For my Doctrine of Christ class at George Fox Seminary I was given an opportunity to explore Christology, or the study of Jesus. I took that opportunity to seek out an understanding of how Christ centered Quakers, old and new, thought about Jesus. Though this was a research project, and perhaps is quite heady in spots, my goal was to distill this down in ways that were accessible. If anyone is interested in the purely academic version I am willing to share it. The main reason I wanted to pursue this was to explore the Quaker Christological understanding in its diversity and richness, to tease out its meaning and applications for today. In the project which I entitled “Logos as Light: a Quaker Christology” I look at the biblical and experiential roots of the Quaker experience with Jesus, explore the diversity and orthodoxy of this understanding, and then examine more deeply the uniquely Quaker conceptions of Jesus as Present Teacher and Lord, Christ as Seed, Christ as Inner Light, and Christ as Center. In a section called “First Things,” which this post is based off of, I begin to wrestle with the experiential nature of the Quaker understanding of Jesus.
Quakers, or Friends, are a diverse group today, with some even so diverse as to stand outside the Christian heritage of early Friends. Like other groups in the mystical tradition such as Pentecostals, Friends emphasized the experiential far more than articulations of their theologies codified into neat and tidy systems. As I endeavor to reverse engineer a Quaker Christology for the purposes of this paper, it is essential to point out that when Quakers wrote about Jesus, it was first and foremost a reflection of their inward experience of Christ as a mystical reality. Their aim in a sense was practical, not ontological or theological precision. The great Quaker discovery was one of the immediacy of God, a God too large to be trapped in a book or mediated through rituals or priest and too mysterious to be understood merely through intellectualism or theological speculation.
The heart of Quakerism is essentially Christological; it is a shared experience of the pre-existent and inward Christ. This experiential focus has brought along with it a sort of mystical and metaphysical naiveté as George Fox and others sought an “untheological Christianity.” Fox criticized those of his day for being too caught up in theological speculations, which he referred to as “notions.” He felt a growing repugnance for these notions similar to Luther’s repugnance for indulgences because theological reflection about God had seemed to eclipse personal relationship with God. Early Friends were not as concerned with believing a doctrine of atonement as much as “experiencing deliverance from sin and the love of it, and the formation of a new Christ-like character within.” Contra Luther’s “by grace alone,” Friends emphasized Christ as an inward transforming experience and existential reality. Faith was seen as a lived experience in the laboratory of life, and Friends believed that unless there was the transforming power of the Spirit there was no true Christianity present. In a sense, Quaker Christology was more about orthopraxy (right action) than orthodoxy (right belief), it is Christian mysticism but with an emphasis on ethical action stemming from a holy encounter. Friends had a new vision and new certainty in action. Their discovery was Christ speaking within, to a mystical ear, but also was a recovering of the Christ mysticism of the New Testament that allowed for direct revelation. For early Friends such as William Penn, this was an experience of “primitive Christianity revived,” a recovery of a faith like that seen on the pages of the book of Acts.
Query: Are we contemporary Friends still committed to emphasizing Christ as an “inward transforming experience and existential reality”? Do we still have a vision of faith that makes room for “experience in the laboratory of life”?
Continue on to Part II: Quakers and Jesus: Toward a Quaker Christology
Other Posts in this series:
 Lloyd Lee Wilson, Essays On the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order (Burnsville, N.C.: Celo Valley Books, ©1993), 164.
 Maurice A. Creasey, Early Quaker Christology; With Special Reference to the Teaching and Significance of Isaac Penington, 1616-1679; an Essay in Interpretation. [Leeds], 1956, 78.
 Rufus M. Jones, The Life and Message of George Fox, 1624-1924; A Tercentenary Address. New York: Macmillan Co, 1924, 16.
 Rufus M. Jones, The Faith and Practice of the Quakers (Richmond, Ind.: Friends United Press, 2002), 45.
 Creasey, Early Quaker Christology, 78, 335.
Rufus M. Jones, The Faith and Practice of the Quakers, 52.
 Canby T. Jones, Quaker Understanding of Christ and of Authority, Philadelphia, Penna: Faith and Life Movement; distributed by Friends World Committee, American Section, 1970, 37.
 Margery Post Abbott, To Be Broken and Tender: A Quaker Theology for Today. [Portland, Or.]: Friends Bulletin Corp, 2010, 51.
 Creasey, Early Quaker Christology, 347.
 Robert Barclay and Dean Freiday, Barclay’s Apology in Modern English. [Alburtis Pa.]: [Hemlock Press; distributed by Friends Book store, Philadelphia], 1967, 27.
 Creasey, Early Quaker Christology, 355-356; Barclay’s Apology in Modern English 28-29; Rufus M. Jones, The Life and Message of George Fox, 47-48.
 Creasey, Early Quaker Christology, 7, 53.