Introducing the Zimmerman Octolateral™Becoming the Great Us, Featured — By David Zimmerman on November 18, 2009 at 12:00 am
John Wesley is said to have employed four tools in his theological work, which have come to be called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Reason, Tradition, Experience. Scripture, according to Wesley, is the first and final authority in any such quest for wisdom. The other three are equal seconds and serve as checks and balances to one another: experience and reason confront the shortcomings of tradition; tradition and reason call into question the individual’s limited experience; tradition and experience challenge the arrogance of an individual’s sense of logic.
We talked about the Wesleyan Quadrilateral in my church small group recently. There was only one problem: I could only remember three of the four elements—Scripture, Reason, Tradition and . . . ummm . . . something else. So we started speculating about what that something else might be.
“Experience” didn’t come up. That’s not too surprising, I suppose. Standing by itself, “Experience” often guides our search for wisdom, and with it our ethics and morality. But when you suggest it as an equal of Reason, Tradition and, of all things, Scripture, “Experience” starts to sound a little thin.
What came up in its place were some intriguing ideas, among them “Intuition” and “the Holy Spirit.” Intuition might be thought of as “the Scripture of the gut,” a notion that our hunches ought to be given due attention, that instinct is often proven right. The idea that it’s also often proven wrong shouldn’t disqualify intuition as a guiding principle; we are assuming, after all, that the shortcomings of intuition can be accounted for by the other tools in the belt, and that likewise intuition fills in the gaps of the others.
The Holy Spirit seemed to us to be a no-brainer, so much so that I was surprised to find “Experience” in its place. I attribute it to the neglect shown the Holy Spirit over the centuries, a neglect that’s been somewhat redressed in the time since Wesley’s death. After all, the Holy Spirit is promised to us in the Scriptures as a guide to “all truth,” that voice that whispers to us “This is the way, walk in it.”
Nevertheless, all of my group’s reflection on what sustains us in our quest for wisdom presupposed that we would “borrow wisdom” from one another, so I found myself adding yet another tool to Wesley’s belt: Community. We are, after all, both products of and contributors to our community, and so it is at least inescapable if not essential in our wisdom quest.
So, I think on behalf of my group (though I welcome rebuttal), I’d like to propose the Zimmerman Octolateral™ as a web of filters through which to run our efforts at acquiring wisdom:
- The Holy Spirit
- The X Factor
I include an X factor in part because I prefer even numbers to odd, in part because I suspect that, like Wesley, we’re overlooking at least one thing.
Of course, an octolateral makes the shape of a stop sign, so the Zimmerman Octolateral™ may prove, actually, to be a hindrance rather than a help in decision making. Some might consequently argue that the X factor is simply the will to act—that sort of gumption that led Alexander the Great to cut the Gordian knot rather than be content to marvel at it. But I don’t really think so. I think rather that the will to act is a larger check against the overall agenda of the octolateral: the will to act confronts the handwringing of the will to reflect. Meanwhile, the will to reflect constrains the blind forcefulness of the will to act.
I’m probably splitting hairs. The important thing reflected in both the octolateral and its check in the will to act is that we be deliberate in our doings. That’s what motivated Wesley to turn to his quadrilateral, and it’s a large part of what makes us human in the first place.