Face to Face

Quaker publishing is a niche market, so our books sell in smaller quantities than those released in other categories. It’s forced us to do things differently. Our primary publishing strategy, for instance, has been to focus our efforts not on books that will make a splash (we don’t have the marketing power or distribution networks for that) but on titles that will hold their value for years to come.

Case in point: T. Vail Palmer Jr. A year ago, we released the first title in his three-volume masterwork on Friends history, polity, and theology. Face to Face: Early Quaker Encounters with the Bible. The second volume – A Long Road: How Quakers Made Sense of God and the Bible – will be available this fall. In the meantime, reviews of Face to Face are just starting to come in.

Stuart Masters at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre writes of Palmer’s assertion that early Friends “read the Scriptures in an empathetic way, entering imaginatively into the lives and stories of biblical characters. Rejecting a legalistic approach, they focused instead on an immersion in story, making them pioneers of narrative theology.” 

Masters writes that Palmer’s  claims appear “to contradict a widely held view that it was the direct inward teaching of Christ that constituted the foundational experience of early Friends.... Could it be that it was precisely the direct inward experience of the living Word that inspired Friends to read the Bible empathetically ... and engendered the dynamic interaction between spiritual experience and biblical narrative?”

Tom Paxson writes in a Friends Journal review that Face to Face is “an investigation of various ways Quakers have read and used the Bible from the beginning of the movement down through the great separations of the late 1820s.” Paxson continues, “Friends were not and are not immune to notional currents in the larger society in which they or we find ourselves. Palmer gives due attention to this and shows how the influence over the centuries of Restoration, Quietist, Enlightenment, and Evangelical modes of thinking influenced Quakers’ readings and uses of the Bible and their understanding of Quaker faith and practice generally.”

Paxson points out that Face to Face grapples with important and interesting questions:

  • How did earlier generations of Friends read and use the Bible? 
  • How was it that in spite of the diversity within the Bible regarding God’s apparent encouragement and approval of war, mass killing, and the like, early Friends were both deeply informed by scripture and yet took “pioneering positions on matters such as war, women’s ministry, and justice”? 
  • How could later seventeenth-century and early eighteenth-century Friends read the Bible so differently from one another without these differences separating them or disrupting their friendships? 
  • What can we learn about reading the Bible and about community from earlier generations of Friends?

Masters claims that Palmer’s work on the empathetic hermeneutic is both valuable and a basis for further scholarship. Paxson calls it “a compelling depiction of important aspects of Quaker history.” 

This is a book I think every Friends church should make available for book studies, small groups, and individuals who want to know more about Quaker history. You can find it in the Barclay Press Bookstore.

I send out this newsletter almost every week, and there’s a clickable link over in the right margin – Share Stories Change Lives. It takes you to a donation page where you can support the work of Barclay Press. Your donations make it possible for us to take on small but significant projects like Face to Face. Thank you!

Eric Muhr