Recommended Reading List for 2009

The following is a list of books that I have read lately that I felt might be worth sharing with others. I chose one overall book and one from each century of the existence of Friends. While they are all important tomes, I wouldn't want to say yet that they are the most important of their respective centuries. These books have a strong Wilburite flavor, so consider thyself forewarned!


First, as always, is the Bible. The Discipline recommends, "Be diligent in the reading of the Bible and other spiritually helpful writings." The basis of the inward spiritual presence of Christ Jesus is outlined clearly in the scriptures, and each of us needs to be reminded of these underlying teachings. Also when Mildred Ratcliff made references to the wedge of gold in her journal, she didn't say that was a reference in the book of Joshua. She expected thee to know. Other Quaker authors did the same.

Seventeenth Century

William Penn and George Whitehead, Christian Quaker

The version of this book that I have is actually a compilation of various documents. The book Christian Quaker contains one section written by Penn and a second section written by Whitehead. It is a defense of the Inward Light, based on scripture and on their own wrestlings. Other documents in my copy include Sandy Foundation Shaken and Innocency with Her Open Face, both important Penn documents. Of the whole, William Penn's portion of Christian Quaker is far and away the best. Penn's writing is very organized and accessible to 21st century readers - much more so than Whitehead's, which is mainly a strain of consciousness essay. Also Penn is much better at stating his case without worrying about what others (usually detractors) thought.

Eighteenth Century

Joseph Phips, The Original and Present State of Man

This is another Quaker classic that has been mostly forgotten. It is an outstanding Quaker doctrinal on the impact of the Light of Christ Jesus in one's life. The full text is best - but if thou art limited to the abbreviated version in the Friends' Library, that will do, too. This book is one of the most important Quaker doctrinals of the 18th century. Phips also wrote excellent (and shorter) books on baptism and communion.

Nineteenth Century

John Wilbur, Letters to George Crosfield

Sorry, no Joshua Maule this time (but don't leave him out from thy long-range reading plans). Wilbur's letters to George Crosfield contain another excellent overview of the Quaker spiritual understanding. The very things that Wilbur feared would pass away in his time are the things that make Ohio Yearly Meeting special to me - an inward understanding of Christ Jesus, experiencing the transformation from allowing His Light to guide thy life, and maintaining the special place of scripture.

Twentieth Century

D.H. Fischer, Albion's Seed

First, a disclaimer and some negative advertising. As far as I can tell, the quality of Quaker writing in the 20th century was the poorest and the most spiritually shallow of our 350 years in existence. Over and over, authors took key Quaker terms and phrases, dumped out the meaning, explained away the evidence for the original meaning, and filled the container with garbage. In many cases, what passes today for Quaker history is better described as the author inserting his/her own ideas into the mouths of Fox, Penn, and others - and sometimes the historic figures believed the opposite of what is written about them. Not long ago, a Quaker historian who has experience with approved writings back to the 1650s told someone in my presence that Quakers never believed that the Devil existed. He couldn't understand why a particular minute warned against the wiles of the tempter.

What I am saying here has a widespread consensus; many Friends who read approved writings feel the same way. One Friend recently told me that he doesn't read any Quaker stuff printed after 1850. A certain member of my meeting (though not me in this case) generally limits his Quaker reading to pre-1900. Our time is limited, and given the choice of reading something with substance or something from the 20th century, it's usually commendable to choose the former.

My choice for the prior century is a book comparing four religious traditions of colonial North American and showing their roots in England. The Quaker section is excellent. Much of the research was undertaken by graduate students (I did this for one of my professors, too), so mistakes have crept in - such as equating the Inward Light with magic. Isn't it sad that one of the most important Quaker books of the 20th century wasn't written by a Quaker?

Twenty-first Century

Gil Skidmore, ed., Strength in Weakness: Writings by Eighteenth-Century Quaker Women

This little book represents the finest in contemporary Quaker scholarship. Skidmore presents eight Quakeresses of the 1700s, providing a biographical essay with excerpts from their journals (many of which were never printed). Although the introduction states that the text has been edited for clarity, it was done so well that the editing does not appear as a palimpsest. The women are allowed to speak for themselves, making the case for unmediated communion with the Lord. I have recommended this book to many others because it sets forth the ancient understanding of the role of ministers, the importance of true spiritual discernment, and the ongoing action by the Lord directing their lives. The book will provide much less inspiration for readers from non-Wilburite perspectives.