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Quaker Theology #11 Spring-Summer 2005

Editors' Introduction

In this issue, we note some important landmarks, as well as taking some new looks at perennial theological issues.

The first landmark is the centennial of the founding of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) in 1904. NCYM (C) may be the most viable of the remaining groups expressing the Conservative or Wilburite stream of American Quakerism.

In fitting fashion, this centennial was observed quietly, at the regular fall session of its Representative Meeting, with a display of documents, and a historical/theological presentation about its origins by Lloyd Lee Wilson, a prominent member and minister of the group. It was this essay which caught our attention, and with his permission it is included here. We are pleased to be able to make this exposition of Conservative history and principles more widely available.

We then turn to a vexed question that our Editor was asked to address for Amawalk Meeting in New York, namely whether there is a "core" Quaker theology, and what that might be. The reflections offered in response are provisional, as is proper, but may serve to stimulate thought and discussion of some of the associated issues.

For Friends the matter of "core" theology is ineluctably related to "core" witness, and in these days the peace testimony tends to be highlighted. Thus we were glad to see Thomas Kennedy’s account of some of the struggles over the meaning and limits of this witness within London Yearly Meeting when it faced World War One. This narrative is distilled from Kennedy’s superb book, British Quakerism 1860-1920, which we believe is must reading for informed Friends, and very pleasant reading as well.

A related theological struggle and pilgrimage is what Charley Earp, of Chicago’s Northside Meeting, describes for us in his, "In Search of Religious Radicalism." This is another in our informal series of "narrative theologies," accounts by Friends of their religious and personal journeys, in a theological framework. Through these we hope to see better into the many-faceted crystal that contemporary Quakerism resembles. Earp’s experience with "radical" Christian communities, and the surprising conclusions he drew from it, we think make for a compelling and informative account.

The reviews in this issue begin with a look at two memoirs by women. One is Karen Armstrong, who started out to be a Catholic nun, and instead has become a major writer/scholar on religious topics including Islam, fundamentalism, and God Her/Himself. The other is by Heidi Hart, who came to Friends from a rather unlikely locale – Mormon Utah – and from an equally unlikely personal place – namely a love of music. Hart’s Grace Notes continues the recent series of striking memoirs by women Quakers; we hope there will be more to come.

From the personal, our reviewing perspective then widens out to just about the broadest widescreen setting, that of the overall history of liberal theology in the U.S. and Germany since 1805. This vast, complex saga is encompassed by the work of a single remarkable writer, Gary Dorrien, whose appetite for reading (and writing) substantive theological tomes seems impossible to slake. Our survey here covers over 2000 pages of his output – and there’s lots more, if we’d been able to keep up!

Then we come back home to a collection of pieces which is intended to suggest the range of current "theories" about the origins and meaning of Quakerism. If its range is not as wide as we would like, it is still an intriguing sampling.

And finally, we note for the record here a sad landmark, the passing in April of William P. Taber, Jr. of Stillwater Meeting, Ohio Conservative Yearly Meeting. Bill was without peer as a quiet exemplar and expositor of the American Quietist tradition. He shall be missed, and we hope to offer a review of some of his more important work in a future issue.

– Chuck Fager, Editor

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