Saturday, March 29, 2008

Inductive Theology

For a couple of days now I've been pondering something I read in The Quiet Rebels: The Story of the Quakers in America by Margaret Hope Bacon:

"To George Fox and his fellow Quakers, the Truth which they experienced in quiet meditation, and proclaimed to the world, was as real and concrete as the stones, the grass, the brook, the sky. Having found for themselves this reality in spite of, and not because of, the long-winded argumentative sermons of the day, they were deeply suspicious of "notions" and "airy knowledge." In the language of semantics, they believed that the object itself, not the symbol used to describe the object, was really real.

When he planned the first Quaker schools, George Fox looked for ways to transpose this inductive approach to education. He proposed that such schools teach 'whatsoever things are civil and useful in creation.' With William Penn he drew plans for a garden house. All kinds of plants were to be gathered so that the students could observe them firsthand, then begin to learn such abstract matters as their names and classifications."

Fox and Penn's approach to teaching Botany was for the students to begin by seeing/touching/smelling/experiencing the plants and then follow the experience with the information about the plants. This method echoes their approach to theology, which was to experience the presence of God first and foremost and then to turn to scripture. This by no means implies that early Quakers had a low (or liberal) view of scripture. Rather, it means that they placed highest priority on experiencing the One who had inspired (breathed) the scripture. They sought a higher authority than scripture, believing (and finding) that what the Holy Spirit spoke to them directly would not contradict what was in the Bible. It helped, no doubt, that Fox knew the Bible very, very well.

It strikes me that much of modern day Evangelical Christianity (at least, that which I've experienced) is built on the reverse methodology: We study and sermonize about that which we hope to one day experience (or believe can no longer be experienced). And yet, Jesus still says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me." I don't believe this invitation only applies to a one-time salvation experience. Rather, He is always at the threshold, ready to come in and have intimate fellowship with us, if we but open the door.


Post a Comment

<< Home