Trent

Scripture and Truth

In False Dichotomies - the lines between on April 14, 2015 at 6:20 pm

Wesleyan QuadDoes scripture have the final say in truth?

I had never heard of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral until it came up in a few sermons. And the way it was applied concerned me a little and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Although, John Wesley never spoke of a quadrilateral, his writings apparently indicate that he drew his theological and doctrinal conclusions from four sources–tradition, experience, reason, and scripture.

I like abstract constructs like the Wesleyan Quadrilateral; it is a useful tool for us to understand that we derive our theological opinions, both individually and collectively, from many sources. We see disagreements in the church where the participants believe that their position is true because it is derived from scripture alone; it is, therefore, the only legitimate position. This allows them to dismiss or even demonize their brothers and sisters in the Lord who hold to a different interpretation.

The problem in these conflicts is we aren’t aware of the other influences that shape our understanding of scripture. This is particularly true of Protestants, for the Catholics already admit, not only the influence but the authority of tradition.

Initially, I struggled with the way the Wesleyan Quadrilateral was applied in the sermons where I first learned of it.  Let me paraphrase what I think was said from the pulpit:

Theological truths are derived from tradition, experience, reason and scripture, but the greatest of these is scripture.

In one sense, this is appropriate because of the four, scripture alone is inspired by God. But my concern is that in claiming scriptural supremacy, one is suggesting that we know what scripture says and that our understanding of what it says has not been influenced by tradition and reason. This is simply not the case; we must be aware that each of the elements is influenced by the other three. It would be nice if scripture stood alone and could be brought in as the final word, but scripture is mediated by the other components. Rationalists incorrectly believe that reason is un-influenced by the others, but they too are mistaken.

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a useful tool for us to begin to understand that our theological ideas come from different sources, but this tool must be understood as an over-simplification of very complex issues.

So what then is the proper attitude for arriving at doctrinal or theological truth (or any truth, for that matter)?

Luigi Giussani applies this moral rule:

Love the truth of an object more than your attachment to the opinions you have already formed about it. More concisely, once could say, “love the truth more than yourself” (31).

The Wesleyan triangle is useful here. By acknowledging that our theological positions come from a complex blend of tradition, experience, reason and scripture we can begin to understand our attachment to  preconceptions and prejudices. We can’t simply pretend these attachments aren’t there, but we can take of a position of detachment relative to them–really, it is a detachment from ourselves before the truth.

Giussani suggests that this imperative is articulated in Matthew 5:3 when Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The poor are those “who have nothing to defend, who are detached from those things that they seem to possess, so that their lives are not dedicated to affirming their own possession” (32).

This ethical imperative places the self under the truth–it comes down to loving the truth more than you love yourself. Before we’ve detached ourselves from our preconceptions, we will use scripture to defend ourselves.  Scripture takes up a position with us, often in opposition to the truth.  But if we have done the very hard work of separating our selves from the truth, scripture takes up a new position, not in the defense of self, but in the articulation of truth.

Now those are some good lyrics . . .

In Books, Movies and Television on April 12, 2015 at 6:12 pm

Praise 1I’m a big fan of Josh Garrels and his latest album, Home, was just released.  (He’s giving it away! Click here to download. [Don’t forget to give a tip.])

I often lament that the lyrics of so many of the songs Christians sing are artless.

Not so with Josh Garrels.

Here are a few fragments of Josh’s lyrics from this new album.  This artful poetry combined with his incredible talent as a musician (and his unique voice) make Josh Garrels my favourite singer songwriter, Christian or otherwise.

From “Born Again”:

Instincts are guiding me

Like a beast to some blood

And I can’t get enough

From “Born Again”

Running scared in between what I hate

And what I need

Savior and enemy are both trying

To take my soul

From “Colors”

So let all the creatures sing

Praises over everything

Colors are meant to bring

Glory to the light

From “A Long Way”

There’s a time in our lives

To return, sacrifice

Wild grass has grown high

On the path between our lives

From “The Arrow”

How on earth did it all go down like this? I’ve got no words to make sense of it My shield, my fight for righteousness Could not protect me from myself

From “At the Table”

‘Cause I lost some nameless things

My innocence flew away from me

She had to hide her face from my desire

To embrace forbidden fire

But at night I dream

She’s singing over me

Oh, oh, my child

From “Benediction”

As the days unfold

Hold your breath to see

Life is a mystery

And joy, it is severe

When the way is rough and steep

But love will make your days complete

It’s Easy to be “Good” in Suburbia

In Devotional on April 8, 2015 at 6:28 pm

Good FridaySometimes I have a hard time understanding the extent of my sinfulness and, correspondingly, my need for Grace.

I’m a pretty good guy. I’ve mostly obeyed the 10 commandments; I often give money to people who need it, and I go to church every week. When I sit in the pew on Good Friday, I know that Jesus died for me, but it’s sometimes hard for me to avoid the thought that he died a little less for me than he did for the guy sitting three rows back.

Also to my credit, I confess to the sin of pride with some regularity.

This past Good Friday I became aware that I was as much in need of God’s grace as anyone. This epiphany probably came by way of the Holy Spirit, but also the questions evoked through a film and a book.

When I walked out of the theatre after watching Selma, I was left with the question, “Would I have participated in the march to secure equal voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.” I’d like to think I would, but I don’t really know. After I read a biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I was left with the question, “Would I have resisted the Nazi campaign against the Jews, like Bonhoeffer, or turned a blind eye as so many Christians did?” I’m not really sure I would have chosen the road of justice.

I am currently aware of situations where good people are eagerly wallowing in wounded pride rather than seeking reconciliation. My immediate reaction to this is self-righteousness–a self-righteousness rooted in the fact that right this minute I am not doing the same thing. Under the same circumstances, my sin might be the greater. God knows, and he doesn’t judge by what I’ve done or not done, but by the condition of my heart.

By focusing rather on the condition of my heart, rather than on what I have done or not done, has helped me to more fully appreciate my need for the Grace that was given on the cross–the Grace that is enough to cover the sins of the worst racists as well as the most self-righteous.