New essay at NFF: The Antipathy Between Prophecy and Religion

Lewis Benson was a Friend of the last century whose life's work was the study and interpretation of George Fox's writings and the presentation of their meaning and significance to modern Quakers. Workers who have joined in this labor go by the name of New Foundation Fellowship. At our website, we have opened a new resource of Benson's writings, and we will add new essays every so often. Our first offering is titled "The Antipathy Between Prophecy and Religion"; it can be accessed through Ellis Hein's introduction here:

It is an easy task for many liberal Quakers to grasp the difference between the appurtenances of religion that mistakenly pass for faith, and personal experience sought in meeting for worship. In the fourth chapter of John, we see Jesus setting out the difference between lifeless, formal religion and "worship in spirit and truth"[23]. Observation of particular times, places, and procedures of religion are not what the Father seeks from those who worship Him. Along these lines, Benson explores the opposition between the separate sources and aims of "religion" and "prophecy."

Having laid the groundwork of the antipathy between these two, Benson enters new territory. Prophecy has a context: it is not "religion" but is rather holy history, a record of "the whole stream of life of Hebrew and Christian peoples." God has acted and continues to act in time through revelation. Through the prophetic act of hearing and speaking God's Word, we enter into the "overall purpose of God for history and for society," which is "the establishment of the righteousness of God in the affairs of men and the gathering of a community bound to God by obedience"(pp.17-18).

The paradigm of the non-historical, timeless mysticism, introduced and promoted by Rufus Jones in the early twentieth century, gained momentum in the Religious Society of Friends by catering to the prevalent desire for individual spiritual agency, group solidarity, and works righteousness. Benson was one of the few Quakers who saw and witnessed against the debilitating transformation taking shape within our Society in the mid-twentieth century. Now three-quarters of a century later, an increasing number of Friends have become grateful for Benson's foresight and witness, which affirmed the mission and message of original Friends, as well as calls us today to a participation in their work through partaking of the testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy.  




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