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Good and Evil: Quaker Perspectives.

doi: 10.1017/S0009640708001455

Good and Evil: Quaker Perspectives. Edited by Jackie Leach Scully and Pink Dandelion. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2007. x + 254 pp. $99.95 cloth.

Trying to understand good and evil, particularly evil and how it can exist in a divinely ordered world, may be one of the few theological problems that virtually every faith tradition addresses. This collection of essays is the first comprehensive attempt to take up these issues from the perspectives of the different traditions within the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers.

Good and Evil: Quaker Perspectives brings together a wide range of authors, all nineteen of them self-identified Quakers, but that is the only generalization that holds for the whole collection. Most have academic appointments, but also included are several well-known Quaker authors outside the academic world. They are international to the extent that they include authors from both North America and the United Kingdom, the "old" Quaker strongholds, although no African Friends, who now compose a majority of the world's Quakers. Faculty at George Fox University in Oregon, which has in the last three decades established itself as the intellectual center of Evangelical Quakerism, contributed six of the essays, the largest bloc from any single institution. Theologically, the contributors range from evangelical to nontheist.

Pink Dandelion's introduction succinctly frames the central question: "How does a group that emphasizes 'that of God in everyone' and universal salvation construct a theory of evil?" (3). The editors then group the essays into historical and contemporary perspectives, although several do not neatly fit into these categories. Contributors such as David Johns, Johan Maurer, William Jolliff, and David Boulton draw liberally on Quaker history in constructing their arguments. Others draw on anthropology, philosophy, psychology, and scholars ranging from Jurgen Habermas to Mahatma Gandhi to Carl Jung for insights.

If any one concept runs through the collection, other than its title theme, it is light and darkness. "Light" takes up more space in the index than any other entry. Especially useful in this regard is Douglas Gwyn's essay, "George Fox's Witness regarding Good and Evil." Gwyn argues for a simple dichotomy in Fox's thought: "light-good-truth versus darkness-evil-deceit" (33). Spiritual experience began when seekers turned to the light that was within them. It showed them, in Fox's words, "the evil actions you have acted" and so, if they followed its leading, "will let you see all you have done contrary to it; and loving it, it will turn you from your evil deeds" (33). But the light would have other manifestations: teacher of the true meaning of God's law, power against temptation, and bond of unity among believers. Carole Dale Spencer, in an equally distinguished essay, "Early Quakers and Divine Liberation from the Power of Sin," argues that what distinguished and separated the first generation of Quakers from contemporaries was their view of perfection. Drawing a parallel with the Eastern Orthodox Quaker tradition, Spencer concludes that "for early Quakers the goal of the spiritual life for every Christian is the recovery of the divine likeness, a process in the Eastern Orthodox tradition called theosis or deification, and often described as 'perfection'. In perfection the diseased condition of sin (the old Adam) is healed when the new Adam is 'disjoined from the evil seed and united to the Divine Light'" (44).

Both Spencer and Hugh Pyper are at some pains to point out differences between seventeenth-century Quaker thought and their Calvinist contemporaries, whom they often debated. Pyper's contribution, "Beyond Depravity: Good and Evil in the Thought of Robert Barclay," looks at the single most important Quaker theologian. Barclay (1644-1690), a Scot, was the product of an extraordinary mix of theological education. Although, in his own words, brought up by "the strictest sort of Calvinists" (60), he also spent time in the Jesuit Scots College in Paris before converting to Quakerism. Pyper argues that Barclay's works, especially his magisterial Apology for the True Christian Divinity (1676), can best be understood as an attempt to undermine the foundations of Calvinist theology. Barclay, like his Calvinist opponents, accepted the reality of Original Sin. But he rejected predestination. Instead, he argued for the existence of a Seed of God in all human beings, which was good, separate from and opposed to human evil. In a "Day of Visitation" (66), a visitation of Divine Light, this Seed would be awakened. If accepted, it would grow and lead to salvation.

Several of the essays implicitly or explicitly address contemporary debates among Quakers. Today, Friends around the world span an extraordinary spectrum of views, from Christian fundamentalism to a universalism that argues for the possibility of being a Buddhist or Jewish Quaker to even a few nontheists. Paul Anderson's essay on continuing revelation is one that virtually all varieties of Friends will find both comforting and annoying, since it defies easy compartmentalization. Probably the most provocative, and in this reviewer's eyes the least convincing, contribution to the collection is David Boulton's "Looking Within: A Nontheist Perspective." It begins with the assertion that the metaphor from George Fox's Journal that most of the authors cite, his vision of an Ocean of Light and an Ocean of Darkness, was really the work of Thomas Ellwood, the editor of the Journal. Boulton argues for the centrality of the Digger Gerard Winstanley to early Quaker thought, and bemoans what he sees as a retreat from Quaker radicalism after 1660, a radicalism that broke "back into the discourse of Friends with the re-emergence of Quaker nontheism in the 1990s" (190).

Given the price, this is a work that will probably be purchased only by a relative handful of seminaries and graduate libraries. That is a pity, since readers far beyond the little world of Quaker scholars could learn from it.

Thomas D. Hamm

Earlham College
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Author:Hamm, Thomas D.
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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