Being new to all things Quaker,I have noticed some questioning over the role of theology amongst Friends. Is there a place for theology or should all knowledge be experienced based?
Are there limits to its use? Is there a Quaker way of doing theology?
Your thoughts?
Peace
Jeffrey

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Creeds and Quakers: What's Belief Got To Do With It?
[Pendle Hilll Pamphlet # 377]
by Robert Griswold

is a pretty good explanation of the basic Quaker untheological theology. He also had an extremely good article in (I think ) Friends Journal---- Ah!

googling:

Archives, List of Authors | Friends Journal
Robert Griswold, The Friends of Truth: A Case for Reclaiming Our Earlier Name · March 2007. Robert Griswold, No Creed Is Not the Same as No Theology ...
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It hardly seems possible to have "raw experience" as in "experience without some expectation re the cause & meaning of what one experiences"!
I think that you will find that there is a very real and reasonable rejection of the kind of theology that has to be characterized as "vain arguments." There are some questions that simply don't need to be answered, or, if one chooses to speculate, are to be held loosely. Deciding which questions fit that category is a whole 'nuther question. In the meantime, how "the Light" plays out in our lives is where the rubber meets the road.
Nathan,
Please,would you like to elaborate your position a little more.
Jeffrey
Hmmmmm. Well, among early controversies, for instance, was that about the nature of the Godhead and the relationship among the Father, Son and Spirit which resulted in "Trinity Doctrine." It is spoken of as a mystery, and I don't think that anyone has a clear understanding of what "three in one" really means, but it has been required as an article of faith over centuries and people murdered about it from the beginning. We hold it as a mystery, and I'm sure many of us have our perceptions of the meaning, but it is not required "doctrine." "Atonement" is another example: several theories have been advanced on how it works, but the how is not specifically stated. We believe that we have a relationship with the Father in love through Christ, and I lean toward a "Christus Victor" model of how, but I'm not gonna burn you at the stake if you believe in a substitutionary model (maybe torture you a little, though). Predestination I don't even wanna talk about. So, what are the basics? We are called to be "Friends of God" in a unique relationship that is demonstrated in our lives as we live with each other in love. Beyond that, the question to ask is how any particular subject helps or hinders us in that relationship. I think any doctrine is subject to examination according to the "fruit of the spirit."
I hope that is clarifying rather than confusing.
Nathan,
So are saying that the only valid 'truth', is that which comes out of one's experience? Or, theological exploration of 'truth' is Ok as long as it doesn't become a cause division? Or, I've missed your point?
Regards
Jeffrey
"Valid truth." No, I would not say that the only valid "truth" comes from our experience, but I would agree with the eminently post modern statement: "now we see through a glass darkly," and I would very much question the general value of propositional theology and especially constructing a systematic theology from the diverse expressions in the Bible when we are told simply to be Christ-like and Jesus essentially said that God loves everyone alike and we should be like God in that (Matt 5:43ff as I recall).
For that reason I would say that pursuit of "truth for truth's sake" may well be vanity, especially if there is no reason to think that a particular element of "truth" will be of real benefit in living out the values Jesus demonstrated. So, perhaps I am more saying that the only really important "truth" is that which can be applied to our experience.
Everyone on earth has had the Experience of the Recognition of Truth, whether it's a full-blown kensho ala Paul at Damascus or what we see about adding one apple to another apple. It's no more an infallible sense than any of the others--but while you might sometimes rightly suspect a possibility that you could've made the equivalent of an arithmetic error, you (I?) can no more doubt the feeling than you can deny seeing a video monitor before you at this moment, because it is utterly immediate.

The context... You might argue all day about the context, in which you relate each experienced truth to the others, and whether you might conceivably be deluded about all of them (and that context as well!) A context might shift... I was in bed, trying to fall asleep while my room-mates were up stoned and laughing right outside my door, saying something about 'that cat.' My cat had died that day; thinking these were the most horrible people on earth I leaped up and went out the door and started chewing them out, whereupon it developed that "that cat" was some guy and everything I'd heard was about him. So it goes, sometimes--and on a bigger scale than that. (Maybe our first thought after death is something like "I've been dumb!")

But prepositional theology... to "draw conclusions on the wall." Those conclusions may or may not matter, but in wrestling over them (in the recognition that all important prepositional truths are metaphoric) we see the relation between them in our understanding--which is where truths live and belong. A truth in a book is like the sheet music for a symphony...
As I understand it there is a distinctive Quaker theology: we are continuation of christian community, primitve christianity revived. We're a 'second coming' church because we experience the Jesus of the gospels teaching amongst ourselves. We find Christ with us, present to teach us as we learn to hear him, showing us how to respond in practical ways to the problems of our time. Hence for example we don't do the bread and wine stuff other christians do, because that was a ritual for the waiting time before Christ's return, because we claim he has already come. All Quaker practices have their foundation in scripture, because we are a movement that is about cutting back all of the overgrowth to allow the good seed to grow up strongly in us. At best we are simple christianity. The other christians have rituals and priests to keep them on the true path - we have made this bold claim that we can be truly and safely guided directly as a community by the presence of God with us.
The trouble with your description is that it is an accurate statement of our origins, but not, so far as I can tell, what we still claim "as a community." If we haven't altogether lost sight of that guidance, then this is still a step on the path. We don't know "primitive Christianity" nor would we necessarily want to revive it, nor Puritan-era Quakerism either. We want (many of us!) to revive ourselves and each other, to re-establish the connection that gave rise to those movements.

Does God have a "Jesus flavor" to me? Very much so! Do I see/hear some divine person, in or out of meeting, whom I might think of as Jesus. No.

Someone I know, sitting in meeting one day, was curious/yearning to meet a truly enlightened human being; what would that be like? She was answered by a vision of beautiful, empty oriental robes, and the words: "Put yourself in these garments."

Many of us do see Jesus as the Spirit moving among us... but there is that alleged quote in John: "If I didn't go away, you'd never find the Spirit." Which I take to mean as, "As long as you've got someone outside yourself to look towards, you won't look in the right place."

Quaker practices simply don't make sense except as following from certain assumptions which George Fox (and others) found in his interaction with scripture.

Some of these assumptions have generally been tacitly dropped, and I wonder about them myself--not, for example, doubting whether we can serve as divine mediums, channeling the words of God, but whether God H'self generally desires or intends our relationship to take that form. If I write a poem, for example, it is not like taking dictation, but neither can I deny that it's a divine gift, which comes with "some assembly required."

What brought me back to Friends, after most of a lifetime, was telling a friend that he should seek allies among the Quakers, "because they're the only people still trying to do real Christianity." Even among the Nonthe-hists this is probably the underlying yearning, to do what Jesus "was really talking about" rather than bronze him for use as a worship-object. (My disagreement with them is that he was "really" talking about "God" as one he knew factually, and that all his goodstuff teachings grew out of that.)

Continuation of Christianity--well, yeah. But where we've continued into is a long ways from Kansas. And we're still having to individually learn, as individuals, that we can be truly and safely guided directly as individuals, by remembering our presence of mind with God.
I know I'm inspired, and I ain't "infallible"!

I'm also still learning things from scripture, with its warts on!

Back in my hippydaze, I was stoned with some good strangers who were introducing me to the Incredible String Band. When I heard the line about: "Who would lamb, and who would lion, and who would be the tamer? And who would hear--directions clear--from the Unnamed All-Namer," I said inside, "Wow! Can You do that?" (If the directions since then have often seemed unclear, well, I haven't always kept my ears clean!)

Interpretation. Everything is about interpretation. The story of Sodom is very much there for interpretation, and if the traditional Jewish take is way better than the traditional Christian take (It is!) there's still the fact that it's us, with God, needing to work out whatever this, or any passage says (or doesn't) about our lives, and whether that meaning is true.

A statement, with the weight of the Bible on it, is worth whatever it might be worth on its own.

The real story of the Bible, as I see it: is that God has intentions for us, and is willing to dicker as to how these might be realized. God treats us more respectfully than we treat God. The Tyrant In the Sky is a projection of the tyrant in our heads; what makes the real God so utterly implacable is that a Being who merges both Truth and Love can't leave us forever in a playpen smearing poop on ourselves!

That's a Friend's theology on the matter. The jury is still out, for Friends in general.
Ben Pink Dandelion, in his lectures on Introduction to Quakerism on the Woodbrooke site, deals with a Quaker approach to theology.
His says of the British liberal tradition, that the approach is one of 'uncertainty". Because words fail in fully describing the Divine, it leaves us with a certain hesitancey. Although not using the term 'apophatic', it appears that this is what he is describing..The apophatic way is when" words, images, and even our deepest relationships with others cannot hold or express all that God is". (Cronk).
The 'uncertainty' comes with the fact that anything we may say is provisional , for with further light, we change our understanding.
Is this the only valid approach to theology?
Is there a place for the use of words, symbols etc (however limited), in Quaker theology?

Peace
Jeffrey
In theology, it isn't what you know, but Who you know. Otherwise you may be constructing a marvelous system, but you're missing the subject.

People can use apophatic speech for at least two reasons; they get overwhelmed (like Aquinas after a lifetime of theological writing) by the Actuality-- Or they can take up the practice as a cop-out, a way to deny that there's anything important worth knowing about God.
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The theology underlaying Quaker practice... is basically instrumental. We don't generally use theological debate (like the Jews & the Tibetan Buddhists) as a religious practice, because (in theory) we can query the Subject directly. We don't impose that view of things, but it's implicit in our practice; and when some people lack curiosity about God, and therefore fail to ask, they don't write much theology either.
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Aside from that, there are theologies of individual Quakers.

Mine is poetical, not because I think theology doesn't matter, but precisely because it does, and only a poetic way of understanding can be trusted to point toward it.

"Valid"? You mean, is it okay with Quakers? Anything short of sacrificing chickens between the benches is probably okay with Quakers. But as to validity, thee would need to road-test it thyself!

What is it that you want to say about theology?

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