George Fox Series, Part 6: George Fox’s Revival

A Christian metanarrative is one of the Christian “grand stories,” or traditions, that pull the disparate biblical themes and narratives into some semblance of unity. Someone who accepts a Christian metanarrative as ultimately meaningful and definitive is a Christian. It is not uncommon for sincere and thoughtful Christians to come into conflict with their metanarrative. Such conflicts take different forms and can be resolved in different ways. I want to look at the kinds of resolutions we might find among three types of extraordinary Christians: saints, “doctors” (teachers; shapers of doctrine), and prophets — specifically, the prophet George Fox.

George Fox seems to have thought of himself as a saint before his depression began. Christian saints tend to accept the Christian metanarrative of their group, although they may interpret it in a morally scrupulous manner. They conform themselves to its perceived requirements, often after an intense struggle, and their success in that brings them inner peace. A common pattern is the following (“–>” can be read as “leads to”):

Belief: acceptance of standard metanarrative –>
Crisis: cognitive dissonance due to failure to conform –>
Accommodation: change of attitudes and behavior (“conversion”) –>
Resolution: inner peace.

Unable to change themselves to meet scripture’s demands for sinlessness, or aware that their society will not accept those demands, orthodox thinkers have changed what they could: the metanarrative by which scripture is interpreted and systematized. Doctors like Augustine and Luther assimilate the metanarrative to their own needs and to the needs of the larger culture by mitigating its demands. A prime example of that is the system of exegesis according to the principal of sola fide (by faith alone), but the process is one that, as George Fox would come to see, has been active in Christianity from the outset. Its steps look something like this:

Belief: acceptance of standard metanarrative –>
Crisis: cognitive dissonance due to failure to conform –>
Assimilation: mitigation of the metanarrative’s demands through (re-)interpretation –>
Resolution: (relative) inner/societal peace.

By the time he reached nineteen years of age, George Fox was neither saint nor doctor. For him, the resolution process would be different. Fox could not accommodate himself to the prevailing meta­narrative because he was sensitive to its internal contradiction: it claimed divine moral power and yet seemed unable to realize that power. And he could not water down the moral demands that he found in scripture and in his own conscience. Acutely aware of the current metanarrative’s contradiction, he was yet deeply convinced that the original faith must have been both coherent and powerful. So he searched for an expert who could put it all together for him, but he found none. (And saints being rare, he met only the disciples of doctors — preachers who accepted an assimilated Christian system.) As Fox watched the Christian metanarrative deconstruct itself within and around him, his options were to abandon it or to attempt to recover the original design and rebuild. Fox chose the latter. His process, then, looked something like this:

Belief: acceptance of standard metanarrative –>
Crisis: cognitive dissonance due to metanarrative’s internal contradiction –>
Revelation: radical rewriting of the metanarrative through (re-)construction –>
Resolution: beginnings of inner peace.

Fox was able to rewrite the traditional metanarrative successfully because he was able to step outside of it and read its foundational texts, the scriptures, from a radically different perspective. He had learned from the results of the reformers, who had failed to detach themselves from the metanarrative before modifying it: he would think and interpret outside of the orthodox tradition. His reading of scripture in that “spirit,” no longer filtered or “veiled” by the doctors’ constructions, revealed that the problem was not new: the original faith had been distorted through mitigation very early in the Christian movement. Writers of the scriptures had already reacted against morally powerless religion that claimed to be Christianity.

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (Matt. 7:15 – the entire pericope from 15 through 29 is important)

He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:4)

Authentic Christianity, Fox decided, had been under attack since “before the apostles’ decease” (Fox, The Great Mystery, p. 132). It had quickly been crushed by the antichrists, “ravening wolves in [Christian] clothing” who led believers into thinking they could be saved without becoming holy here and now. False faith, the “whore” disguised as Christ’s religion, had “trampled” the true faith for almost 1,600 years.

But if the long night between the composition of the scriptures and Fox’s day had been the time of antichristianity, and if authentic Christianity was now being revealed again to and in him, then the scriptures should be understood as speaking of and to the present time: what they described was happening now. And it followed that the scriptures point to inner events and conditions; the parousia (second coming of Christ), for example, must happen in each person’s heart if it is happening today. Those principles, consistently and thoroughly applied as Fox’s hermeneutic — his key to interpreting scripture — would change everything. Through George Fox, real Christianity, the religion that would deliver the world from evil, was about to be revived.

Next post in this series: “Heavens in the Heart”.
Previous: “Pure Little Rich Boy”.

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