Seeking Harmony, not Hierarchy

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony
- Mahatma Gandhi

I like the Wesleyan quadrilateral—mostly because it is attributed to Wesley and not Calvin, but also because it strikes me as a helpful representation of the various ways in which we arrive at theological conclusions…or any conclusions for that matter. 

In fact, I’ve recently come to realize that when I’m struggling with doubts about my faith it’s because one (or more) of these elements is failing to harmonize with the others. Scripture says that Joshua made the sun stand still, which harmonizes just fine with the Christian tradition that God can intervene in nature to suit his purposes, but which triggers all kinds of red alarms in my brain when I try to sort it out scientifically. My tradition teaches that all non-Christians will be damned to hell for eternity, which can be supported with some interpretations of Scripture, but which violates every compassionate instinct God gave me as a human being and follower of Jesus.

Of course rarely do these sources for knowledge make clean breaks from one another. Instead they bleed together, influence one another, and live in tension with one another. But the deepest longing of my heart is to live with a sense of wholeness and integrity, where what I say and think and do and believe all match up. 

Now, whenever I bring all this up, someone is quick to point out the Wesley himself considered Scripture to be the sole source of truth and therefore viewed the other sources as interpretive tools.  

My doubts, they say, would vanish if I would just subject my tradition, reason, and experience to the authority of Scripture.

That’s coming from my evangelical friends. 

However, my Catholic friends would be quick to point out that the Bible as we know it today would not even exist were it not for the Church, so practically speaking, tradition has the final word in interpretation and application.

Then my emerging friends will come along and ask how it is that a person can interpret Scripture without reason or encounter tradition apart from experience. 

This is an oversimplification, of course.  My evangelical, Catholic, and emerging friends have much more to say than that, but you get the point.  

Everyone is seeking out a hierarchy—one epistemological source to rule them all. 

But each time I try to live with a hierarchy, it’s like I’m only half-alive. When I am forced to ignore my conscience because tradition dictates things be done a certain way, I feel like a fraud. When my tradition doesn't match up with what I find in Scripture, I fear that I'm settling. When I am told not to think so much because the “plain and simple reading” of Scripture demands certain conclusions, the cognitive dissonance is excruciating. 

People try to solve my problem by insisting that I simply shut off my brain or my heart or my conscience and submit to whatever they think should be the authority in the hierarchy. 

But I don’t want a hierarchy. I want harmony. 

And I fear that my doubts will never really go away until I find it. 


In your faith experience, is it possible to harmonize Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition or must there be a hierarchy?

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