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Joseph John Gurney (1788-1847), a study in evangelical Quaker biography

Bright, Simon

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Simon Bright


This study uses an examination of the work and beliefs of Joseph John Gurney (1788-1847), as a means to consider the breakdown of sectarianism and the rise of evangelicalism among British Quakers during the first half of the nineteenth century. This study also considers the manner in which Gurney combined traditional Quaker beliefs with the theology of the evangelical movement.
During the early years of the nineteenth century Friends traditional sectarianism was breaking down. Simultaneously a group of Friends, who were influenced by evangelicalism, were becoming increasingly influential within British Quakerism. Joseph John Gurney was the pre-eminent member of this group. His role in the Beaconite controversy is assessed. His beliefs are compared to those of the other participants in this controversy; extreme evangelicals and traditionalist Friends. Through this comparison it will be shown that Gurney combined elements of traditional Quaker beliefs and contemporary evangelical theology.
Gurney’s mission to America, 1837-40, and the claims that this caused the subsequent schism among Orthodox Friends are assessed. It is argued that there were already tensions within American Quakerism and that there would have been a schism even without his presence.
Gurney's role as a member of the ecumenical evangelical movement is considered. It is argued that during his work with members of other religious groups, he adopted an inclusive ecclesiology and avoided issues which might cause division. Gurney’s response to changes within the evangelical movement during the 1830s is considered.
The manner in which Gurney's combination of traditional Quaker and contemporary evangelical beliefs shaped his work as an educator and philanthropist is assessed.
Gurney's attitudes to politics and business are assessed. It will be argued that he rejected some elements of Quakerism's traditional attitudes to these subjects and that this was indicative of wider change within the Society of Friends.


Bright, S. (1992). Joseph John Gurney (1788-1847), a study in evangelical Quaker biography


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