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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Geoff- That is such a succinct and clear translation of Barclay's propositions.

Jeff- I think Barclay would definitely be the place to start...I also recommend his Catechism and Confession

I feel that theology in the sense of speaking with clarity about our cumulative, corporate knowledge of God is vital to our faith and life together. Theology as an academic exercise can get pretty superfluous in my experience.

-Tyler.
Thank you very much for taking the time to write out this summary, Geoffrey. I am reminded once again to finally get to reading Barclay's Apology.

In Friendship,
Jan Lyn
Hey Micky, good to see you on here.

All of these things that Barclay tried to systemize came from inward experiences. Personally I can say that the authority of the Bible, the divinity of Christ, my own sinfulness, and God's saving power were things I could have never accepted without the Holy Spirit working on me.

I think one of Barclay (and other early Friends) points is that the Light (Christ's witness in us) is not just a nice thing- There are times when it will be a "searchlight" showing us all of those things we are doing wrong. If we just take #10 by itself it is easy to get too high a view of our individual humanity.

As far as 'what makes a Quaker' that is very hard to say at times, unfortunately. I can't say that I accept the idea that considering oneself a Quaker makes it so. I would ask questions like, 'Have you experienced the power of God in meeting for worship?' 'How has that experience changed you- what specific ways have you been led by the Lord to change your life?' 'Are you accountable to a (hopefully local) body of Friends?' 'Are you at the very least willing to wrestle with the Bible and classic Friends theology?'

Ultimately of course it is your meeting that is 'that committee' when they consider your membership.

-Tyler.
Yes, well, you can take exception as much as you want but it doesn't affect Barclay's importance to Friends.

The kind of hyper-individual theology (I'm a Friend if I want to be and I can believe whatever I want) is a relatively recent phenomenon and is still only confined to the most liberal corners of liberal Quakerism (and not officially: most liberal F&P wouldn't agree). To be a Quaker, technically, is to be a member of the Society of Friends and to be a member of a monthly meeting and a yearly meeting. Those bodies decide what is and isn't official Quaker theology through an involved, Spirit-led process. There is a definition and there are committees.

In the end anyone can call themselves a Quaker--even a multinational corporation, right? While we have official memberships and carefully-discerned books of "Faith and Practice," there competing definitions and no legal force behind any of them. For me, the question boils down to whether the name "Quaker" or "Friend" is really descriptive or not. If one rejects more Quaker theology that one embraces then what exactly the point? When is it more of an appropriated word than an accurate description?

Just the weekly reminder that this site is called QuakerQuaker because it's for those who want to explore what it means to be people who are Friends in both faith and practice. That pretty much means Barclay's nearby on the night stand (even if the bookmark is stuck in the early pages because he's a bit dense!). There's plenty of other internet forums for discussions of hyper-individualistic notions of Quakerism.
But would it be okay for a group of those who share the same theology to get together as a distinct meeting, or should we all try to be part of the same organization? Friends have often lamented the divisions that have occurred within the Society of Friends, but I think that sometimes division may be necessary. While there may have been one definition of what it meant to be a Friend originally, that hasn't been the case for some time, so we now have some groups with strong professions of faith in Christ, some with theology (or lack thereof) considered a personal choice; some meetings with paid clergy, choirs, etc., and others with unprogrammed worship; some meetings that won't allow divorce and remarriage, and others that permit homosexual marriages. If we tried to force everyone back into one organisation, we'd have to instantly have a huge fight over what our group definition was. Or, we could say, there is no group definition, and anyone can join. But what is that quote, "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." If you say that a Friends Meeting can't require members to have certain beliefs, or to follow any rules at all, then you are making a choice which is in fact just as exclusive, because it excludes all those who do want to make choices of who they associate with.

That's why I'm glad that there are several distinct versions of what it means to be the Religious Society of Friends. No one else can demand that my meeting must allow non-Christians, prepared sermons, or homosexual marriage; and I don't have to try to persuade other meetings to disown most of their members for not following the rules that used to exist in the whole society, but have been forgotten. Hopefully, we can disagree with each other without thte need for hostility, and God can make use of several versions of the Society of Friends as he sees fit.
For me there is a "conversation" between theology and experiential worship.  They each help to inform and give shape to each other.  What would otherwise be mere ideas come profoundly alive through worship.  
It isn't, you know, a matter of people "wanting to make choices of whom they associate with."

Personally, I don't think atheists should become members of Quaker Meetings. Several of them were members of my own Meeting for longer than I've been, and they've been perfectly fine people to associate with. And lately a good friend of mine, also an atheist, is applying for membership, and this looks likely to put me in an interesting position!-- which I hope resolves with us still associating.

It would be easier for me to worship with people who didn't consider reliance on God a strange and impractical notion... and I'd expect, then, more of a feeling that our decisions were the will of God, not just the best available compromise between God and Worldly Pseudopracticality. "Quaker" wouldn't seem such a misleading designation for such a group!

God is continually associating with all sorts of people, even me, and even with people who disapprove of couples whom God has made homosexual for whatever inscrutable reasons. Anyone can come to my Meeting and disagree with me all the while we're together, you included! We might think one of us must not be listening well enough to our Teacher... but to an atheist, well, a theist must seem simply crazed or stupid-- self-deceived at best!

That makes for a very strained partnership; but doesn't at all preclude mutual liking and getting along. It makes sense to welcome atheists to attend worship, to find Who they might find. Or not, as it pleases God and them. It doesn't make sense to call them Quakers, any more than claiming that time in a waiting room makes me a doctor!

Objections to other categories of human don't seem so functional, somehow.



Jeffrey Carr said:

"You would have to define........" More avoidence!
Why is it that you cannot give a straight answer to a simple question?
Is this some kind of mind game Quakers play on enquirers?
I find it so frustrating that individuals seem unable to articulate what they believe without resorting to vague and obtuse answers.
It is so perplexing for the stranger at the door!
Baffled
Jeffrey
There is no simple answer to a question, you cant expect that. As most knowledge is subjective. Life is a debate. Debatable! 
You cannot prove everything, as one proof will guide you to another and eventually become an endless chain! We are forced to settle and agree in something and determine objectivity in order to obtain certainty. I believe, the key to most knowledge... through reasoning!

Hello, Jeffrey!  I have four points to make; originally, it was two points, but I keep adding more.

First, it is useful to think of Quaker theology as "narrative theology".  Viewed as such, the massive collection of Quaker journals and memoirs would provide lots of grist for one's theological mill.  Some of these are available in the Earlham School of Religion Digital Collection.  See http://esr.earlham.edu/dqc/index.html    Others may be had as digital reprints or in eBook format, or even as originally published.

I would also recommend to you the work of Lewis Benson.  Lewis is not the last word, but he is very important in understanding the theological basis of the Quaker faith.  In particular, see Lewis' None Were So Clear, which tells his story.  The New Foundation Fellowship offers many of Lewis' insightful essays at very modest prices.  They also publish Foundation Papers.

Also, check out Quaker Religious Thought, which mostly reflects the views of scholarly Christian Friends.  A more eclectic theological publication, with a more liberal slant, is Quaker Theology, published by Chuck Fager.  Most of its contents are available online.

Robert Barclay's Apology has been recommended by others here.  I think that it is not a good place to begin.  Barclay is a second generation Friend.  He has recast Quaker theology in a propositional format, foreign to the original Quaker worldview.

George Fox is a better starting point.  His approach more nearly represents the genius of the Quaker vision.  Fox's primary interpreter is Lewis Benson.

Jeffrey - As you can see from the above replies there is no longer any such thing in the U.S. as "Quakerism." The history, particularly the splits of the 19th Century, have led Friends off into many different directions (three main ones) and the divergence continues. I agree with Bill that in order to know Quaker theology today you have to spend a good amount of time reading the history, starting from the beginning. It also seems important to understand this history to be able to "choose" where your beliefs lie on the spectrum. Contrary to the impression I had as a member of a liberal meeting years ago, the theology of Early Friends is not dead and no longer relevant! It was alive and well then and still is today, in some circles! And it is indeed a meaty, deep, and revolutionary theology - one that all new members at that time were ready to die for! Their theology did not just consist of "Jesus wants us to love one another" - they would not have been willing to die for that! It was a theology that is still revolutionary in the 21st Century and for the most part still not being widely practised.

It is particularly interesting to me that in the 16th Century when a person became a Friend through a personal experience of God's Presence they invariably began to have the same scruples and to uphold the same testimonies as the other Friends - they formed a community with amazingly uniform understandings of God.  (Not that there were not splinter groups and off shoots.) There was no understanding that they would each have their own individual "version" of Quakerism, or that the Light would tell them each different things, as there is today. God is One, and when they listened to the Inner Light they would be led as a body as long as they faithfully stayed in the Light. This collection of common beliefs was the theology that Quakerism became.

I am reading a book called Portraiture of Quakerism written in 1808 by Thomas Clarkson, who was an English abolitionist. He was not a Friend but had close connections with the Friends through his abolition work. He wanted to write a complete view of Quakers from the outside, largely for the purpose of educating the public on who the Quakers really were. He is an excellent and very clear writer, not at all difficult to read, and I am thoroughly enjoying the view it gives of Quakers at that time period. He covers their "peculiar" customs, testimonies, discipline, and theology and brief history. What impressed me most in this book is the detailed explanations of the Biblical basis and argumentation for all the beliefs and testimonies of Early Friends. The careful and logical thinking that these non-theologians put into analyzing Scripture is impressive and fascinating. And ALL their theology was based on this careful analysis of Scripture!

I will just give one quote from Clark's book:

"Quakerism may be defined to be an attempt, under divine influence, at practical Christianity as far as it can be carried. They, who profess it, consider themselves bound to regulate their opinions, words, actions, and even outward demeanor, by Christianity, and by Christianity alone."

This "version" of Quaker theology is still alive among Conservative Friends and others.

Blessings on your investigations,

Barb

Good Morning Barb:

I have been reading Clark's book as well and find it an encouraging read.  I also appreciate your comment about what I see as the hyper-individualism of our time and how it has impinged on Quaker Faith and Practice.  The idea of submitting to a communal discipline is alien to the hyper-individual, but was the norm for Quaker Faith and Practice for a long time.  In some ways I get the impression that the early Quaker community resembles the kind of commitments that one finds in Christian monasticism.  Of course there are differences, but the sense of commitment to a communal body is what I notice as a shared approach. 

Thanks again for your thoughtful post,

Jim

N.B. The Clarkson quote speaks of practical, not biblical per se, Christianity and Christianity alone, not "solo Scriptura" as what Quakerism is(was?) bound.
 
Barbara Smith said:

Jeffrey - As you can see from the above replies there is no longer any such thing in the U.S. as "Quakerism." The history, particularly the splits of the 19th Century, have led Friends off into many different directions (three main ones) and the divergence continues. I agree with Bill that in order to know Quaker theology today you have to spend a good amount of time reading the history, starting from the beginning. It also seems important to understand this history to be able to "choose" where your beliefs lie on the spectrum. Contrary to the impression I had as a member of a liberal meeting years ago, the theology of Early Friends is not dead and no longer relevant! It was alive and well then and still is today, in some circles! And it is indeed a meaty, deep, and revolutionary theology - one that all new members at that time were ready to die for! Their theology did not just consist of "Jesus wants us to love one another" - they would not have been willing to die for that! It was a theology that is still revolutionary in the 21st Century and for the most part still not being widely practised.

It is particularly interesting to me that in the 16th Century when a person became a Friend through a personal experience of God's Presence they invariably began to have the same scruples and to uphold the same testimonies as the other Friends - they formed a community with amazingly uniform understandings of God.  (Not that there were not splinter groups and off shoots.) There was no understanding that they would each have their own individual "version" of Quakerism, or that the Light would tell them each different things, as there is today. God is One, and when they listened to the Inner Light they would be led as a body as long as they faithfully stayed in the Light. This collection of common beliefs was the theology that Quakerism became.

I am reading a book called Portraiture of Quakerism written in 1808 by Thomas Clarkson, who was an English abolitionist. He was not a Friend but had close connections with the Friends through his abolition work. He wanted to write a complete view of Quakers from the outside, largely for the purpose of educating the public on who the Quakers really were. He is an excellent and very clear writer, not at all difficult to read, and I am thoroughly enjoying the view it gives of Quakers at that time period. He covers their "peculiar" customs, testimonies, discipline, and theology and brief history. What impressed me most in this book is the detailed explanations of the Biblical basis and argumentation for all the beliefs and testimonies of Early Friends. The careful and logical thinking that these non-theologians put into analyzing Scripture is impressive and fascinating. And ALL their theology was based on this careful analysis of Scripture!

I will just give one quote from Clark's book:

"Quakerism may be defined to be an attempt, under divine influence, at practical Christianity as far as it can be carried. They, who profess it, consider themselves bound to regulate their opinions, words, actions, and even outward demeanor, by Christianity, and by Christianity alone."

This "version" of Quaker theology is still alive among Conservative Friends and others.

Blessings on your investigations,

Barb

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