A Review of Traditional Quaker Christianity

As I read and re-read Traditional Quaker Christianity, I felt a spirit of humble diligence intent upon conveying the core substance of Quaker understanding, as well as the practices that have thus far assisted its continuation. The original draft of this book was the result of a study of Friends faith and witness by Ohio Yearly Meeting member Michael Hatfield. He gave his work to the yearly meeting "to do with as it saw fit." Small study groups were formed in which his writing was found useful but in need of more work. OYM called upon four Friends (Arthur Berk, John Smith, Susan Smith, and Terry Wallace) to edit and develop Hatfield's original draft.

 There are seven chapters in the book, each containing anywhere from four to ten sections. Each section is comprised of a title, selections for recommended reading, a short essay, and questions for discussion. Four appendices complete the main body of the book, providing more discussion of eldering, a brief history and present-day scope of alternate forms of Quaker faith, a glossary of Quaker terms, and a bibliography.

 This book would be helpful for anyone wanting a readable introduction to or comprehensive overview of the original tenets of Quaker Christianity, and the sustaining practices that have evolved in Ohio Yearly Meeting. The primary doctrines of the faith are all included: the Word of God is Christ (not the Bible); the Spirit of Christ is universally bestowed; salvation entails obedience to the living God (not intellectual assent to doctrine); only in the daily cross of Christ can evil be overcome. In addition to presenting the central beliefs, the book examines particular tenets that have arisen from the faith: that gospel ministry is oracular, that the Scriptures are esteemed and studied, that baptism and communion are inward occurrences, and that females and males have equal spiritual potential in substance and practice. Pertinent passages from the Scriptures and Friends writings are frequently cited and paraphrased to supplement the editors' descriptions and explanations.

 Some present-day misconstructions of Quaker faith are addressed. For example, in the fourth section of the first chapter, Lewis Benson is quoted contrasting the ethic of obligation with the ethic of idealism: the former being a principle grounded in divine Will as opposed to the latter, which is based in human values. A later discussion in chapter seven on testimony versus testimonies furthers the discussion, and the difference is then illustrated in later sections where the original peace witness and the contemporary peace testimony are each described.     

 I found the essay on clerking substantial in identifying gifts needed for clerking, responsibilities of both clerk and meeting while conducting business, and helpful practical advice for maintaining order, and writing or modifying a minute. Throughout the book, practical advice is regularly offered and always purposeful.

 The roles of elders, overseers, ministers, and teachers are each described: their work, the strengths and gifts necessary, and the typical dangers encountered. A chart at the end of chapter six compares the different functions and orientations of each, providing an easy reference to Friends who are not practiced in identifying these gifts and are unfamiliar with their specific benefits to the community.  

 Though Traditional Quaker Christianity is intended to convey the tradition among Conservative Friends, it may find readers among Liberals and Evangelicals. Should another generation of Quakers come forth and undertake the restoration of "the desolations of many generations," they could find this book a resource for building up a Quaker Christian society. Here they would find stated the purpose and aim of the society, means to realize that aim, practices to support those means, and generally a structure  provided in which a people of God could arise, flourish, and serve the cause of Truth.


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Comment by Jay Thatcher on 9th mo. 30, 2014 at 12:14pm

How can my meeting or I acquire a copy?

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 9th mo. 30, 2014 at 1:08pm

Hi Jay. The book is new and probably not yet in Quaker book stores. One of the editors, Terry Wallace, has been handling the sales, which I hear have been brisk! You can contact Terry at <thswallace@aol.com>

For a meeting study group, it might be useful to begin with listening to the Swarthmore lecture by Ben Pink Dandelion, who underscored the cost to our Society of recasting the tradition along lines of secular individualism.

If you or your meeting reads the book, I hope that you'll post on QuakerQuaker about it.

Comment by Jim Wilson on 9th mo. 30, 2014 at 2:05pm

I checked with Amazon and the book is available there. I ordered the book through my local bookstore, which means that it is listed at Ingram Book Distribution, which is the largest book distributor in the U.S. So you should be able to order it through a local bookstore as well as the resource Patricia listed.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 30, 2014 at 3:15pm

When the old wineskin was new, it carried a pure and potent vintage... but neither the wine or the skin are what they once were, nor much to the taste of modern thirsts.

The living God is available and able to renew both wine and container. I'm sure that doctrines and practices excavated from the past may be helpful in this process; but we will almost certainly not find many people able or willing to live in an archaeological dig.

Much of what we have and do today is corrupt. But it has embodied the Word of God as the people we [so far] are have been able to receive that. I don't see much reason for hope in the people we [so far] are; but then God isn't done yet.

Comment by Jim Wilson on 10th mo. 1, 2014 at 11:16am

Good Morning Forrest:

This response to your observations does not have the intent of changing your mind regarding Conservative Friends.  If that approach is not for you, then it isn't. 

What I want to point out is that the way you frame the faith and practice of Conservative Friends is, I think, problematic.  Conservative Friends are not a reconstructionist tradition; they are simply one branch of the RSoF.  By depicting Conservative Friends as an 'old wineskin' you pre-emptively dismiss any insights this branch may have to offer. 

I also find this dismissal of a tradition that conserves an approach, and specific pracitces, from the past one of the marks of progressivism, and Liberal Quakers, which, I think, is thoughtlessly and uncritically taken as obvious.  There are numerous examples of traditions which have preserved their past faith and practice and thrive today; these include Buddhist monasticism, Catholic monasticism (e.g. Trappists, Carthusians), the Amish, etc. 

On a wider note, I would point to the fact that the sun rises every day and the moon goes through its cycle every month.  They do this over and over -- it is the way of nature.  Perhaps this has something to teach us.  Or maybe progressives would like to see an alternative; perhaps the moon should always be full.  With advanced technology we might be able to position the moon so it will never go dark.  Now that would be progress!

Best wishes,


Comment by Paul Ricketts on 10th mo. 1, 2014 at 11:28am

"Some present-day misconstructions of Quaker faith are addressed. For example, in the fourth section of the first chapter, Lewis Benson is quoted contrasting the ethic of obligation with the ethic of idealism: the former being a principle grounded in divine Will as opposed to the latter, which is based in human values. "


Our testimonies are derived from the teachings of Jesus. But many Quakers have associated the testimonies as a rubic for a way of life (I’ve been totally guilty of that at times) instead of being the work of the holy spirit. In the Lutheran Church I was taught it is not our own reason, strength or good works that give us faith. It was the presence of  the holy spirit, working through and in us, who gives us faith and the power to live the gospel. Or as  Martin Luther says, "Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ ...”

In my article / reflection in Friends Journal this month " Extending the Table" I attempted to both affirm our Quaker testimonies in the context of Jesus teachings but I also shared that when we have failed to live up to these  testimonies and our relationships have disappointed us into despair, In my reflection I write, "Even in our darkest hour, the Holy Spirit nudges us back into relationships from our retreats of safety and slowly helps us to live into the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” Spirit heals our brokenness and becomes the living rock that deepens our relationships. Spirit empowers us to work with others in promoting a just and peaceful world." I conclude the  article with these words," Can our Friends meetings be the body and hands of the Holy Spirit in the world today?

Comment by Forrest Curo on 10th mo. 1, 2014 at 4:40pm

ConservativeFriendists and LiberalFriendists are indeed different branches of one tradition, emphasizing different elements of that tradition, both claiming to preserve the essence of it.

ConservativeFriendists do seem more inclined to 'seek the living among the dead,' ie to try to get 'back' to God via returning to the last place we saw Him, whether that was somewhere in the 1650's or merely some time ago. The LiberalFriendist notion [as far as I understand it] seems to be ~ if we follow the procedures we've inherited and observe the right bylaws, then whatever place we arrive, even the flames of Hell, will be by definition 'Quaker'.

We can often improve our practices and perspectives by reconsidering lapsed traditions, also by considering potential innovations. But these are simply not what we need to put our faith in.

Jesus spoke within a tradition -- not the tradition of later Judaism, certainly not the tradition of the High Priests & their followers, particularly not any 'Christian' tradition. (Probably this was a Israelite tradition maintained mostly-orally by the Galilean peasantry -- significantly more prophetic & less priestly, significantly more concerned with preserving the village, hardly concerned at all with collecting for the Temple, except as this impacted the precarious survival of debt-laden subsistence-farmer villagers.)

His impact came partially from speaking from a tradition recognized and functional among the people he addressed -- but went far beyond that, because he was open to God's guidance, teaching and inspiration. The influence of Early Friends was much like that.

To have a similarly helpful influence on our fellow poorsouls...  it isn't methods that we need. God is accessible, as our spiritual ancestors insisted. Do we realize that? -- let it be realized through our recognition, acceptance, cooperation?

Comment by Keith Saylor on 10th mo. 1, 2014 at 4:41pm

Thank you Patricia for sharing this work. Bless you.

Comment by James C Schultz on 10th mo. 1, 2014 at 4:53pm

I am enjoying the book and would recommend it be included in every meeting's library and required as reading material for anyone interested in becoming a member.  I don't think it is a partisan book but I haven't finished it yet so I might be mistaken.  I'll update this when I'm finished as I have seen some books self-destruct in the last chapter(s).

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 10th mo. 2, 2014 at 10:40am

It's good to see the interest in the book; hope it carries over into the meetings. 

I think right response to and use of the tradition is modeled by Jesus, perhaps most pointedly in the Nazareth synagogue when he reads from the book of Isaiah (Luke 4:18 and Isa. 61:1). What the tradition held up and recorded lives in him; he's in unity with the Spirit that inspired the tradition. It will not go over well by-and-large, but that doesn't stop the prophetic voice: he just goes his way.  

When that voice is valued in a tradition or a community, when practices are in place to allow it to be heard and heeded, then we become a prophetic community, the visible Church with Christ the heavenly prophet as its Head. This brings heaven to earth and is the aim of our prophetic Quaker tradition.   


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