Saturday, June 21, 2008

JW Study Meeting #2

Today my afternoon began with yet another meeting with the Jehovah's Witnesses. Chapter 2 of What Does the Bible Really Teach? was fairly uncontroversial in our context, since it covers the Bible being the Word of God. So this was a very peaceful meeting--so peaceful that Uriah had to play devil's advocate a bit at the end to get things a bit stirred up.

I did ask about books that had been used prior to What Does the Bible Really Teach?. I managed to draw out some confirmation that, a couple books previously, they had been working with Let God Be True. I have a PDF copy of it on my laptop, and it's a pretty interesting resource. (The other weekend, aside from goofing around, Daniel and I sat in front of my laptop, reading to each other from the Trinity section in Let God Be True and laughing. I managed to confirm a lot of quotes in Walter Martin's The Kingdom of the Cults, since he cites Let God Be True fairly often.)

At any rate, Uriah, Shem, and I have settled into a routine. Reading the prescribed paragraphs from the chapter in a rotation (me, then Shem, then Uriah), and after each paragraph (or two), Uriah reads the footnoted discussion questions, and I answer. They're always extremely easy and obvious questions, so I can halfway zone out pretty easily if I want to let my mind wander a little bit here and there. Sometimes Uriah or I will bring up various related things for discussion, but not terribly often.

I told Uriah and Shem that we could tackle Chapter 3 (a basically biblical section on the promise of new creation) on July 5th, and we agreed to begin the study with some prayers for guidance. Should be interesting to see if I can slip a somewhat Trinitarian prayer in there. I also procured another copy of their pamphlet Should You Believe in the Trinity?, since as I said before, somewhere along the line I managed to lose my old one.

Uriah told me a story, after I asked for the pamphlet, of a recent case where he knocked on a door and the woman who answered was very interested in discussing the Trinity. As Uriah told it, he then said to her, "Okay, let's say the Trinity is true. Can you show me where it is in the Bible?" She replies, "Well, it's all over the place!" Uriah then says, "Alright, well let me see an example." Sadly, she wasn't able to do it, told the JWs to go away, and then refused to accept a copy of their pamphlet when they offered her Should You Believe in the Trinity?. He and I agreed that Christians should be competent at defending their beliefs from the Scriptures... although I'm not totally sure if Uriah remembers just what an interest I happen to have in defending that particular doctrine from the Scriptures.

The next meeting should be fairly subdued--I checked through Chapter 3, and there's no cause in there for complaint--but after that comes the fun, since Chapter 4 gets into Christology and tries to argue a bit against the deity of Christ. My plan is to let them know at the beginning of that session that I looked through the chapter ahead of time and found some disagreeable things, and so rather than work through the chapter in the usual way, I'd be interested in hashing out some of those issues for one or two weeks, and then we can move on once we find some resolution. If we eventually reach an impasse after a couple of discussion sessions on the issue, I may suggest that we move on to the next few chapters and then revisit the issue of Christology. Of course, the next few chapters--dealing with atonement and the afterlife respectively--are bound to produce some interesting disputes as well.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

JW Study Meeting #1

Now that I've managed to persuade the Jehovah's Witnesses to start coming back, I found that--slightly to my surprise--this time around they kept their word, and so this today I got a little visit. Of the two, Uriah has been a constant throughout my experiences with them; the other guy (to be known as "Shem"), I met at the Kingdom Hall, I think. Now I'm doing a study with them, I suppose, and one through which I hope to be able to challenge them at the appropriate points. Today we went through the first chapter of the classic study guide, What Does the Bible Really Teach?. Nothing terribly controversial there, especially considering that I'm the guy known in the area who makes an effort to incorporate some pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton into my various divine addresses when praying. So it was fairly uneventful. I'd say I was roughly as articulate as I ever am when speaking extemporaneously (meaning, not very, in my opinion, though some beg to differ). We occasionally went off on very slight tangents here and there--for example, we talked a bit of the problems inherent in blind faith, and we had some great discussion of God's commitment to solving the problem of evil throughout salvation history, and I also went off for a bit to explain briefly how the phrase "image of God" would have worked in ANE thought--but other than that stuck to the 'script'.

At the end of it all, though, I had a chance to ask the two of them how they came to be involved with the JWs. Both had interesting stories. For Shem, he lived an immoral life as a drunkard for many years, until finally one night in a barn, one of his drinking buddies stood up and, for no apparent reason, shot himself in the head. Shem came from a Witness family, so the next day Shem asked for a Bible study, and so it began. Uriah was raised as a Methodist, and as time went on, he began presenting his pastor with questions. Alas, his pastor had no answers, and so after enough of that, Uriah gave the pastor a call and asked to be removed from membership rolls. The pastor essentially said, "Yeah, fine, just submit a letter." So Uriah did, and a few years later he started studying with Jehovah's Witnesses. A year after that, he was one of them, and that was over a decade ago. Does this not critically underscore just how crucial it is to have our clergy sufficiently trained to be the intellectual/theological shepherds of their flocks, as well as the 'spiritual' shepherds?

Another sobering tale: Shem recounted a story of when the two of them, in their door-to-door witnessing, came upon a retired pastor who said that he was retired and so didn't have to worry about studying the Bible any more. (Of course, I doubt the man phrased it quite that way. Or at least, I sure hope not...)

I'll be seeing the pair of them again on the 21st to go over the next chapter, dealing with the Bible. Shouldn't be long until Chapter 4: "Who Is Jesus Christ?". I intend to advise them to come prepared for a very interesting, very challenging discussion, because I sure as heck will. Which leads me to my current project. Haven't gotten terribly far in it, but I'm working bit by bit on drafting up sort of an article on Christology, defending Trinitarianism against JW criticisms and offering a positive case as well. The bulk of it, in my vision, is a section under the massive heading "Objections", in which I articulate all the different objections, counter-arguments, etc., that I've ever come across--and believe me, I've found many--and reply to all of them. (So far, I've done... three. Yeah. Three. Like I said, I've made very little progress, because I'm too lazy to bring most of my books downstairs to reference.) I've got some time, at least, and some decent resources, but I want to ask my JW discussion partners if they can procure me a new copy of Should You Believe in the Trinity?, because that'll be an invaluable reference. In the meantime, I'm also re-reading the 100-page section on the Jehovah's Witnesses in Walter Martin's classic Kingdom of the Cults. Not the greatest (although decently comprehensive, for the scope of the work as a whole), but it does at least quote a lot of issues of The Watchtower to which I don't, regrettably, have access.