Wesley’s Way: A Comprehensive Hermeneutic

We continue to look at the foundational elements in Wesleyan spirituality.  Today, we turn to Wesley’s hermeneutic—that is, the means by which he interpreted the authenticity and relevance of the spiritual life.

We have come to call it the “Wesleyan quadrilateral,” even though he never used the phrase himself.  It was coined about 40 years ago to capture the comprehensive way in which Wesley approached the Christian life.  As an Anglican priest, Wesley was trained in a trilateral (a term he would have used):  scripture, tradition, and reason.  But as we look at his life and ministry, it is clear that he added experience to the picture.

In upcoming posts we will look at each element of the quadrilateral, but today we only note that Wesley did not believe theology or practice—faith or works–belief or life—were all they could be until all four elements (with scripture being primary) were allowed to shape us.

We have all known people who “pick one” (or maybe even a couple) and try to make it the whole.  Something seems strange.  Something seems to be missing.  But when the Bible, the church’s tradition, our best thought, and our experience of God in Christ are combined, we have a spirituality that is stronger than if we left any one (or more) of the four elements out of the picture.

When we assess the validity of theology and/or the spiritual life which flows from it, we want to be sure that we have asked all four elements to make their contribution.


About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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