Quaker Quicks - Quaker Shaped Christianity
Telling the Jesus story through Quaker eyes; this is rich, readable theology that is both contemporary and rooted in tradition.
Telling the Jesus story through Quaker eyes; this is rich, readable theology that is both contemporary and rooted in tradition.
'What is Quakerism?' can be a difficult question to answer, especially when Quakers today struggle to find a shared religious language. In this book, Mark Russ answers this question from a personal perspective, telling his story of trying to make sense of Jesus within the Quaker community. Through this theological wrestling emerges a 'Quaker Shaped Christianity' that is contemporary, open and rooted in tradition. In reflecting on how to approach the Bible, the challenges of Universalism, and the key events of the Jesus story, this book offers a creative, inspiring and readable theology for everyone who has wondered how Christianity and Quakerism fit together.
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Russ, Quaker theology tutor at Woodbrooke, gives attention here to doctrines which progressives question: the cross, atonement, and eschatology. The findings of the enlightenment and ‘the Quest’ are considered but he suggests ‘reading the Bible, not uncritically or literally, but treating it as a conversation partner.’ Eschatology, ‘has a history of being told badly’. For him the ‘second coming’ is best understood not as a cataclysmic event in the future but as the process of God’s ‘arrival’ into the world alongside Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God, giving a focus to work for a better world. There is a moving description of his early journey from atheism, coming out as gay and finding a welcome at Quaker meetings. The ideas that ‘Jesus died for me’ and of ‘original sin’ are replaced by seeing the cross as God's response to sin, ‘the reminder that the struggle for the Kingdom of God might cost us everything ... but we can never be separated from God.’ He critiques universalism, defining it as either that all will be saved, or ‘that all religious paths lead to God, and are equally true’. But respect for other religions does not require equating them in the way he suggests. Many Quakers find other faiths do speak to them and, as we learn more about them, we find ideas to take into our own living. There is a further challenge to universalists when he asks ‘is it possible to step back from our situation and see the whole picture? ... We can’t step outside our bodies, our language and culture.’ I disagree as an anthropologist whose tradition tries to think ourselves into the position of others, and so step outside our own culture and world view. The book is helpful and accessible, and provides a refreshing way to explore Christian faith and life. ~ Progressive Christianity Network, Progressive Voices 44
Aimed at those without a significant amount of knowledge on/about Quakerism and/or, at some levels, Christianity, it is a fascinating book that (and not to give anything away, so to speak) asserts that Quakers cannot be separated from Christianity. The book also allows us to follow Russ back through his own life, his own upbringing, and thus shows us a direct path to this own heavily-influenced journey to Quakerism. What then, is the scope of their present attitudes toward this Jesus around whom they build their faith? Well, I would implore you to pick this small, yet vigorously packed with info on the subject book up, and sit down one wet afternoon, everything quiet and still around you, and just read each of the 80 pages methodically; and then, and only then, will you be able to say you are as caught up on the subject matter today as you might well have ever been. ~ Exclusive Magazine, Review
Review of Mark Russ, Quaker-Shaped Christianity Erin Bell This is a very interesting book which achieves a lot in a relatively short number of pages. It is aimed at those without a significant knowledge of Quakerism or Christianity, and demonstrates this by the sensible use, for example, of full biblical references rather than abbreviations. It is also fascinating in the background it offers to the author’s life, which clearly influenced his journey to Quakerism, which he reached after a childhood of occasional largely dull and sometimes disturbing church attendance, an adolescence of atheism, the wounds of homophobic biblical interpretation, and a double coming out both as gay and then as a Christian. It would have been very interesting to read more of this in terms of how it shaped the author as a reflective respondent to historical and contemporary Quakerism and Christianity more broadly. That said, the author’s assertion that early Quakers cannot be separated from Christianity is a little limiting; ministering to the Turkish sultan and his retinue, or attending synagogue in Holland and then Quaker meeting when at home in England, both Mary Fisher and Samuel Fisher’s lives demonstrate to us how in the first decade of Quakerism, Friends and their audiences might have a diverse religious identity beyond Christianity. However, the author does acknowledge the importance of remembering how white male theologians and for that matter artists of the same and later centuries depicted Jesus in their own image, conveniently overlooking his background as a Jewish middle eastern man; the author himself acknowledges his historic position of privilege as a white man, and instead suggests we might all attempt to be more like Mary, a young Jewish girl from a backwater whose spiritual response in the Magnificat offers insight and hope in a period in which hate crimes are still perpetuated, or watched by bystanders, in the name of Christianity. Overall, this is a fascinating book with much food for thought, not least in how we white Christians have regularly, for several centuries, cherry picked elements of the Bible and biblical figures, remoulding or ignoring them at will, and I am reminded of Shash Trevett’s wonderful poem about Noah’s wife, ‘who was known by many names and now by none.’ Russ’s call to reinvigorate the radical aspects of Mary, and to remember her not (only) as a meek girl but as an active participant, offers something similar. ~ Dr Erin Bell, University of Lincoln
At the end of October, I got an email. Would I review a book in exchange for a free copy? Well, sure I would. (First time this has happened to me.) It’s Quaker Shaped Christianity: How the Jesus Story and the Quaker Way Fit Together by Mark Russ, whom I had a chance to meet briefly in Britain last summer. It took me three weeks to read the book systematically, taking notes a little bit at a time, but there’s no reason the casual reader couldn’t zip through it in an evening. I recommend snuggling under a blanket with cocoa. This book is a personal story. It’s theology, but it’s neither objective nor pretending to be. Mark takes us through his childhood and young adulthood, during which he tried a number of approaches to the Jesus story, all of which many have tried before. Outright rejection, literalism, universalism, Jesus-of-Nazareth-wise-teacher-but-not-Messiah… “I’d hear Christians talk about the Bible as if it was an easy-to-read instruction manual,” Mark says, “but there was nothing clear about it.” What I like most is Mark’s refusal to chip away at Christianity so that he’ll find it more palatable. He approaches it with humility, trying to engage with it on its own terms, as something that started in a very particular time and place and among a very particular people. He rejects so-called obvious Christian doctrines that are actually relatively recent interpretations in order to focus on the actual text. But he grapples with it all, not just the parts that are convenient. Mark’s book won’t be easy for all Quakers to read. Some on the more theologically liberal end may struggle with his gentle but frank insistence that Quakers do have specific theology, which is important to our path and identity. And those on the more theologically conservative end may struggle with Mark’s unapologetic queerness, which he names as a God-cherished and inextricable part of who he is. But Mark calls us to share our stories, as he has shared his, and not to hide from potential disagreements under the illusion of united silence. That resonates with me. To me, this is at the heart of our peace testimony: we live it best by committing to difficult relationships, and not by simply avoiding disagreements. Ultimately, I experienced this book as encouragement to engage with Christianity—again—as a powerful call to truth-telling, recognition of societal sin, hope for redemption, and a demand that we not settle for less than the fulness of the Kingdom of God. ~ Emily Provance - Turning, Turning, https://quakeremily.wordpress.com/2022/11/22/quaker-shaped-christianity/
If there’s one thing Christians have in common, it’s arguing about what it means to be a Christian! This book is a contribution to that argument, not an attempt to end it. -- Mark Russ, Quaker Shaped Christianity: How the Jesus story and the Quaker way fit together. Spoiling for an argument? Treat yourself to this refreshing conversation. Whether or not you agree with the author at all points, I think you'll be delighted. So: how do the Jesus story and the Quaker way fit together? Mark Russ makes his case with a rare, wonderful combination of clarity and humility. He links the ethical heart of Quaker faith and practice with the liberating power available to all who put their trust in Christ. These days, that case may seem easier said than done. One by one, Russ examines the false scandals that alienate many Friends from the depth and simplicity of Christ's invitation to follow him ... threats of hell for those who have made mistakes in behavior or doctrine misuse of the Bible as journalism or codebook linking the execution of Jesus to a wrathful God and our own fatal flaws the use of sin-talk to shame and dominate individuals without regard for sinful systems. He also discusses the various work-arounds that Friends (particularly liberal Friends) tend to use to avoid these scandals ... forms of universalism that claim an impossible (and condescending) objectivity admiration for Jesus as a great moral teacher while stripping away his cultural location, his resurrection, the cross, and his origin story--all the elements that fixed his reality in the minds of his followers, and whose testimonies about him make no sense without those mysteries early Friends' faith as limited by their cultural restrictions rather than enriched by insights into the radical immediacy of the Holy Spirit's work in them the list of Quaker don'ts (the church ceremonies we don't have) that are not simply sectarian markers but actually signs that we are living in the unfolding presence of Jesus. Or as Russ puts it, the early Friends "... saw other Christians as still waiting for Christ to come again, and worshipping in 'meantime' ways. In their experience, Christ had arrived, meaning that all 'meantime' practices had to stop." So far I've focused on the "argument" dimension of this sparkling book, but its real power is Mark's own voice, his transparency about his own life and his path into Christian community. He lived through the sorts of experiences that have brought many refugees out of authoritarian, narrow, or homophobic religiosity, and into our Quaker communities. He treats nobody with scorn or disrespect for their different interpretations, but shows, intelligently and winsomely, that there is another conversation to be had. To be a fully convinced Quaker and a passionate follower of Christ in Britain Yearly Meeting has its challenges as well as joys. The popularity of those skeptical work-arounds is part of the picture, but there's also a human reality: I’ve found being a Quaker-shaped Christian requires a “patchwork” approach to my religious life. Being a Christian, I find it important to spend time with others for whom Jesus is central. I’m part of a house group with Christians from other churches, occasionally visit cathedrals, go to Franciscan monasteries on retreats, and follow lots of Christian theologians on Twitter. But I’m also Quaker-shaped. I “speak Quaker.” I feel at home in Quaker settings. I know what it feels like to be called to speak in Quaker worship. When I joined Friends in Canadian Yearly Meeting, I also found this "patchwork" necessary. I loved my Friends meeting, but I was also part of a house church. I attended a charismatic fellowship for a while, was involved in a Christian-Marxist dialogue, and attended the Ottawa Lay School of Theology with a couple of my new Quaker mentors. The 73 pages of the main body of this book (in the "Quaker Quicks" series) are delightfully personal and very accessible. At the back of the book, if you choose, you can find sources for some of the ideas and influences that the author found valuable--and why. In that sense, the book contains far more than its deceptively compact size, but you decide how much farther to go. Mark Russ is familiar with the varieties of Quakers around the world. "Being a Quaker in Bolivia can look very different from being a Quaker in New Zealand or in Kenya" he writes. "Quakers in Britain, where I live, can be described as “liberal” Quakers, and this is the sort of Quakerism I write about in this book." I'm not sure I dare define the principal audience for the book. I hope it attracts readers far and wide, inside and outside the Friends church. But there are two groups of potential readers I particularly want to recommend this book to. I know some of these people personally. First, those who describe their current faith as being under deconstruction or are in some form of exvangelical journey. Without exhibitionism or sensationalism of any kind, the author puts an honest, healing touch on the toxicity that can get between Jesus and the people Jesus loves. The other audience I have in mind are evangelical Friends who are curious about the liberal Quaker world, and willing to explore it in the company of Mark Russ. Not only might they find an unexpected companion in conversation, they might also gain a deeper understanding of why the evangelical subculture, particularly the white American evangelical subculture, does not always serve the cause of Christ. One final word about the book: its emotional range. Many Quakers who write about their faith are very cautious about expressing its emotional dimension. We often resort to defensive and cerebral phrases or a defensive script. Mark Russ expresses a devotion to Jesus that comes from a deep center rather than a need to define a boundary. Here's how he puts it: Choosing Jesus as my guiding star doesn’t mean I’m closed off to those who don’t see Jesus in the same way. There is a type of closure, in that Jesus reveals who God is. In the character of Jesus we glimpse the character of God. God is Love, and that doesn’t change. But there is also immense openness. Although Jesus is my center, the horizon of my Christianity is limitless. Quaker Shaped Christianity: How the Jesus story and the Quaker way fit together by Mark Russ is published by Christian Alternative Books, an imprint of John Hunt Publishing Ltd. ~ Johan Maurer - Can You Believe? Blog, https://blog.canyoubelieve.me/2022/11/quaker-shaped-christianity.html
The Quaker take on the Gospels is so refreshing because it's a thread of Christianity which has, sometimes, been bashful about expressing itself. Quaker Shaped Christianity offers an enjoyable combination of both simplicity and depth. The first-person guidance makes the book powerful but never solipsistic, and the author's tone is exactly as I like in my theological guides: forthright and gentle. I'm convinced it will really speak to many people who are on the courtyard of the sacred but are scared of their next step. ~ Tobias Jones, journalist and bestselling author of books including A Place of Refuge and Utopian Dreams
This is a brave and challenging book, written in a spirit of tireless enquiry. Mark Russ is on a mission to make sense of his Quakerism and explain his Christianity. In the process he addresses some of the great themes of the Christian life: Jesus as a real historical figure, Jesus as a Jew, Jesus crucified, Jesus resurrected. Mark's thought process is fascinating and his conclusions are startlingly original. I thoroughly recommend Quaker Shaped Christianity. It is a rich, surprising, stimulating read. ~ Geoffrey Durham, author of What Do Quakers Believe?, Being a Quaker and The Spirit of the Quakers
This is an original and courageous book. Whether rehabilitating sin-talk or confronting the reality of suffering, Mark Russ does not shy away from the challenging faith questions of our time. Unusually, the book focuses not on Jesus’ teachings, but on what Russ calls “God’s arriving future”. By viewing the Bible as “a conversation partner”, by telling the story of Jesus backwards – Second Coming, Resurrection, Crucifixion, Nativity – he sheds light on the revelation of a transcendent God manifesting in a particular time and place. By viewing “The freedom of the Spirit” as “both spiritual and material, individual and social”, Russ emphasises the importance not only of contemplation but engagement with the world in which we live. Though the author’s theological expertise is impressive, for me it is his personal faith story, and his passion for Jesus as his guiding star that illumine the book. ~ Jennifer Kavanagh, author of Practical Mystics, The World is our Cloister etc.
This is a beautifully crafted book, breaking the silence on what Quakers believe in a personal, powerful and compelling way. Whatever your own theological language, this is a really important book that is full of crucial theological reflections and insights. ~ Ben Pink Dandelion, Professor of Quaker Studies at the University of Birmingham, author of Open for Transformation
In this slim book Mark Russ invites us to witness his journey as he encounters Jesus. As a cis, gay, white man he is cognizant of the multitude of ways in which the Bible has been used destructively over the centuries. I found myself responding to Mark’s chapters as a series of meditations as he sorts through aspects of Christianity that alienated him and those which drew echoes in his being. Starting with his first attendance at Quaker meeting for worship at age 17 he leads us to his discovery of joy opening his eyes to divine love. His invitation is not about converting anyone but rather to help others see the affirmation of life he has found in this complex book with its records of Jesus’ life, and to appreciate the way Friends practices and theology arise from the stories recorded therein, identifying a Quaker-shaped Christianity that he can affirm experientially. ~ Margery Post Abbott, author of Everyday Prophets, Quakerism: The Basics and other books
Quaker shaped Christianity is an important addition to two ongoing conversations – one among Quakers, about the role of Christianity in our developing tradition, and one in the wider church, about what specific traditions like the Quaker Way can offer to Christian theology in general. Mark’s combination of personal experience and broad theological reading will welcome readers from a wide range of backgrounds and speak to many conditions. Highly recommended! ~ Rhiannon Grant, Centre for Research in Quaker Studies, author of Telling the Truth about God and other Quaker Quicks books
By taking a personal approach and weaving in intimate memoir around his sexual identity with an exploration of Quaker and Christian theology, Mark Russ provides readers a glimpse in a practical and profound faith journey. In Quaker Shaped Christianity Russ invites us into personal reflection by modelling his own vulnerability and curiosity along with the conundrums he has faced a gay person who embraces Jesus as his guiding star. ~ Peterson Toscano, quirky queer Quaker Bible scholar and creator of Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible
This wonderfully helpful book is accessible, yet always scholarly: it is a God-shaped book, which deserves to be re-read and cherished. ~ Tom Shakespeare, academic, broadcaster, author of Openings to the Infinite Ocean and other books
Most Quaker writers who discuss Jesus focus on his humanity and teaching. Mark Russ, in contrast, wrestles with the big theological themes – incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and the second coming – to discover what they have to say to present-day liberal Quakers. Drawing deeply on his own life experiences, he is consistently challenging, not afraid to point out wrong directions taken by Christians in the past, but equally concerned to recover insights and wisdom which Friends are in danger of losing. ~ John Lampen, author of Twenty Questions about Jesus and Quaker Roots and Branches
Mark Russ has given us a lovely little book that is part spiritual memoir and part spiritual invitation. He warmly invites us into exploring the Bible and Jesus and their relationship to Quaker faith and its practice. I found it enlightening. I'm certain you will, too. ~ J. Brent Bill, author of Hope and Witness in Dangerous Times, Holy Silence: the Gift of Quaker Spirituality and other books
The author's clear, graceful handling of his evolving thoughts on Christianity and universalism makes for a compelling and rewarding read. Offered with humility, through a Quaker lens, the text invites the reader to reflect on their own spiritual journey, regardless of where they find themselves on the spectrum. Quakers in the United States will recognize these themes from their own experience in Quaker congregations and will appreciate both the invitational articulation and educational framework for that ongoing conversation. ~ Deborah L. Shaw, emeriti director of the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program, Guilford College, Greensboro NC
Always thought-provoking and a joy to read, Mark Russ challenges us to reconsider what the Christian story has to say to Quakers and others today. Mark Russ brings his passion and hard-won insights to share what he has found in the Bible and to make it available to others - including those who have been hurt or excluded by their encounters with Christianity. He offers a vision of an inclusive, welcoming and life-affirming Christianity, that draws on the best of the Quaker tradition. ~ Craig Barnett, author of The Guided Life
Flashes of personal insight abound. The tone is gentle throughout, but with ready critique. This is a book to be conversed with and about. ~ Tim Gee, author of Open for Liberation: An activist reads the Bible, The Friend
Mark Russ makes his case with a rare, wonderful combination of clarity and humility. He links the ethical heart of Quaker faith and practice with the liberating power available to all who put their trust in Christ... Its real power is Mark's own voice, his transparency about his own life and his path into Christian community. He lived through the sorts of experiences that have brought many refugees out of authoritarian, narrow, or homophobic religiosity, and into our Quaker communities. He treats nobody with scorn or disrespect for their different interpretations, but shows, intelligently and winsomely, that there is another conversation to be had... Delightfully personal and very accessible... the book contains far more than its deceptively compact size... I hope it attracts readers far and wide, inside and outside the Friends church... Without exhibitionism or sensationalism of any kind, the author puts an honest, healing touch on the toxicity that can get between Jesus and the people Jesus loves... Mark Russ expresses a devotion to Jesus that comes from a deep center rather than a need to define a boundary. ~ Johan Maurer, Quaker minister and writer