Fundamentalism Among Quakers — Brinton’s View

Perhaps the dateline should read “January 10, 1959″ because, rummaging around in the Friends Journal archives, I stumbled across a piece by Howard H. Brinton entitled “The Place of Quakerism in Modern Christian Thought.” It was published in two parts in the January 10 and January 17, 1959 issues. It is what he says about fundamentalism in this piece that I want to lift up.

FJ 1-10-1959An aside: one of the many benefits of a Friends Journal subscription is access to the Friends Journal archives, which have been digitized back to 1955, the year of its founding.  (It was formed out of the merger of The Friend [1827-1955] and Friends Intelligencer [1847-1955] as the Hicksite/Orthodox schism was being healed.) There are rich treasures in these archives. A subscription will bring you much more than current issues.

In this piece on “The Place of Quakerism in Modern Christian Thought,” Brinton thinks broadly about the theology of Friends in the context of other Christian denominations. He discusses “three main trends in current Protestant thought–fundamentalism, liberalism, and the so-called neo-orthodoxy (new orthodoxy),” and explores Quakerism in relation to each.  At the end, he declares that early Friends “took a position between the two extremes of modern liberalism and neo-orthodoxy.” What he makes of that and why he says it are worth reading, but I was especially struck at what he said about “fundamentalism.”  At bottom he argues that those who take a fundamentalist or evangelical line within Quakerism part company with the most striking and life-giving insights of early Friends. With permission from Friends Journal, I’ll quote what he says in full:

“Fundamentalism must be considered even though there are probably few fundamentalists in this audience, because it is the most dynamic and rapidly growing movement within Protestant Christianity, and elements of it exist in most Protestant creeds. About one-third of those under the name of Friends in America can be so classified. Furthermore, the struggle between modernism and fundamentalism, so characteristic of the early years of the twentieth century, still continues, especially in the mission field. To defend what they consider to be fundamental doctrines of Christianity, such as the fall of Adam, the virgin birth, the blood atonement, biblical miracles, the Trinity, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and the second coming of Christ, the fundamentalists take their stand on the infallibility of the whole Bible. The Bible from cover to cover and verse by verse is believed to be fully inspired by God as a special revelation of truth unlike any other before or after. No other guide such as the light within, or reason or conscience can be accepted.

“The Society of Friends was certainly not fundamentalist at its beginning. Friends held that the Bible must be understood as a whole and not through texts taken out of their context. The Spirit which produced the Bible, they thought, still works in the hearts of men, revealing new truth and new aspects of old truth, so the biblical canon is never closed. The Bible is obviously not all on the same level. Even the fundamentalist selects what suits him best. When a fundamentalist supports fighting or the use of oaths, he resorts to the Old Testament and ignores the New. He preaches against drinking, smoking, and dancing, which are not mentioned by Jesus, and lays less emphasis on insincerity, pride, and hatred, sins which Jesus especially condemns. The fundamentalist does not realize that several theological points of view are set forth in the New Testament, such as those of the synoptic gospels, of John, of Paul, of Peter in his sermon at Pentecost, of James, of the authors of Hebrews and Revelation. All these show differences, as well as important similarities.

“The Quaker doctrines of the sacraments and of peace can only be upheld by an attitude which accepts the spirit of the New Testament as a whole, rather than stressing the literal meaning of certain isolated texts. As for the acceptance of Christ’s atonement for our sins, a central doctrine not only of fundamentalism but of Protestantism in general, the early Friends believed that Christ’s death and resurrection were of primary importance as a turning point in history, but almost the whole emphasis of Quaker preaching and writing has been on the saving power of the Christ within, without which Christ’s death would have been insufficient (Romans 5: 10). It was on the necessity of the continuing work of the Spirit of Christ in the heart that Friends broke most sharply with Protestantism, which held that Christ’s redeeming work had been finished on the cross. The saving “blood of Christ” was, for George Fox, the light within. As for the second coming, Fox said to those who expected it in his day, “Christ has already come” in your hearts.”

also posted in River View Friend

Views: 879

Comment by Pat Pope on 2nd mo. 25, 2013 at 6:54pm

Having spent 12 years in an evangelical meeting, I highly agree with this statement:

"...he argues that those who take a fundamentalist or evangelical line within Quakerism part company with the most striking and life-giving insights of early Friends."

Comment by Jane Stokes on 2nd mo. 25, 2013 at 9:02pm

Thank you, very helpful for me at this time. I must renew my subscription so that I can delve into the whole article.

Comment by Howard Brod on 2nd mo. 25, 2013 at 10:18pm
I grew up in a fundamentalist/evangelical church and remained faithful to the dogma I was taught well into adulthood. When I stumbled into a liberal Quaker meeting one Sunday in search of a better spiritual life for myself, my wife, and my children, I was moved almost to tears (as was Margaret Fell nearly 400 years earlier) as I experienced complete freedom in the living Spirit that was present in that 'expectant waiting' worship. Not once was the Bible mentioned, but I experienced the transforming power of the inward Christ for the first time in my life, and sensed that same transforming power present in those worshipping with me at that moment. No sermon or preacher or Bible passage has ever compared to that sacred experience that I now experience each Sunday morning.

Lots of things are possible from a regular habit of 'expectant-waiting' worship, but I do not think fundamentalism will ever be one of them.
Comment by James C Schultz on 2nd mo. 26, 2013 at 12:17am

I disagree with the following statement "but almost the whole emphasis of Quaker preaching and writing has been on the saving power of the Christ within, without which Christ’s death would have been insufficient (Romans 5: 10)".  This misses the whole point of Romans by reversing the order that was necessary for the living Christ to live in us and help us overcome the sins of the flesh.  Read together with John 12:21 to 32 it can be argued that the death of Jesus on Calvary was necessary before Christ could dwell in us.   To the extent that Fundamentalism is equated to legalism I wholeheartedly agree that it was not part of the early history of Quakers but my reading of all the different denominations seems to indicate it wasn't part of any of the initial moves of God from which they sprung.  Fundamentalism seems to grow out of people's need for answers where there often aren't any and leaders' reluctance to admit they don't have all the answers.  But you don't have to be a fundamentalist to believe that there was a special work done on Calvary regardless of what you want to call it.

Comment by Brent Bill on 2nd mo. 26, 2013 at 10:18am
I think that both Brinton and Bennett somehow imply that Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism are the same and they are not. Fundamentalism, in its purest sense was advocating a strict adherence to 5 fundamentals rooted in early 20th century conservative Presbyterianism. Certainly few Quakers -- even of a theologically conservative stripe -- were considered true Fundamentalists. And Evangelicals, while toward the same right ward side of the theological spectrum, are far from Fundamentalists.
To confuse/conflate the two (as Brinton does when he says "About one-third of those under the name of Friends in America can be so classified") betrays a lack of understanding of nuances of Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism and a willingness to tar whole groups of Friends with a broad (negative) brush. The Quakers Brinton and Bennett call Fundamentalist should be more rightly identified with the radical Holiness movement of 19th century -- a movement that gave birth to Free Methodists, Wesleyans, Nazarenes and the like. It pre-dates Fundamentalism and was a renewal movement not rooted in Calvinist thought. Those groups are Evangelical, but are not strictly Fundamentalists as the Fundamentalists defined themselves. To say something has been lost by Friends who went the Holiness direction may be valid -- but let's call it what is was -- "Holiness", not Fundamentalist.
Comment by Doug Bennett on 2nd mo. 26, 2013 at 10:52am

Yes, well said Brent Bill. Nevertheless.

Here are the “five fundamentals:”

1. The inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture

2. The deity of Jesus Christ
3. The virgin birth of Christ
4. The substitutionary, atoning work of Christ on the cross
5. The physical resurrection and the personal bodily return of Christ to the earth.

The one that concerns me most is “inerrancy of Scripture,” towards which I worry many evangelical Friends are drifting in a not very thoughtful way. Tom Hamm wrote a very good summary of what happened in the Indiana Yearly Meeting schism for Friends Journal. Here’s the second-to-last sentence: “There were Friends in IYM who were astonished that there were any Quakers in Indiana who didn’t take the Bible literally.”

I am one who does not believe in Scriptural inerrancy. Does that disqualify me as an evangelical?

Comment by William F Rushby on 2nd mo. 26, 2013 at 3:47pm

I am personally more concerned about the Friends who have drifted into "nontheism" than I am about those you call "fundamentalists".  If fundamentalism has no basis in early Quaker thought, I think this is even truer of nontheism!

By the way, you don't sound like an evangelical to me, Biblical inerrancy or not.

Comment by Howard Brod on 2nd mo. 26, 2013 at 4:09pm
I guess "drifting" is in the eye of the beholder.
Comment by William F Rushby on 2nd mo. 26, 2013 at 4:25pm

Hello, Howard!

When one has been involved with Friends as long as I have (50+ years), "drifting" is not too hard to see.

 

Comment by Barbara Smith on 2nd mo. 26, 2013 at 5:51pm

Friends - I have so many points of disagreement with Brinton's analysis that I hesitated to reply. But I will touch on a few. First this:

“The Society of Friends was certainly not fundamentalist at its beginning. Friends held that the Bible must be understood as a whole and not through texts taken out of their context."

From my perspective now, after a year of steeping myself in the writings of early Quakers,  it is obvious to me that this is statement shows the misunderstanding of a 20th Century thinker who has not read a lot of Pennington or Fox. They did not have any problem with taking very specific direction from specific lines in Scripture. They quoted it all the time.  They did not anywhere say that it had to be taken "as a whole". Their contention was only that it had to be read "in the Spirit in which it was written", which was the Holy Spirit. They emphasized over and over that it could not be understood by analysis, by using our left-brain, if you will, but that it could only be read with the aid of the Holy Spirit as it was written by the Holy Spirit. The type of analysis they were talking about is precisely what Brinton is doing in this article when he uses his intellect to dissect the Scriptures into fragments claiming that they are from different "theological points of view"! The Spirit does not talk in theological points of view and neither did the early Quakers. Here is a beautiful quote from Pennington on Scripture:

"Wait for the key of knowledge, which is God's free gift. Do not go with a false key to the Scriptures of Truth; for it will not open them. Man is too hasty to know the meaning of Scriptures, and to enter into the things of God, and so he climbs up over the door with his own understanding; but he has not patience to wait to know the door, and to receive the key which opens and shuts the door; and by this means he gathers death out of words which came from life."

I would say that both those who analyze the "theology" of Scripture and those who use it in a piece meal and literal way to justify whatever human point they want to make are in error and are missing the Life in the Scriptures. This is not just a crime of the evangelicals.

Second big problem with Brinton is that he is wrong to say that the early Quakers did not emphasize the atonement. One can not get that impression if one read many of the 17th Century journals. The reason  it was not as much in the preaching of Fox, or in the letters of Pennington, is that it was the Christ within that was new to the audiences and so that is what they emphasized. Pennington, and others,  wrote long epistles defending the Quakers against the charge that they were de-emphasizing the resurrection/atonement etc. It is not true.

I find Brinton an inexact and strident writer and here he is accusing a good portion of Friends of things he does not have any true knowledge of. This is not the way of Friends.

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