This is how one engages scripture and tradition

Here is N.T. Wright making a brief case (“off the top of my head”—we should be so brilliant!) for the full participation of women in ministry. In our United Methodist Church, the issue of women in ordained ministry has been officially settled since the 1950s. In reality, of course, female pastors often struggle for appointments to the churches with the tallest steeples, and some churches face growing pains when accepting female pastors.

My interest here isn’t primarily in this issue—which is settled, as far as I’m concerned (I am Methodist, after all). My interest is in the way that Wright, a preeminent New Testament scholar and a clergyman in the Church of England, makes the argument—which is to say, the right way. Scripture comes first. He doesn’t throw tradition out. He concedes that churches that emphasize tradition over scripture understandably have a difficult time accepting women in ordained ministry. For the rest of us, however, in the final analysis, the Bible wins. It even defeats 19 centuries or so of church tradition when it needs to because it is our primary authority.

We Methodists have what we call the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” to guide our faith and practice. Albert Outler, a Wesleyan scholar, coined the phrase (I think) in the 1960s, in an attempt to summarize Wesley’s thinking on the subject of authority, if not his actual words. Whether Outler got it right remains in dispute. And it isn’t clear that the Quadrilateral serves us very well. Maybe because we often misunderstand it.

The four components of the Quadrilateral are faith, tradition, reason, and experience. But this is not a four-legged stool with each leg cut to the same dimensions. You probably know from experience that it’s difficult to find one that isn’t a bit wobbly. The Bible remains our primary guide—informed and guided as it must be by tradition, reason, and experience.

When we argue about issues—not that we Methodists ever do 😉 —we ought to argue first from scripture. If you want to convince me that you’re right, please start there.

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