Saturday, July 14, 2012
In seminary we learned to interpret the doctrine using something called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral which looks to four sources: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. The primary source of knowledge here is the Bible, followed by church tradition.
It all sounds quite reasonable, but as I really studied the New Testament what I found was that Jesus and the apostles used a very different criteria: The New Testament perspective is not based on a rigid adherence to Scripture or tradition. It is primarily based on their experience. The disciples had experienced God come among them in Jesus. They had experienced that the messiah had not come as a warrior as they expected from their reading of the Bible, but had instead given his life. They had experienced Jesus rising from the dead. And finally, the early church was now experiencing that salvation had been made available to all people, to gentiles!
All of this, it must be stressed, completely contradicted how they had all read their Bibles up til then, and completely contradicted the religious tradition that had inherited. They did not come to these conclusions because of a new discovery in exegesis, they came to these radically new views through experiencing what the Spirit was doing among them! This caused them to consequently go back and re-read their Bibles again, trying to make sense of what was happening.
Fact: If the apostles had taken the dogmatic approach to reading their Bibles that so many of us have, then they never would have accepted Jesus as messiah, and they never would have preached salvation to gentiles.
Both the idea of a suffering nonviolent messiah and God's mercy towards gentiles simply did not line up with what they had expected from their reading of Scripture. This is not conjecture on my part, it is something they explicitly state (see for example Peter's two exclamations of "Never, Lord!" first in Matthew 16 where he forbids Jesus to go to the cross, and again in Acts 10 where he resists offering salvation to gentiles). However, the apostles stayed open to what God was doing in their midst, even when it expanded their understanding of truth.
If we want to follow in the apostle's footsteps, then we need to move in that same trajectory, rather than tethering ourselves to a supposed "biblical" view that loses step with what the Spirit is doing.