Below is a copy of the paper I presented at the 2018 Society of Vineyard Scholars’ annual meeting at Asbury Theological Seminary. In what follows, I attempt to explore the relationship of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral with our Vineyard DNA, building on Thomas Lyons’ previous SVS 2013 paper. After establishing this interface, I suggest a number of ways in which this valuable method of theological reflection can be cultivated and maintained within the context of of the lived-out and practical ministry of the local church, especially related to community discipleship (or you can download a PDF).

Introduction

Theological method is largely a concern for scholars, as one’s methodology can significantly shape one’s conclusions. Thus, many theologians spend significant time clarifying their methodology in their prolegomenon in order to persuade readers. Theological method provides helpful answers to important questions such as the following:

  • What forms the foundation of the task of engaging in theology?
  • What type of theological framework is being employed?[1]
  • What are the sources of theology?[2]

These important methodological questions serve scholars to clarify their epistemological assumptions and biblical-theological approach. Are they writing theology from an interdisciplinary perspective,[3] utilizing resources from both the theological world as well as the social sciences and humanities, or simply concerned with restating what previous theologians have previously argued for the past five hundred years?[4] Research methodology is crucial to the theological task and the use of effective methods helps scholars avoid pitfalls in the same way that being aware of exegetical fallacies[5] helps biblical scholars effectively engage Scripture. Stated plainly, methodology matters. As Paul Allen states, “If one’s theological method is consciously chosen, then the scope and precision of the theological claims being made are bound to be clearer.”[6]

As I have considered these issues in relation to my academic work, I have recently found myself beginning to ask questions about theological method in relation to my ecclesial work.[7] As a Vineyard pastor, what role does theological method play in the local church? Should Vineyard leaders spend more time reflecting on methodology given that intentionality makes a difference in relation to discipleship? In the same way that I have asked what kind of disciples the Vineyard should be developing, I have begun to ask what type of theologians the Vineyard should be developing, for there is an important relationship between discipleship and theology.[8] If Christian discipleship is “all about a relationship with Jesus… about becoming ever more conformed to the image of Jesus… a lifelong process that involves opening ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit,”[9] surely this would include the task of theology! As Moltmann has aptly stated, “Theology is the business of all God’s people… All Christians who believe and who think about what they believe are theologians, whether they are young or old, women or men.”[10] Or as John Wimber would say, “Everyone gets to play.”[11] Perhaps we should supplement that Vineyard distinctive with the idea that everyone gets to do theology, is doing theology, and should do theology!

Without a robust theological method, how are we to expect people in Vineyard churches to make ethical decisions or participate in the process of spiritual discernment? Do we simply recommend books to members of our churches, and if so, which books and why? Are Vineyard pastors supposed to make all of these decisions themselves, meeting throughout the week with people in order to inform them of the latest judgement? Obviously our ecclesial value of “everyone gets to play” undermines this pastor-centric approach.[12] It would appear that intentionality in relation to theological method within local Vineyard churches would appear to serve us well.

Vineyard Challenges.

Having spent time in the Vineyard for most of my life, from a child to adulthood, I recognize several challenges toward infusing a value for theology within the Vineyard discipleship matrix.[13] First, there is a strand of anti-intellectualism[14] within the larger movement[15] that tends to influence why biblical and theological scholarship is either undervalued or marginalized, which proves to be quite challenging toward our ecclesiological development.[16] While I am sympathetic to emphasize “doing the stuff,” keeping theology connected to praxis, I find it alarming that many people in the Vineyard fail to see the symbiotic connection between “good theology” and “good practices.”

Second, far too many scholars have written theology with little or no concern for the average Christian[17] and far too many pastors have used that respective scholarship to establish their own intellectual sophistication with less concern with resourcing the congregation. This has caused many in the Vineyard to view theology and the corresponding task and methods of theology as mysterious, suspicious, and/or incomprehensible.

Third, and this is purely observational, the pendulum appears to have swung in the past five years from an emphasis on theological reflection and the life of the mind to more focus on mission and praxis with many people unable to approach these subjects as “both/and” versus “either/or,” considering this a shift versus a season.[18]

Given these unique Vineyard challenges, where are we to go in order to thicken theological method within the context of the local church? What resources might serve Vineyard pastors, leaders, and church members to become more aware of the process of theology as discipleship and how might those resources serve to strengthen the Vineyard?

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

At the 2013 Society of Vineyard Scholars’ annual meeting, Thomas Lyons convincingly presented a paper contending that John Wimber “looked to Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience as essential authorities for believers in both life and ministry.”[19] These four theological influences are known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral,[20] “a paradigm, or model, of how Wesley conceived of the task of theology” and “represents a modern attempt to summarize the fourfold set of guidelines.”[21] Wesley, and later Wimber, approached and developed theology with the influence of these four sources and all discipleship related topics were discerned by a process that included each guide.

If the Wesleyan Quadrilateral has been a helpful resource for Wesleyans, was influential in the life and ministry of Wimber, and appears to function in the theological method of two of the Vineyard’s most influential theologians, Don Williams[22] and Derek Morphew,[23] respectively, might it be time for Vineyard leaders to intentionally work toward embedding such theological methods into the life of the local church? What if Vineyard pastors considered it a measure of success for church members to understand how to discern and process in the midst of decision making and understood the role of the four primary sources, namely Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. This methodological model would strengthen our discipleship process and produce better theology from better theologians, crucial to what I have previously suggested in a previous SVS paper toward “traditioning” in the Vineyard?[24] We have much to gain from learning and engaging with our Wesleyan friends.[25] In what follows, I want to make several suggestions about “quadrilateraling” in the Vineyard.

 (1) Scripture.[26]

In order to follow the guidance of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, we must acknowledge the primacy of Scripture, the infallible source of God’s self-revelation.[27] For both Wesley and Wimber, Scripture was “a source of religious authority unlike and superior to any other.”[28] Scripture must be understood as a functional source of authority unlike and superior to all other
sources of authority, as illustrated by the following diagram:[29]

Vineyard leaders must demonstrate the functional authority of Scripture from top to bottom,[30] as Scripture offers “the unique access to the story of redemption and then, in turn, funds tradition, reason and experience, as God’s Word is remembered, experienced, and thought about.”[31] Furthermore, followers of Jesus in Vineyard churches need to understand the difference between acknowledging the authority of Scripture (assensus) and faithfully applying Scripture to all areas of life (fiducia). As St. James states, we must be doers of the Word, not just listeners (James 1:22-25).

In order to develop theological thinkers in our churches, we must also help people understand that there is a vast difference between the authority of Scripture and the authority of someone’s interpretation of Scripture.[32] For example, we need not fear the Complementarian suggestion that the only “biblical” or “orthodox” view on Women in Ministry is theirs![33] Moreover, a theological understanding of Scripture, friendly to the Charismatic Tradition,[34] will be informed by the differences between the Bible being referred to as the “Word of God” and Karl Barth’s emphasis on Scripture containing the “Word of God,” not to mention the helpful way in which the Incarnation serves us in understand the nature of the Bible.[35] As Scripture was written by women and men who were inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21), Christian discipleship must be shaped by a sense of awe, mystery, and devotion to the stories and teachings found within the Bible and we do no justice to Sacred Scripture if we ignore its complexity and ability to perplex. Scripture is neither tame or controlled revelation!

Thankfully we ground Vineyard theology, values, and our distinctives in a commitment to the functional authority of Scripture and have historically sought to “do” what we see in Scripture and the Holy Spirit has and continues to speak to the Vineyard through the Bible in a way that is both challenging, empowering, and transformative.[36]

(2) Tradition.

Building capacity toward a value for tradition in a movement that has historically self-identified as non-traditional[37] has significant challenges, to speak candidly. While the Vineyard movement is relatively new in comparison to other theological traditions and only recently beginning to face ecclesial adulthood,[38] I believe that the movement’s challenges may have more to do with a lack of historical awareness and robust theological training within our churches.[39]

Yet the value of tradition cannot be understated. As Wesley noted, “church tradition plays a vital role in both the interpretation of Scripture and in the development of central motifs of religious belief.”[40] Moreover, the Holy Spirit has been active throughout church history and his work can be found within the Patristics all the way through the Reformation and beyond. To acknowledge such does not require a softening of biblical-theological conviction but a humility that seeks to learn from others. The similarity between Wesley’s ecumenical nature and Wimber “The Ecumenist”[41] is striking. Wesley “allowed a great deal of theological flexibility and chose not to quibble over diverse opinions on nonessential aspects of the Christian faith.”[42] Wimber consistently stated that he loved “the whole church” because “he was a grassroots ecumenist.”[43]

As the Vineyard follows and implements the Wesleyan approach concerning tradition, our churches will strengthen the spiritual discipline of discernment, learn from other traditions, and have a theological foundation for why we seek to partner with other traditions in the work of God’s kingdom.[44] Or do we really want to encourage our churches to embrace the idea that the Holy Spirit has only been at work in the past forty years? Have we really nothing to learn from other traditions, church history, and the development of theology throughout the course of history? Of course not! Therefore, it is imperative for Vineyard leaders to demonstrate by way of teaching and placing value on learning from the Church’s past and from other traditions.[45]

(3) Reason.

While space does not permit an exegetical summary of the role of conscious throughout Scripture, I believe that one can find compelling support toward its relationship with human reason,[46] especially in the theology of St. Paul.[47] Yet discussing the authority of reason in an American Vineyard context is challenging because many people are simply less inclined to understand logic, critical thinking, and the fact that there are consequences to ideas.[48] Yet Wesley stated “to renounce reason is to renounce religion.”[49] As I have considered the challenges facing American Vineyard churches, I am convinced that an important way forward must include Vineyard leaders themselves valuing theology and working hard to compel people to understand that loving God is done by all of our being, including our thinking.[50] As Bloesch notes, reason is “any human cognitive faculty or capability” and should “include mystical intuition as well as philosophical insight and intellectual comprehension,”[51] indicating that there is a relationship between human reason and faith experiences.[52]

Wesley considered human reason essential to human capabilities, leading Wesleyans to conclude that “reason is a unique gift from God, and God graciously continues to permit reason to function in significant ways even though sin reigns in the moral character of people.”[53] The fact that reason is tainted by sin is precisely why it is placed under the authority of Scripture; the reality that God redeems human reason is precisely why it must be included in our theological method.

(4) Experience.

Experience within the Vineyard is like the pre-tribulational rapture for Dispensationalists – you cannot have one without the other! In most Vineyard churches, little is needed to encourage awareness of the usefulness of our religious experiences in the task of theological method. Quite frankly, experience “sells” in the Vineyard. What we need more of in the Vineyard’s focus on experience is a desire to discern religious experiences and the capacity to explore how God’s presence is experienced apart from “goosebumps and chills.”[54] How are we to understand our lack of tangible experiences? How is God present in the midst of suffering? What does it mean to suggest that God’s kingdom may not be “breaking in” and how are we to understand that type of experience?

The Vineyard’s theological framework is grounded in what Gary Tyra describes as “pneumatological realism”[55] and must include both a hunger and expectation for more of “the Spirit in ways that are phenomenal in nature.”[56] We must also have a more nuanced understanding of human experiences as they relate to the work of God in people’s lives. It is pastorally cruel and theologically deficient to suggest that if people do not have the same experiences as others, there is something wrong with them and they are not loved by God as much as others who have experienced “manifestations.” These are just a few of the practical ramification to an simplistic understanding of experience, one that I have personally heard in numerous Vineyard settings.

Conclusion

Much more can be said related to why the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is the best resource for the Vineyard and how Vineyard leaders can infuse it into the culture of the churches they serve. I simply hope that other Vineyard church leaders will explore the topic, engage in its application, and continue the theological trajectory of Wesley in today’s community shaped by the practices of Wimber. May the Spirit empower more “quadrilateraling” in the Vineyard as we seek to speak the words and continue the works of Jesus.

[1] For an example of modern examples, see Mary M. Veeneman, Introducing Theological Method: A Survey of Contemporary Theologians and Approaches (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017).

[2] Assuming there are more than one!

[3] Allan Anderson, Michael Bergunder, André Droogers, and Cornelis van der Laan, eds., Studying Global Pentecostalism: Theories and Methods (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2010).

[4] E.g., Michael Horton states that he writes his systematic theology “as it is summarized in the confessions of Reformed Christianity,” The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 30.

[5] Cf. D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996).

[6] Paul L. Allen, Theological Method: A Guide for the Perplexed (New York, NY: T&T Clark, 2012), 1.

[7] This suggests that I am still attempting to “figure out” the concept of being a pastor-theologian or theological pastor or pastoral theologian and how these disciplines relate!

[8] Cf. Keith L. Johnson, Theology as Discipleship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015).

[9] Richard V. Peace, “Discipleship,” ed. Glen G. Scorgie, Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 406.

[10] Jürgen Moltmann, Experiences in Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 11.

[11] This is considered a Vineyard distinctive; cf. “A Few of Our Distinctives,” last modified May 27, 2018, https://vineyardusa.org/about/vineyard-distinctives/.

[12] Over a pastor-centric approach, consider a pneumatic communal approach; e.g., Kevin L. Spawn and Archie T. Wright, eds., Spirit and Scripture: Exploring a Pneumatic Hermeneutic (New York, NY: T&T Clark, 2012) and Kenneth J. Archer, A Pentecostal Hermeneutic: Spirit, Scripture and Community (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2009).

[13] By “matrix” I mean to imply the definition provided in the Wachowski’s film by the character “Morpheus,” who informed the character “Neo” that “The Matrix is a system. That system is our enemy.”

[14] I am aware that this phrase faces challenges; cf. Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 10–12.

[15] For observations concerning the Vineyard movement’s relationship with evangelicalism and anti-intellectualism, see Douglas R. Erickson, “The Kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit: Eschatology and Pneumatology in the Vineyard” (PhD diss., Marquette University, 2015).

[16] Erickson notes that “a comprehensive Vineyard ecclesiology would thus have to build on the foundational values and theology already established,” Living the Future (self-pub., CreateSpace, 2016), 185. This is problematic if our movement tends to undervalue theology!

[17] Simon Chan states that “the best theologians are church theologians, those who theologize from and for the community of faith,” Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000), 18, emphasis his.

[18] These are just a few of the differences I see regarding emphasis between the Vineyard under former National Director Bert Waggoner and the Vineyard under current National Director, Phil Strout as well as based on numerous conversations I have had with other Vineyard leaders.

[19] Thomas Lyons, “Authorities for Discernment: The Wesleyan Quadrilateral in the Ministry of John Wimber,” (paper presented at the annual meeting for the Society of Vineyard Scholars, Anaheim, CA, April 19, 2013), 13.

[20] For an excellent treatment, see Don Thorsen, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience as Model of Evangelical Theology (Lexington, KY: Emeth Press, 2005).

[21] Ibid., 5.

[22] Don Williams, “Theological Perspective and Reflection on the Vineyard Christian Fellowship,” eds. David A. Roozen and James R. Nieman, Church, Identity, and Change: Theology and Denominational Structures in Unsettled Times (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 163-187.

[23] This has been confirmed by personal conversation with Morphew.

[24] Luke T. Geraty, ““Traditioning” in the Vineyard: A Pastoral Value for Sacramentality,” (paper presented at the annual meeting for the Society of Vineyard Scholars, New Haven, CT, June 23, 2017).

[25] E.g., see the theology and complexities being faced by Wesleyans in Joel B. Green and David F. Watson, eds., Wesley, Wesleyans, and Reading Bible as Scripture (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012).

[26] In what follows I simply speak in general terms, fully aware of the complexity related to formalizing a doctrine of Scripture in the Vineyard.

[27] I have found that in today’s context, Sola Scriptura often produces a Solo Scriptura approach and does no justice to how authority functions in the life of Jesus’ followers and it seems absurd to suggest that the only source of authority for Christians is the Bible when there are church leaders present, explicit or implicit traditions, and any value for one’s own conscious.

[28] Thorsen, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, 76; for Wimber, cf. Lyons, “Authorities for Discernment,” 8-9.

[29] Based on the cover of Thorsen, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

[30] I believe this can be demonstrated in the regular preaching, small group curriculums, classes, and way of life within the community of faith, etc.

[31] Clark Pinnock, Tracking the Maze: Finding Our Way through Modern Theology from an Evangelical Perspective (San Fransisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1990), 119.

[32] This is powerfully demonstrated by the different approaches in J. Merrick and Stephen M. Garrett, eds., Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2013), especially contrasting the approaches by R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Michael F. Bird.

[33] There are excellent biblical-theological works in support of the Egalitarian view that take Scripture seriously; cf. Michael F. Bird, Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2012); Gary G. Hoag, Wealth in Ancient Ephesus and the First Letter to Timothy: Fresh Insights from Ephesiaca by Xenophon of Ephesus (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns Press, 2015); Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1992); Gordon D. Fee, ed., Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, Second Edition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2005).

[34] While outside the scope of this paper, Charismatics recognize the “Word of God” within the pages of Scripture as well as in the midst of pneumatic speech, though there are different levels of “authority” between these sources of “revelation.”

[35] Cf. Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963); Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of the Word of God, Part 1, vol. 1 (New York, NY: T&T Clark, 2004), 88-186; Richard E. Burnett, Karl Barth’s Theological Exegesis: The Theological Principles of the Römerbrief Period (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004). For a unique perspective concerning Barth’s approach to Scripture, see Bruce L. McCormack, “The Being of Holy Scripture Is in Becoming: Karl Barth in Conversation with American Evangelical Criticism,” in A Evangelicals and Scripture: Tradition, Authority, and Hermeneutics, eds. Vincent Bacote, Laura C. Miguélez, and Dennis L. Okholm, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004), 55-75.

[36] For a transformative approach to Scripture, see Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 45-61; Elaine A. Heath, “Reading Scripture for Christian Formation,” in Wesley, Wesleyans, and Reading Bible as Scripture.

[37] For Vineyard “self-identification,” see Bill Jackson, The Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard (Cape Town, South Africa: Vineyard International Publishing, 1999). For thoughts concerning the “innovativeness” and “non-traditional” approach of the Vineyard, see Donald E. Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997); Donald E. Miller, “Routinizing Charisma: The Vineyard Christian Fellowship in the Post-Wimber Era,” eds. David A. Roozen and James R. Nieman, Church, Identity, and Change: Theology and Denominational Structures in Unsettled Times (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 141-162; Lester Ruth and Swee Hong Lim, Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2017); Andy Park, Lester Ruth, Cindy Rethmeier, Worshiping with the Anaheim Vineyard: The Emergence of Contemporary Worship (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017).

[38] “Adulting” proves challenging; we are transitioning from the first generation of leaders to the second and third and finding that the type and quality of leaders from the first generation are different than thirty-five years ago, for a variety of reasons. Furthermore, we are dealing with organizational and systemic challenges as we attempt to go from a movement of approximately five hundred and fifty churches in the United States to planting thousands of churches.

[39] I think deficiencies related to theological training, method, and reflection are significant challenges within most Vineyard churches (and most American churches in general, according to research).

[40] Thorsen, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, 94.

[41] Cf. Gerald Coates, “The Ecumenist,” in John Wimber: His Influence and Legacy, ed. David Pytches (Guildford: Eagle Publishing, 1998), 154-160.

[42] Ibid., 98.

[43] Don Williams, “Theological Perspective and Reflection on the Vineyard Christian Fellowship,” 177,

[44] Thorsen, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, 100-105.

[45] This can be done in numerous creative ways, e.g., sermons, classes, small group subjects, blog posts distributed through newsletters, etc.

[46] Note the use of συνεῖδον (translated as “conscious”) in the New Testament, e.g., 1 Timothy 4:2; cf. William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 967–968. BDAG states that 1 Timothy 4:2’s use of συνείδησιν should be understood as “the inward faculty of distinguishing right and wrong.”

[47] See Craig S. Keener, The Mind of the Spirit: Paul’s Approach to Transformed Thinking (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016).

[48] This is based more on anecdotal experience within Vineyard churches and, once again, gets to the challenge of anti-intellectualism.

[49] Thorsen, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, 107.

[50] Matthew 22:37 states, “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” (NLT).

[51] Donald G. Bloesch, A Theology of Word & Spirit: Authority & Method in Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 37.

[52] Ibid., 35-38.

[53] Thorsen, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, 108.

[54] I have had no less than twenty people indicate that they “knew” or perceived the Spirit was present in church gatherings due to these phenomena.

[55] Gary Tyra, Getting Real: Pneumatological Realism and the Spiritual, Moral, and Ministry Formation of Contemporary Christians (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018).

[56] Ibid., 22.