25 October 2018

Quakerism of the future

John Yungblut's pamphlet Quakerism of the Future: Mystical, Prophetic, & Evangelical dates back to the exact year I became a Friend -- 1974. I think those three adjectives remain compelling right now, 44 years later.

Granted, as a deep student of Carl Gustav Jung and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Yungblut's definitions of those three adjectives may not have exactly been old-school. This particularly goes for his reflections on the word "evangelical." But the dynamic conversation among these qualities -- different definitions and all -- may be vital if Friends are to grow in usefulness to the Body of Christ, and to those who've not yet been convinced.

The stakes are high. Instead of growing in our ability to offer radical hospitality to those who might find refreshment and liberation among us, FOUR of the yearly meetings I've served and loved have divided. Why, dear Friends, could you not have used our differences as fertile resources to keep each other more honest, more genuinely progressive AND evangelical, more equipped to reach out to our fractious and fragmented neighbors, instead of prioritizing our tightly calibrated internal purity filters!?

Here I've sampled a bit of how Yungblut, with clarity and courtesy, models the conversation among these disparate but necessary qualities:

Mystical ... I totally understand that we're not all mystical, and we don't elevate mysticism as some super-subtle elite key to understanding Friends. But right from the start, we've honored the spiritual gifts that George Fox and some of his companions had -- a particular sensitivity to the inward movements of the Holy Spirit. They didn't exalt those "openings" above the confirming testimony of Bible and community, but those inner confirmations anchored the movement in spiritual reality above earthly hierarchy, above social status, above the claims of wealth and power. In our own day, as authoritarians and their sophisticated technologies confront angry skeptics and anarchists, all with their own competing mythologies demanding our loyalty, we need those God-given anchors. We need to take the time to listen deeply inside ourselves, seeking and finding the inner witness of God that the mystics correctly tell us is there.

I love the quotation Yungblut found in E. Herman's The Meaning and Value of Mysticism. It applies every bit as much now as it did when she wrote in 1915:
Thrust down by victorious institutional, rational, and moralistic forces, the mystic note floats up from the depths -- now muffled, now clear. Every now and again the penalty of success overtakes the ruling system, and Christian [people], disillusioned of a hollow civilization and an externalized church, listen to the submerged melody and find it a song of deliverance, and out of such moments of reaction are born the great spiritual movements, whether explicitly mystical or only showing deep affinities with Mysticism!
Nobody is demanding that all Friends be mystics like Fox or Penn -- though Yungblut insists that the capacity is within each of us. I just plead that this precious influence be welcomed in the mix.

Prophetic ... In identifying the prophetic imperative, Yungblut provides another compelling quotation, this time from our near-contemporary Friend Lewis Benson:
In Fox's preaching about Christ the prophet he identifies himself and the Quaker movement with the Hebrew prophetic tradition and he regards his oppressors as standing in the priestly tradition ... For Fox, Jesus' death on the cross is not just the death of a prophet, but the death of the prophet of the end-time, who was sent to end the succession of prophets and to be the living head of God's people in the New Covenant. Fox's mission was to restore prophecy to the central place in the life of the Church, and he saw that this would involve a head-on clash with the priestly establishment.
Yungblut directly links the prophetic ministry of Friends, including our advocacy and action for social justice, to our "mystical consciousness of Jesus' presence in the gathered company, and of his immediate prophetic utterance through the spoken ministry of one of its members, chosen by him for the purpose...." He also warns:
The white heat of early Quaker testimony cooled when the mystical consciousness that supported it died down. In the same way, institutionalized good deeds in the form of service, no matter how well-intentioned and dedicated, are not capable, themselves, of rekindling the fire of this same mystical consciousness.
Yungblut goes on to survey possible sources of "rekindling," noting that "the opportunity of the sixties, to serve the cause of civil rights under the inspired leadership of the contemplative revolutionary, Martin Luther King, Jr., has gone by, and no amount of nostalgia can bring it back." At the time, he saw seeds of possibility in intentional communities and "life centers," by which I think he's referring to the Movement for a New Society and similar experiments. What would a current survey suggest?

Evangelical ... In naming this quality, Yungblut admits up front that he expects push-back, both from the more orthodox part of his audience and from those who want nothing to do with evangelicalism as understood among typical liberal readers of Pendle Hill Pamphlets. To the latter, he is clear about the fatal cost of cutting themselves off from their New Testament roots.
When I suggest therefore that Quakerism in the future must be evangelical, if it is to survive, it is first of all because I believe that only this recognized connection with our tap root can prevent our withering in time, like any other cut flower. ... To have survival value I believe the Society of Friends must be evangelical in the sense of preserving a faith that is demonstrably and organically related to the gospels in the New Testament.
Yungblut affirms this sense of "evangelical" in the sense of a movement formed and informed by the Scriptures -- sprung from the Christian "phylum," to use his metaphor. However, he also describes and sets aside the more recent meaning of the word "evangelical" -- emphasizing "salvation by faith in the atonement of Jesus." Yungblut does not exactly reject us doctrinal evangelicals as Friends. Having encountered evangelical Friends at the 1970 St. Louis conference of Friends, which grew from an evangelical Quaker initiative, he wrote: "... as a member of the liberal side of the spectrum, I feel that being challenged in this manner by other members of our own household of faith is a very salutary experience."

He goes on to make two points: (1) The emphasis on literal salvation through Christ's atonement for our sin (and the crucial identification of the historical Jesus with the eternal Christ) is a doctrine he personally cannot accept without making some crucial distinctions; but (2) we as Friends must nevertheless remain united as a New Testament faith. His doctrinal arguments seem dated to me -- limited by modernist assumptions springing from "recently acquired evolutionary and depth-psychological perspectives" requiring "that I henceforth distinguish between the Jesus of history and the evolving Christ myth."

Since Yungblut wrote those words, our understanding of how faith and science relate has continued to evolve, weakening rather than strengthening the modernist perspective. Even so, Yungblut's arguments with orthodoxy do not reduce the main service of his pamphlet, undiminished after four decades: encouraging a courteous, fertile, and productive conversation about Quaker revival.

A fourth adjective? ... I affirm the ongoing importance of being mystical, prophetic, and evangelical, but I'd like to advance another adjective: pentecostal. I don't mean joining the branch of Protestantism bearing that label, but I do mean to suggest strengthening these interrelated capacities that I believe were once part of our spiritual inheritance from the earliest days, but may have weakened:
  • readiness for a wider emotional range (I'm speaking as an introvert here!)
  • welcoming a wider range of social classes
  • a greater openness to healing
  • a deeper attentiveness to spiritual gifts.
What capacities do you believe we ought to strengthen?

John Yungblut did not take the survival of the Friends movement for granted. Near the beginning of his booklet he wrote:
... In my judgment the only Quakerism that can survive in the future will have to be mystical, prophetic, and evangelical. These are the qualities that, taken together ... are the very best elements in our tradition. They constitute what, it seems to me, we should want to survive. If I could be sure that they would be better preserved in the future by some other fellowship of believers, I, for one, would not hesitate to join others in a dedicated dissolution of the Society of Friends.

Peter Brierley's article (PDF), "Nominal Christians," is an interesting survey of the measurements of Christian commitment among Europeans, including some comparisons with Christians in the USA. Brierley summarizes the vocabulary that has been accumulating over the last few decades to describe the waxing and waning of Christian self-identification, the categories of "spiritual" and "religious" and the effects of migration: "nominal Christians"; "notional Christians"; "fuzzy Christians"; "nones"; "invisibles" ... and so on.

Speaking of vocabulary, Roger E. Olson adds another term, postconservative evangelicals, and explains where he/they fit in among contemporary theologians. (You decide whether his sampling range is adequate.)

Are you able to drink the cup of Jesus? Or did you think that, when Jesus became Lord, you'd be sitting pretty?

Thirty years ago, Rodney Clapp interviewed Eugene Peterson, reminding me of the qualities I'll always associate with him.

Garret Keizer considers existing conventional wisdom about the rise of Donald Trump, and persuasively adds another factor: the pull of pugnacious nihilism. Teasers:
...It may not be out of bounds to quote from a nearly forgotten book by Nazi turncoat Hermann Rauschning called The Revolution of Nihilism. Published in 1939, and subtitled Warning to the West, the book characterizes Hitlerism as a form of vacuous "dynamism" with "no fixed aims" and "no program at all." A movement of "utter nihilism," it is "kept alive in the masses only in the form of permanent pugnacity." ...

A sense of radical incredulity, spectacularly typified by Trump’s refusal to believe his own intelligence services, is but one manifestation of the nihilism that brought him to power. What makes him "the real deal" in the eyes of his most ardent admirers is largely his insistence that almost everything else is fake.

In looking for blues dessert, I went to Moscow's Roadhouse club and "I Found My Peace of Mind."


Bill Samuel said...

Pentecostal and charismatic movements historically look to preceding movements over the centuries with similar characteristics. George Fox and the early Quakers often were named as among these. See, for example, Floods Upon the Dry Ground by Charles P. Schmitt.

I prefer to use the term charismatic rather than pentecostal because the latter term has become associated with elevating the importance of one particular spiritual gift (tongues), which does not seem to have played a large role in Quakerism. There are indications that some attributes of the charismatic movement were probably present in early Quaker worship. In fact, quaking itself could be considered charismatic.

Johan Maurer said...

Hi, Bill! You're probably right that "charismatic" could be seen as more neutral and wider in application. I'd like Friends to value those qualities associated with the word "charismatic." However, there are some reasons I like the word "pentecostal" (not capitalized). Subjectively, to me it seems more primitive and more directly associated with the second chapter of Acts. The charismatic movement is sometimes labeled "neo-pentecostal" ... but it has tended to be middle-class, whereas the earlier pentecostals were often working-class people, and still are. Back when I traveled extensively among Friends, the disdain I sometimes detected for pentecostal churches did not do us credit.

By the way, after writing the post, I remembered Tony Campolo's book How to Be Pentecostal Without Speaking in Tongues, which I bought at a remaindered book table probably twenty years ago.

Bill Samuel said...

A church I attended for awhile called itself "neo-pentecostal" when I first started attending, and then changed to call itself "charismatic." This is the church pastored by the author of the book I cited.

The big advantage of the word pentecostal is the tie to the Pentecost story in Acts.

It's sort of like the word evangelical. In itself, it should mean spreading the good news, but it has gotten intimately tied to an extreme written word oriented theology which I think is less "good news" than what I would consider to be better theology. When do words become so contaminated by what comes to be normal usage that it can be problematic to use them when we don't mean what the contaminated form does?

Daniel Wilcox said...

A lot of points to be mulled and chewed in this article and the comments:-)
#1 Johan, your article about John Yunblut's pamphlet reminds me of the chapter in Friends for 300 Years by Howard Brinton where he states that best is when the "mystical, the evangelical, the rational, and the social are so related that each exercises a restraint on the others..."(page 203)

Each of the forms of spirituality keeps us from the extremes of the other forms, so giving us the best of all of them.
I think that is a brilliant, incisive insight, so I am looking forward to reading Yumblut's booklet.

#2 I remember the shock when reading the Journal of George Fox, other early writings, and histories of Quakerism and discovered that the early Quaker movement had many of the same behaviors and actions as the early Pentecostals.

#3 Bill, Plenty of words in religion, including among Friends, have become so contaminated that they are essentially empty-bucket terms. For instance, see some of the commentary in the book edited by Elizabeth A. Oppenheimer, Writing Cheefully on the Web,2009.

But we are mostly stuck with the mess of words and so have to often carefully define each of them. Heck, I've encountered some Friends who assert they are hard atheists. Yet they avidly support attending "worship" each first day! I am left baffled like when Quaker leaders of California Yearly Meeting--when my wife and I were members there--strongly supported nuclear weapons as ethically good!