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Nature, Character, and Origin of Scripture

Nature, Character, and Origin of Scripture

R. Larry Shelton

The Wesleyan understanding of Scripture grows out of the classical Reformation tradition that sees the Bible as the primary authority for the church. John Wesley's “man of one book” testimonial is reminiscent of the sola scriptura watchword of the Reformers. He views the Bible as the key to understanding God's word of salvation for the community of faith. Wesleyans have always attempted to integrate their understanding of Scripture into theological thought and spiritual life. Wesley used Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience as the foundations of authority for the church and the individual believer. In so doing, he exhibited a creative and balanced approach toward understanding and interpreting God's Word for his people. Rather than developing a dogmatic, rationalistic system of doctrines and creeds, Wesleyans have sought to integrate the content of Scripture with life in a way that some have termed “practical divinity.”Thomas Langford, Practical Divinity (Nashville: Abingdon, 1983).

The issue of the authority and inspiration of Scripture is of foundational importance for Wesleyans, as for all Christians. On the issues of the authority and inspiration of Scripture, John Wesley rests firmly within the mainstream of orthodox Protestant theology. There are areas in which he is innovative, such as his integration of Scripture, reason, and experience. Yet his emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the inspiration and authority of Scripture grows out of standard Protestant roots.

According to Wesley, the Holy Spirit operates through the Scriptures in three fundamental ways: First, in inspiring the development and writing of Scripture; second, in the authentication of the authority of Scripture in the church (the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit); third, in the interpretation of Scripture by the believer. To appreciate Wesley's position more fully on the authority of Scripture, a brief historical survey of the church's understanding of the authority of Scripture will be helpful.R. Larry Shelton, “John Wesley's Approach to Scripture in Historical Perspective,” Wesleyan Theological Journal, 18:1 (Spring 1981), 23-50.