Monday, August 10, 2009

Christ as Savior

There has been some discussion lately about Jon Watt's video of "Friends Speaks My Mind", especially around the lines:

I'm not a Christian,
But I'm a Quaker,
I've got Christ's Inner Light
But he's not my savior

I was a little uneasy when I first heard this song, and a little more concerned when a couple of young Friends missed the distinction and thought it was saying "I'm not a Christian, I'm a Quaker". Even so, I enjoyed Jon's concert very much (he came to perform for the Southern Appalachian Young Friends in Asheville), and enjoyed meeting him.

As I mentioned in a comment on Jon's blog, my reaction to questions like "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?" is often to ask what the person means by that question. One could very well ask about the meaning when someone who declares "I've got Christ's Inner Light but he's not my savior".

Since Jon's song also contains the phrase "but don't blame Elias Hicks for all our problems", I thought it would be interesting to see if Elias Hicks wrote about Christ as Savior. I found a good description on page 304 of Elias Hicks' Journal. I think it illustrates the way the idea of a savior was internalized, and fits well with George Fox's description of how the Light helps you to resist temptation. Hicks wrote:

First day, the 6th of 7th month. Soon after I took my seat in our meeting to-day, my mind was opened into a view of the great need man stands in of a Saviour, and that nothing can give him so full and lively a sense thereof, as a true sight and sense of his own real condition; by which he is not only brought to see the real want of a Saviour, but is also shown thereby, what kind of a Saviour he needs. For it must not only be one, who is continually present, but who is possessed of a prescience sufficient to see, at all times, all man's enemies, and every temptation that may or can await him; and have power sufficient to defend him from all, and at all times. Therefore, such a Saviour as man wants, cannot be one without him, but must be one that is always present, just in the very place man's enemies assault him, which is within, in the very temple of the heart: as no other Saviour but such an one, who takes his residence in the very centre of the soul of man, can possibly produce salvation to him: hence, for man to look for a Saviour or salvation any where else, than in the very centre of his own soul, is a fatal mistake, and must consequently land him in disappointment and errour.

I realize that the above paragraph does not mention Christ, but elsewhere in Hick's journal (p. 330) he does make it clear that he considers Christ in this role. That's not what I wanted to emphasize, though. As I have written before, Friends experienced a transformation from the Light, in which their sins were shown to them, and the desire to do those things was driven out. I believe that is what Hicks is saying here - the Light is saving you from your sin by removing the desire to sin.

I acknowledge that there are other meanings ascribed to "Savior", in terms of atonement and such, but, it seems to me like the transformative meaning is very powerful, and something that can be readily experienced. Shouldn't this be something we desire instead of deny?


  1. Thank you for posting this Mark!

    Like Jon, I am a theistic-Quaker but do not label myself "Christian". One reason that I do not embrace that label is because I have not personally worked out what it means...yet. Does it mean that I think of Christ as my savior (if so I am not a Christian) or does it mean that I strive to follow the teachings of Christ (I could be considered a Christian if this is the situation)?

    "Hence, for man to look for a Savior or salvation anywhere else, than in the very centre of his own soul, is a fatal mistake, and must consequently land him in disappointment and error." I love these great words from Elias Hicks! Friend speaks my mind :)

    In Peace,

    John L-M (Englewood Friends Meeting)

  2. Unlike Jon Watts, George Fox and James Nayler and Margaret Fell and Isaac Penington, and Robert Barclay and William Penn and all the other early Friends, very carefully described themselves as Christians. Indeed, that was a central part of their message.

    The rôle of Jesus Christ as universal Savior, and the way in which he does his saving work, were extensively explored in Barclay’s Apology, Props. V and VI; and the insights Barclay set out so systematically in that part of his book remained a central part of Friends’ testimony all the way down to some years after World War II. They are still, today, a major part of the testimony of the non-liberal-unprogrammed majority in our Society; but unfortunately, as Jon Watts’s video illustrates, the liberal-unprogrammed minority is happy to present our Society to the world as if that majority did not exist.

    Jon Watts’s video, and the comments I have seen on his video, illustrate why one can no longer bear witness to Christ’s message simply by calling oneself a “Quaker” and behaving accordingly. Alas for the Society of Friends.

  3. Jon, thanks for visiting! I kinda rolled my reply to this comment in with what I said over on your blog.

    John, I think it is important to look at how we experience the Light. The whole idea of being saved from sin is very alien if one doesn't experience a transformation from that Light. A major reason for Friends' different understanding of traditional Christian terms and ideas is that they started with their experience of the Light and understood Christianity from that experience.

    Marshall, I think I probably had you in mind when I wrote "I acknowledge that there are other meanings ascribed to 'Savior'". It was not my intention to discount them, but the transformational experience was one of the initial ones experienced by early Friends, it seemed like a good place to start. I still have a feeling that a shared experience of the Holy Spirit will be a factor in bringing Friends closer together, and I look for ways to call Friends to a deeper communion with that Spirit.

    With love,

  4. An older-but-not-ancient Hicksite Friend told me they were still teaching Barclay at First Day School when he was growing up. It's probably been a long time since that's happened. Most FGC kids have never been introduced to Quaker Christianity. The idea that our religion is "Quaker" is very strong in liberal Quaker religious ed.

  5. Liz, I'm glad you asked the question about what is meant by Primitive Christianity. I would love to hear more from those who have spent time with this idea as it pertains to contemporary Friends. I study primitive Christianity (as in first century Christianity) and primitive Christianity as defined and experienced by American revival movements in the nineteenth-century so I think I may be half a beat off in my understanding of what today's Friends mean by the term. Maybe someone can help me out with definitions, blogs, links, books, resources?

  6. Hystery, maybe Barclay's Apology might be a good start in that it lays out the general theology of early Friends, and they thought of Quakerism then as "primitive Christianity". William Penn wrote a book called Primitive Christianity Revived (in the faith and practice of the people called the Quakers). Penn is a little harder to read than Barclay, at least for me. Fox's Journal would be good, too. In all of those you can see how Friends differed from the Christianity of their day, including Calvinism which formed the root of modern American Conservative Evangelical theology (I think). As an example, towards the bottom of this post I quoted an encounter with Fox and a priest where Fox contradicted the common belief that it was the scriptures by which they were to try all doctrines, religions, and opinions, and Fox declares that it is the Holy Spirit by which those things are to be tried.

    With love,

  7. Barclay and Penn can rightly be called second-generation Friends in terms of theology. (See, for example, Rosemary Moore and Richard Bailey, or just compare Fox and Barclay on perfection.) I recommend starting at the beginning, with the original, turn-Christianity-upside-down thought of people like George Fox and James Nayler. Their work is available on line at Google Books and Quaker Heritage Press.

  8. I found this a very interesting post. I have recently thought a lot about the "Christ as Savior" question. Although I think of Christ saving us from sin as being more alined with Christ removing from us the desire to sin, when other Christians ask me if I have accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior I usually say yes. Because on the one hand it is true even if it's not in the way they might understand it. Also saying yes, allows us to use a common Christian language, that I'm very concerned unprogramed Friends are loosing the ability to use.

    All in all a very interesting post.

    Peace and Joy,

  9. Hello, I find this a fascinating conversation. I happen to be a Christocentric Quaker who is a member of a FGC meeting. Needless to say we all have different interpretations on what it means to have "Christ as your savior."
    When I first saw Jon's video I winced because I thought he was poking fun at Christians. But then I thought if he has Christ as his light then couldn't he be called a "Christian"? (Even if he wouldn't use that word.)
    When I say that Jesus is my savior I mean that he has saved me from my selfish, me-centered ways.
    When he says he is "the way, the truth and the life" I see that to mean that he has shown us how God wants us to live. To live a life of forgiveness, humbleness, love and generosity. Be like Jesus and you will be welcome by God. This is why I believe that people like Gandhi are in Heaven. They lead Christ-like lives. You don't have to say "I accept Jesus as my personal savior." You just have to live your life like Jesus did. You have to "follow Jesus."
    So I would say that Jon is a Christian---as long as he strives to be like Jesus. That's just my 2 cents worth. :-)


  10. I Christ as the Savior of distressed humanity but till now I am in hesitation to change me.