I want to start by saying how much I enjoy this topic. I have heard Tony talk about this for about two years; it is fun to see Reed play these thoughts out in a whole new series of dialogues.
Let me begin by asserting first what I believe is an issue within these systems of analyzing authority: culture. I think all of us may have steeped ourselves deeply into dividing these issues as if they contained some sort of separate (I believe non-partisan fits here) line of epistemologically fitted logic, or “knowing”. All fittings stand inside their culture and are unforgiving of other lines of certainty. Take our group, how many of us would continue in practices of superstition (more appropriately – supernaturalism) while believing those acts are merely phenomenological (or solely conscious) events separate from existential reality? I would assume none of us. Did the early Christians believe their claims were without rational thought? We assume culture as these separate forms as if they preferred one to another, when in reality, the means in which one believed has continued to evolve (through technology and philosophy) through time due to culture.
Second, I see us separating scripture (bible – a term too specific & ambiguous for me to appreciate) and tradition. Perhaps there exists a line of logic I miss. Wesley believed scripture to be the unsullied revelation (word) of the one god to his people. I believe not this as much as tradition; passing revelation through sullied people as they understood their god to develop what most Christians (and fundamentalists the most ignorantly) call the Bible. Now if we were to remove the perfect nature (inerrancy, infallibility – in my opinion: deification) of the scriptures do we not have tradition?
Third, (really 2b) is not this tradition passed down by the means of the logic or “reason” of the times? Why can we not call the old way of ‘knowing’, like we knew Paul was the author of Hebrews, reason and now not call our ability to discern his lack of living to mean he was not the author (unless god used post humus penmanship – which I think bodes well for inerrancy) tradition?
Having said all of this I believe a simplified version of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral could be described as the Shoimakian Line: experience and tradition, that being historical and cultural.
Imagine this line being pulled by both ends, wiggling back and forth through the times as logicians, philosophers, historians and Orthodox Church attendees fight to pull and suck the line from the Essenes, Mystics, Charismatics, Pentecostals and Jesus Freaks. An historical/intellectual versus experiential/emotional tug-of-war disabling the other from taking complete control of understanding, while allowing their other half to struggle against their neighbor developing a certain mode of knowing.
I believe it is this battle that keeps our interests peeked, we prefer a specific balance to the two forms and may never agree on which should take hold of the line greater.
I believe this is my great problem with this subject. Whenever Reed asks me what should be our authority I always respond, “God” (yes capital “G”, the ungraspable one).
My reasons for this are twofold. First, I believe our worship, intellectual pursuits, meaningless banter and masochistic acts all bring us back to a desire to “know” our creator. For this reason the one to whom we direct out efforts is the authority on such matters. God would do it better; God may show us the way. Second, I believe every form of authority (bible, papal, maternal) is attempting to discern that exact thing: the desire of the creator. The problem is they cannot do it, may never do the speaking from the mouth of the divine. I mean this in its perfection, the church is the mouth of god; the people are the physical resemblance of the unseen god. But scrawny, dirty and comparably mindless.
I cannot count the number of times I have heard Reed’s mom speak to us in her semi-serious manner “Ok Danny, this is from the Lord God …” or “God would want it like that …” or “Bless him Jesus.” In these instances, I do believe God has spoken to me; spoken to me through an imperfect, culturally entrenched, extraordinarily lovely person who loves me, god and our combined existence. This is a voice of authority, but the authority is from god.
When the Pope speaks ex cathedra (and he is way more sinful than Reed’s Mom), he speaks for a god to the people. In this he speaks for “God” and that god remains the authority.
And of course, when someone reads the scriptures they may gain an inkling of the motivations, experiences and failures of a people who served this great god. They speak, through their experience to a new culture; on the behalf of their authority – god.
I would go into what making the authority the speaker would do to usurping the position of authority god has, but I believe this can be derived from above.
Now this is not to say, we should not be connected to the history of those listening to their authority in ecumenism. It is through this examination we see more clearly how our authority has dealt with us in the past and through this how he is continuing to deal with us now. This examination of our historic roots as believers in god is surely connected to the world before us as it is to the world we stand upon. How others have reasoned this progression of revelation is equally important; they are our family, they are we.
This point is crucial to our understanding of god, in his interaction with the world. It means we do not stand on equal footing in our rationalizations. One who studies culture (ancient and recent) may gather drastic conclusions whereas the bible-belter who stands in front of a congregation lacking historic or current knowledge only speaks to a world behind his eyes.