Holiness and Quakerism

Just got Car­ole Dale Spencer’s Holi­ness: The Soul of Quak­erism in the mail. There’s been some blog­ger buzz around it and I’m glad to check it out for myself. I can tell right off the bat that I’m prob­a­bly not going to be con­vinced by her argu­ments. Flip­ping through the index (the place to start any book like this) I see she makes three scant ref­er­ences to tradition-minded “Con­ser­v­a­tive” Friends. That’s not a good sign, but she’s far from the first mod­ern his­to­ri­an to quar­an­tine this branch to the footnotes. 

I’ll cut her some slack because she’s trav­el­ing an inter­est­ing route. She’s spend­ing a lot of time talk­ing about the Methodist and Holi­ness influ­ences in Friends – John Wes­ley him­self direct­ly is indexed eigh­teen times. If you look at the peo­ple who defined mod­ern 20th Cen­tu­ry lib­er­al Quak­erism, folks like Rufus Jones (28 index ref­er­ences), you find that these influ­ences were very strong. They still are, even if they go unac­knowl­edged. And many of the issues Spencer is trac­ing are still with us and con­tin­ue to be rel­e­vant even as some of us are talk­ing up the pos­si­bil­i­ties of a new renewal/revival movement.

  • I’ll be inter­est­ed to hear your thought on this book, I have seen this ref­er­enced on the The­o­log­i­cal Scrib­bles site and have been tempt­ed to give it a read. On a sim­i­lar point I have just fin­ished TL Underwood’s ‘Prim­i­tivism, Rad­i­cal­ism and the Lamb’s War” which com­pares the the­olo­gies of the Bap­tists and Friends — I guess the claim to prim­i­tivism is anal­o­gous to Holi­ness in this regard although I am not sure Under­wood real­ly demon­strates the the­sis that Quak­ers were primitivist.

  • I’m about halfway through the book and am find­ing it a very stim­u­lat­ing read. I hope to post a review some time next week.
    I’ve just got to the Gur­ney vs. Wilbur split. Spencer devotes about ten pages to the Wilburites/Conservatives, and con­sid­ers that Con­ser­v­a­tive Wilbur “embod­ies a sig­nif­i­cant stream of Quak­er holi­ness” and was over­all more faith­ful to the Quak­er holiness/perfection tra­di­tion than either the evan­gel­i­cal Gur­ney or the lib­er­al Hicks.
    She argues that Wes­ley was influ­enced by Quak­ers, par­tic­u­lar­ly Fox and Bar­clay, though he dis­tanced him­self pub­licly from them.
    Her approach seems both evan­gel­i­cal and mys­ti­cal, rem­i­nis­cent of Richard Fos­ter and to a less­er extent John Punshon.
    But these are only first impres­sions. There’s a lot to take in.

  • wmg­smith

    Those of us with roots in Indi­ana Year­ly Meet­ing (30 years ago) under­stand that a sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of the Friends Church are weslyan/holiness in the­o­log­i­cal doc­trine. The Rich­mond Dec­la­ra­tion is very Holi­ness in ori­en­ta­tion except fot the exter­nal ordi­nances. My mother’s aunt was mar­ried to A.J. Tom­lin­son Holi­ness Quak­er from Indi­ana that found­ed the Penecostal Assem­bly of God.
    When we read books on His­to­ry we need to be aware of the per­spec­tive the author has. There are no “the­o­ry” neu­tral his­to­ries. I find that even though I do not find the spe­cif­ic instances of sec­ond def­i­nite acts of grace in the first 200 years of quak­erism that Car­ole Spencer finds. To call Wilbur a Holi­ness Quak­er is a miss read­ing of his beliefs.
    I found that a num­ber of insights in this book on the peri­od after the civ­il war when the great awak­en­ing and the holi­ness revival trans­formed Quak­ers. Thomas Hamm also dis­cuss­es this change. The head of Earl­ham Col­leges Reli­gion depart­ment was a devout Holi­ness Quak­er, Dougan Clark.