My interest in Quaker ideas about the atonement was renewed when I read Terry Rynne's recent book Gandhi & Jesus: The Saving Power of Nonviolence (Orbis 2008). See http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/books/books.php?id=18494
In this thoughtful book, Rynnes, a progressive Catholic theologian/peace activist, discusses various ideas about the atonement and makes the case that those who believe in Anselm's ideas about a vindictive God also tend to support war, while those who tend towards an approach in keeping with Abelard and the early Greek church fathers did to be less violent in outlook.
Rynnes never considered Penn or Quakers like Howard Brinton, but many of Penn's theological ideas seem very contemporary and progressive, esp. his ideas about the atonement.
Penn rejected Anselm's "satisfaction" view of the atonement and was thrown into the Tower of London for dissenting from the prevailing Protestant dogma. As far as I know, Penn is the most prominent figure to have been jailed for rejecting Anselm's doctrine of the atonement. Penn's views also anticipate those of many modern liberal theologians. Howard Brinton also supports Penn's view of the atonement, which rejects the idea that Jesus had to die for our sins to satisfy God's justice.
Penn writes: "I can boldly challenge any person to give me one Scripture phrase which does approach the doctrine of satisfaction, (much less the name) considering to what degree it's stretched; not that we do deny, but really confess that Jesus Christ, in life, doctrine and death, fulfilled his Father's will, and offered up a most satisfactory sacrifice, but not to pay God, or help him (as otherwise unable) to save men; and for a justification by imputative righteousness, whilst not real, it's merely an imagination, not a reality, and therefore rejected; otherwise confest and known to be justifying before God, because there is no abiding in Christ's love without keeping his commandments." (For full story and text, see http://www.ushistory.org/Penn/penntower.htm)
Penn argues that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for our sakes, so that we might be inwardly transformed. Through taking up the cross of Christ, we are given transforming power enabling us to "abide in Christ's love" and "keep his commandments." For Penn and other Quakers, the most important commandment is to "love our enemies" and "lay down our lives for our friends" (hence the name, the Religious Society of Friends). By accepting Jesus as our savior, and Inward Teacher, we become empowered to live "in that life and power that takes away the occasion of war" (George Fox).
Because Quakers experienced this transforming power, they were willing to risk their lives and go to stinking dungeons for the sake of their convictions. Some were willing even to go to jail on behalf of other Quakers. When George Fox was sent to a peculiarly noisome dungeon, a Quaker petitioned Oliver Cromwell and asked to be allowed to go to prison in Fox's place. This act of self-sacrifice shook up Cromwell and he decided to let Fox go. I am reminded of Gandhi's satyagraha--enduring suffering for the sake of the Truth.
Quakers were empowered not so much by a theological interpretation, but by a religious practice that enabled them to experience the power of God's love and grace. They "were still" and knew the power of God within. By turning to the "Inward Light of Christ," we see our own fallen condition (alienation from God and others, self-will, selfishness) and also its cure, self-sacrificial love.
Quakers not only rejected the idea of a vindictive God who required "satisfaction," they also rejected the idea that Jesus' death on the cross "imputes righteousness" to us sinners and thereby relieves us of the responsibility of living up to Jesus's commandments. We are saved not simply by "believing" in Christ but by living our faith in "evangelical obedience" (a lovely phrase!). As Penn writes:
As for justification by an imputed righteousness, I still say that whosovever believes in Christ shall have remission and justification, but then it must be such a faith as can no more live without works than a body without a spirit; wherefore I conclude that true faith comprehends evangelical obedience.
As Penn said elsewhere, "True godliness does not turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it."
Like modern liberals, Penn was not interested simply in personal salvation or transformation. He wanted (with Divine Assistance) to change the world. That's why he founded Pennsylvania as a "Holy Experiment," a model community where religious toleration was practiced. He also advocated for a League of Nations to resolve conflicts nonviolently among the nations of Europe.
To which, Gandhi and liberal theologians would say, AMEN, SHANTIH!