Friends General Conference

Nurturing faith and Quaker practice

The Powers and the New Creation: 1600s and Today

Workshop Number: 
Frederick Martin
Who may register?: 
Open to All (adult & high school)
Experiential Activities: 
part time-attenders welcome
half gathering attenders welcome
First half (Monday-Wednesday)
Second half (Wednesday/Thursday-Friday)

Activists or contemplatives, we seek utopia. The English Revolution fought for the kingdom--but early Friends read a better way in the Bible: God's transformed world dawning among us. What would that look like today? Using Walter Wink's take on Paul's powers-that-be; worship-sharing on difficult Biblical passages and contemporary struggles.

Workshop Description

Activists or contemplatives, we seek utopia, a world transformed... but we're in this one for the long haul! In the English Revolution, some religious radicals fought to bring about the Kingdom of God --but early Friends saw a better way. How did early Friends read the Bible differently, to find the new world dawning in this one? We will engage worship-sharing around difficult Biblical passages, and discuss our contemporary struggles in light of how early Friends discerned way forward.

Recent scholarship on early Friends highlights their enthusiasm apocalyptic and millenarian outlooks –even after other radicals gave up. They believed, not that the world was going to end, but rather that God's full intentions for a just, peaceful, and happy world --a changed world-- were just about to be realized, soon, in seventeenth-century England. Friends felt the Spirit working changes both within them and in social structures and institutions around them. For guidance in their activism campaign they looked to the Bible, where they saw the early Christian movement wrestling with these same questions. Like the early Friends, and the early Christians who heard “the whole creation … groaning in labor pains,” we may feel the transformation of Spirit inside us, yet feel troubled when it's not reflected in the world around us.  We will focus on the language of the Powers that Be, found in Paul's letters, and the ancient world's understanding of the spiritual side of social structures. 

Many Friends may be uncomfortable with the Bible; it has been misused for authoritarian justifications of oppression and violence. We will use Walter Winks's model of Bible study and worship-sharing around selected passages of the Bible designed to invite participants to share their doubts and concerns about the texts as well as to relate personally with them. Each day will have a theme introducing recent scholarship on early Friends' use of the Bible and the rise, fall, and reconstruction of their hopes for a new world. The most important part of the workshop, hopefully, will be the insights we may discern, and inspiration we may gain, as we consider our own work on today's issues in light of the engagement of early Friends with the thread of utopian vision woven throughout the Bible.

Within each day's workshop, a preliminary plan looks like: 20 min opening worship, 20 min lecture/presentation on Bible passage or early Quaker writing excerpt; 40 minute discussion or art/drama activity depending on topic and day; 15 min break; 40 minutes small-group worship-sharing, with queries offering application to present-day/contemporary/personal issues, 30 minutes closing whole group worship.

Bible readings will look at the language of the powers in Paul -- Romans 8, 1 Cor 2 & 15, Ephesians and Colosians, and maybe the new heaven and new earth in the book of Revelation and Isaiah. Readings from early Friends will include excerpts from: George Fox's doctrinals and epistles (and Journal) relating to the Powers and the new creation; Francis Howgill's advice about spiritual growth and community formation couched in apocalyptic visions (e.g. from "Some of the Mysteries of God's Kingdom Declared" 1658); possibly James Naylor's The Lamb's War or Stephen Crisp.

Background readings: Walter Wink, Transforming Bible Study; The Powers That Be; Naming the Powers; and Engaging the Powers. Douglas Gwyn, "Revolutionary Quaker Witness: learning from the Lamb's War of the 1650's" (Beacon Hill Friends House; short, summary); Gwyn, The Covenant Crucified (Pendle Hill).

Leader Experience

Led workshops at 2012 Gathering (Kingston, RI), New England Yearly Meeting (Sessions 2012 & 2008), and the 6th World Conference of Friends (Nakuru, Kenya) among others, and online courses for the Quaker Studies Program (of BHFH & Salem Quarterly Meeting, NEYM: 2012 & 2013). M.A. in history of Quaker theology at Andover Newton Theological School. Teacher and administrator at The Meeting School for 8 years, with an experiential approach to courses in history, social action, and peace studies.