28 September 2008

Scripture: Essential, or Not Essential?

I am often told by Christians of various sorts that the Bible is "essential" to the following of Christianity; that without the written Scriptures, you cannot be a Christian. This is certainly the explicit position of most Protestants, especially those who believe that the mouth of God is stopped shut, and that the written Scriptures are the only way in which he communicates with us today. This is an interesting belief, but one which was explicitly rejected by the founders of the Religious Society of Friends, who looked to a different Teacher for their primary guidance. Like those earlier Friends, I value the Scriptures highly, and I read something out of them most every day. I believe that the inspired Holy Scriptures are one of the ways that God communicates with His church, and are absolutely the best outward guide for obtaining right knowledge of God. But helpful as the Scriptures have always been, the foundational, original, and traditional Friends' faith and practice has never regarded having them as obligatory for maintaining right relationship with God, for Quakers or anyone else. The "sure foundation" of our Christian faith is not and has never been the Scriptures, but was and remains the Inward Light of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the One who has come to teach His people Himself.

This is an important point because lots of Friends are muddle-headed about this. Sometimes they tell me that we shouldn't point this out, because other people will misunderstand the fine and subtle distinction we make, and be led astray. To which I start muttering under my breath, "So when did we become the smartest people in the world?"

Sometimes they tell me that we should be careful not to think about it much, because we might confuse ourselves and end up devaluing the Scriptures entirely in our efforts not to overemphasize them, and be led astray. Then I start muttering again: "So now we've become the dumbest people in the world, too?"

Mostly they just fret and chew their lips, because lots of times the truth is that they just don't much like the idea that such a convenient and commonly-accepted outward tool as Scripture might not be the central pillar of the Christian church. They've already been led astray, for crying out loud.

Mutter, mutter, mutter.


With respect to Holy Scripture, I suggest that the traditional words of the earliest Friends be kept in mind: Scripture is "not absolutely necessary." An excellent suggestion I read once was to describe Holy Scripture as "not of the essence." Another excellent summary was to simply state that they were "insufficient."

Robert Barclay was a 17th century Scottish Friend who wrote foundational works on doctrinal Quakerism that have never been equaled. He's often quoted for his statements about Scripture in his famous 1678 book, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity. After describing the value of the Scriptures for history, prophecy, and Christian doctrine, Barclay's Third Proposition "Concerning the Scriptures" reads:

Nevertheless, because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty . . . therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader.

So far, so good: very clear, and often quoted. Most all non-FUM/Evangelical Friends will agree with this foundational document of the Society that Scripture is useful and valuable and secondary to the Inward Light. (Conservative Friends will further specify it as the Inward Light of Jesus Christ.) But the devil is in the details, as the Frenchman said, and the biggest detail here is called "inessential." Because while our earliest generation of Christian Friends held that Scripture was valuable, and important, and contained highly useful truths, they were united in the idea that it was not essential to have it, read it, or understand it to be acceptable to the God who it was written about.

Don't misunderstand me here—I and those earliest Friends are in agreement that if the Scriptures have genuinely been made available by God to a person, then upon going through them the followers of Jesus Christ should recognize him there, no matter what they call him or what sort of strange rococo accompanies their worship. But many people have been exposed to interpretations of Scripture that talk about a Jesus Christ that I've never met—one who is completely unrecognizable to me. I know people who consider themselves doctrinal Christians who have very little of Christ in their beliefs. So please understand me when I say I'm not talking about that stuff. If you want to be a Christian, and the Scriptures are made available to you in a true and intelligible way, then you should certainly take full advantage of them in their supporting role.

But back to Barclay and whether Scripture is or is not "essential," please. The Scotsman had a lot to say about Scripture in his propositions on "Immediate Revelation" and "Universal Redemption by Christ" that wasn't contained in the one entitled "Concerning the Scriptures." More people quote Barclay briefly than read him carefully, but he had great insight on the subject. Please bear with me and slog through this hoary passage:

But if we shall make a right definition of a Christian, according to the Scripture, videlicit, That he is one that hath the spirit of Christ, and is led by it, how many Christians, yea, and of these great masters and doctors of Christianity, so accounted, shall we justly divest of that noble title? If then such as have all the other means of knowledge, and are sufficiently learned therein, whether it be the letter of the Scripture, the traditions of churches, or the works of creation and providence, whence they are able to deduce strong and undeniable arguments (which may be true in themselves), are yet not to be esteemed Christians, according to the certain and infalliable definition above mentioned; and if the inward and immediate revelation of God's Spirit in the heart, in such as have been altogether ignorant of some, and but very little skilled in others, of these means of attaining knowledge, hath brought them to salvation; then it will necessarily and evidently follow, that inward and immediate revelation is the only sure and certain way to attain the true and saving knowledge of God.

May I translate?

1) Scripture itself defines a true Christian to be a person who has the spirit of Christ, and is led by it.

2) Possession of the letter of Scripture and of tradition will not make a person a Christian, as many "great masters and doctors of Christianity" don't qualify for the honor.

3) People today and in the past who have experienced inward and immediate revelation of God's Spirit in the heart have been saved, even though they have been ignorant of or unlearned in Scripture and tradition.

In other words, Barclay's position is that first, merely possessing, studying, and learning the Bible and its doctrines does not ensure right relationship with God. Second, that people without Scripture but with inward revelation of God's spirit can and have achieved that relationship. And therefore, that inward and immediate revelation is "the only sure and certain way" of salvation. Scripture, according to Barclay, can't do it without inward revelation, but inward revelation can and does do it without Scripture.

Barclay goes on:


IV. However, this should not be understood as a claim that the other means of knowledge of God are useless and of no service to man. This will be clear from what is said of the scriptures in the next proposition. The question is not what may be profitable or helpful, but what is absolutely necessary. [The bolding is mine, folks.] Many things may contribute to the furtherance of a work without being the essential thing that makes the work go on. In summary, what has been said amounts to stating that where true inward knowledge of God exists through the revelation of his Spirit, everything essential is there, and there is no absolute necessity for anything else. But where the best, highest, and most profound knowledge exists without the revelation of his Spirit, there is nothing, so far as the great object of salvation is concerned.

Barclay here says first, that Scripture is useful, and helpful (I agree), but "not absolutely necessary" to provide revelatory knowledge of God, which he has already said in the first passage is what brings people to salvation. He next says the revelation of the Spirit is sufficient, and nothing else is "absolutely necessary." Lastly he says that even where the best and highest knowledge exists (which will be Scripture) without the revelation of his Spirit, there is no salvation. Scripture, according to Robert Barclay, is "not absolutely necessary," but inward revelation alone, even without it, is absolutely certain. These are the Scotsman's words, not mine.

Early Friends were very concerned not to fall into a mistaken reliance only on Holy Scripture, which all their enemies were quoting against them, daily. They pointed out repeatedly that it was not “absolutely necessary,” and that “Christ was sufficient” without it. Read these short quotes from our human founders:

You will say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of light and hast thou walked in the light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God? Margaret Fell, on George Fox

For though I read the Scriptures that spoke of Christ and of God, yet I knew him not but by revelation, as he who hath the key did open, and as the Father of life drew me to his Son by his spirit. George Fox

And if there was no scripture for our men's and women's meetings, Christ is sufficient...he is our rock and our foundation to build upon. George Fox

I can declare unto you...that this gospel order...I neither received it of man neither was I taught it but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. George Fox

But I looked upon the Scriptures to be my rule, and so would weigh the inward appearances of God to me by what was outwardly written; and durst not receive anything from God immediately, as it sprang from the fountain, but only in that mediate way. Herein did I limit the Holy One of Israel, and exceedingly hurt my own soul, as I afterwards felt, and came to understand. Isaac Penington

Christ has tasted death for every man, which knowledge we willingly confess to be very profitable and comfortable, but not absolutely needful unto such, from whom God himself hath withheld it.
Robert Barclay

And although Scripture is extremely valuable to the daily functioning of our Christian body, here also we should not confuse what is absolutely helpful with what is absolutely necessary. With respect to Conservative Friends tradition, John Wilbur very early cautioned us not to rely on Holy Scripture for important details of our daily walk with God that the Holy Spirit expected us to receive from Him directly:

1st. Can the Scriptures, or did they ever, save anyone without the spirit?

2nd. Is a person called to do the work of the ministry by the Scriptures, or by the spirit of Jesus Christ?

3rd. Is a man brought under a concern to go from one place to another to preach the gospel, by the Scriptures, or by the constraining power of the spirit and love of Jesus Christ?

4th. And when he is arrived at the place assigned, and is assembled with the people, is it not the spirit of Christ that truly unfolds the Scriptures, and brings to view the state of men, either in the words of Scripture, or in some other suitable language?

5th. And when a professed minister preaches in any of our meetings, his doctrines not being repugnant to the letter of the Scriptures, are the elders or others to judge by the Scriptures, or by the Spirit of Truth, whether his ministry is from the right spring or not?

6th. Did not the Jews think they had eternal life in the Scriptures, and yet would not come unto Christ that they might have life?”

And our True Founder and True Guide, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, was quite emphatic about whether Scripture was of the essence, sufficient, or absolutely necessary:

And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life: and it is they that bear witness to me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39-40.)

All these selections from the actual words of early Friends, John Wilbur, and that Jesus guy himself, indicate to me the nature of what early and traditional Friends have always believed. Christian Friends have always acknowledged that Scripture is helpful and important, and should never be ignored by those who have access to it and are willing to read it in the Spirit. But our Christian Society has understood and publicly held from the very beginning, not just that Scripture is secondary to the revelations of the Holy Spirit, but that first, Scripture alone is an insufficient guide to important--and essential--aspects of the daily life of a Christian, and second, that the Holy Spirit can choose to provide sufficient guidance to Christian living and ultimately to salvation, without Scripture. The possession, reading, study, and understanding of the Bible is recommended, but is not required by Jesus Christ as a precondition for turning to Him, being accepted, living as a Christian, growing towards perfection, and achieving salvation in His Light.

Mutter, mutter, mutter.


Martin Kelley said...

Keep muttering, bro! I awoke after an hour of bed and couldn't get back to sleep. My head was full of blah blah Quaker and I needed to cut through the static. This post did it. Sometimes this spirituality is all just very simple and commonsense.

Nate Swift said...

It has always been interesting to me that a major citation for primacy of scripture, 2 Tim 3:16, states that the inspired scripture is "useful" rather than "authority." The point in question should be "used by what or whom?" If it is not the Spirit, then what or whom? And if it is "useful" then it is a tool, not anything that stands alone. That scripture is very valuable is certain, but the value is lost or even reversed if we don't START with the Spirit. Look at the jumble of doctrine proposed by those who clearly rely on "Sola Scriptura."
Well Done.
PS. I mumble some too.

kevin roberts said...

Well, Martin, if you can't get to sleep I think you should probably stay away from the computer. Late at night, Shawna always asks me, "What are you doing over there?" I always have to answer with the humble truth: "Saving the world from careering into cultural oblivion ..."

Seriously, though, this "value of Scripture" stuff is what divided the Friends in the 19th century, back when everybody agreed about them more than we do now. It's extremely difficult to explain to some folks that you can think that something is important without also thinking it's impossible to do without.

If I have a road map, I can get from Bakersfield to Dallas pretty quickly and easily. But if I have the Mapmaker sitting in the front seat with me, I can get there without it, and He can also point out gas stations and restaurants that He knows about that aren't on the roadmap.

kevin roberts said...

Hi Nate--

You're right, I think.

The verses just before 2 Timothy 3:16 are the ones that people forget:

2 Tim. 3:14. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 2 Tim. 3:15. And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

In these previous verses, Paul explains that the stuff written in Scripture is a confirmation of what people ideally should have already learned from the Spirit. Then Paul explains that the Scriptures are able to educate you about what you need to know--they never say that the Scriptures are the only or even the primary source.

Now I'm muttering again.

Laurie Kruczek said...

I've always had trouble using the Bible as the primary source for my faith. I am much more moved by everyday actions, little daily miracles, those in nature, of my children, what-have-you. That is perhaps the ultimate Truth of Quakerism to me, that the Testimonies lead lives along with the Holy Spirit. Just treating human beings with respect says a lot about what Jesus wants from us. Those are the details He is most concerned about, not baptism, etc.

Great post! You still write my favorite blog, btw :)

John K. said...

Thanks for this, Kevin.

I mark my conversion at my eighteenth year, when I happened to read The Brothers Karamazov, which in turn led me to read seriously for the first time the Book of Job (the first few chapters at least), the Book of Ecclesiastes, and the Gospel of John. Passages in all three struck a deep chord within me, among them the very last sentence of John: "There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written."

This passage, like so many others, struck me with a sense of its truth. Its truth -- which speaks to what you are saying in this post -- made me realize that this Christianity thing might actually be something I could really believe in. "Fundamentalism" with regard to the Scriptures, on the other hand, which I had up till then thought of as part and parcel of the Christian faith, had never struck me as something I could with integrity believe in.

haven said...

Thank you so much for this post, Kevin. You add some good food for thought to our Meeting's ongoing discussion on what we believe, and where historically Friends have stood on the issue of the role of Scripture. Being a liberal Friend in a Meeting that is comprised of both liberal and conservative members, I appreciate hearing a view of how this teaching fits from a conservative perspective. It is not far at all from my own.

Tmothy Travis said...

Thank you, Friend.

I recall Barclay's scriptural support of the idea of "the day of visitation" was a time-limited offer. I did an analysis of those scriptures which proved (tested) his idea and found that these passages were wanting when summoned forth to show that one could be irremediably lost if one did not "act now."

I have often wondered whether, rigorous thinker that he was, Friend Barclay didn't put his own little ironic example of how a fallible mind can look into the Biblical wisdom and put together a mistaken notion over which people could contend and argue for years.

But he was never known, to my knowledge, as having much of a sense of humor.

Dour Scot, I have heard him described, and almost, I think, a Protestant.

ps I am forwarding a link to your post to my daughter at Guilford who is in full flux flow re the Bible and other things with Friends of types she's never met before. Please pray for her.

Thanks again.

James Riemermann said...

I've not studied Barclay, only skimmed, but most of what I've read seems extremely radical for his time, which comes out clearly in your post. I'm pretty sure I experience the light and spirit of which you speak, though I interpret and frame it as a natural outgrowth of being human in the world. What you call the voice of God, I call the best and deepest impulses of human kindness.

While I relate strongly to almost everything you say here, I do want to ask if you are able to explain why you believe "...that the inspired Holy Scriptures...are absolutely the best outward guide for obtaining right knowledge of God."

I don't ask out of any personal Biblical allergies. I'm a huge, huge fan of certain books of the Bible--Genesis, Exodus, Job, Ecclesiastes, etc.--and of most of Jesus's central teachings. (I must admit I am much more deeply moved by the named books than by any of the Gospels, by and large. That's a literary judgment, not a theological one.)

But I sense you're a smart and thoughtful enough guy to see that the scriptures, for all their riches, are also salted with some really horrible ideas and incredibly tedious prose that has very little value outside of understanding the culture out of which they sprang. Most relevantly, it is interspersed with characterizations of a God who is anything but honorable and worthy of following. It's a very mixed bag.

If I were going to pick a single outward source for how to live righteously, it wouldn't be the Bible in its entirety, and I have a hard time understanding how someone else could pick it. It might work, if one permits oneself to pick the gold and reject the nonsense. But again and again (not necessarily by you) I hear religious folks affirm that one cannot pick and choose; one must either accept it or reject it as a whole. Why would that be?

If I can pick and choose which parts to follow and which to reject, the Bible might be a good choice, a superb choice. Otherwise, I'd probably go with the collected works of Dostoevsky, or Thoreau, or maybe even the U.S. Constitution. All flawed in their own ways, but none with flaws as glaring as the Bible.

Again, I love most of what you say here, the openness to spirit. But there's still a Biblio-centrism that I have a hard time understand.

RichardM said...

Kevin, Nancy Craft has suggested to me on more than one occasion that I come with her to visit conservative Friends in Ohio. She has been very faithful in keeping up the connection between conservative Friends in North Carolina and those in Ohio. It's been nearly twenty years since I've done that and this post makes me think I should look for an opportunity to come. I'd also like to put the thought in your head of maybe coming down to visit us next seventh month for our Yearly Meeting. Please consider it.

Heather said...

I enjoy and appreciate your thought-provoking and informative mutterings!

Thank you for this, Kevin - it has clarified my own beliefs to myself.

Nate Swift said...

James, good comments. I would say that the best answer to your question lies in how one takes the Bible in its entirety, and part of that is what Kevin is talking about as far as perception of authority vested in the Bible. When one requires that it be taken as authority in everything from beginning to end there is a Lot of scrambling that needs be done (and has been) to explain contradictions and different perceptions. When the Old Testament is read as a record of the growing awareness of one ethnic group as to the nature of God, that is a history of the people, not of God, then it makes a lot more sense. That forms a background for the life and ministry of Jesus with its core teachings as also expounded in Acts and the epistles, which is the essence of relationship with God and our fellow humans. We should also be aware of the nature of the documents that formed the New Testament and their transmission within the growing church, along with some of the major elements of that development until the New Testament was codified. "Pick and choose?" You might call it that if you did not see clearly how the Bible can be used as a tool by the Spirit rather than as a touchstone or last word in authority as many have been taught. The point remains that Jesus indicated that we would be known as His disciples by our love and not by how strictly we adhere to a book.

kevin roberts said...

Hi Laurie-

Conduct was what Christianity originally centered on--there's little interest in theology in the Gospel accounts.

Theology was a latecomer to Christianity in the first place. The relationship and the results were what was important.


kevin roberts said...

John, one of the most important ideas in primitive Quakerism was that the Scriptures were simply inadequate to lead a believer in all the decisions he was faced with.

Barclay covers that at length--you can follow the book, or you can follow the author--who may have plans to take you in specific directions that he didn't choose to include in the book. The book is central, but it doesn't stand alone, and can't.


kevin roberts said...

Hello haven-

I can speak for the Conservative Friends, but probably not for conservative ones. Some people in my meeting are both, but probably not very many.

The liberal approach to Quakerism has its roots in the frankly universalist approach of the first generations. But it was a singular universalism, and isn't always remembered for what it was. I'm glad that the subject of scripture is being discussed in your meeting. All too often it's either clutched blindly or tossed aside.

kevin roberts said...

Hello Timothy-

Barclay's idea of "day of visitation" is a lot more strict than my own interpretation. But he uses it to explain how God is written to have forced people to do evil--hardening hearts and so on. Or softening wax and hardening clay under the influence of the Light.

"Day of visitation" is a term scattered throughout the Bible, going back to the prophets. but it isn't always used in the way Barclay treats it. I think he overstated the willingness of God to work with people, personally.

I hope your daughter works through it. I willpray for her.


kevin roberts said...

Hey James-

Christian Scripture and me have that difficult "faith" relationship. I accept it on an inductive basis, in that I use a probablistic hurdle. The overall system seems to me to have more explanatory power than others I've examined, and so on that basis I'm willing to follow it beyond the data points. But I look at the data points critically along the way.

Probably the most important part is that I arrived long ago at a certain set of beliefs regarding right and wrong, truth and falseness, good and evil, and so on, and in all the searching and looking, only the Quaker Christian revelation seems congruent with that. So I'm quite guilty of choosing to define my religion in terms of myself, I suppose, but part of the reasoning (circular, here) is that it continues to explain things best. (Lots better than the Koran and the Gita, for instance).

"Picking and choosing" is an inevitable process. Anybody who reads a Christian Bible is picking and choosing--the different collations of different books and different texts are too radically different to stand any other view. I've never heard an apocalyptic Christian quote 2 Esdras, for example, although the Revelation is very popular. Why not?

Even those who fix on one version often choose to say that the Revelation is symbolic and allegorical, while Genesis is factual and historical. Why? And so on...

Picking and choosing also extends to which passages we like to call situational and which ones we hold to be universal. Interpretations differ, and that's as much a choice as any other.

I personally pay little attention to rarified theology (I don't think it's important) and I don't pay much attention to the Old Testament (for Christians it's been superceded). Mostly I go through the Gospels.

I've never read much Dostoevsky, but Thoreau has always struck me as one of those people too intelligent for his good. To me he seems to have been so competent at seeing all sides of a question that he lost the ability to recognize a correct answer when it showed up. In his case, his intelligence seemed to have ratcheted down into mere literary cleverness. But I read him regularly. He was a spectacular writer.

Moose. Indian.

James Riemermann said...

Thanks for a thoughtful answer, Kevin. With picking and choosing permitted, I myself would put the Judeo-Christian scriptures right in there with the greatest founts of wisdom we have. With or without faith.

Regarding Thoreau, Walden and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience were the two books that, more than any others, made me want to radically change my life, to bring it into alignment with the central vision. I wanted to follow them as a fundamentalist. But I haven't.

kevin roberts said...

Thoreau was a puzzling man. He wrote some poetry as well.

I think the Hindus are probably the champions of picking and choosing in their own scriptures. The various takes on the Mahabharata and the Upanishads are so different they might as well be from different worlds. But I really don't know enough to have a reliable opinion, if anybody really can.

kevin roberts said...

Timothy, I meant to say

"... I think he overstated the unwillingness of God to work with people, personally..."

Barclay never quite got over all the Calvinism.

James Riemermann said...

I find it hard to imagine Gandhi or Martin Luther King without Thoreau, though they certainly had other great influences as well (including Jesus). H.D. had some astonishing insights.

Glad, though not surprised, to hear that of the Hindus. Good on them.

I actually see a lot of picking and choosing by Christians, as you alluded to. What I don't see much is Christians owning up to that picking and choosing, admitting its necessity. I'm delighted when I see it.

I'd like to hear more things like, "Noah and the ark, Abraham and Isaac, incredible stories, but not God's best moments. And the destruction of Sodom, God should have followed Abraham on that one, not the other way around. And the slaying of the Midianites, oh my! if he asks us to do something like that again, let's say no. I mean sure, God is God, but enough is enough."

kevin roberts said...

My own difficulties with Thoreau are mostly with his fawning support for John Brown, a man who dragged unarmed people out of their homes and hacked them to death. Thoreau lost sight of the way the means affect the ends there.

I also wish that Abraham had stuck it out in his negotiations about Sodom. I can visualize God waiting and waiting as Abraham worked down the numbers, and then failed to ask the ultimate question, "And if you find only one righteous man ..." Abraham never gave God the chance to show how far his mercy could extend.

I don't believe the conquest of Canaan occurred at the direction of God. I stand with other Quaker heretics here, and don't believe God said to do any such thing.

Tmothy Travis said...

Thank you, Kevin.

I read the "un" into your initial response because it had to be there given the context you create, overall.

I also see the idea of a "day of visitation" as part of Christian faith and practice well before the appearance of the gathering of those who would become known as Friends in the 17th Century.

I used Barclay's "proof texting" as one way the Bible gets used unskillfully.

And I do agree with you that Barclay never got over his Calvinism...

As Martin said way up top, there, "Keeping muttering."

Chris and Nettie Pauls said...

Hi Kevin, I find your post interesting and agree in principle with what you said. As in your reply to Nate Swift, I think a person can be led by the map maker without using the map, but I also think that with so much stuff that emulates the map maker, we need to know who he is so we can identify him. I agree that we can be led by the Spirit of God but we need to know who He is before we can open ourselves up to Him. I'll admit I'm very uncomfortable with it when people talk of being led by God when they haven't familiarized themselves enough with scripture to know who he is. I'd also like to add that the Spirit often points to the map when we have it open in front of us.
I like you blog and share your feelings re: goats.


kevin roberts said...

Hi Chris--thanks for visiting. It's most important to remember (as you point out) that the Holy Ghost often uses Scripture as a tool to reveal various issues or answers. That's often the way it works with me.

But I would suggest that knowledge of the Holy Ghost isn't limited to Scripture, and he is quite capable of making himself known without it. This is the whole basis for the idea of inspiration in the first place--if it wasn't for the Holy Ghost making himself known completely and fully in the absence of Scripture, we wouldn't have any Scripture.

As a Quaker, it is this primary relationship that I look for first. Scripture is one very important tool that I use to make sure that it is the Holy Ghost I'm listening to, and not various other false voices.

But this is not in any way to say that Scripture is unimportant or of lesser value. If God provides a ladder to help you climb onto the roof, it would be pretty stupid not to use it--that's what it's for.

Thanks again.

Good looking kids, too.

Anonymous said...


Your musings hit the core of Fox and Early Quakerism and although we arose from 17th century Protestantism we are not Protestants. Rufus Jones thought of us a movement rather than a sect. He also was rather unhappy with Barclay’s Apology. He in fact lays responsibility of the Orthodox-Hicksite split at Barclay’s feet. He says this in his classic, Modern Periods of Quakerism.

George Fox’s unhappiness with the clergy whom he sought out to help him in his youth had one thing in common. They learned and practiced theology. They had no desire to listen to God. Revelation was anarchy for them and had no place in their church. It still does not have a place in their steeple-houses. For Fox revelation was the only thing that mattered. It was his 1648 revelation that Christ would teach and lead himself that showed Fox that clergy was superfluous and a hindrance to true knowledge of God. Fox was above all else a minister and not a theologian. He distrusted theology since it comes from men and not God. Revelation showed him that every one had a measure of the light within and his experience confirmed it. (see Fox’s Journal and his accounts of his worship with native American people.)

As Friends, we have no theology! The well known Quaker minister Douglas Steere was well aware of this fact. His ministry always used the Christological categories and language of George Fox. This gesture was more than symbolic because he too did not substitute theology for the direct revelation of the light.

Consequently, we have no beef with postmodernist thought. Fox after all said in essence what they say, but he said three hundred years before they did.

Tom Miller, member of Radnor Monthly Meeting PYM

kevin roberts said...

Hi Tom--

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Fox certainly had no respect for the intricate complexities of theology as expressed by his various Catholic and Calvinist debating opponents. He was well able to point out where their ideas were more focused on justifying their traditions than on expressing the voice that was supposed to lead them.

Yet there was a common thread in Fox's entire belief that parallels the fundamental structure of the Christian revelation. Fox was a universalist, but it was the type of universalism that says the same God calls to all of us to climb a path up his mountain, rather than the idea that all available paths lead to the same peak.

I think of it in terms of contrasting continuing versus cumulative revelation. If a revelation given today contradicts one given yesterday, then how have we been enlightened? So although I do place great value in Christian Scripture myself, I try to remember just who it is I'm suppose to be paying attention to.

Thanks again.