Further Consideration of Evangelical Quakerism and Fundamentalism

February 27, 2013

Fundamentalism Among Quakers — Brinton’s View stimulated a number of comments. Some of them were posted on QuakerQuaker, and some on Facebook, after Friends Journal linked to the piece on its Facebook page.  On River View Friend I am pulling together all those comments to preserve them. (A few comments were cross-posted in both locations.)

I want to give further thought to a number of these comments.  Some of them have to do with the depth and quality of Howard Brinton’s writings.  I don’t think I’ll explore that further, though others may want to. He is someone who played an important role in Quakerism, especially in what are now FGC meetings. And he is someone who continues to draw newcomers to Friends through Friends for 300 Years.

Some of the comments have to do with the proper uses of the terms ‘evangelical’ and ‘fundamentalist’ among Friends. When is it proper (useful, helpful) to use the term ‘evangelical’ and when is it proper to use the term ‘fundamentalist’ when speaking of Quakers? I am not interested in exploring this to divide, but rather to understand what is happening among us. In this, I am especially interested in how we draw on the Bible.  And I also want to think about whether there are divergent currents within evangelical Quakerism, the understanding of which will help my own spiritual life.

So that’s what I want to think further about, and also read further about.  I note, for example, that the term ‘fundamentalism’ is not mentioned in Tom Hamm’s The Transformation of American Quakerism, or at least there is no listing in the index.

On the other hand, John Punshon’s Reasons for Hope does make a number of comments about Quakers and fundamentalism, including this one:

“[Guerneyite Friends] failed, in fact, to produce a lasting synthesis between Quakerism and the evangelical tradition because the form of evangelicalism they were confronted with was the Wesleyan holiness variety, and they faced the real possibility that their yearly meetings would be overtaken by it. There may not have been time and space for thought then, but times have moved on and the lack of such a synthesis is the basic reason for the present challenge to the tradition. Moreover, there are now newer forms of evangelicalism like fundamentalism and Pentacostalism to be considered, and they frequently put sharp questions to the older denominations. If one is an evangelical, one will sooner or later be called upon to answer some of these questions, and one’s church should be able to provide guidance on how to do so. Hence, we cannot give a comprehensive account of contemporary Friends doctrine without considering what is happening in the evangelical movement at large.” (p 22)

So I need to read Punshon again with these “sharp questions” in mind, and hope others will forgive me if I sometimes raise these sharp questions.  (A Friend chided me that it may be a curious way to spend one’s retirement to ‘argue with strangers.’ Perhaps, but I am learning a great deal with the help of both such strangers and also many friends – some of them new.)

One other book I plan to re-read is George Marsden’s Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Eerdmans, 1990).

Feel free to read along with me, asking your own sharp questions and offering guidance as you can.

also posted on River View Friend

Views: 211

Comment by Doug Bennett on 3rd mo. 5, 2013 at 9:28am

"Fundamentalism" is one term to wrestle with: what does it mean; who should consider her/himself a "fundamentalist."  Perhaps even more important is the term "evangelical." Perhaps Brinton should have spoken of some Friends being "evangelical" rather than "fundamentalist."  But what's an "evangelical," and who should consider her/himself one? (Some days I do, some days I don't.)

As I'm pondering these questions, Rachel Held Evans on her blog asks her many, many readers what is an evangelical, and what is the future of evangelicalism. She received dozens of thoughtful comments, and her readers are definitely religious, definitely young, and definitely from the side of the spectrum of belief that Quakers would consider evangelical.  But the responses are fascinating in terms of the distaste that is growing towards the term.  Read them yourself, but here is a sampling:

I started to realize a few years back that "Evangelical" is well on its way to meaning "Fundamentalist," which is something I'm definitely not, nor would want to be thought to be.

 Evangelicalism is about having the answers-not asking enough questions.

 Evangelicalism is so hard to define already and it seems like a lot of Christians are already reacting to one another by clinging harder and harder to their belief systems and narrowing down their theology.

 It's funny how the Bible says there is no other foundation than Christ Jesus. So even the bible says it's not #1. I think further fragmenting is inevitable because evangelicals make the Bible their #1 authority, but we'll never all agree on how to interpret it. History will continue to repeat itself there.

 Evangelicals are Christ-followers who have gotten distracted from following Christ and are now focused on convincing the rest of the world to join them, because they know exactly what they believe and why, and in addition are the only true possessors of truth.

 I'm increasingly finding myself calling myself "Post-evangelical" largely b/c of the gatekeeping in Evangelical circles (not just the neo-reformed), which reminds me of the merchants blocking the entrance for the poor, the lame, the "impure" of Jesus' day.

 Evangelicalism has taken on a flavor of "in" and "out" which reminds me of the biggest mean clique ever. (If you're out, you're in torment forever ...). Seems so the opposite of what Jesus did, who he hung with, who loved him most.

 My biggest concern for evangelicalism is that it seems, in many cases, to be a movement that relies on tricks and false incentives to encourage people to become part of it, rather than authentically offering the church for what it is. Many non-believers view the church as very hypocritical, and we prove them right when we say that we have something valuable to offer them and then act like we don't by using cheap tricks to get them in the door.

 I think the term "Evangelical" has attracted a negative connotation because of the behavior and loud, exclusive voices associated with it, but I think at its core, to be an evangelical Christian simply means you are a person who believes the message of the gospels. That being said, it's attracted so much negative attention, I don't like to use it.

Comment by Aaron J Levitt on 3rd mo. 6, 2013 at 1:01pm

I agree that it's important to differentiate between Evangelicism and Fundamentalism, and I'd prefer to see the latter term dropped altogether, and hopefully replaced with something more coherent. Fundamentalism should, presumably, refer to a religious perspective that focuses on fundamentals. It's actual use seems to refer to a mixture of biblical literalism, social conservatism, and Evangelicalism. One might even argue that Fundamentalist Christianity is distinguished by its lack of fundamentalism, while the RSoF is profoundly fundamentalist.

Comment by Michael Jay on 3rd mo. 6, 2013 at 5:39pm

In a VERY specific historical context Fundamentalism makes sense.  BIOLA, for example, is fundamentalist  The writers of the essays mentioned on this Wikipedia page are Fundamentalists.     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fundamentals.  -- There are some similarities between Neo-Calvinism and Fundamentalism -- but, really, J. Piper is not a Fundamentalist. 

It is problematic when the rightful name of a distinct group has been adopted for polemic language.  

Comment by Aaron J Levitt on 3rd mo. 6, 2013 at 6:03pm

Very interesting, thanks!


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