Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Turning the Quaker Family Tree on its Side




Holiness: The Soul of Quakerism
by Carole Dean Spencer argues that the heart of Quakerism is a robust holiness theology. The author presents evidence that Quakerism needs to be understood as a movement that combined existing elements of Christian holiness theology in a radical and innovative way. Spencer identifies eight characteristic elements of Quaker holiness and looks at how these elements of holiness theology were expressed,adapted, and reinterpreted through three centuries of Quaker history. Those eight elements of holiness theology are:
-Scripture
-Eschatology
-Conversion
-Charisma
-Evangelism
-Mysticism
-Suffering, and
-Perfection

The story is told through the lives and writings of individuals who have had impact on the development of Quakerism. For instance, the story of the Quietist Quakers of the eighteenth century is told through the writing of Anthony Benezet and Stephen Grellet. The divisions of the nineteenth century are described in the experiences of Elias Hicks, Job Scott, Joseph John Gurney and John Wilbur. The holiness revival is seen through Joel Bean, Walter Robson and Hannah Whitall Smith.

The chapter on "Holiness and Quakerism in the Twentieth Century" seems especially helpful in understanding the various streams of mystical, evangelical and liberal Quakerism in relation to holiness theology.

Sure to provoke controversy, the study suggests a "Re-mapping of Quakerism." The author presents the case that the fullest expression of that original Quaker holiness is found in contemporary evangelical Quakerism.

The study also reinforces an argument that I have occasionally made - that first generation Quakers were not establishing new forms of worship and structure, but were expressing a faith independent of forms. As Carole Dean Spencer says, "Forms are occasional and particular historical expressions of holiness" (p. 239).

The book is adapted from a doctoral dissertation, so it is a moderately challenging read, but this is also its strength. The documentation and annotations will help the discussion that is sure to follow this study. The three appendices on sources of Quaker mysticism, the connections between Quakers and other early holiness movements, and the connections between Quakers and Methodists in the eighteenth century are almost worth the price of the book by themselves.

Read it and let me know what you think.

Bill


5 comments:

Martin Kelley said...

Interesting review. Did it challenge any of your own ideas about Friends? I have my own copy on order, should be here any day now.
Martin @ Quaker Ranter

Bill Clendineng said...

Did it challenge any of your own ideas about Friends?
I now have a better understanding and a deeper appreciation of mysticism within Quakerism. Coming from an evangelical background, I tended to be a little suspicious of mysticism.

Robin M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin M. said...

I have this book on my Christmas wish list. I hope it's easier to read than Punshon's Reasons for Hope.

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