible was simply the Hebrew texts. It took a little while for the New Testament to be written, so what they had was a tradition that was passed on out of which Scripture emerged (for instance, Philippians 2:6-11 and 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 were traditions from the early church that Paul incorporated into his writings). Some traditions may be less helpful than others, but those from more traditional backgrounds can help us ground our faith in its roots.
By reason, I want to include three things: philosophy, science, and our everyday ability to put two and two together. Reason is a powerful gift from God. It is not incorruptible, but at the same time, one cannot pretend like the tools of reason and science have no bearing on one’s belief structure. There are some things about Christian beliefs that can’t be reduced to a mathematical proof, but there are other parts (*cough*, ideas about creation, *cough*) where we can’t pretend like God would like to us through the reason and evidence available. Who knows? Maybe a dialogue with modern science could lead to a richer theology.
I, personally, come from a particular faith tradition that emphasizes spiritual experiences and emotions. Traditions that emphasize emotional experiences have their downfalls. It can be hard to tell (or maybe easy) when someone is faking a religious experience. Some people get so caught up in the emotional side of faith that that’s all they seek, which causes them to ignore the ways that God is working in their everyday, normal lives. But I am still very thankful for this aspect of faith. Traditions that emphasize personal, religious experiences remind us that God may indeed exist outside of our own opinions and theological systems. Like Job, perhaps we will come to a place where we say, “My ears had heard about you, but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5, CEB).
I promised I would add one more piece to the Quadrilateral, and that piece is contemporary culture. All of Christian theology has been shaped by the surrounding culture. God accommodates himself to culture (read I Samuel 8:7 or Matthew 19:7-8 sometime!) and reveals himself in and through culture. He revealed himself in and through an ancient Semitic people (Israel) who looked and acted in and many ways like their neighbors, and Jesus was born as a man in a first century Jewish world. The Christians who formulated the ancient creeds relied on the Greek philosophy of their surrounding culture to make their claims. Scripture was shaped by its surrounding cultures. Tradition is shaped by culture. Reason is shaped by culture. Experience is shaped by culture.
Having a generous orthodoxy requires recognizing the realities of how our theology is formed. We all have our preferred conversation partners (whether tradition, reason, etc.), and none of us reads the Scriptures without these.
For more information on any of the topics I've mentioned, you can go here to find an article on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.
For a recommended book that discusses the nature of how theology is formed and how culture plays into that, go here.
For a book on the importance of tradition in the formation of theology, go here.
For those who want to dive into some heavy reading, there is an alternative view to theological formation here.
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