Peanuts theology comicEveryone thinks theologically whether a Christian, Pagan, or Atheist and whether the thoughts are conscious or subconscious.  The question is how does one think about God and what influences the direction of those thoughts.  I, of course, will take this topic from the view of a Christian as I believe it to be the only Way to believe, and there will still be plenty of room for divergence of thought down this path.

I was influenced to write on this topic by Alan Knox over at The Assembling of the Church and his new series along the same lines.  To be quite honest I think this article may be more for me than any of my readers as I tend to not believe anyone else is quite the geek that I am, perhaps I will be proven wrong.  As well as Alan I will base my thoughts on John Wesley’s Quadrilateral which states ones view of God is influenced by four points: Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience.  I believe these four quadrants cover all the various influences to ones theological thoughts.  Wesley is quoted as saying “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Scripture [however] is primary, revealing the Word of God ‘so far as it is necessary for our salvation.”[i]
The view of scripture as primary source of divine revelation was one of the largest factors in the protestant reformation.  Sola scriptura was one of their rallying cries which literally means ‘by scripture alone.’ (Information of the five solas can be found here and is quite interesting if you are, like me, a theology geek)  Sola Scriptura is the assertion that the Bible as God’s written word is self-authenticating, clear (perspicuous) to the rational reader, its own interpreter (“Scripture interprets Scripture”), and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine. [ii]  While this sounds like a positive and proper way of determining our theology I would assert that it is hypothetical at best.  Every individual has who has been exposed to the world around them has already began to carry baggage that makes complete objectivity near impossible.  In fact as Alan Knox points out:

Of course, this raises a big question: When we say “Scripture”, to what are we referring? When most Protestants say “Scripture”, they are referring to the 66 books usually called Old Testament and New Testament. However, it seems fairly clear that the word “Scripture” in the Old and New Testaments did not refer to these same books. Thus, in the Scriptures themselves, the word “Scripture” refers to the Pentateuch, the Pentateuch and the Law, the entire Old Testament (Pentateuch, Prophets, and Writings), or the entire Old Testaments and parts of the New Testament. We may infer that the word “Scripture” in the writings themselves can refer to our entire Bible, but we will not find that designation within the pages of the Bible. 

If this is true we assume some tradition in determining what will stand alone as scripture and our only pure revelation.  There were some books that were heavily debated before being accepted as canon; we believe God has formed his Bible through men by faith in God, not in faith in those men.

But this underlying concept is why I use Wesley’s Quadrilateral to guide my faith with my foundation built on prima scriptura which is a doctrine that says canonized scripture is “first” or “above all” sources of divine revelation.[iii]  Scripture must be the ultimate authority when determining doctrine but we must also accept that we interpret scripture through the lens of our tradition, reason and experience.  Scripture can not simply stand alone as our guide whether we realize it or not.

I have been examining my own beliefs, in light of scripture, regularly since I became a Christian and will continue to do so prayerfully until the day I see the Lord.  We must all consider as we read and hear matters pertaining to theology what influences our thoughts so that we can not only understand ourselves but how we see God.


[i] The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church-2004, p. 77

[ii] “Sola scriptura.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 19 Feb 2008, 01:48 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 20 Feb 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sola_scriptura&oldid=192453714>.

[iii] “Prima scriptura.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 6 Feb 2008, 05:29 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 20 Feb 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Prima_scriptura&oldid=189439264>.