112440474109688762

Here are a few questions to ponder from a Friend of mine at EFC-ER, Wayne Evans:
1) Does Nietzche’s “God is Dead” (1880) fit into liberalism or have its own
category?
2) What was the contribution of Quakers not making much use of discipleship
(especially Bible doctrines) to the polarization?
3) If divorcing from the past occurred (page 2), is it possible that some of
the original standings of the early Quakers was misguided? -or deficient?

I only had time to work out a brief response to number three, anyone else want to help?

In thinking about #3 specifically that I am hesitant to want to sign the earlier beliefs off because the Friends church was so influential on both continents – as you know much of the things we take for granted today (as American Protestant Christians) were pioneered by the Friends – so because of this first I want to find how to be faithful to our ongoing narrative. However at the same time I see that some emphases are lost in our times, while others need to be brought out more, refined for the age – this is what I hope to see happen and make as my own work. In that short article I quoted one of my (anabaptist) professors Nancey Murphy who talks about core beliefs – the things that are essential to being a Friend, without them we are just another anglo-protestant (nothing necessarily wrong with that but we have such a rich tradition). We would agree there is something important about the Friends “peculiar” testimony to the work of Christ – we need to find out what those core parts are, save those and leave the rest as dross. This of course, as you know, is a slow and difficult process but I think it needs to be worked out.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

5 thoughts on “112440474109688762”

  1. Hi Wess, So… what is this referring to? Page 2 of what? Is this that paper you’re working on?

    I’m sort of game for trying to jump in with the questions. But the questions themselves sort of feel like the wrong ones. I’m not sure I can put my finger on exactly why.

    Well, let’s try: 1) Nietzche?! Who talks about Nietzche anymore? He’s the one who’s dead. I so associate him with the bull sessons at my undergraduate philosophy department. I thought he was sort of weird and irrelevant then and I think he’s even more weird and irrelevant now. Liberalism comes out of lots of things, especially probably capitalism (a-ha!, my mild Marxist historical tendency come out!). And liberalism is conservatism and vice-versa if you run it around enough.

    2) Discipleship. Well, this is a chicken or egg kind of thing. The introduction of discipleship (if I understand it correctly, it’s not a word that’s really in my vocabulary) was one part of the cause of the old schisms. One of the first signs of the coming 1827 splits were the Bible Societies being set up by the evangelical end of Friends. How did the change of theology lead to polarizations?

    3) Isn’t this a sort of round-about logic? Most people think their religion is the best and that others have it wrong–are deficient. Yes, someone who’s broken with the theology and practice of his or her predecessors will think them misguided. I’m not sure how one could argue this a priori. You say to-MA-to, I say TA-ma-TO. I think Fox was right-on, you think he was a nut. We could pull out our Bibles but then I’ll just pull out Barclay to say pulling out Bibles isn’t the answer to theological debate. Check, checkmate.

    How about a corollary to #3. Apologies if this comes off wrong. But at what point is it fair to say that some Quakers left the faith to become something else–Methodist, Revivalist, etc.–but that it was a messy process where some held on to their Quaker identity too long? There are no organized Evangelical Quakers here in South Jersey because the ones who went that direction and changed theology all smoothly converted to Methodism (at least it seems smooth from this late date). You don’t know the progression unless you look at the family names on the tombstones.

    Looking back and what I’ve written: There’s something about throwing all this into the language of theological philosophy that is itself a polarization. I have a decent amount of EFI Friends. I’m not sure I would be any more uncomfortable in an Evangelical Friends church as I am in a liberal Quaker meeting. Just the bits and pieces I’ve seen on your blog makes me feel comfortable calling you brother. And that kinship isn’t really exactly theological. And it’s not dependent on whether you do or don’t call yourself a Friend–even this whole “Quaker” thing can be a snare of the tempter to divide us from our shared citizenship of the Kingdom. We’re going to have real differences on things that really matter but somehow these are less important than our desire to go deep and be servants of Christ. Maybe this sentiment is my liberalness shining through though.

    Anyway, thanks for posting your thoughts. And next time try to give us a bit more context where they’re coming from.

  2. Martin,
    You’re right, sorry about the lack of context. He was referring to page 2 of an article I have been working on trying to get published, I believe you have a copy or did at least, I can send you it if you want. But regardless your comments are well appreciated and I well put, I couldn’t agree more. I really liked the whole barclay point, Barclay is the man, I realize he has some absolete points, but he is a starting point for we Friends, I feel like we too quickly want to forget about those guys and try and figure it out on our own.

  3. I realized after reading this a bit more that I need to say a few more things (or ask questions).

    I think that the difficulty with the questions at one level is that they have a somewhat rhetorical feel – I am not saying that they are but I don’t feel that they are open ended enough. I don’t understand the Nietzche question either and wonder if Wayne could explain it more.

    I might ask what is liberalism, what are its positives and negatives, how has it hurt and helped traditions. Does it have anything to do with Quakerism at all?

    the last part of that question, is my own thought. I think that the Friends are in much the same boat as the Anabaptists, who may try to avoid calling themselves either liberal or evangelical. Maybe those categories don’t really fit our movement right, but in trying to force the fit we have create more division than needed. I think there does need to be distinctions between orthodox and unorthodox theology, don’t get me wrong. And Christology is extremely important, but neither liberalism or evangelicalism has much to say about either of those things, they are theories of how to structure authority (foundationalism), they are built on methods, and systems that can be neither orthodox nor unrothodox insofar as both ideologies were formed by philosophy (Scottish Commonsense realism)and influenced heavily by modern science. this all may be saying too much, the point is is it possible to be neither liberal nor evangelical? and is it possible that trying to fit a mold (and buy into their specific ideologies) has created more problems than solutions? one example i might argue for is that Quakerism is not a foundational movement (like Martin Luther’s Sola Scriptura or the Catholics view that all authority lay within the authority of tradition). Early Friends were not foundational – they believed that the Spirit held utmost authority that it is the source of all life, BUT we can’t build everything soley on that alone, Barclay says we need the Scriptures as a guide, and we speak forth from the SPirit in the gathering of the community which holds another part of authority, the authority of discernment.

    I would argue that Quakers, in practice had three forms of authority A) The Holy Spirit – Inner Light of Christ; B) The Scriptures which guide our experience of the Inner Light (and as Barclay says neither contradict the other) and C) the community – i.e. the tradition of gathered people discerning the Spirit and the Scriptures. All work together, no one of the three are all authoritative, because none can be understood without the other. This is very non-foundationalist but then when we come to the point of trying to fit into the molds of either liberalism or evangelicalism we see why divisions took place. Modern Liberalism put experience (the Inner LIght, often stripped of its Christological center) at the center of all authority over above all other things while Evangelicalism place the Scripture at the base of the foundation of authority, and this reading is often deeply informed by the extremist position of fundamentalism.

    Knowing this puts us in a position to rethink our alliegences, both liberalism and evangelicalism have good points, both also have their fallbacks, I think we need to reconsider how we can be not so contained by either mold which is a out-dated modern category that hasn’t worked well to hold our tradition together.

  4. nothing to do with this. If you get this before you leave town. I tried to catch up with you and emily. I don’t know if you got my message. It’d be nice to see ya’ll.

    -kristen

  5. Hi Wess, I shouldn’t really be up now (just couldn’t sleep) so I shouldn’t post much. But I see where you’re going now.

    Here’s a observation I’ve made. It’s a working theory on the schisms, not grounded in hard sociology though I’m sure I didn’t invent it but read it elsewhere and have merely synthesized it for myself.

    And the observation is that each schism left a majority of Friends stuck in the middle having to choose sides. And in a situation like this, the way the choice was made had less to do with theology than human politics. And so a core group that had more-or-less the same theology & style got split and re-split with each schism till it became the minority party everywhere.

    Another way of cracking this phenenomen: it seems like each schism became a parody of itself and eventually grew to resemble the charges originally thrown at it. The detractors said Elias Hicks was really a unitarian, which wasn’t true: yet two generations later the Hicksites had serious unitarian cross-over. On the other side the detractors said Joseph John Gurney was really some sort of evangelical methodist. Not true, but then a few generations later we had paid ministry and talk of water baptism. Gurney himself wasn’t a Gurneyite, just as Hicks wasn’t a Hicksite (Brinton’s “Quaker Journals” (p.115) has a great excerpt from Elias’s cousin Edward Hicks wishing the Hicksites would just go off and join the Deists and the Gurneyites the Episcopalians so that the moderates on both sides of the schism could hold a conference and simply reunite.)

    I wonder what I would have done in my own yearly meeting’s big split: Philadelphia 1827. Theologically the two sides weren’t that far apart, especially by today’s standards! For me the choice would have come down to my attitude on authority: should the yearly meeting be run by a small oligarchy of inbred Quaker families living in one neighborhood of Philadelphia and getting all high-and-mighty declaring what’s okay or not or should it be opened up to old-fashioned dowdy Friends in the countryside and to younger and more genetically varied voices? Okay, so I’m partisan: I know my answer and it’s why I self-identify as a Hicksite. But is that because of theology or is it because I’m a convinced Friend with a non-Quaker last name who will always feel like something of an outsider to Philadelphia Quaker culture? I’m more rankled by elitism than I am by the chaos of over-embellished ministry. But that’s a heck of a thing to base a 130 year schism on.

    For what it’s worth, neither of the two Meetings I’m currently bouncing between are historically or culturally Hicksite (one is Gurney/Beanite, the other oldline Philadelphia Orthodox with a shake of mild neo-Conservative convinced Friends). I wonder what might have happened if that nineteenth-century obsessive need for a mythic unity hadn’t been operating. If the middle Friends hadn’t had to choose, or if the choice didn’t mean total repudiation of the other but allowed some mixing then we might have ended up with a twenty-first century Quakerism less divided up and more distinctly Quaker across the board.

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