As I read and re-read Traditional Quaker Christianity, I felt a spirit of humble diligence intent upon conveying the core substance of Quaker understanding, as well as the practices that have thus far assisted its continuation. The original draft of this book was the result of a study of Friends faith and witness by Ohio Yearly Meeting member Michael Hatfield. He gave his work to the yearly meeting “to do with as it saw fit.” Small study groups were formed in which his writing was found useful but in need of more work. OYM called upon four Friends (Arthur Berk, John Smith, Susan Smith, and Terry Wallace) to edit and develop Hatfield’s original draft.
There are seven chapters in the book, each containing anywhere from four to ten sections. Each section is comprised of a title, selections for recommended reading, a short essay, and questions for discussion. Four appendices complete the main body of the book, providing more discussion of eldering, a brief history and present-day scope of alternate forms of Quaker faith, a glossary of Quaker terms, and a bibliography.
This book would be helpful for anyone wanting a readable introduction to or comprehensive overview of the original tenets of Quaker Christianity, and the sustaining practices that have evolved in Ohio Yearly Meeting. The primary doctrines of the faith are all included: the Word of God is Christ (not the Bible); the Spirit of Christ is universally bestowed; salvation entails obedience to the living God (not intellectual assent to doctrine); only in the daily cross of Christ can evil be overcome. In addition to presenting the central beliefs, the book examines particular tenets that have arisen from the faith: that gospel ministry is oracular, that the Scriptures are esteemed and studied, that baptism and communion are inward occurrences, and that females and males have equal spiritual potential in substance and practice. Pertinent passages from the Scriptures and Friends writings are frequently cited and paraphrased to supplement the editors’ descriptions and explanations.
Some present-day misconstructions of Quaker faith are addressed. For example, in the fourth section of the first chapter, Lewis Benson is quoted contrasting the ethic of obligation with the ethic of idealism: the former being a principle grounded in divine Will as opposed to the latter, which is based in human values. A later discussion in chapter seven on testimony versus testimonies furthers the discussion, and the difference is then illustrated in later sections where the original peace witness and the contemporary peace testimony are each described.
I found the essay on clerking substantial in identifying gifts needed for clerking, responsibilities of both clerk and meeting while conducting business, and helpful practical advice for maintaining order, and writing or modifying a minute. Throughout the book, practical advice is regularly offered and always purposeful.
The roles of elders, overseers, ministers, and teachers are each described: their work, the strengths and gifts necessary, and the typical dangers encountered. A chart at the end of chapter six compares the different functions and orientations of each, providing an easy reference to Friends who are not practiced in identifying these gifts and are unfamiliar with their specific benefits to the community.
Though Traditional Quaker Christianity is intended to convey the tradition among Conservative Friends, it may find readers among Liberals and Evangelicals. Should another generation of Quakers come forth and undertake the restoration of “the desolations of many generations,” they could find this book a resource for building up a Quaker Christian society. Here they would find stated the purpose and aim of the society, means to realize that aim, practices to support those means, and generally a structure provided in which a people of God could arise, flourish, and serve the cause of Truth.