New look at J.J. Gurney by a Conservative Friend...

By: Themis Papaioannou

Joseph John Gurney

Joseph John Gurney

Dear Friends,

Greetings in Jesus our Teacher, Friend and Saviour!

I have been reading some writings of the well known Evangelical British Quaker J.J. Gurney, from his book "A Peculiar People" published by Friends United Press. I have read that J.J.Gurney was the "father" of modern Evangelical Quakerism but by reading his own writings I fail to see why. If J.J. Gurney was alive today and held the views he had in his afore mentioned book he would most probably be classified as a Conservative Friend.

Gurney seems to uphold all the Orthodox doctrines of Christianity (Divinity of Jesus, immortality of the soul, etc.) - as did George Fox and Early Quakers and insists on Quaker Doctrine such as Silent Worship, the Light of Christ within, Plain Dress and Speech, unpaid Ministry, etc. Quite frankly I see major differences between Gurney and Friends United Meeting and even greater differences between Gurney and Evangelical Friends International.

Please consider the following quotations from his works.

Notice what Gurney says? Isn't this an answer against practices of modern day Evangelical Friends by their so called founder himself? I would call Gurney a Conservative Quaker if he was here today...

Maybe its time to take another look at this Friend and his writings?

I would like to point out though that after reading Gurney himself I disagree with some Conservative Friends that while "Barclay claimed the primacy of the Holy Spirit in guidance religiously, while acknowledging the importance and authority of the Scripture, Gurney seems to have reversed the primacy of each, elevating the Scriptures as primary." In my opinion both men said the same thing. In the book I have been reading Gurney claims that although the Holy Spirit is above all, in matters of controversy the Scriptures ought to be used as being accepted by all Christians. This is exactly what Barclay said. In his Apology Barclay calls other Christians to examine if Quakers are correct or not by judging their doctrine by the Scriptures.

On the other hand as Barclay - in the specific book - Gurney, elaborates on the Light of Christ within showing that the Holy Spirit works in every person and that this is true even to them who have no historical knowledge of Christ nor any outward Scriptures. He even explains in a very good way why Christ and not the Bible is the Word of God. I will agree that he might use the Scriptures a little more than many Friends today but if one examines George Fox it is obvious that although he did not use all the time book and verse he speaks according to Scripture and even more much of what he says is like exact quotations from the New Testament.

When I was at Woodbrook Quaker Study Center, many there said that George Fox and Robert Barclay had differences in theology, etc. Something I never agreed with and I believe that anyone claiming this does not really understand either Fox or Barclay or both. As we all know Barclay died first and Fox then spoke of the man of God who labored in Christ's Church thus not prescribing to any so called disagreements between the two men. Likewise maybe John Wilbur misunderstood J.J. Gurney? Yes, Gurney is much more ecumenical than Wilbur was (Gurney accepts that there are true Christians in all Churches and that Quakers are a part of the ecumenical body of Christ) but he did not - in what I read by the man himself - water down the Quaker doctrine of the Light of Christ neither elevated the Scriptures - the way Protestants do. So, I cannot see any justice in blaming him for what happened in Evangelical Quakerism, actually in the book I have been reading (and which FUM published) he is rather critical of all the changes made in today's Evangelical Quakerism calling such changes "the wiles of Satan". I wonder when publishing this book FUM did not see that Gurney is critical of much of what happened among them. I would have thought it more appropriate that Conservative Friends would have found strength in his words which actually give them right in keeping the original Quaker way.

Of course one cannot have a whole understanding of another's theology by reading one book but I must confess that I am no longer prejudiced against J.J. Gurney as I was before actually reading him.


  • Joseph John Gurney, A Peculiar People: The Rediscovery of Primitive Christianity, Friends United Press, Reprinted 2008.