Usefulness and limitations of the “Wesleyan quadrilateral” for theological method
The Wesleyan quadrilateral is great. However, it needs a very important nuance (one which Frank has already pointed to). We do not have epistemologically unmediated access to any of the four elements. We can’t just access Scripture, but only our interpretations of Scripture. We can’t just access the tradition, but only our interpretations of the tradition, We can’t simply access even our experience, for it, too, is always already interpreted by the time we access it; even reason is not directly accessible, for what we have access to is always our interpretation of what is reasonable and how to reason. This is important, for it means that everything involved in our attempts to know and understand anything are always only provisional interpretations, and therefore never settled.
Communal discernment, interpretation, and learning are our best ways to help make our knowledge as closely approximate to reality as possible, but even that is still only ever provisional. So I really don’t think we can ever assume something really is what we think it is, or aim to have exactly correspondent knowledge of the reality. We can only ever seek to approximate it as best we can through seeking coherence and testing whether our understanding works as an explanation of all that we encounter. And so as a result, often I find that my interpretation of one or more elements of the quadrilateral is at odds with my interpretation of some other element, I cannot surrender to the temptation to let one trump the others. Instead, I must keep wrestling until it all makes sense together, no matter how far down the rabbit hole I have to go. Anything less is intellectual suicide.