*Note this series begins with “Quakers and Jesus: First Things
I will conclude this series with the last, especially unique Quaker conception of Jesus, that of Christ as the Center. Thomas Kelly, a 20th century Quaker mystic and philosopher, was perhaps best known for his writings later entitled A Testament of Devotion after his death. As Quakerism’s most famous leaders of that time, such as Rufus Jones, Douglas Steere, Thomas Kelly, and D. Elton Trueblood pursued philosophy rather than theology, a subtle shift in language about Jesus began to emerge, most noticeably the now ubiquitous terminology of Christ as the Center. Quaker sacramentology began a slow shift toward one of a “Pan sacramental sense of holiness of every life; relationship is intimately connected to an inward sense of communion.” Thomas Kelly began to build in new ways upon a theology of Christ as the Inner Light. In the first chapter of A Testament of Devotion he writes:
“Deep within us all there is an inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice to which we may continually return. Eternity is at our hearts pressing upon our time-worn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home into Itself. Yielding to these persuasions, gladly committing ourselves in body and soul, utterly and completely, to the Light Within, is the beginning of true life.
It is a dynamic center, a creative Life that presses to birth within us. It is a Light Within which illumines the face of God and casts new shadows and new glories on the face of humans. It is a seed stirring to life, if we do not choke it. It is the Shekinah of the soul, the Presence in the midst. Here is the slumbering Christ, stirring to be awakened to become the soul we clothe in earthly form and action, and He is within us all.”
Kelly links his conception of the Center to that of the Inner Light. While “Center” may at first be seen as a related term to “within,” Kelly seems to give it much more nuanced and philosophical significance. He writes of this Light as the flaming center of religion, and the Center of Creation. Kelly echoes Barclay and others in speaking of an unceasing orientation of the depths of our being toward the Light, Christ at the Center; where life is to be lived from the Center of our being. For Kelly, living this kind of life stemmed from what he called “Holy Obedience,” which he understood as a continual submission of the will to the work of God in a person. Kelly saw this continual submission through a kind of Christian existentialism, with some similarities to what Jean Pierre De Caussade referred to as the sacrament of the present moment. Kelly referred to the present moment as the Eternal Now, a conception in which the finiteness of humanity encountered the infiniteness of God placed in the human heart. The submission Kelly speaks of is a form of self-oblation, as the Light illumines within it is both filled with glory and wonder, yet also pain. He speaks of this as the “X-ray light of eternity,” a guidance of the Light that he describes as “critical, acid, sharper than a two edged sword.”
Quakers are not especially known for their Christology, yet their Christological assumptions, experiences, and orientation have, and continue, to greatly influence Christian spiritual formation. Their Christology attempted to navigate their experiences and the misunderstandings and arguments of their critics, forged a unique answer to the paradox of divine sovereignty and human freedom as it pertains to soteriology, and continues to make an impact far beyond the small size of Quakerism’s many adherents. Yet one could argue that all of this was a byproduct of their discovery of a mystical, Logos Christology, one that emphasized the immediacy of God not only in a personal relationship, but a corporate one as well. Quakerism has sought to follow Jesus more than explain him, to let him be the head of the church in ways that lead to practical action, dynamic and rich contemplative reflections, and humble and honest self-examination. Rooted in Christian orthodoxy and mystical experience, they aim at a Christology that is more than a doctrine, it is an invitation to “a life filled with God.”
Query: There is a real danger in our Society to view faith more as intellectual assent than dynamic connection with Christ. How do we—as Friends of Jesus—make room at the center of our lives for a Jesus who is more than a doctrine, but an inward reality bursting outward that ripples through every corner of our lives?
Other Posts in this series:
 Elton, Trueblood, The People Called Quakers. New York: Harper & Row, 1966, 128.
 Douglas V. Steere, Quaker Spirituality, 18.
 Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, eds, Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups., rev. and expanded. ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005, 175.
 Thomas R. Kelly, The Eternal Promise, 60.
 Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 4.
 Ibid, 5.
 Ibid, 92.
 Ibid. 22.
 Thomas R. Kelly, The Eternal Promise, 73.