Part I
  1. I cannot join an argument on what early Quakers believed (first generation), I know too little about it and it doesn't really matter to me.
  2. I came to RSoF from the Church of the Brethren by way of convincement (I married a Quaker and she convinced me. ). I carry with me very much of that anabaptist heritage.
  3. The interpretation of an historical document is not as simple as current discussion seems to imply. I am unable to recapitulate the discussions among philosophers, historians or theologians because I am not current in it. I remember Herbert Butterfield making a good presentation in his Christianity and History, but this is at least forty years old. In philosophy and theology there has been an immense discussion of "hermeneutics" since at least 1965 (when I was reading it), but I would not try to give references.
  4. J. Benton White, Taking the Bible seriously; Honest differences about biblical interpretation (1993) is a good discussion of the fundamentalism versus modernism argument. [His bias leans toward modernism; but I believe he is fair.]
  5. I believe that it is possible to carry on our work together without this argument in its present formulation. This is not to say that I think the theological task is not important. I think that it is very important. [I have previously posted a comment by Emil Brunner from his The Mediatoron this issue; quote by e-mail if you want it.]
  6. As evidence that the present issue can be dealt with in a constructive manner, I strongly recommend to Friends John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesusas an example of short-circuiting some of this debate. [Get the 2nd. ed., if you can. He writes a 20 years later epilogue to the first edition after each chapter. (1994)]. Notice how he avoids the "Jesus of History vs. the Christ of Faith" issue. Notice how he deals with the Paul vs. Jesus argument. Observe how he treats the issues of women and of slavery in Paul. [Warning: he is a Mennonite who teaches at a Roman Catholic university. He is not a fundamentalist and he takes the Bible *very* seriously. It is very dangerous reading.].
  7. There are other examples of what I believe to be a faithful reading of the Bible without reaching the propositional theology issues of the current debate:
    1. Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction(1963).
    2. Elmer A Martens and Howard H. Charles, eds., Believers Church Bible Commentary(Herald Press, Scottdale, PA [a Brethren & Mennonite joint project]. I particularly recommend (because I have used them): Eugene F. Roop, Genesis(1987) [Brethren; president of Bethany Theological Seminary; now in association with the Earlham School of Religion] and Richard B. Gardner, Matthew(1991) [Prof. of NT at Bethany; also Brethren].
  8. Finally, my "credo" for this discussion.
    1. I believe that my historical enterprise is a dialogue between me as a late 20th century person and the text [do you hear Mortimer J. Adler in the background?]. I seek *first* to dicover the meaning of the text to its contemporaries (the "sitz im leben" of scholarship). I, then, second seek to find its meaning for me: now, where I am in life (for the non-German, I have just translated the above). The first reading will vary from scholar to scholar (see Butterfield above) and with me as I age and gain or decrease in knowledge and wisdom. This first task is not simple: we must discern the oral "sitz im leben", the written use, and the meaning of the Old Testament to the New Testament (to cite some of the many contexts of meaning in the Bible). To the second task I bring a four-fold response: (1) in my study as I ponder the text and meditate upon it; (2) in "lectio divina" as I move toward contemplation; (3) in meeting for worship as I carry that text with me in memory; and (4) in the work of Friends as we together ponder the will of God for us at this moment, praying with a'Kempis, "as thou wilt, what thou wilt, when thou wilt."
    2. With the Brethren, I believe that at any time new light may break forth from scripture, including how I should interpret it. (see any work on the history of the Brethren [there are several branches; take your pick].
    3. Along with the Hebrew writers of the Old Testament, I believe in a God who changes his mind and does new things (see George Ernest Wright, God Who Acts).
    4. With Whitehead, Heidegger and Tillich, I believe that the Platonic/Aristotelian formulation of the eternal, perfect deity is a poor philosophic base for Christian theology today (See the remarks of Barth in work cited; other references on request).
    5. I believe that the nuances of the Hebrew world of thought are obscured, if not lost, in the debate over the Old Testament vs the New Testament (begin with Thorlief Boman, Hebrew and Greek Thought[this may not be an exact citation of the title--I last read this about 30 years ago] but see also Yoder cited in part I; If you want to see this in broader perspective, I suggest Eric Voegelin, Israel and Revelationvol. I and Plato and Aristotlevol. III in his "Order and History").
    6. I believe that the shift from the world of the sacred to the profane modern world has affected our thinking so profoundly that to carry on these arguments without that recognition vitiates much of what we say (see Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane(1959) and Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry(1957) and also his "The Rediscovery of Meaning," Saturday Evening Post(Jan., 1961).
    7. I believe that the canonical scriptures are the primary witnesses to God that we must hear in the development of theology (see Barth again).
    8. I believe that, ultimately, propositional theology is misleading when done without careful caveats and is often in danger of idolatry (Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, and so forth). God stands beyond our comprehension (Dionysius, Mystical Theology; anon., The Cloud of Unknowing) Rationality is a necessary tool in our discourse, but it must be a servant to God in God's self-disclosure. This beyond is one of the reasons for the incarnation (see Athanasius, The Incarnation of the Word of God). Irrationality is breaking our rules of logic, which may or may not be a useful tool. Non-rationality means that the object of discourse stands beyond the reach of rationality (see almost any discussion of logic in the twentieth century, but see particularly Rudolph Otto, The Idea of the Holy, Martin Buber, I and Thouand Karen Armstrong, A history of the Idea of God: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.).
    9. Propositions about God must be in a "logically peculiar mode." Mathematics is true by definition. It is tautological (circular?) logic. Much of scientific logic appeals to a sensory referent (A. J. Ayer, Language Truth and Logicwith subsequent corrections by almost everybody, including Ayer.). Logic cannot touch the "Truth" as Friends speak of it (Rhineland Mystics and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico Philosophicus) Language may be game oriented and we need to know the rules for any specific game (Wittgenstein in most of his later writings and much of English philosophical discussion at mid to late century). Theology is metaphorical (Kant and Neo-Kantians; see Suzanne K. Langer [late of Swarthmore] and others.) language, not tautological and not sense referring. (see Ayer, Wittgenstein on logical positivism and Bertrand Russell with Alfred North Whitehead in Principia Mathematica[logical atomism?]). Language creates an opening in which we meet as persons (see the later Heidegger and commentaries on him; see especially his essay, "In dem Wald".)
    10. There are no "laws of logic in general." There are a number of logics and we need to be clear about which one we are using. (see modern discussions of logic and mathematics).
    11. My trust is in God who is in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, and not in Fox and not in current interpreters. Whether Fox allowed the Teacher within to overrule the primary witnesses of scripture is interesting but not determinative. I do not take George Fox as Lord (cf. Tom Davis).
Copyright 1995 by Tom Davis, <>