25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Maybe Not An Introduction?,
This review is from: The Quakers: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
This book packs a great deal into its small size, including some interesting illustrations, a couple of useful charts and a comprehensive index. At first I found all the history a little hard going, particularly as a great deal seemed to be about Quakerism in the US, but others may find this enjoyable. One thing I had not realized is that initially, and for some time, Quakers considered themselves "the one true church". Hardly believable now to a Liberal Quaker in the UK!!
I found the pages on "Liberal Quaker Theology" resonated well with me, and described something that is particularly (in my experience) hard to define. I would like to quote most of pages 79-85, which deal with this, but of course I need to be selective for a review, so I will content myself with this from P83 "Liberal Quaker diversity can look like a supermarket religion, a pick and mix approach. The loss of an accepted and assumed Christianity is confusing and bewildering to Evangelical and Conservative Friends. Self-led eclecticism can appear an overly diffuse form of religion. What is often misunderstood by friends in these other traditions is that, while this may be true, belief is not central to Liberal Friends. It is not how Liberal Friends define their Quakerism, but rather, and merely, an attempt to explain the nature of their experience, which is primary. Liberal Friends emphasize this form of Quakerism, not because they don't believe anything but because it is the form that leads to the experience which for them is central. This position, however, is alien to Evangelical Quakers."
What I had not realized until I read this book was that the Liberal tradition I know is not nearly as universal as I had thought. I did know that some Quakers in the US had programmed Meetings for Worship, and that in some African countries there was a strong Evangelical Quaker tradition, but Pink Dandelion brought this home with one of his graphs which showed Quakerism in the UK and North America had dropped substantially between 1940 and 2000, whereas in Africa, it has grown from 8% to 42% in that period! Not only that, but according to Pink Dandelion (he doesn't give his source for these figures) 83% of all Quakers belong to Yearly Meetings where the worship is programmed. One place where Evangelical Quakerism is definitely alive and thriving is Yorba Linda Friends' Church, California, which draws a "congregation" of 3000-4000 every weekend, and which also allows water baptism and an "outward" form of communion.
I am glad I read this book, which is not only full of interesting facts, but which has also made me think deeply about liberal Quakerism in the light of what seems a global movement towards a Quakerism I would see as more "conventionally Christian". As an introduction for people who want to know more about Quakerism, I'm not sure this is the right book. Oh, and don't let the rather idiosyncratic name of the author put you off - I heard someone say they would never read a book by someone with such a ridiculous name - their loss I fear.