The best book I read in 2007 was, without doubt, Carole Spencer's book
Holiness: The Soul of Quakerism. An Historical Analysis of the Theology of Holiness in the Quaker Tradition.
Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2007.
Sounds dull? Think again!
Quakerism had never interested me. I always thought it a somewhat off-beam religious movement that was basically all about pacifism, the inner light (as opposed to the Bible), and silent meetings. Safe to say I was not falling over myself to read this book. But once I started reading I was hooked.
Spencer's basic thesis is that the essence of Quaker spirituality, as seen in the history of the movement, is 'holiness', understood as 'the direct experience of God culminating in divine union.' This 'perfection' is the culmination of a work of divine grace and is sustained by a synergy of grace and works (i.e., loving God and neighbour, and obeying the indwelling Christ).
The Quakers desired to create contemplative communities of committed, spiritually awakened people. They built radical, monastic-like communities of disciples that adopted some subversive practices (including simplicity and pacifism).
The Quakerism she tracks through history is Christ-centred, Bible-based (honest!), Spirit-filled, discipleship-focused and very deeply inspiring. (And, for the record, there were quite a few Quaker evangelists and many Quaker meetings were not silent). In many ways it was a kind of proto-charismatic movement blended with theological ideas from the Greek Fathers and monsatic movements.
Of course, the story is much more complex and messy than that (as the book reveals) and the 20th C in particular saw some unfortunate trajectories in the tradition away from its Christian roots. However, the post-Christian kinds of Quakerism that seem so common in the UK now are, on my reading of Spencer's account, a betrayal of the Quaker tradition. They are not essentially Quaker at all but something new.
When the rubber hits the road I don't think I could be a Quaker - certainly not in the UK where liberalism rules. However, I found myself finding real and deep spiritual inspiration from this radical movement. It is a tradition that - in its classical forms at least - I am now convinced has a lot to contribute to Christian spirituality. I almost want to become a Quaker!!! And, God willing, perhaps I can still aspire to be Quaker-like.
So, "Thank you so much Carole for showing me new spiritual riches in this inspirational tradition."
- Robin Parry
- Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).