Comments on “Fundamentalism Among Friends — Brinton’s View”

February 27, 2013          Updated below to add further comments

Here are comments that have been posted regarding Fundamentalism Among Quakers — Brinton’s View

Comments appearing on QuakerQuaker:

Comment by Pat Pope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I guess “drifting” is in the eye of the beholder.

Comment by William F Rushby

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

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 cannot 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.

Comment by William F Rushby

Wow, Barbara!!!  What an incisive commentary!!!  I think that Howard Brinton meant well, but he often indulged in rather sweeping generalizations without much basis in fact.

Comment by Pat Pope

There are however, Brent, those within evangelical meetings or other Protestant denominations that have fundamentalist leanings and it usually comes out on certain hot-button issues.  But you are right in saying that they are not quite the same.

Comment by Howard Brod

My “‘drifting’ is in the eye of the beholder” comment was somewhat tongue and cheek.  But I will attempt to explain it here.

I personally am not too concerned about historical Quaker traditions or understanding except from the perspective of what they offer contextually to what we have inherited within the Quaker religion in our own day.  What I do appreciate from Quakers of old is the living faith they evangelized and handed down to us.  To ensure this living faith remained genuinely from God, they created two distinctives that are immeasurably valuable spiritual tools in the search for truth and the experience of the divine.  Neither of the two tools I am about to outline are mind-centric or have anything to do with creeds or theology, per se.  Rather, they are Spirit-centric, and in fact seem counter-intuitive to the mind, which seeks to categorize, label, and analyze.

These two tools are ‘expectant waiting’ worship and ‘sense of the meeting’ decision-making.  Both, intensely and wholly spiritual processes.

There is a wonderful aspect of ‘expectant waiting’ worship that is not matched in any other form of worship that I have encountered.  During it, the Spirit is free to take each of us individually, and as a gathered community – to where it would have us be taken.  It is based on a total trust of the Spirit to be in charge of the worship; it is a human turning-over of the act of worship to the will of the divine.  It is what seems like a long waiting process to quiet our minds so the divine can be heard clearly.  This form of worship is perhaps the least conducive form of worship for mind-centric thinking.  It is not conducive to the development of a creed, since it is so experienced based.  Since during it there is no set sermon, form, or theological dogma (other than ‘expectant waiting’ worship, itself), our minds are free to go where the Spirit wants to take us. (If you are a conservative Friend, you might say “free to go where Christ would take us”).  And if you are fortunate, the worship is completely gathered into the Spirit or the mind of Christ, and the worshippers eliminate “mind thinking” altogether, entering into an experience of spiritual oneness with each other and God.

Similarly, with decision-making using the ‘sense of the meeting’, or Quaker process as some call it, we are trusting the Spirit (God, Christ, the ‘divine’) to operate freely within the gathered group to unite the group with the divine will.  The Spirit is free to correct us when needed with a minimized chance for human mind-thinking to get in the way.  I personally have only seen a meeting go awry when this spiritual decision-making process is subverted by human time constraints or a violation of this spiritual process itself, which needs to include much expectant-waiting worship to work well.  The Spirit wants us unified in the Spirit, and its time-table is not the same as ours.  Sometimes, our impatience for expediency does us in.

With both of these two Quaker practices, ‘expectant waiting’ worship and ‘sense of the meeting’ decision-making, a Friend or group of Friends are always gently nudged by the Spirit over time to the place they ought to be.  Granted, this takes faith that God (Christ or the Spirit) is a powerful force within all people, who when given free reign within our hearts and the church, will prevail.

So, as long as these two spiritual processes are practiced, what constitutes ‘drifting’ theologically is indeed “in the mind of the human beholder”.  God takes us here and there, and I don’t claim to know if it is ‘drifting’ or purposeful.  Eternity is a long time – much beyond my comprehension.  And the labels we humans use for that singular life-changing experience of Spirit is of little consequence to God.  I think He’s into what’s in our hearts; not what name we each call it by.  That ultimate Force that binds all life into Him, simply is.

I think that is the life-giving message that I’ve heard during my many, many hours of ‘expectant waiting’ worship and ‘sense of the meeting’ decision-making.

Comment by William F Rushby

Brent Bill wrote: “I think that both Brinton and Bennett somehow imply that Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism are the same and they are not.”

Lumping all groups and viewpoints in conservative Protestantism under the label “fundamentalist” is very common among liberal critics.  Brent Bill challenges this stereotyping.

Doug Bennett already appears to be aware of older works on the development of fundamentalism.  There is also a developing body of literature on the making of evangelicalism and on its many varieties and trends.  The sociologist Christian Smith appears to be the primary scholar involved.  See, for instance, American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving University Of Chicago Press, 1998.

Another scholar, Gary Dorrien, is the author of *The Remaking of Evangelical Theology*, which traces the development of the many varieties of mainstream conservative Protestantism.  Professor Dorrien has also written three books on *The Making of American Liberal Theology*, tracing the development of liberal Protestant theology.  In one of these he writes about “Rufus M. Jones and the Liberal Quaker Spirit”.  I would love to read this!

There are other works that address the varieties of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, but I will not attempt to enumerate them here.  Is this my field of interest?  Only secondarily!

Let me point out one more volume, by Ralph Hood, *The Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism*.  I have this book on my stack of books to read when I can.   “Life is so short, and there are so many books to read.”

So, Doug Bennett, forget your Indiana troubles, stretch your book budget, put on your reading glasses, and come up for air now and then!!  And leave Howard Brinton to that Friend in California who is writing a book about him.

Comment by Jim Wilson

Friend Barbara speaks my mind.  My reading of early Journals is not systematic and probalby not as extensive as Barbara’s.  Having said that, I think I can confidently say that it is difficult to go for very many pages without scripture being quoted to back up a view being expressed.  The modern view that there are a number of different theological views, represented by distinct scriptures, is foreign to early Quaker writing.  Here’s an analogy I use: scripture is like a great symphony of many movements.  One movement in a symphony might be in major, another in minor.  One movement might be dance-like, another somber, another light and lyrical.  Yet the entire symphony hangs together and we think of it as a single work; a single symphony.  I feel a similar kind of relationship to scripture among the early Quakers; that scripture is like an inspired symphony, and that it all comes from the holy spirit.  The kind of dissection that is so widespread among modern critics is meaningless for such a view.  — Thy Friend Jim

Comments appearing on the Friends Journal Facebook Page:

Marshall Massey Half truths, once again. Brinton was certainly right that early Friends understood the Bible as a whole and tried to avoid taking things out of context. But *George Fox* preached against drunkenness and dancing, just like the fundamentalists, and so did many other Friends in the generations before the Hicksite/Orthodox split — a point which Brinton carefully overlooks. And Brinton is quite mistaken in thinking that Jesus himself did not warn against drunkenness and carousing: viz., Matthew 24:49, Luke 12:45ff, and Luke 21:34.

The fall of Adam, the blood atonement, and the resurrection of Christ are all affirmed as central doctrines of Christianity at many points in early Quaker writings; and if they are not affirmed by citing specific Biblical texts, it is only because the writers could feel confident that their audience already knew the texts in question.

Brent Bill 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 strip — 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.

Mary Stevens I’m a Bible-banger and a Quaker. I believe you have to read the Bible AS THOUGH it is literally true or you don’t get the point of the story. The Bible has a lot of valuable things to say about people, about life and about God. But it’s a fools errand to test the Bible against science or history or to expect consistency.

Doug Bennett 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?

Nancy Dunkle Doug, Thanks for this article. Brinton’s exposition of these same ideas in Friends for 500 years was a big influence on my decision to leave Calvinism. Other important factors were Friends work in the world and the experiences in silent meeting. Actually the last two were probably more important.

Nancy Dunkle Mary, I agree that Friends who are not familiar with the Bible are missing something important. What I do with the stories is refrain from getting into arguments with myself about the literal truth and ask myself “What is the spiritua anl message here.” This works best for me in the new testament. Another attitude I take is “This is the history of the Judeo-Christian understanding of the Divine. It contains eternal spiritual truths but we are also “seeing through a glass darkly.” Friends method of sorting out the wheat …discernment in community and the clearness committee are helpful in in keeping me and others from getting too dogmatic. (Or what I consider too dogmatic.

Brent Bill Doug — just because those are the five fundamentals, and they line up w/ Holiness theology, doesn’t make certain Friends Fundamentalists. Again, it’s nuance. The 19th century movement that caught Friends up was the Holiness movement — and it was seen as a revival movement. A movement of the Holy Spirit — an experiential movement, not a theological movement. And that was consistent with Friends. Experience over theology. Indeed, when the Richmond Declaration et al were written, there was no Fundamentalist cause with which to join. That all came later and deeply based in Calvinism. They considered Quakers (even of the Evangelical variety) suspect — with their free will leanings, et al. Sometimes, just because it walks like a duck, quacks (or quakes) like a duck, doesn’t mean its a duck, Perhaps it’s a loon (I dunno).

But seriously, we too easily lump ultra-conservatives into a Fundamentalist camp when that’s a lazy way of understanding where they came from. It’s dismissive. And I think it’s important to understand the Holiness movement from which these groups sprang and to which many (via the old National Holiness Association) belonged for years played a huge part in the revivalist movement that swept through and influenced Friends in the second half of the 19th century. The Holiness movement set up its own Bible colleges, et al — but they weren’t truly Fundamentalist.

Brent Bill “I am one who does not believe in Scriptural inerrancy. Does that disqualify me as an evangelical?” I don’t think so… but it does disqualify you as a Fundamentalist. A disqualification I don’t mind sharing with you, because I don’t believe in it (especially in the strictly defined way the Fundamentalists do), either.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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2 Responses to Comments on “Fundamentalism Among Friends — Brinton’s View”

  1. Pingback: Further Consideration of Evangelical Quakerism and Fundamentalism | River View Friend

  2. Pingback: Among Friends, Who Is an Evangelical? Is Anyone a Fundamentalist? | River View Friend

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