Over on the blog Quaker Glimmerings there is a great discussion going based on the post entitled "Why Quakerism isn't Evangelical Christianity." I think QuakerK, the author of Quaker Glimmerings, makes some excellent points, and although I grew up in an evangelical Friends community, I too sometimes wonder if one can concurrently be evangelical (as it is known today) and Quaker. However, I think Quakerism and Christianity definitely go together, and the early Friends were Christians in a form of radical discipleship few are willing to follow.
QuakerK suggests several points, so I will focus on the first today.
1. Early Quakers did not stress the Bible. Quite the contrary, they stressed that the scriptures were not the Word of God, but rather that Jesus was--and they got a lot of flack for this, too.
In some ways this statement is true: Quakers stressed that it is Jesus who was (and is) the Word of God, present and revealing truth to them through the Spirit. Christ as present teacher is more important than the Bible, but the Bible to the early Friends was still the Word of God, and the Word of God who is Christ and the written Word wouldn't contradict one another. Sometimes we don't understand the appropriate reading of a text and so the Spirit illumines it for us, interprets what is meant for one cultural setting but not our own, or helps us understand something which has been misunderstood for centuries (e.g. slavery). The Bible isn't God, but it is a record of people's experiences of God throughout history, and I think a majority of early Friends would have agreed that God somehow speaks through this text in a way that is unique from how God speaks through other texts.
I don't see it as true that early Friends didn't stress the Bible, however. It is said that George Fox practically had the Bible memorized. He read it often and used its principles in his teaching and preaching. The beginning of Quakerism, as I said in my initial comment to the Quaker Glimmerings post, was when Fox heard God speak to him, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to your condition." I think if I heard this I would start reading everything I could find about this "Christ Jesus" person, and texts that told me about him would tend to be fairly important to me. And I think that was true for Fox. As I read the Journal I see biblical references interspersed throughout the entire thing. Even when he doesn't quote the Bible directly he makes allusions to biblical concepts, stories and persons.
The same can be said for most other early Quaker authors. In college for my History and Doctrine of Friends class I read part of William Penn's "No Cross, No Crown," and could hardly wade through it because of all the quotations from the Bible. I also took a Quaker Seminar on early female Friends authors, and we read many of their pamphlets and journals, collected in a book called "Hidden in Plain Sight," compiled and edited at Earlham School of Religion. In all of these there are massive amounts of quotes and paraphrases of Bible verses. It is almost as if the early Friends who wrote these pieces knew the Bible so well that it was just a part of their everyday language. They don't stop to say, "This is from Matthew 5:9," because it's also from their heart and soul. It's a part of who they are.
And yet, at the same time, I think evangelical Friends today could do well to remember that the Bible IS NOT God. The Bible isn't revelation, it isn't God incarnate, it isn't the Spirit, it's just a book. It's a book like any other book--except maybe more dangerous than most--unless it is read through the illumination of the Spirit. God uses it to speak to us still today, but it is only one way God can speak. The people who wrote it down were human, the people who copied it were human, the people who decided which books and which versions of books to canonize were human, the people who translate them for us are human...and yet amazingly, through all this, God can still use it as God's Word! But it isn't God's only Word, or even God's most important Word--just a witness to the Word who is Jesus.
If my theology professors saw this they would cringe--so I guess Quakers are still getting a lot of flack for this idea that Jesus, as the true Word of God, can speak to us in other ways than through the Bible.
QuakerK, thanks so much for your post! It's a great discussion starter, with lots of good points to consider.
Coming up: Quakers and universalism, physical resurrection of Jesus, atonement theories, and "tone" of early Friends vs. any Friends today. I'm looking forward to this! =)