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.