George Fox: post-Reformation theologian

The Church in God is not in imitation, gathered from the letter, nor is it a high-flown people in their imaginations, but they who are born again of the immortal seed, by the Word of God, which lives and endures forever… which word is God, which word became flesh, and dwelt among us

… And this is the word by which the saints are born again… but all you now who put the letter for the word, and have got it in your minds, and gather assemblies by it, this you cannot witness, and it is ignorance for you to say, the letter is the word; when the letter saith, God is the word.  –Works of George Fox, Vol. IV, 1831 (p.18)

Lately I have been re-reading Fox’s journal and getting into his epistles and other tracts written 1648-1690.  I’m ready to call this able founder of the Religious Society of Friends one of Christianity’s earliest post-Reformation theologians – if not the first, at any rate an important forerunner of the next theology.

Fox bore his testimony to an age quite different from that of Luther and Calvin.  His England was more than 100 years removed from early Wittenberg and Geneva and over 40 years beyond the Synod of Dort.  Note how he satisfies my three post-Reformation criteria:

(1) He was post-Protestant: Fox was highly critical of key points of classical Protestant theology as these were manifested in the order and preaching of English Protestantism;

(2) He was post-Catholic:  his resistance to Protestant formulae was not reactionary in the establishment sense; he was perhaps even more unsympathetic with the heirarchy and traditions of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches; 

(3) He was faithfully constructive:  George Fox was an impeccable Christian and a successful innovator in theology, worship, prayer, and church organization.  His foundational spiritual principle was the fruit of a real experience, and bore its own spiritual fruit in all he did and all he suffered on its behalf.

I find Fox to be a little uneven in his polemics, but I hear truth in the burden of his message about the seed and light, etc., that enlightens every man.  I can excuse his polemics in view of the rough treatment he got from his fellow Christians.  But I can’t help noticing that the part of his message which resonates most with me relies heavily on those places in John’s Gospel which find no echo in the other three Gospels.  OK then.  Fox is writing in pre-critical times, but what is my excuse? Where am I getting this feeling that John knows what he’s talking about, whereas a current academic majority which holds his writings in low esteem does not?

I was sent ‘to turn people from darkness to the light,’ which Christ, the second Adam, did enlighten them withal; that so they may see Christ, their way to God, with the spirit of God, which he doth pour upon all flesh.  –Works, Vol. VII (p.2)

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One thought on “George Fox: post-Reformation theologian

  1. Pingback: Getting over the Reformation – Conrad Grebel, 1524 « Next Theology

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