Rediscovering the Teaching of George Fox: The Place of George Fox in Christian History

 Lewis Benson began his lecture series Rediscovering the Teaching of George Fox at Moorestown Meeting in New Jersey in the fall of 1982. The first lecture in this series is titled "The Place of George Fox in Christian History." It is now available for reading on the New Foundation Fellowship website, and can be accessed through Ellis Hein's introduction: http://nffquaker.org/profiles/blogs/the-place-of-george-fox-in-chri...  All are welcome to visit. Over time, we will sequentially post the nine remaining lectures in this series.

In this first lecture, "The Place of George Fox in Christian History," Benson states his intention for the series: "to focus on Fox's actual teachings as revealed in his writings," thereby addressing two problems: 1) scholars' mistaken interpretations of Fox's teaching, and 2) widespread lack of familiarity with our Quaker heritage. These lectures provide an excellent opportunity for Friends to familiarize themselves with significant portions of early Quaker understanding, as Benson's scholarship is thorough; his interpretation is sound; and his presentations are clear and coherent.

Benson's intention, though, is not solely to inform. Rather, through presenting the knowledge and wisdom that original Friends embodied, he seeks to provide a source "from which we can draw inspiration for a movement of Quaker renewal today."

"The everlasting gospel Fox preached is no longer a part of any living Quaker tradition," Benson asserts. Just as the gospel was lost soon after the initial apostolic work done in the early centuries of the Christian movement and later recovered in the seventeenth century, the gospel is once again lost in every branch of present-day Quakerism and likewise once again needs to be recovered. Friends of the seventeenth century model for us a recovering of this lost gospel power that was originally preached by the apostles and recorded in the New Testament.

Friends' rediscovery of this ancient gospel led them inevitably to proclaim it and thereby challenge their contemporaries to likewise find and enter into right relationship with their Creator. Quaker gospel ministry was a recovery of the original apostolic witness: the good news and manifestation that the living Christ is available to us yesterday, today, and forever. The recognition and experiential knowledge of Christ is the Quaker message and heritage. Through reviewing Fox's teaching, Benson informs us of the power that began the Quaker movement and, as a true prophet, urges us to claim it yet once more:

The Quaker world today is divided into adherents of three nineteenth-century traditions: conservative, evangelical, and liberal. And it is taken for granted by many that Quakerism must be defined as a pluralistic society in which these three traditions are maintained in balance. But none of these traditions, nor all three taken together, have the strength to support a vigorous witness for these times, or for the century that lies ahead. The men and women in each of these traditions are equally the rightful heirs of the rich legacy which Fox’s message and teaching has to offer. Our message to all the Quakers is: claim your inheritance. 

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Comment by Forrest Curo on 10th mo. 15, 2016 at 12:09pm

We will need to do our own recovering(s). If their modelling helps some of us do so, good. But it can be no substitute for their own recovering.

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 10th mo. 15, 2016 at 12:47pm

Absolutely right, Forrest! Examples of former faithfulness, such as Fox provides (Scriptures, too), can help us to see ourselves, where (universally as human beings) we fall short and miss the mark. But finally, if we love truth, we will come to a harrowing standstill where all we can do is wait to receive faith. If we love the truth, we'll welcome any help that prepares the way of the Lord, that makes his path straight. Such help our tradition provides: Scriptures, Fox and first Friends, and Benson, too! (The sincere tone and clear, straight-forward thought are welcome.)

Comment by Forrest Curo on 10th mo. 15, 2016 at 2:11pm

Well, I've been taking that big online course on that history recently... learning mostly a few more snippets of historical detail -- and reading the comments, I find myself far more with GF than with many of the newbies in the course and their grounding in 20th/21st Century assumptions.

But some of these people also seem to know What/Who Fox knew, albeit coming from a far different direction.

Others just find Fox -- and any suggestion that there may be something basic they have yet to learn about how the world is made and how it operates -- "arrogant."

I know we agree on a lot, yet suffer colliding viewpoints... on what "rediscovery" is going to look like. He/It is what people in the Biblical stories met, what Fox met -- what first touched my own life palpably back in the 60's -- but people can't find That One back in any of those places, only the tracks, the reminders that What's found us isn't new.

You tend to emphasize that God is 'always the same'; what tends to strike me is that human beings are always looking at things from changing directions, from which the old depictions too often seem merely alien.

The whole US history of Quaker schisms has been described as resulting from 'a difference in emphases.' Both parts of the composition, I think, need to be voiced. But peace, I hope!

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 10th mo. 15, 2016 at 4:41pm

I'm not familiar with the online course you've referred to.  I always try to approach people's interpretations of Fox with an open mind, but I've often found that he's misrepresented and misunderstood, which Benson points out on the first page of this lecture, referring to many scholars of his time.

One of the primary distinctions that Fox makes is that there is a pure religion "that comes down from above"(Benson identifies this elsewhere as Abrahamic religion.), and then there is man-made religion (Adamic religion), which is arrived at by means of ideas, emotions, ideals, social pressures, etc., in short, anything human beings can contrive and subscribe to. In this all-too-prevalent man-made religion (Adamic religion), person A will likely have a different take on religion from person B. If, however, they each are choosing and forming their religion from ideas, feelings, principles, etc., they both are subscribing to man-made religion. An example of this apparently-different-but-actually-the-same is Protestants and Catholics, though differing were, nevertheless, of the same root and stock, claimed the 17th c. Quakers.

In contrast to the Adamic religion that permeated their culture, what Fox and first Friends were given was the pure religion that comes down from above, i.e. revelation. (Recall Fox's surprise at hearing "There is one, Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.") Now this Word is what is given by Christ, and is Christ, and is unchanging; it is the power of God. Therefore, those who have received this gospel power find themselves in unity with those in history (first Friends, apostles) who had also received this heavenly dispensation. Because of that unity of spirit, we find that the words of these two groups convey our own most inward identity and also present wisdom that we can affirm, ascribe to, and benefit from.

The faith that comes down from above cannot be acquired by human beings; it must be given by God. So, what does one do? Letting John the Baptist's words resonate in one's heart might be useful, as he came before the Lord and prepared the way. Ultimately, it's about needing truth for your soul like you need oxygen for your body.  I see this particular sense of the need for truth to be the hallmark of humanity, but people deny their humanity often. The words in John 1 speak to this denial: He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Meanwhile, we have a great deal of literature that affirms the reality of the gospel power. I've heard a number of people say they were convinced of the gospel by reading Fox. I've always found this suspect because one is assimilating ideas when one reads, and Life is not intellect, and neither is it emotion. Fox does affirm—throughout all his voluminous writings—the reality of the new, inward Life that God in His mercy and truth meets out to those who call upon Him in their need, to those who wait in readiness. There are quite a few of Jesus's parables about preparing oneself. 

 

Comment by Forrest Curo on 10th mo. 15, 2016 at 5:00pm

Well, there's Anthony Bloom's story about being bullied into attending a talk by a Russian Priest for his Russian exile youth group.

Bloom was an atheist, but didn't want to be letting the side down -- so he went. He got pissed! He got so mad he went home determined to read a gospel himself to see if that crazy stuff was really in there. He dusted off the family Bible and turned to Mark, which he had determined to be the shortest & soonest done-with.

He said he'd gotten a page or two into it when he became certain that Jesus was standing on the far side of his reading table. He could doubt anything else he might learn about history, he said, but the one thing he was utterly sure of was the reality of that person he'd known was there.

Religion can 'come down from above' in a great many flavors, delivered by a wide assortment of different vehicles; and ideas about what it needs to look like, oh well.

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