Friday, October 16, 2009

The Wesleyan Jazz Combo

Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but if you dance to music that only you can hear, other people look at you funny.

It works out better if music accompanies your dance, and it also means that others can dance with you. The accompanying instruments give shape and form to the dance itself; the tempo, rhythm, harmony, and melody guide the movements of the dance. Sure, you might have “a song in your heart” that accompanies your dance, but I’m working a metaphor here.

The metaphor involves a jazz combo, a lead instrument and a rhythm section. The drum set energizes the dance with a swinging rhythm, the bass lays down an upbeat groove, and the piano slaps in some funky chords. With the rhythm section rocking, the lead instrument comes in with the tune and we’re dancing!

So let’s say that the dance is our spiritual life, and the instruments that accompany the dance are the resources that we use to give shape and form to it. Comprising the rhythm section are reason, tradition, and experience. The lead instrument is scripture.

I included this metaphor in my ordination papers, in which I wrote the following.

Specifically, the tradition of the church is a historical measuring system for testing the authenticity of our faith. This does not mean that we do it this way because we have always done it this way, but rather that we acknowledge the debt we owe to generations of faithful witnesses before us whose work for the sake of God’s mission has afforded us the opportunity to be where we are.

But even a scriptural faith tested by the tradition may still be a dead faith if not enlivened by our own experience. In other words, faith has to be relevant, to make a real perceived difference in people’s lives.

And finally, it has to make sense in a reasonable way. This does not discount the supernatural by any means; surely God is capable of working miracles in every moment. But there must be a kind of common sense rationality to the faith that is confirmed in its interaction with other spheres of the human endeavor.
Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience comprise what Albert Outler called the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” four sources he identified in John Wesley’s theological process. But Wesley never considered these sources to be like four equal points of a geometric figure. Scripture is always primary, carrying the tune of the song to the accompaniment of the others.

Of course, it is possible to hear a hint of the tune if you listen closely to the rhythm section, and even figure some of it out. Just like it is possible to sense the truth of scripture in the mix of tradition, reason, and experience. To be sure, you can even dance to a drum solo!

But the fullness of the song is best expressed when the full combo is swinging, with the Scripture carrying the tune and reason, tradition, and experience grooving behind it.

1 comment:

bridger said...

Love it! Exactly right and put in a way that a musician like me can understand! Thanks Andy.