I'm pretty sure my arch-conservative prof. will hate this, but here it is:
Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and their Experience
One of the defining characteristics of Anglican Identity has been the so-called three-legged stool: Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. In order to understand what is meant by "three-legged stool" we must understand the historical and theological context in which scripture, tradition, and reason were established. Once we understand the context then we may begin to look at how the Anglican understanding of scripture, tradition, and reason has shaped its identity. Then we must take into account new findings in thinking, postmodernism, about the creation, reception, and interpretation of scripture, tradition, and reason. Then we can consider Anglican identity through scripture, tradition, and reason. Looking at the postmodern contribution is not to find new way in which scripture, tradition, and reason can be integrated into Anglican identity, but rather to understand how scripture, tradition, and reason has been, is, and will be assimilated. By no means ignoring Dr. Lytle's instruction to consider experience as an addition to our stool, thus rendering it a four-legged stool, it is my thesis that indeed experience is shot through scripture, tradition, and reason enabling them to work dynamically in people, in the Church, and in the culture.
Richard Hooker is usually credited with developing our three-legged stool. It must be always kept in mind that Richard Hooker was "par excellence the apologist of the Elizabethen Settlement of 1559 . Simply put, Hooker charted a course through the European reformation that at once absorbed reformation ideas while keeping the radical reform movements of the Puritans at bay. Thus, seeing Scripture as the first, if not primary, facet of the identity of the Church in England demonstrates the chief concern of the Reformation: sola scriptura. Hooker, and other reformers, saw that the Church had veered significantly from scripture and the reformation can be seen in one light as an attempt to bring the church under the Holy Scriptures.
Hooker's vision, however, was not sola scriptura but perhaps, scriptura et cetera. Hooker thought that a strict literal reading of the scriptures did not answer the problems of "modern life." At the time, the radical reformers did not participate in English civil life because of their prohibition, Biblically supported, against waging war and taking oaths. For the Puritans, only that which is to be found in scripture is to be practiced. Hooker found this untenable since scripture leaves so much open, in terms of the evolution of cultural and political realities. Therefore tradition is included in his identity of the Church in England. For Hooker, as well as subsequent Anglicans, tradition is the continuing discernment of the Church to live its life as a people of the eternal God living within the confines of history and culture. Here again, with the addition of tradition, Hooker blazes a middle path between the extremes of sixteenth century Roman Catholic abuses and Radical Reform ideals that do not account for the innovations of modern civil life.
Finally, Hooker included reason as a defining characteristic of the Church in England. With the addition of reason, Hooker does two things. First, Hooker is including the use of reason which was so important to the early modern period. But he also included reason because the two extremes simply were not using reason. The Roman Church, used Church doctrine to shore up its arguments. The Reformers used scripture only to establish their position. Both extremes, on the continent, and to some extent in England, were resorting to violence and outright warfare; which the Elizabethan settlement was designed to stop. The inclusion of reason along with scripture and tradition was as if to say: Here are the moderated and useful aspects of the represented extremes of the reformation: scripture and tradition. Now, let's use our heads (reason), before we all lose them.
The above shows the historical which birthed the peculiar Anglican amalgam of scripture, tradition, and reason. Oddly enough, the formation of the three-legged stool within the fiery crucible of the Reformation has, by and large, shaped Anglican identity up to the present and without too much change. That is, at the time of the Elizabethan settlement, scripture, tradition, and reason was a sufficient summary of how Anglicanism works and it still holds today. What I will attempt to do now is cast the suspicion of postmodernism upon scripture, tradition, and reason in the hopes that we can establish a hermeneutic of the experience of scripture, tradition and reason.
The great postmodern contribution to human understanding is that it showed how the modern paradigm of representing the world (whether physical, moral, spiritual, or aesthetic) was severely limited. The modern worldview describes a subject looking at an object and describing what it sees. The postmodern worldview claims that the modern view was limited in that it did not include the subject as part of the object which it was describing . This postmodern discovery has had tremendous impact on all of human endeavor, including biblical studies, theology, liturgy, and most especially philosophy.
We have come to understand that all scriptures are situational. That is, each Gospel, letter, and apocalypse was written by a person to a community in a certain context. The work of Christopher Bryan and Paul Holloway attest to this: we must understand the occasion and genre of any given text to understand it better, or even understand it at all! We also interpret texts out of our own experience as well, and all previous commentators have interpreted the biblical texts out of their own experiences. Thus we have a collection of books, the Bible, that has been interpreted through experience at every stage of writing, translation, interpretation, copying, marginally considered, retranslated, and recopied. Yes, the Holy Spirit may be at work in all of this, which is another context added to the mix of interpretive experience.
Tradition too, perhaps more than scripture, takes place within contexts. The history of liturgy is filled contextual mapmaking. A glance at any Orthodox church, or, for that matter, an Anglican/Episcopal church, will quickly demonstrate the ethnic context which birthed both the liturgy and the ecclesiology. Tradition is an attempt at faithful living within contemporary culture. Since Christianity is an incarnational faith, one could say that tradition is a necessary component to the faith. Anglicans, as well as other Christians, view the Bible as the Church's book. Since those who wrote the New Testament did so under a tradition namely, Christ crucified, risen, and ascended, and within the keeping of the Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Tradition then is the continuation within the lives of the faithful of that same spirit which inspired the scriptures. Therefore, tradition is sacred scripture writ off the page and lived in the life of the Church.
What of reason then? Was Martin Luther onto something when he called reason the devil's bride, "that pretty whore"? Is reason also subject to the contextualization of the postmodern critique? Yes, and postmodernism was not the first to see that reason itself is subject to the vagaries of existence, but indeed it was the modern view, the enlightenment that first brought us the scientific method which first lifted up the ideal of clear objective reasoning. What postmodernism has brought to reason is the conviction that the thinker and the thought cannot be separated. In science this idea was brought to light, pun intended, in Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle whereby one cannot know the location and velocity of an atom simultaneously because the photons from the light needed to observe the atom changes both its speed and its location.
It might be useful to summarize the postmodern idea in Derrida's phrase, "There is nothing outside the text." While this phrase is sometimes unfairly interpreted as a nihilistic platitude, I think he more accurately means that there is no objective view; there is no view of reality outside of our interpretation. I argue the postmodern critique not to submit all our beliefs to the postmodern abyss; instead I want to show how our ideas of scripture, tradition and reason, and our language surrounding them, is essentially modern; that is, we simply say, "scripture" or "reason" as if these things were static and immutable. Scripture, tradition, and reason are not static objects that we can observe and describe, instead, they are mediated from, by, and with our experience and interpretation.
Does this recognition of the modern world-view’s limitation mean that we should proclaim nothing but postmodern relativism? To quote St. Paul: By no means! As Christians we believe that the Holy Spirit has "caused all holy Scriptures to be written" (BCP 236 proper 28), and that God is at work in tradition and is the fount of all wisdom. What Christians can draw from postmodernism is not a slavish allegiance to denouncing all "meta-narratives," instead we can better understand the impetus and reception of our scripture, tradition, and reason; and know that we interpret them in our own contexts, but that does not necessarily dictate our theology (CC).
Therefore, to return to the original question, would I include experience along with scripture, tradition and reason? My short answer is no. My long answer is it is impossible to separate experience from either scripture, tradition, or reason. First, experience is an ontological fact; we must experience to exist, to even recognize what something is and that it is. Second, in a more epistemological sense, we experience reality through our interpretations. To be a person is to be a hermeneutic person. Experience and interpretation are utterly bound together, this is the postmodern contribution. I argue that on the surface, and at the core, of the church today we really are using a modern model for looking at scripture, tradition, and reason. What passes today for discourse in the church is simply two camps vying for the left and right extremes of an outdated model of understanding .
All the above raises the question: What about revelation? I believe that God speaks through scripture, tradition and reason. But I also know that when God spoke, and speaks, His words land in a context, a sticky, complicated, human context. While God’s word may be pure, our ears (our contexts) are not so holy. My thesis has been that the very act of being cognizant of scripture, tradition, and reason proves that experience is included in the “three-legged stool.” And since we experience scripture, tradition, and reason, we interpret them. It is our interpretation that effects a change within us however, which in turn changes our interpretation. Therefore, to approach scripture, tradition, and reason is to enter into a dynamic relationship, one that changes us. And yes, we experience, through scripture, tradition, and reason, none other than the incarnate God.