About this blog

Welcome to Through the Flaming Sword, a venue for conversation about the history and future of the Religious Society of Friends, popularly known as Quakers—and thanks for joining me. I have started this blog to share some of my ideas with interested Friends and to join the lively online conversation about Quaker life more directly.

I’ve been a Friend since the mid-1980s and I’ve always had a passion for the study of Quakerism—its history, its ‘theology’, its approach to the life of the spirit, both personal and corporate, its community dynamics and governance, and its distinctive language and practices.

A writer by both vocation and avocation, I’ve written a lot about Quakerism, the vast majority of which is unpublished, though some essays have appeared in Friends Journal and Quaker Life. I currently am deep into a book on Quakers and Capitalism, which is both an economic history of Friends and a history and commentary on Quaker contributions to capitalist culture. This is not about Quakers and money, but about Quakers and the history and structure of capitalist economy. The history part of the book is more or less complete up to the turn of the 20th century, and roughly sketched out to the present. I have done a number of presentations on this material and I’ve found that Friends are universally amazed at the significance of Quaker economic contributions, a history that is almost completely unknown to most Friends. I am a trained and seasoned public speaker and I welcome opportunities to share this incredible story more widely. Please contact me if you are interested.

I also am a serious student of the Bible and I invite you to visit my other blog, BibleMonster.com, which explores contemporary issues under the light of a radical Bible.

If you would like to contact me directly, please email me at steven.davison@verizon.net

Again, thank you for joining me. I look forward to our conversation.

Steven Davison

§ 5 Responses to About this blog

  • I have found the whole discussion on ‘that of God’ very interesting and it’s a phrase that has become almost credal where I have worshipped with liberal friends in Australia and tends towards a syncretistic post theology. I do note that in earlier posts you placed Neo Platonism alongside gnosticism. Plotinus who I believe is one of the most influential philosophers of the earlier Christian era takes great pains to distance his theology from that of the gnostic sects with their dualistic theologies and elitism. I believe he overcomes the implicit dualism that can be read into a straight reading of Plato into a wholistic theology where every person is called ‘home’ to the One. Plotinus embraced an ascetic lifestyle but is not anti material world nor anti embodiment although I think some later pagan writers took his course. I would be interested to know the thread between western mysticism influenced by Platonic thought in works such as the Cloud of Unknowing and the synoptic vision of the world within this tradition flowed into the seekers and Quakers facing Calvinism in all the main English churches with its fall/redemption theology. In a sense perhaps the Calvinist/Quaker dispute also centred around different ways of approaching Augustine of Hippo.

  • sharon hoover says:

    Hi, Steve: This comment bothered me. I have been thinking about “what Fox said,” and “what X (a Quaker) has said. You say, “I had argued further that the current mystical, divine-spark meaning of ‘that of God’ had entered modern Quakerism from Rufus Jones and was therefore a relatively new meaning, and that it was an innovation of his own or brought in from outside our tradition.” If we believe in continual revelation, and I do, and I believe that Fox did wonderfully well but that the world and our understanding of it and the world continues to move on, then to imply that Rufus Jones did something undesirable in bringing in “something from outside our tradition” is questionable. I realize that this comment begs the question of your overall point but I wanted to tell it to you. I also want to say that my understanding of history is that the idea of God within was in the air at the time, somewhat like “an idea whose time has come.” Sharon Hoover

    • Hi, Sharon

      I agree with you about continuing revelation. (Have you seen my latest post, in which I talk about this more directly?) My complaint has been, not that this new understanding isn’t true, or that we should return to what George Fox meant by it, but that we have forgotten what he meant by it and that we claim he meant what we mean; that we have radically redefined our tradition without knowing it and therefore, without submitting the new light to the kind of discernment that it deserves and that we apply to other big changes, like marrying people of the same sex, for instance.

      Now it appears that George Fox may have had a view of “that of God in every person” much closer to the modern one, after all. As I said when I started this thread, when trying to find where in Rufus Jones’s work he first introduced the Neo-Platonic idea of a divine spark, I’ve stumbled upon a number of writers who claim that Fox’s clearest expressions of this ‘celestial inhabitation,’ as one of them calls it (Richard Bailey, in New Light on George Fox and Early Quakerism, were deliberately removed from early editions of his journal and other writings. This left us with only a partial picture of Fox’s thinking.

      I think Lewis Benson is still right when he says that Fox used the phrase itself in really different ways than we do today. Benson claims it wasn’t important to Fox as an expression of doctrine, but rather it played a key role in his approach to ministry and matters pastoral. So I think it still might be true that “that of God” was not for Fox some divine spark or substance in the human, in the classic Neo-Platonic sense. And meanwhile, in our hands, the phrase has shifted completely from the pastoral role it played for Fox into one of doctrine. In fact, it is virtually the only expression of ‘doctrine’ that we liberal Friends seem comfortable with nowadays.

      So my point is that we should own all this and start thinking about it more rigorously, start talking about it more, and start exploring what it means, both on its own as a statement of ‘doctrine,’ and what it means that we have so radically redefined and even dumbed down our traditions with such obliviousness. One thing it means, I suspect, is that this new meaning is, in fact, “an idea whose time has come.” That it seems so intuitively satisfactory to so many Friends that we don’t feel a need to question it. Maybe the reason I feel like questioning it is that it isn’t satisfactory for me.

      Then again, I cannot embrace Fox’s meaning, either. If I am a Christian at all, I am not a Christian like him. For it seems clear to me that, like everything else in Fox’s life and thinking, it all comes back to Christ. There is no understanding of “that of God in every person” without talking about Christ. In fact, I suspect another reason the modern meaning has been so successful among liberal Friends is that it is a way to talk about God without talking about Christ, if only left-handedly (since “that of God” doesn’t say very much about God). In fact, as Benson complains, the phrase relocates the discussion from God to ourselves—it’s about us, not God.

      Well, I’m off to meeting. More later.

      • fafafooey says:

        What is the problem that you have with everything coming back to Christ? Doesn’t it? Isn’t he the author and the finisher of our faith?

  • Thank you for writing; and for being who you are; and thanks be to God.

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