So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering and offered it on the rock to the LORD, and He performed wonders while Manoah and his wife looked on. 20 For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground. 21 Now the angel of the LORD did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. 22 So Manoah said to his wife, “We will surely die, for we have seen God.” 23 But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have let us hear things like this at this time.” 24 Then the woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson; and the child grew up and the LORD blessed him. – Judges 13:19-24 (NASB)
I am a big fan of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (WQ). In a nut shell, the WQ says that our faith is formed by a combination of four elements: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience (including experiences of the Holy Spirit). When I have introduced Christians to the concept of the WQ they tend to bristle at the thought of one of those elements being the foundation of their faith; but it is a different element for everyone. Some want to reject tradition, saying that instead we should abandon all tradition and go back to the first century church. Others want to reject experience, saying that our experience is fallible and should not be foundational to our faith. I, personally, have the least comfort with including reason as I have seen damaging theologies emerge from trying to “figure out” God. However, in the end, I believe all four elements are foundational to faith and I believe that our faith is formed be the interplay of all four elements.
The story of Manoah and his wife is a wonderful example of the interplay between the different elements of the WQ. Manoah speaks from scripture a tradition. He knows that Exodus 33:20 taught that those who see God would die. He also knew of the cultural traditions around him that spoke of the dangers of interacting with a deity. The gods of the Ancient Near-East tended to be violent and capricious; a dangerous combination for anyone mortal who may encounter a deity.
Meanwhile, Manoah’s wife, unnamed in the Bible but traditionally known as Hazelelponi (“shade coming upon me”), speaks from reason and experience. He husbands yells, “we will surely die”, and she examines the situation and makes the reasonable deduction that if God had wanted to kill them, God would have done it already. Hazelelponi also has the advantage of past experience; the Angel of the Lord had first appeared to Hazelelponi alone (v3 ff). Hazelelponi had previous experience with the voice of God and so was more easily able to put this new experience into context.
Taking some time to evaluate our beliefs in the light of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral can help us to have a more fully formed faith. It can help us to overcome obstacles to our faith, and assist us as we struggle with doubts and concerns. An attitude of “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” can lead to a brittle faith. I believe that taking the time to understand faith within the context of reason, personal experiences, and the broader faith tradition is hard, but builds a more robust faith.
- Write down the part of the quadrilateral that you struggle with the most (scripture, tradition, reason, or experience). Why is this part of the quadrilateral problematic for you?
- Write out why others might struggle with the other three aspects of the quadrilateral.
- This week, when you encounter someone with a different belief, consider what scriptures, traditions, experiences, or logical reasoning would cause that person to believe in that way.
- How has scripture influenced my faith?
- How has my faith tradition influenced my faith?
- How has reason influenced my faith?
- How have my experiences influenced my faith?