Letter to the Editor: Prayers for the Dead at Remembrance Services

Prayers for the Dead at Remembrance Services   Sir, Remembrance Sunday is an important and poignant landmark in our nation’s annual calendar, and a day to reflect, give thanks and pray for peace. We see church and civic life combine in silence and remembrance, as...

Evangelical Theological College of Asia

Evangelical Theological College of Asia Have you ever wondered if there was a sound reformed theological training institution in Asia?  The Evangelical Theological College of Asia is just such a school.  It is located in Singapore and its faculty are mostly from...

Prudence Dailey’s Commentary: Should Women Be Afraid of Men?

Prudence Dailey's Commentary Should Women be Afraid of Men? Recently, someone I used to work with shared on her Facebook page a link to an article from The Times magazine by the feminist writer Caitlin Moran. The substance of Ms Moran’s piece—rhetorically addressed to...

FIEC Updates Its “Values Statement”

FIEC Updates Its “Values Statement” The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches recently updated its “Values Statement.”  It is well-worth your time to read.  There are FIEC affiliated congregations in England, Scotland, and Wales.   1. God-honouring and...


Lenora Hammond 1960-2021 Mrs Lenora Hammond, wife of Frontline Fellowship founder Dr Peter Hammond, died on 9 November.  She was six days short of her sixty-first birthday.  Frontline Fellowship is headquartered in Cape Town, South Africa. Mrs Hammond was born into a...

Archbishops’ Appointments Secretary to Retire

Archbishops’ Appointments Secretary to Retire “The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have paid tribute to the service of Caroline Boddington, who has announced she will be leaving the National Church Institutions (NCIs) at the end of 2021 after 17 years as the...

Book Review: The Lullingstone Secret

The Lullingstone Secret Jill Masters Wakeman Press, 2021 (ISBN: 9781913133115, 97pp, £5.95) Lullingstone Villa in Kent is a fascinating site to visit whatever one’s awareness of ancient history and is lavishly curated by English Heritage. Since its excavation in the...

Book Review: The Welsh Methodist Society

The Welsh Methodist Society The Early Societies in South-West Wales 1737-1750 Eryn M. White University of Wales Press, 2021 (ISBN: 9781786835796, 350pp, £24.99) In many respects, the church in Britain continues to live off the puttering afterglow of the eighteenth...

Eastern Rite Catholics: What Are They?

Eastern Rite Catholics What Are They? Former Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali’s recent defection to Rome has highlighted earlier efforts of the Roman Catholic Church to bring other ecclesiastical jurisdictions into its orbit.  There are a total of twenty-three which have...

Review of: Quakers, Christ, & the Enlightenment

Quakers, Christ, and the Enlightenment

Madeleine Pennington

Oxford University Press, 2021 (ISBN: 978-0-19-289527-1, 242pp)

The Society of Friends may now be all but extinct, but their historical significance is vast, not least in the realm of intellectual life. It is of no little import that founding acts of the sole superpower of the past generation occurred in the Quaker capital of a Quaker state. The convictions and ethic of that curious religious group continue to find expression in American life and, thanks to its unprecedented global reach, throughout our world. It is therefore welcome to find a work which engages more seriously than perhaps any previously with the ideological development of early Quakerism, in the late seventeenth century.

Pennington’s book, a development of her doctoral thesis, immediately exposes the unorthodoxy of George Fox’s theology, including his perfectionism and reliance on claimed extra-scriptural insights. The seventeenth century theological landscape was however highly volatile and Pennington shows that Fox was merely one influence among many on later Quakers, many of whom became increasingly influenced by enlightenment rationalism following the Revolution. Indeed, early Quaker writings, characterised by metaphysical assertion became almost an embarrassment to a movement which, Pennington argues, earnestly sought ‘theological reputation’.

Theological reputation is an unusual concept but seems to stand for a sort of social acceptance. The Quakers never seriously sought comprehension within the national church in the way that the Puritan movement did, but they did recognise the importance of being considered clearly Christian. The questionable inheritance of Fox and his contemporaries made this achievement more challenging for the movement than it was for other sects. Pennington argues that the very process of winning this acceptance, and the corresponding dialogue with other denominations, drove the evolution of Quaker Christology, which in turn prompted organisational transition. 

The book struggled between two aims of, on one hand, giving ‘nonconformists intellectual agency in their own story’ and, on the other, of making a case for shifting theology driving institutional change. Pennington succeeds in the former, having evidently delved deeply in the Society of Friends archive and with a bibliography that could easily stand for a catalogue of early Quaker tracts and letters (albeit that she herself admits that the tradition is ‘messy’). On the latter count, the enquiry is too weighted toward intellectual life and too little toward organisational analysis to be entirely convincing. Nevertheless, this book is a novel perspective on Restoration era theological and philosophical discourse and a valuable addition to modern Quaker history.

Edward Keene, Little Shelford