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From the Archives: Book Reviews of Young Adult Friends’ Picks

Out of the 14 books (and 1 blog) recommended by young adult Friends in the November 2013 issue, 5 titles were reviewed by Friends Journal in the past. Here they are in chronological order…

Issue: January 31, 1959

Book: The Faith and Practice of the Quakers by Rufus Jones (1958 reprint)

Review: Click to view and download

THE FAITH AND PRACTICE OF THE QUAKERS. By Rufus M. Jones. Published by the Book and Publications Committee of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, December, 1958. Available from the Friends Book Store, 302 Arch Street, Philadelphia 6, Pa. 181 pages. $2.00

This favorite Quaker classic has been out of print for some time. Friends and others will welcome its reappearance as a paperbound volume for use in the private reading, group study, and teaching. Rufus M. Jones covers within the range of this relatively small book all which the title promises, and much detailed information is readily available in its pages. The style reminds the reader of the pleasant and graphic manner of the author’s teaching and preaching, for which he was so uniquely gifted.

It is to be regretted that no appendix was added to this printing that would have brought the volume up-to-date. Such a supplementation is especially desirable concerning the separations and out recent successes in overcoming them. There are a few other items that might well have been included in such an appendix. Rufus M. Jones would have been the first one to welcome such changes, because he wanted us to be part of a living movement. Nevertheless, the volume is one of lasting value, and its reprinting was a happy undertaking.

W.H.



Issue: January 1990

Book: A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister by Samuel Bownas (1989 reprint)

Review: Click to view and download

A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister

By Samuel Bownas. Pendle Hill Publications, 1989. 104 pages. $8.50.

Have we lost touch with the particular way God forms us as Friends? We modern Friends tend to be unfamiliar with our heritage and so often arbitrarily borrow and adapt disciplines and practices from other traditions. Our religion can thus become merely a collection of eclectic techniques. Such a tendency predisposes a tradition to exaggerated individualism, a lack of connection with historical roots, and a nebulous worldview from which to make decisions, interpret the present, and envision a future.

To address this contemporary concern, we now have the opportunity to turn to the work of 18th century British Friend Samuel Bownas. In a joint publishing effort by the Tract Association of Friends and Pendle Hill Publications, Bownas’s A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister has been reprinted and revised with the intention of enhanced readability for a late 20th century audience. An introduction by William Taber of Pendle Hill and a foreword by James Deane of the Tract Association of Friends further provide an interpretive bridge between past and present.

For Friends in Samuel Bownas’s time, ministry was understood as the fruit of faithfulness to leadings that are divinely inspired by the inward guidance of Christ. Bownas describes the interior landscape of Friends called to ministry, and provides a means to assess their “qualifications.” This term may sound restrictive to the modern ear, but Bownas used it to convey the development and modification of certain qualities that enable a person to function as an instrument of God.

Bownas suggests that the following qualities will be evident in the life of a Quaker minister: sanctification, which is the experience of purification that opens us to receive grace; conviction of sins and an examination of self; watchfulness in our conversation, company and action; and preparation and discernment for our call to ministry, a process that extends throughout life. Some modern Friends may have to suspend their distrust of traditional Christian language to assimilate these terms.

While Bownas particularly addresses the formation of the vocal minister, his description can apply generally to how God prepares us for a variety of ministries. This work also has advice for those who nurture vocal  ministers, the elders. By their own examples, the elders helped others listen to God. Through Bownas we see the inseparability of the functions of vocal minister and elder, the latter being a role which has received such bad press in our day.

Qualifications is a valuable resource for modern Friends. It calls us to strengthen the vocal ministry, reclaim the contribution of elders, and gain a better understanding of ourselves as Friends. From this guidance, we become more aware that Quakerism is a way that is differentiated from other spiritual paths. In living our heritage more fully, Friends can embody the spiritual power that is a fundamental expression of our faith.

Kathryn Damiano

Kathryn Damiano is a member of Middletown (Pa.) Meeting. From her study of 18th century Quakerism, she believes that era offers much in understanding Quaker spirituality.



Issue: January 2002

Book: Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity by Catherine Whitmire

Review: Click to view and download

Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity

By Catherine Whitmire. Foreword by Parker J Palmer. Sorin Books, 2001. 192 pages. $13.95/paperback.

Maine Quaker Catherine Whitmire has made every page of Plain Living a radiant reflection of the Light. Her work is an anthology of contemporary Quaker writers including Paul Lacey, Sandra Cronk, Parker Palmer, Douglas Steere, and Elise Boulding, as well as some of their predecessors: Thomas Kelly, Rufus Jones, Margaret Fell, James Nayler, and George Fox.

Covering work, time, integrity, money, inward simplicity, parenting, death, despair, longing, seeking, discernment, decisionmaking, everyday mysticism, contemplative listening, and, above all, God, the book is a sampler of Quaker insights and discernments. The brevity of each selection encourages us to pick up the book whenever we have a moment in our busy day, and it by no means reduces the book’s ability to resonate within the reader or connect us to the Light within the authors Whitmire has chosen.

Framing each of the eight major sections is an insightful introduction by Whitmire. As she concludes the introduction to inward simplicity: “When we listen within, we too may hear an invitation to lay down our encumbered lifestyle. It is as difficult a decision now as it was in the 1600s. Contemporary life surrounds us with a whirlwind of constant noise, incessant activity, and meaningless clutter, so it is not surprising that most of us are overextended, chronically tired, and feel weighed down by the pressures we carry .… The Spirit is speaking through the whirlwind of modern life, and if we listen quietly to the cool, calm Center within, there is an invitation to plain living awaiting each of us.”

As Whitmire makes clear, she knows whereof she speaks. Twenty-five years ago she was an overextended healthcare administrator who tried to simply her life by attending time management seminars, reorganizing her office, sleeping less, and spending New Year’s day writing relationship, financial, health, and spiritual goals for the new year-with a plan to implement each. Unfortunately, the faster she ran, the more enmeshed in complexity and the details of life she became. Finally a friend who noted her absorption in actively managing her life pointed her in the right direction by paraphrasing the famous question, “How do you know what God is planning for your life?”

As Whitmire considered the question, she says: “[I] … learned to listen within and to focus my time and energies on what I discerned to be God’s will instead of my own, [and] my life began to simplify itself. I found I could let go of extraneous plans and possessions because they no longer fit what I now discerned to be the primary goals for my life at that time . … Changes that had seemed difficult and complicated were suddenly dear .… This simplification process was not about ‘sacrifice’ but about choosing the life I really wanted. I felt ‘lighter,’ and began to experience the joy and contentment I had longed for. I had made a first step toward Quaker ‘plain living.“‘

But plain living, as Whitmire soon discovered, has a few demands of its own: “Plain living is a form of inward simplicity that leads us to listen for the ‘still, small voice’ of God’s claim upon our lives,” she writes. “Plain living is a spiritual journey of discovery, a path to be followed .… ”

In her book, Whitmire gives us the space  in which we can dismiss the demands of our cluttered lives, still the chatter of our wired minds, and journey along the path.

To dip in and out of Cathy Whitmire’s book is to resonate with the peace that passes all understanding. All we have to do is choose to pick it up.

—Ellen Michaud

Ellen Michaud, a member of South Starksboro (Vt.) Meeting, is Friends Journal’s book review editor.



Issue: January 2004

Book: An Apology for the True Christian Divinity by Robert Barclay (2002 reprint)

Review: Click to view and download

An Apology for the True Christian Divinity

By Robert Barclay. Quaker Heritage Press and Peter D. Sippel, 2002. 536 pages. $25/hardcover.

Since Robert Barclay’s Apology was first published in 1678, it has been a central statement of “The Light within as thought about,” to use Howard Brinton’s famous phrase. It has been the most widely and durably used, read, studied, and loaned exposition of Quaker belief since the 18th century. If a Quaker home had any books beyond George Fox’s Journal and the Bible, the third was likely to be Robert Barclay’s.

But too often, the Apology is referred to as “the” or “the only” systematic Quaker theology. Though much of its content and arrangement are due to Robert Barclay’s arguing against Calvinist and other theological opponents in his day, the book remains a powerful resource for Friends of all kinds—a resource and a challenge. In the Apology we find both close reasoning and Scriptural exegesis on issues like the Universal and Saving Light; the importance of right belief; the nature of salvation; the Quaker views of ministry, worship, and the sacraments; and effective discussions of social testimonies and the relation of the Quaker to the state. We also find informative descriptions of Quaker practice and customs, and we encounter some of the key disputed ideas of his time.

However, in addition to the healthful exercise of the mind with the soul looking over its shoulder that one gets in reading Robert Barclay, the reader comes to feel the fervency, warmth, and joy that Robert Barclay discovered in coming among Friends. His exposition draws on the testimony of his personal experience in passages such as this one, speaking of the power felt in the silence:

… of which I myself, in a part, am a true witness, who not by strength of arguments or by a particular disquisition of each doctrine and convincement of my understanding thereby, came to receive and bear witness of the Truth, but by being secretly reached by this Life: for when I came into the silent assemblies of God’s people I felt a secret power among them which touched my heart, and as I gave away unto it, I found the evil weakening in me and the good lifted up, and so I became thus knit and united unto them, hungering more and more after the increase of this Power and Life whereby I might feel myself perfectly redeemed.

So should we all labor to feel after the motions of God’s life in us, however small and humble, and live them experimentally. As with all experiments, part of the payoff is the time of reflection about what has happened, what it means for us, and what we can now see and do that we could not before. So the Light is to be felt, followed, enacted, and thought about by each of us-in a dialogue of heart, soul, strength, and mind.

Unfortunately, the Apology has only been available to most of us in Dean Freiday’s modern English version, an annotated paraphrase published in 1967. Now, however, the Quaker Heritage Press has produced a handsome volume, containing the original English text of the Apology (Robert Barclay wrote first in Latin, and then produced his own English edition). The volume includes a brief introduction, and a long appendix by Larry Kuenning comparing this version with Dean Freiday’s “modern English” paraphrase. Larry Kuenning makes a strong case that Dean Freiday in his paraphrases made choices about wording, or deletions, and even additions, which in many cases make changes to what Robert Barclay says himself.

Perhaps the single most jarring point in Dean Freiday’s edition is that in his “translation,” he chose to cite different translations of the Bible than the one Robert Barclay quoted. Since Robert Barclay’s arguments are often keyed to particular wordings in the Scriptural citations, this substitution of wording can sometimes in effect prevent him from making his point, or even make a point he did not intend. On the basis of his study, Larry Kuenning suggests that Dean Freiday’s edition is most valuable for its footnotes and commentary, which explain many theological and Scriptural points that materially help the reader.

Which version should you read? I have to confess that I have not used Dean Freiday’s version much since I found a copy of Robert Barclay’s Works in an old barn one Maine summer. However, the Apology in Modern English has enabled generations of Friends to become acquainted with the Apology, to study it and share it, and gain some sense of the riches to be found in the book. Yet it must be said that, since the original is available, anyone using Dean Freiday’s version should​.be aware that it is flawed. Meetings should definitely have a copy of the new Quaker Heritage Press version in their libraries, so that Friends can refer to it if they cannot afford to own two versions of the Apology, and already have purchased and come to know the modern English version.

Now, should I not recommend Dean Freiday because it is easier language, “modern English”? No, I should not. As the Quaker Heritage Press editor, Licia Kuenning, points out, Barclay also wrote modern English, linguistically speaking. It is not 20th century language, and its style is not as clear as that of John Punshon, nor even Joseph John Gurney. Yet it is not so obscure as many other theologians, once one is used to the length of many of the sentences, which sometimes require thoughtful reconsideration. The Quaker Heritage Press edition gives some help with 17th century peculiarities (and also cheerfully advises the reader who finds 17th-century English difficult to keep reading it until it becomes easy).

This begs the question, “What are we to think about ‘modern’ versions of early Quaker texts?”

The Apology was the first of the great Quaker texts to be “translated” into Late Modern English, but it is not the last. Rex Ambler has produced an anthology of quotations from George Fox with accompanying paraphrases; Ron Selleck modernized William Penn’s No Cross, No Crown. A “modern English” paraphrase of Robert Barclay’s Catechism and Confession of Faith is just out, and I have heard that there is to be a “modern version” of William Penn’s Fruits of Solitude. This last gives me pause, because his meditations are notable for their wit, compression, clarity, and pungency, so that a modern paraphrase of Fruits seems as jarring an idea as a modern paraphrase of the Gettysburg address, or of Walden—or of John Woolman’s Journal. The voice of the original, the tang and taste of it is lost in paraphrase; and there can be other losses, so that one should use such versions with real care.

And bear in mind that paraphrase is a commentary. No matter how faithful and careful the paraphraser may be, he or she is still making choices in order to put things differently from the way the author did; the reader can profit from the paraphrase if this is kept in mind. Paraphrasers may not be under the same concern, nor responsive to the same issues, as were the original authors, so that threads, nuances, and concepts may be lost, recast, or unintentionally misshapen. Despite such inevitable losses, a paraphrase may serve as an introduction, or perhaps invite some people to read an author with a reputation for “difficulty” whom they might not dare to approach otherwise.

Yet I would urge Friends to remember that we are not separated from our predecessors by so many generations, nor are we really speaking a different tongue. If a paraphrase is all that you have at hand, then read it and meet the author on those terms, through another’s interpretation. If, however, you take the opportunity to read the original, then you can hear the author speak in his or her own voice—and you can make your own interpretations.

—Brian Drayton

Brian Drayton, an ecologist working in science education, is a member of Weare (N.H.) Meeting and a recorded minister.



Issue: June 2008

Book: An Introduction to Quakerism by Pink Dandelion

Review: Click to view and download

An Introduction to Quakerism

By Pink Dandelion. Cambridge University Press, 2007. 294 pages. $19.99/paperback, $84/hardcover.

British Friend Ben Pink Dandelion provides a thorough presentation of Quakerism from historical, theological, and sociological perspectives. This is much more than a brief pamphlet and the depth of analysis will be well beyond introductory to many. The style is academic and may be a bit daunting to the armchair reader, especially if one is setting expectations based upon the title. Other works are likely better suited for beginners, but this one is important for those looking for a deeper introduction.

The book’s organization and background information lends itself both to individual reading and to study group· discussions. The first two-thirds of the book provides a historical and theological exploration of Quakerism’s first 300 years, and the final third focuses on Friends today. Both give food for thought and frameworks for further exploration. Three themes—time, spiritual intimacy, and definition of the “world’s people”—are consistently used and ground the reader as the many threads of Quaker practice and belief are followed over rime and place. Dandelion does an admirable job of separating worship form and theological belief and explaining various Quaker distincrives in both historical and theological contexts. Readers are advised to take similar care as the terms “Evangelical” and “Liberal” are used throughout the book to refer to theological belie.& rather than worship form or political leaning.

A real strength is the incorporation of the worldwide family of Friends throughout the book. The second chapter, “The beginnings of Quaker diversity,” does an excellent job of explaining how Friends evolved into the many branches found today. Dandelion successfully highlights the major divisions and personalities of 19th century Quakerism, complexities are addressed without getting overly long or complicated, and his overview of modernism in the late 19th century is especially useful as it shows both the transformation of British Quakerism and the modernist influence on Gurneyite and Hicksite Friends in the United States. Also valuable is the inclusion of 20th-century Quakerism as the third chapter covers the continuing changes over the past 100 years—a useful contribution as older publications cannot offer such synthesis.

For each chapter the author provides an introduction and then a summary at the end. There is also an index and timeline at the end of the book, a brief annotation to further readings, and a lengthier bibliography providing up-to-date references for those desiring to dig deeper. Several diagrams from past publications are included, such as Fran Taber’s model and typology of Quaker theology and Stan Thornburg’s chart on discerning vocal ministry. Models by Dandelion are less informative. The body of the work also includes a number of separate boxes providing asides on terminology, biographical highlights, and other items that would otherwise break the flow of the main text.

Thomas Hamm’s Quakerism in America (2003) provided an accessible overview of the history and evolution of Friends in the United States. Dandelion’s book adds a broader dimension by placing U.S. Friends within the context of those in Britain, Africa, and elsewhere around the world. Dandelion’s work also provides deeper analysis of Quaker theology, both historical and contemporary, and more complex examination of contemporary Friends with detailed examples and excerpts from yearly meeting disciplines across theological and geographic differences.

—Gwen Gosney Erickson

Gwen Gosney Erickson is the Friends Historical Collection Librarian and Archivist at Guilford College and a member of Friendship Meeting in Greensboro, N.C.

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