What To (un)pack for St. Louis?
For trips along the coast I typically pack my bag with books. Flying means I have to separate the wheat from the chaff and winnow it down to two. My wife is more clever than I as she uses Kindle. For St. Louis I will pack two books: The Book of Discipline and Sylvie Simmons’ I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen.
In preparing for this trip theologically, I have been distracted by many fears. Primarily I fear becoming the prototypical dyspeptic traveler: anticipating bad weather, bad coffee, homophobic theology and longing for Saul’s when I’m supposed to be in prayer. So I have decided to take some solace in the Quadrilateral (Scripture, Tradition, Reason & Experience) simply to center myself. I realize of course that the so-called “orthodox” Methodists who support the Traditional Plan could neatly argue their points from the Quadrilateral. I suggest that we do not poison that well.
"Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi"
It helps to know where our Quadrilateral comes from, which is the Anglican Church and its principle of "Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi" AKA the three stools. They mean in turn: "the way we worship," "what we believe," and “how we will live.” Out of this Richard Hooker is credited with the rubric of Scripture, Reason and Experience. This is the rubric the Anglican Church has historically used to reveal their beliefs and practices. It is known as the via media or middle way.
John Wesley, who did not coin the term Quadrilateral (Albert Outler did that) added experience but it helps to frame what he meant by Experience and what Richard Hooker meant by Reason.
The Very Rev. Canon Robert S. Munday notes in his essay Three-Legged Stool of Anglicanism (with the droll subtitle) A Stool or a Tower-you decide:
That by "experience" Wesley means godly experience... it must be noted that Hooker used the term "Reason" in the 16th-17th century sense of "Right Reason"-the critical application of the mind to a fixed set of data. Neither Hooker nor Wesley used reason or experience in the contemporary sense... the tendency of contemporary theology has been to use both these categories in highly subjective ways.
Munday also mentions Anglican theologian John Macquarrie (a most likable Scot), who adds to Wesley’s addition of Experience, Revelation meaning God’s activity in nature. Macquarrie also suggests adding Culture- as distinct from Tradition. As for Munday, he sees a concern that Reason is a tad wobbly due to modern subjectivity.
I have here at home a Look Magazine from the 1950’s with a photo display of David Niven, showing how he packs a suit. Somehow I too will have to bend, fold but not crease these historic ideas of how to apply “the three stools,” plus what we Methodists have brought to the table. Several items stand out as I pack my bag:
1. Scripture: We do not rely upon Sola Scriptura, scripture alone, that is the whole idea of the Quadrilateral. The use of scripture against homosexuality is a false argument made by the “orthodox” Methodists. See this link if you want to rebut the scriptural arguments against the LGBTQ community and their allies: https://medium.com/@adamnicholasphillips/the-bible-does-not-condemn-homosexuality- seriously-it-doesn-t-13ae949d6619
2. Tradition: Hooker was deeply skeptical about Tradition when forming the via media but Tradition gained traction in the Oxford Movement (1830’s) which argued that not all practices (liturgies) or doctrine need come only from Scripture- example: infant Baptism.
3. Reason: Hooker’s "Right Reason"-the critical application of the mind to a fixed set of
data, is helpful to recall here in our time AKA postmodernism. The key difference and why Munday was concerned about subjectivity, is that postmodernism is skeptical of meta narratives. For the “orthodox” Methodists, that means they have only one narrative. It is a narrative without intersectionality. Intersectionality is both individualistic but also comprises many communities. What is “Right Reason” today? Perhaps it is compassion and justice, tested and strengthened by intersectionality. If you would like to learn more about postmodernism, view this:
4. Experience, as in Wesley’s “godly experience” that Munday highlights for us- John Wesley was a logician but spoke and wrote of emotions of experience, particularly what he meant by conversion. The Special Session will do one thing for sure, it will provide experience. Will we all be participating in that Godly experience?
5. Revelation: I am adding Macquarrie’s voice here, as nature is much on our minds. The Paradise Fire, as if Milton had written the title, reveals how intricate our world is between humanity and nature. We are stewards not just of Earth but each other.
6. Culture: As noted, separate from Tradition, this will be on everyone’s mind at the Special Session. Culture is not a label or stereotype. Just as Revelation deals with abundance and scarcity, Culture concerns the wealth of our imagination and the depth of its expression.
As I pack my bags I do wish I had Richard P. Heitzenrater to help. Most likely he would be practical and say something like “don’t forget some warm socks.” Jonathan Anderson who was a student of Heitzenrater interviewed him about the Quadrilateral. Heitzenrater states:
“And this is a theological methodology. This is the way we approach our individual interpretation. The church does not have a theology. This is for individuals. The church has doctrine. Now doctrine is stated in the twenty-five Articles and the Confession of Faith.”
What we gain from this insight is that the “orthodox” Methodists are moving to a false presumption, at least as far as using the Quadrilateral is concerned, to move forward their agenda. What then is orthodox? Arguably doctrine itself.
A final note on Reason: in case anyone hasn’t noticed, love trumps reason. A place to visit this collision is in Dante’s Inferno, Canto V in his story of Paolo & Francesca. The lovers who love was illicit, were murdered. He meets them through the agency of his guide Virgil. Dante swoons as Francesca tells her story. Dante likens them both to doves who have naturally come together due to their affinity. Unlike the other wind driven and tortured spirits, the identity of the dove that Dante imparts to them, links them to the divine. The subtext in the story then and now, is that Francesca was in an arranged marriage, a political pawn who was using her own agency in a patriarchal world.
“How does one ascertain what is a basic Christian truth or way of looking at things?” asks Jonathan Anderson. Heitzenrater replies after a brief discussion of Buddhism as an informed source for Christianity:
And the quadrilateral is usually thought of in terms of, “These are the criteria for understanding Christian truth.” But then when you start talking about it, you begin raising all these—women’s experience, etc.—all these things are sources. But you can’t take an individual woman’s experience of the Christian life and say that that is a criterion for what is Christian.
Herein I differ with one of my favorite Methodist scholars. I lean to a more postmodern approach. To my mind, Francesca’s story is a criterion for what is Christian. Francesca acted upon what was true, not what was imposed upon her. Love trumps Reason, particularly when it lives outside of Hooker’s "Right Reason"-the critical application of the mind to a fixed set of data. Dante realized there is something much deeper here, that Paolo and Francesca did not conform to the meta narrative of their time. Despite placing them in the Inferno (granting them literary immortality) he described them as doves. My choice is to take the doves with me, as I fly to Saint Louis.
PAOLO & FRANCESCA