What are the four principle sources or foundations of Christian theology: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience? What relationships do they have to each other and in defining theology?

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Christian theology is the understanding and examination of the truths and traditions of Christian religion—the scientific study of God and his revealed truth. There are 4 sources for divining God's will, according to historical theological study.

Scripture is the foremost source of revealed knowledge about God and his precepts. It...

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Christian theology is the understanding and examination of the truths and traditions of Christian religion—the scientific study of God and his revealed truth. There are 4 sources for divining God's will, according to historical theological study.

Scripture is the foremost source of revealed knowledge about God and his precepts. It is the revealed word of God according to Christianity, and so it is an infallible source of his knowledge.

Reason is one of the next sources, and it stems from the idea that God, as our creator, gave humanity reason to be able to logically understand him from natural truths in this life. It is through reason that we interpret scripture, and it is with scripture that we measure every other experience or idea to ensure it is legitimate.

Tradition is a common form of theological knowledge, but it is not accepted by every Christian. The Catholic church in particular uses tradition to understand God's will because they have done certain things for so long. Many other denominations, however, believe that tradition is too often tainted by human actions to be legitimately from God unless it can be traced back to scripture.

Finally, experience is another source for theological knowledge. Many people will draw on their own experience to interpret the will of God. However, it is vital to apply reason to your experiences and to compare it to the word of God to ensure that we are interpreting our experiences appropriately.

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Many theologians would argue that the foundation of Christian theology is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Scripture thus functions as documentation of that revelation, but it was Christ himself who was, in more precise terms, the actual revelation.

In early Christianity, the words and deeds of Christ were passed down through oral tradition and various written texts that gradually, over a period of several centuries, became organized into a canon. As the Church became an institution of the Roman Empire, increased efforts were made to define orthodoxy and hierarchy. The institutions and hierarchy of the church, along with oral traditions, served to define many of the liturgical and administrative characteristics of the Church while Scripture as it achieved a canonical form served as grounds for theology. The two sustained each other as tradition and institutional habit defined which of the many writings about Jesus were considered canonical Scripture and the Church used Scripture to define orthodoxy.

Since Scripture is not self-interpreting, reason is necessary to interpret Scripture, and throughout Christian history, there has been considerable debate about the importance of individual reason ("the right and duty of private judgement") versus the collective wisdom of the Church.

In a theological context, experience usually refers to church traditions or collective experience rather than personal experience, and thus, it is often identified with tradition.

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Christian theology is the research into and examination of Christian beliefs and practices. Theologians primarily use biblical exegesis, analysis, and arguments to interpret the old and new Testaments, alongside historic Christian traditions. The study of theology can help a theologian more thoroughly understand Christian doctrine, draw comparisons between Christianity and other faiths, defend Christianity, and even initiate reforms. In the 1700s, John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement, also developed a method for reflecting on theology that has been dubbed the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. The Wesleyan method draws on four different sources: experience, reason, tradition, and Scripture. There are also relationships between experience and reason, as well as between tradition and Scripture. The complex definitions of and relationship between experience and reason are explained below.

The relationship between experience and reason goes hand in hand with receiving and understanding revelations. Revelations can be understood as any activity through which "God discloses himself to human beings" (Charles D. Barrett, Understanding the Christian, p. 132). Furthermore, God can reveal Himself to us through experiences perceived by the Church, through any personal experiences, and through any sensory experiences.

Once we receive a revelation through our experiences, we then use our reason to interpret the experience. Theologians disagree on whether or not interpreting the experience requires actually deeply pondering the experience or simply reflecting and realizing that the experience did happen. However, theologians agree that something can only be experienced by beings that have intelligence and the ability to perceive one's self, the ability to see one's self as an "I." Theologians also agree that reason can be defined as the ability to think rationally, logically, and analytically.

Hence, the study of theology requires revelations, and revelations must be experienced. But, we can only fully experience revelations through our reason, and reason also allows us to both accept and develop an understanding of our experiences.

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