Quaker Heritage Press > Online Texts > Bunyan-Burrough Debate > Kuenning dissertation, chapter 9

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     We have observed the conflict between two young men, both recent converts to intense minority religious communities. Each passed through a powerful experience of conviction of sin to arrive at a new identity that would mold the rest of his life as a leading figure in a persecuted church. Each apparently received his most significant religious education informally in the context of his new community, shaping his sense of doctrine, piety, and the practice of ministry. Each was sure he had arrived at the true knowledge of Jesus Christ and salvation from sin. Each was also sure that the other had not.

     Shaped by the different milieux of the Baptist/Independent and Quaker communities, Bunyan and Burrough held not only different doctrines but different ways of thinking and speaking about their faiths. Bunyan, despite his own lack of formal theological education, had as mentors and role models men who were in substantial continuity with the Puritan tradition of Calvinistic Protestantism. Their doctrine was explicitly elaborated in systematic format, honed to precision in ecclesiastical controversy and academic study in the century and a quarter since the beginnings of the Reformation. Though near the radical fringe of the religious and political revolution that was still convulsing England, they continued to have one foot in the established church (itself in flux at the time) and thus held pastoral responsibilities both for the parish at large and for the small fellowship of committed believers. Their preaching was in the plain Puritan style (not so plain in the eyes of Burrough, who saw the enumerated lists and reiterated proofs as so much human invention to make up for the lack of divine input).

     Those from whom Burrough learned his faith (Fox in particular) were largely self-educated, or as they perceived themselves, divinely educated without the help of man. Oppressive priests in the established church were to them not so much a scandal hindering the propagation of the faith as a proof that the true faith had long since been banished to the wilderness. Its content was not to be learned from the academics but to be rediscovered by divine guidance as the true church was raised up again and restored to its primitive glory. The scriptures were not only a deposit of truth but a role model for inspired speech, and those who spoke were responsible for nurturing a nascent community and carrying an aggressive spiritual warfare into the camp of the world. The preaching that grew out of this model was in the plain Quaker style (not so plain in the eyes of Bunyan, who saw the biblical invective as so much mad railing, guided perhaps by a spirit but if so by an unholy one).

     Miscommunication was rampant as each side used words according to its own technical jargon and quoted scriptures with its own understanding of what they meant. Little real effort at mutual understanding was evident as each side already knew where the truth lay. Questions were posed not so much to gain information as to force an adversary to make a damaging admission. But in spite of all these difficulties a careful student of the debate can gain some real insight into the theologies of both sides.

     Bunyan, we have seen, used a systematic theological approach to prove that the soteriological errors of the Quakers necessarily implied serious Christological errors as well. Only by believing that salvation was entirely accomplished by Christ's atoning death could one properly glorify the incarnate Christ; therefore any manifestation of Christ (or more properly the Spirit) within Christian believers was solely for the purpose of enabling them to believe in and thus "lay hold on" what Christ had done without them; an improved morality was no doubt expected but was only a consequence, not a condition, of justification. Faith, since it focused on Christ as the sacrifice for sin, was meaningful only if arrived at through a process of conviction of sin, most emphatically including conviction for the sin of unbelief. True faith could thus be discerned by the process of conviction leading to it; the resulting ethical fruits could (imperfectly) attest one's faith to others but were not a proper proof to the believer himself of his own salvation. In all these areas Bunyan found Quakerism defective, even apart from points where he mistakenly believed the Quakers to be heretical.

     Burrough, in his role as a preacher of repentance and a nursing father of the newly emerging community of saints (a "son of thunder and consolation" as he was called), approached the conflict with the primary aim of proving Bunyan a slanderer (therefore an unbeliever and a member of the dragon's army against the Lamb). Explaining Quaker doctrine systematically was no part of his aim; if Bunyan wanted to prove the Quakers heretics the burden was on him to produce solid evidence. Nonetheless parts of Burrough's theology do emerge in what he writes. Christ within, it appears, was not only a spirit in Burrough's belief; his very flesh and blood were manifest in the saints, acting their righteous works in them and suffering in them the attacks of the world. Such an intense union with Christ was not easily arrived at; it meant submitting to a fiery judgment by the inner witness that manifested one's sins. The salvation thus arrived at was most definitely to be judged by its moral fruits; any deficiency in that department was an occasion for further judgment by the light. In all these areas Burrough saw Bunyan as a highly eligible candidate for conviction of sin, even apart from his mistaken guess that Bunyan was getting paid for his ministry.

     Both men, as has been observed before, misunderstood each other. Both believed Christ was both within and without, though Bunyan thought Burrough denied him without and Burrough thought Bunyan fought against him within. Both believed salvation was a supernatural work, both believed it commenced with an intense conviction of sin, and both believed that the saved would go on to live righteous lives distinct from the world. But their visions of how Christ saves were dramatically different. Had they understood each other better than they did, they might still have anathematized each other with all the conviction they showed in their lack of understanding.

For Future Work

Improving the Hypertext

     The hypertext edition created as a tool for this study would benefit from various improvements to suit it for more general use. These include:

     The spelling and punctuation should be rendered either consistently original or consistently modern. Without this improvement, the use of a nineteenth-century text for Bunyan and a seventeenth-century text for Burrough can give the user an exaggerated impression of the difference in usage between the two writers. Consistently modern spelling, though less pedantically accurate, would enhance the text's usability with computer search tools.

     The editorial notes, written during an early stage of the research, should be revised to reflect conclusions reached in the dissertation. A copy of the dissertation itself, with notes linked to the hypertext instead of the printed appendix, could also be added.

     The icons indicating that a passage is quoted in another document could be varied to show in which document each linked quotation is found. This would aid in navigating among the documents, particularly when the same passage is quoted several times and thus carries several quotation icons.

     Cumbersome codes used as location identifiers within the documents should be streamlined. (These are the codes seen on the Location line of a browser program, following the "#" sign, when viewing the texts.) The phrases currently used, averaging sixteen letters, could be replaced with numbers as short as three digits, reducing the size of the files by about five percent and possibly improving download and search times.

     Some users would probably benefit from the addition of hypertext links for biblical references. Since Burrough is more given to allusion and Bunyan to quotation, this change could require considerable exercise of judgment in selecting the texts to be so marked.

     The author intends, in the reasonably near future, to display the Bunyan-Burrough debate with some of these improvements on his recently created Quaker Heritage Press website, where various other historical Quaker texts are already present; the expected URL for the Bunyan-Burrough debate is www.qhpress.org/texts/bvb/. Perhaps future students of the debate will be able to use it to improve on the results of the present study.

Suggestions for Further Research

     The results of this study suggest at least two areas in which further research might be useful.

     The specific findings of this study could be extended or further tested by investigating the heavenly flesh doctrine in other early Quaker writers. A more detailed conceptual understanding in this area could then be used to test, extend, or modify Richard Bailey's hypothesis about the effects of the doctrine on early Quaker behavior.1 A search for Mennonite or other Melchiorite sources and routes of transmission, or a comparative study of Quaker and Anabaptist doctrines, might also benefit from an improved grasp of the concepts and terminology employed in this subject area by the earliest Quakers.

     More generally, the use of hypertext editions seems to be called for in the study of other historical controversies. This is especially true in the case of debates containing a high frequency of cross-references per document as the Bunyan-Burrough debate does. The labor of constructing the links can be amply repaid by an increased understanding of the interrelations among the texts. For proper results, of course, the method needs to be applied by a scholar who is sufficiently sensitive to the mental universes of the various parties to a debate.


     1. Above, 30-32.

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