Interpreting the Bible
Understanding the Bible can be difficult sometimes, but in our tradition there is an old standard that we use to help us. Sometimes called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, this standard employs four hermeneutical tools—Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience.
Scripture, of course, isn’t just one of four tools. It stands alone, and the other three help us understand it. Always we must place primary emphasis on the written Word of God and submit to its authority. Thus, we must make sure that all our doctrines are taken directly from the Bible, and we dare not add to or take from this sacred text. We have learned to speak when the Bible speaks, keep silent when the Bible is silent, and shout when the Bible shouts. We live our lives based on the Bible, for like John Wesley himself, we are committed to be people “of one book.”
Using the Tools
But we use the other three tools to understand God and His Word. We use the logical faculties to connect Scripture with Scripture in order to develop our doctrinal positions; we use tradition as a guidebook to learn the Church’s wisdom through the ages to keep us from making blunders along our way (“What is essentially new is essentially false”); and we use Christian experience to test these ideas in the practical world of everyday living.
We must use these tools consistently in all areas of Christian life and belief. But often we fail to do this, and tragic consequences follow. For instance, many Christians begin their study of eschatology— the doctrine of “last things”— from the perspective of the daily newspaper or from their understanding of history rather from the teaching of Holy Scripture.
The End of the World?
Of course, we should study eschatology, for it is given major emphasis in the Bible. But we should study what the Bible says about it and not allow the latest headlines to convince us that everything is about over. I hear this phrase frequently, “I don’t know what is happening in other parts of the world; but in this country where we live, the world no longer announces its End but demonstrates it.” The problem with this kind of thinking is made clear by the source of the above quote. It was penned by Gregory the Great in A.D. 593!
[Quote pulled from: The Day and the Hour by Francis X. Gumerlock]
Is time running out? Yes, of course. Are we seeing the “signs of the end”? That is a very difficult question. The “signs of the end” seem to appear all throughout church history. For instance, there have been a lot of different candidates proposed for Antichrist—from Nero to the current Pope, from Hitler to Mussolini, and from Obama to Palin. These speculations have hindered some people in their witness for the Lord and have even caused them to be antagonistic to certain ethnic groups. We must be sure that our speculations will not hinder us from fulfilling Christ’s call to win the world for Him.
It’s not that we should put down our newspapers but that we should turn to our Bibles for what we teach and believe, using, of course, the hermeneutical tools of reason, tradition, and experience to interpret it. In doing so, we must always remember that Christ has called us to do His work. If time runs out before we are finished, then so be it. But always, as our ministerial students sing at GBS, our battle cry is “Souls for Jesus!”
(This article was originally published in the April 2009 edition of God's Revivalist. See the full issue here: http://www.gbs.edu/Websites/gbsedu/files/Content/5018458/0904_gods_revivalist.pdf