Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What Quakers Believe: Internet Preface

The purpose of this blog will be to post, from time to time, short essays on what Quakers believe. Most Quakers, however, will not recognize everything here as what they believe, because we differ dizzyingly about what we believe.

I serve as principal of Friends Theological College, a diploma-level college which trains pastors for Friends in East Africa. We are located in the highland forest of western Kenya, about an hour’s drive north of Lake Victoria. The essays posted here are actually a series of pamphlets that I hope will be published by Kaimosi Friends Press, and perhaps each entitled “What Friends Believe about . . .” The purpose of each pamphlet will be to explain, and argue for, the traditional Quaker position on a number of key theological and practical issues. Because most Kenyan Quakers are biblically oriented (as were the early Quakers), very evangelical, and mildly Pentecostal, the essays will devote a lot of attention to the biblical arguments and proof-texts used by the early Quakers themselves. I believe firmly that if we cannot make good biblical arguments for our tradition, then we ought to abandon what we cannot explain biblically. Being a minority tradition of radical Christians, we can shed some light on the faith and practice of the New Testament, because we don’t take for granted several things that other churches do take for granted. I believe firmly that good Quaker theology is good biblical theology. Any Quaker theology that is not deeply grounded in scripture does not deserve the name Quaker, though traditionally Quakers take a position on scripture that rather differs from both the evangelical and liberal Christian traditions.

The essays rely very heavily on my reading of Robert Barclay, and they draw on my experience of teaching a course in Quaker Theology to second-year students. They will also address some issues specific to Kenyan Quakers, though these may be of interest to Quakers elsewhere in the world as well. The Quakerism I am arguing for does not exist in Kenya, nor for that matter in hardly any other place in the world. I do not wish to impose something foreign on African Friends. Rather, African Friends were never offered a well-grounded, traditional Quaker theology, largely because most of the missionaries who brought Quakerism here were in rebellion against it. Because of decades of spiritual degeneration, young Friends in Kenya are rapidly discarding what they know of traditional Quakerism, without understanding what they are discarding. (I daresay American and British Quakers are doing the same.) I want Friends at least to understand well what they are discarding, and on a more constructive note, I would like them to reconsider traditional Quakerism. Further, many other churches here believe that Quakerism is a cult. Because the missionaries never taught Kenyan Friends why we do what we do, they find it very difficult to defend our practices and ideas. I would like Friends to have a resource for explaining ourselves to one another.

These essays do not try to represent the whole spectrum of Friends in the world. That is because I believe most Quakers in the world have jettisoned Quakerism, hanging on to a fragment which they believe essential but abandoning everything else. The essays argue for a Quakerism that is traditional in both its theology and its practice. The vast majority of Quakers in the world are not traditional in both. Some retain a practice that would be somewhat recognizable to early Friends, and some retain a theology that is has not drifted terribly far away from the passionate Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered theology of the first Quakers. Almost nobody retains both. These essays argue for a Quakerism that does.

These essays carry the subtitle “easy essays.” This is first of all to distinguish them from another, similar project I am working on, which is a full-bodied theological re-presentation of traditional Quaker theology. Second, they are intended for an audience that is not always highly educated, and for whom written English can be difficult at times. (I would write in Swahili, but Kenyans by and large prefer to speak KiSwahili but read English. Even when our students preach in Swahili, they prepare their sermon notes in English!) Third, the subtitle pays homage to some great heroes of mine, Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day, founders of the Catholic Worker movement. They were Christians who sought to live the gospel in its radical simplicity, with a deep devotion to working with Americans who were down-and-out, unemployed, impoverished, or discarded by society. They endeavoured to communicate their theological and social ideas to working people in language that was simple, but also sharp and clear. Peter Maurin did this in a series of “Easy Essays” which are striking and admirable both for their simplicity and their clarity.

The essays posted here are drafts. I welcome comments, more on the presentation than on whether you agree or disagree, though that would be interesting, too. I hope, after each essay is published in print, that I may even be able to combine them into a book, if funds are available.

Readers who are interested in learning more about our work in Kenya may read our blog called “Kaimosi Connection” at You may also visit the website of our college,, or the website of our mission organization, Friends United Meeting, at


Martin Kelley said...

I feel like we're in for quite a treat with this essay series--I just have to love opinioniated Friends not afraid to wrestle with the meaning of Quakerism (even at those times I don't agree). Thanks for sharing them online, I suspect they might indeed be richly challenging for us Friends outside Africa.
In Friendship,
Martin Kelley

cherice said...

I'm really excited to read more of your "easy essays"! I'm currently attending a Reformed seminary, and post my own thoughts about what a Quaker perspective (namely, mine) would be on theological issues, but I don't have time right now to look for more information than I already have gleaned from reading a bit about Quaker history.

Just yesterday on my blog I asked if anyone knew of a Quaker systematic theology besides Barclay. Maybe this will be pressure! =)

Looking forward to reading more.

QuakerK said...

Hi, Patrick. I, too, am looking forward to the postings. The sub-title alone attracted me. I love the Easy Essays, and The Catholic Worker is perhaps my favorite religious publication (not that I read so many).

By the way, years ago, in the early days of Quaker-L, there was someone on the list who I remember for his contributions (for some reason, I particularly remember that this person had a wide knowledge of early Christian theology, the various groups and their disputes). I've seen your name around, and thought that maybe you were that person. Or perhaps it was another Patrick. But were you on Quaker-L, way back in the early days, back in the mid-1990s?


Robin M. said...

Just another Friend chiming in to say this sounds great!

Robin M.
What Canst Thou Say?

Johan Maurer said...

My heart sang when I read the preface.