the weblog of Alan Knox

Theological Sources – Introduction

Posted by on Feb 17, 2008 in discipleship | 7 comments

In this series, I want to discuss the various sources that inform our theology – that is, our understanding of God. For an outline, I will use John Wesley’s Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. I realize that this is not new information for many of my readers. However, perhaps we can all help ourselves think about this important topic.

Everyone thinks theologically. Whether a person believes in one god, multiple gods, or no gods, they think theologically. This series of posts is intended to help all of us think theologically. Specifically, I hope we are able to think about the sources of our understanding of God.

Wesley (and others) suggested that people generally develop their understanding of God through four sources: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. According to Wesley, Scripture must be our primary source. In fact, he said that Scripture is our only true source, while Tradition, Reason, and Experience work to help us understand Scripture.

In this series, I’ll comment briefly about how each “source” is related to theology in general, I will primarily focus on Christian theology. Of course, focussing on sources for Christian theology does not mean that this will be a simple task. Unfortunately, there is no single understanding among Christian concerning how to develop a theology. Different followers of Jesus – different “Orthodox” followers of Jesus – think differently about God.

While it would be simple and perhaps expedient to suggest that my way of thinking about God is right, and all other ways are wrong, it would also be prideful and arrogant, and it would say more about ourselves than about God himself. Therefore, I think it would be beneficial for all of us to think seriously about our understanding of God, and specifically why we understand God the way that we do.

By the way, these theological sources affect more than our theology proper – that is, our thinking about God. These sources affect our thinking about salvation, mankind, sin, even the church. In fact, it is common for Christians to use the sources in different ways and in different proportions for different aspects of their theology. Perhaps we will be able to discuss some of these differences as well.

I hope that more people than myself are interested in this topic. I’m hoping for a great discussion in the comment concerning each theological “source”. This is one area in particular where I think we can learn from one another.

Here are a few questions to help all of us think about these various theological sources and to kick-off our discussion:

1) Do you think that Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience inform our theology? Are there other theological sources besides these four?

2) Do you think theological sources work independently of one another, or do you think there is interaction between the different sources?

3) What happens when different people place different emphases on different theological sources?

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Theological Sources Series:
1. Introduction
2. Scripture
3. Tradition
4. Reason
5. Experience
6. Conclusion


7 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 2-17-2008

    Great! I’m interested and looking forward to it! I have a lot to learn about this. But I want to be more aware of my theological worldview.

    1) Yes and not sure.
    2) Interaction.
    3) I think there can be a risk of idolizing one source whether it be any one of those four. By idolizing, I mean worshipping the source, rather than God Himself (or more than God Himself). People can worship tradition, people can worship experience, and people can even worship scripture.

  2. 2-17-2008

    Many people of the conservative type (like myself) would be tempted to shy away from any theological source save Scripture. But, the reality is that all of those things–Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience–affect our theology, whether we like it or not. It’s better to realize it, and I don’t think it’s necessarily something we have to overcome, but something we need to be aware of. The only additional “sources” I can think of would probably fall under one of the existing categories–influence of other theologians, cultural pressure and such. Like I said, those probably fall under tradition and experience. Sounds like it will be an interesting series.

  3. 2-18-2008

    I’m excited at the introduction of this topic and look forward to reading, thinking and interacting.

    1. the four listed are comprehensive in the forming of our theology

    2. they do interact

    3. it would always be hoped that credence is given most to Scripture than any other source, and when it is not, a distorted and perhaps even dangerous theology would be the result

    If I were to label these in order of importance Scripture would be first, experience next (our experience of God), reason after that and then tradition. I’m especially intrigued by Wesley’s idea of Tradition as a lens and the balancing and testing of it by Reason & Experience. My mind is chewing on that one. Maybe my definition of “tradition” is my hang up.

    I do enjoy your blog.

  4. 2-18-2008

    Interesting post, Alan. You said:
    “Everyone thinks theologically. Whether a person believes in one god, multiple gods, or no gods, they think theologically.”
    You also said: “these theological sources affect more than our theology proper – that is, our thinking about God. These sources affect our thinking about salvation, mankind, sin, even the church.”
    We often overlook people’s theological underpinings, both inside the church and outside of it, when we try to understand their actions and beliefs.
    1. Wesley was right, I think, about the four sources of our understanding of God. In our age of information, sometimes we tend to rely on other people as a source of spiritual information… Then our theology is influenced by their view of Scripture, their logic, or their experience. We tend to be a culture easily satisfied by shortcuts, summaries and vicarious “experience”.
    2. All of our sources are somewhat interactive, but we are also “buffet” oriented people, who tend to pick and choose. I believe that Scripture should be central, while reason and experience help us understand Scripture and internalize it. Tradition should be more of a way to express our understanding of God in a more tangible form. Too often, tradition and experience seem to trump Scripture itself. All dessert, and not much entree.
    3. When people choose to place the emphasis on different sources, the result is often schism…disagreement between brothers, church splits, even the formation of different denominations (or “un” denominations).
    BTW–it would be interesting to see how people’s theology (and its sources) forms their thinking in terms of social and political issues facing our country and in terms of the solutions they propose. Theology isn’t just theory.

  5. 2-18-2008

    Sarah,

    Thanks for the encouragement and the comment. I think this is going to be a very interesting discussion.

    Alan Reynolds,

    I agree. Even for those who claim sola scriptura or others who claim no tradition, there are many sources for their theology. I think it is beneficial to recognize how the various sources affect our theology.

    Kerri,

    Thanks for the comment and the kind words. I’m looking forward to this discussion as well. I’m not going to go into Wesley’s understanding of the sources. Instead, I’m using his four sources as a starting point for this discussion. But, if you read something that Wesley said and want to bring it into the discussion, please do.

    Kat,

    You said: “We often overlook people’s theological underpinings, both inside the church and outside of it, when we try to understand their actions and beliefs”. Thinking about these various sources has helped me understanding different theological positions. My goal for this discussion is to help others recognize the sources of their own theology and how those sources work to inform the theology of other people.

    -Alan

  6. 2-20-2008

    Well, this may be the first of your series I read. I look forward to it.

  7. 2-20-2008

    Jason,

    Welcome to my blog. I hope you decide to take part in this discussion.

    -Alan

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  2. Theological Sources | The Assembling of the Church - [...] based loosely on “Wesley’s Quadrilateral.” There were six posts in the series: Introduction, Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience, and Conclusion. …