Quaker Universalist Conversations

Christocentric Quaker universalism

How can the Society of Friends be both authentically Christian and meaningfully universalist? I am not sure of the answer, beyond the conviction that this is the right question to be grappling with.

—Chuck Fager, “Robert Barclay, Theologian of Quaker Universalism,”
Universalism and Religions: QU Reader # 2 (2007, pp. 91-94),
[reprinted from Universalist Friends, Fall 1985, v.5, p.10]

In my early 20s I struggled between the universalism my parents taught me as followers of Jesus and the exclusionary teachings of conventional Christianity. I had come to know too many Christ-like non-Christians in college to be able to hold to that orthodoxy.

Four decades later, I welcome Chuck Fager’s reminder to us of how early Friends—who knew themselves as Christians—understood their own universalism.

Fager takes us into the heart of Robert Barclay’s Apology for the True Christian Divinity (1678). He writes:

Barclay’s universalism shows up primarily in his discussion of what he calls “universal redemption” in Propositions five and Six of the Apology. In these he attempts to show how early Friends believed people can overcome their alienation from God; that is, how they can be saved or redeemed.

Barclay’s answer is a paradox. As a Christian, he believes firmly that it was only through the life and death of Jesus Christ that salvation has been made possible for all people; yet, as a universalist, he also insists that one need not know of or believe in Jesus in order to partake of this salvation. (92)

Barclay argues that, thanks to Christ, the Light is within all people.

This “Light” is not a pantheistic bit of God, but rather the effect in every person of this universal redemption, namely the capacity to respond to the grace of God working in the heart of the individual. (92)

The key is not outward profession of the name of Christ but inward experience of what it signifies. Barclay himself writes:

Those who merely know the name without any real experience of its meaning are not saved by it. But those who know the meaning and have experienced his power can be saved without knowing his name.

Robert Barclay's "Apology" (1678)

The universalism described by Barclay is Type 1 in Paul Alan Laughlin’s typology : a doctrine about salvation. Laughlin says the original meaning of the seventeenth-century English word universalism was a theological or doctrinal one. It “was framed in Christian terms and denoted the conviction that everyone will obtain salvation and redemption from sin and damnation eventually.”

In my private faith and practice, I am reconciled to the historical reality that I am a Friend of Jesus and that the Judeo-Christian sacred story is my “native language.” I can embrace the wholeness of my own family’s sacred heritage without needing others to do the same…or fearing for them if they do not.

For me, though, this not literally Barclay’s “Type 1” salvation theology, still ultimately dependent upon the historical action of an “incarnated Christ.” It is, instead, an inward awareness which assures me of the action of what my native language calls the “indwelling Christ” in every person.

And so it is.

Blessèd Be,


Perhaps the answer lies in direct experience: Gnosis in the ‘universal’ sense of the term. If so, long standing traditional teachings across a wide range of cultures assure us: It will never be expressed or explained in words or symbols. “You will say, Christ says this, and the Apostles say this but what can thou say? Are thou a child of Light, and have walked in the Light, and that thou speaks, is it inwardly from God?”
You speak my mind, Steve. The essence of centered life is found through experience, not expression or explanation. When I wander too far into conceptual realms, too far into efforts to “improve” outward practice, I get farther from God. When I let go of my own notions of “metaphysical correctness” and say “God help me” or “Thank you, Jesus,” everything becomes real and alive. Only poetry—the subversive art—can suggest what words cannot say. Blessings, Mike
"How can the Society of Friends be both authentically Christian and meaningfully universalist?" —Chuck Fager (top of article). A better question might be, "How can one be authentically Christian and NOT be meaningfully universalist?" All the uses of "all" in the New Testament, (i.e., I Cor 15:21-22 where Adam's sin brought death to all and Christ’s sacrifice brings life to all—and both "all"s are taken from the same Greek word), Christ’s promise that "If I be raised up I shall draw all men to me" (same Greek word for "all" as in I Cor 15!). [Also] the passage [in Ezekiel addressing Jerusalem], “Your sisters, Sodom with her daughters and Samaria with her daughters, will return to their former state, and you with your daughters will also return to your former state” (Ezek 16:55); the parable of the 100th sheep; [and] Paul’s use of "many" in Romans 5:15, 19, where the many (damned by the fall) are restored (to me, it reads much like I Cor 15:21-22). And there is I Cor 15:26: the final defeat of death (defeat of death, not "trouncing of"), and I Cor 15:20: Christ is the first-fruits of them that *slept*. Who are "them that slept"? The dead. How about the living? Could they be the second- (and perhaps third-) fruits? IMO, the problem isn't a lack of preparedness when a Quaker meets a traditional Christian—or even a fundamentalist Christian. The problem is Quakers/Universalists [who] refuse to meet non-Quakers OFF traditional/fundamentalists grounds, aka, on more Quaker/Universalist turf. (BTW, it seems to be the same problem Atheists & "emerging" Christians have to varying degrees—meeting the "old guard" on the old guard's high ground—which is, and for some time, has been like Olympus = fabled myth.) For example, death means heaven or hell. Says who? John 3:13...? [Consider Paul’s words in I Corinthians 15]: "The dead (NOT "the elect" or "the predestined"/"the foreknown"/"the graced" but the dead) are asleep in Christ” (15:18); "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,...in the twinkling of the eye" (51-52). (Could this change be when the corruptible puts on the incorruptible and the MORTAL puts on the IMmortal?). Bonus verse: “Christ is the first fruits of them that slept” (15:20). And that's really it, isn't it? Mortal v. immortal: when are we which? The case seems made for the following: the dead are asleep; the asleep will be asleep until the time of "new garments"; no one has gone to heaven except He who came from heaven. No. One. Even as far back as Gen. 3, we are told the state of the dead! Go ahead and read it for yourselves! Why exactly was a Cherubim stationed at the entry to Eden and given the guarantee of a successful mission, (the flaming sword)? A “super angel” AND a weapon? What exactly was he preventing? Surely not what the Bible says he was guarding against? Biblically, one must confess Christ’s lordship to be saved. This, we are told, will happen—universally! The “free-willers” say that every knee bending will be useless if coerced. Nowhere does it say "When it's way toooo late, every knee will bend ...." It does say "all"; it does say the "many" that are damned, are the "many" that receive the *gift* of justification. If you are worried about bumping into a fundamentalist, a traditionalist, or a "Christianity as a social club, the bible as story" type, stay on your turf or neutral—if there is such. Stop trying to convert them - there's nothing to convert them to and God does the calling; God *has done* the calling. The trads/fundys/historicists have nothing but 2 millenia of attempted coercion, legalism, church fathers [point of view] on scriptures and attempts at redefining/modernizing/simplifying the clear, often with non-biblical traditions, dogmas, doctrines and obsfucatory persiflage. Most of their piety is veneer, a facade to hide the true source of their power for most of the "Christian Era": legal and military—secular and violent—power. Authentic Christianity IS meaningfully universalist. All else is ego, elitism, convenience and unstudied, never-considered-except-superficially paraphrasing/regurgitating of the previous generations' preferences and values—largely aping man’s understanding and limited abilities ([such as] imperfect, often selective, love, compassion, cognition, etc.).
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