Saturday, August 2, 2008

JW Study Meeting #5

The next encounter was today, and after that I attended a church picnic of sorts to welcome my church's new pastor. After I had gotten everything more or less in order, the appointed time arrived, and I opened the door to find Uriah. No Shem, no Mephibosheth, just Uriah flying solo for a time. And so I invited him in and asked how the other two guys were doing. Shem's been having some problems with partying drunkard neighbors, as it turns out, and so he's been losing a lot of sleep lately; only got like 1.5 hours the previous night, which was why he couldn't make it. As for Mephibosheth, he's dealing with some conflict at home. He remarried in March, and he gets his daughter during the summers, I guess, and the daughter doesn't appreciate having to share daddy's attention with the new lady. So I think the both of these guys could use some prayers from you folks.

Anyway, my mother had been doing some baking for the picnic, and so we waited to get things started until she had finished mixing the cake batter/mix/whatever the heck state cake is in before it gets taken out of the mixer. Don't ask me, I'm the world's worst cook. Anyway, while we waited for this to get done, Uriah and I made small talk, and he gave me the book he'd promised to bring, Pay Attention to Daniel's Prophecy!, plus the latest issues of Awake! and The Watchtower. (The latest issue of the latter has a defense of their insertion of the Tetragrammaton into the NT text, for example.)

Finally we began with a prayer and moved on to the first paragraph of the section in What Does the Bible Really Teach?. Just covered the pre-existence of Christ, so there was nothing objectionable, as he expected. After he read the next paragraph, though, we got right into the issue of whether or not Christ is a created being, and I'd say I did a large amount of the talking, including reading the section on Colossians 1:15 from last week's edition of the essay I'd been writing.

(Somewhere in here, Uriah inquired as to my preferred translation of the Bible. I responded that I'm somewhat partial to my NIV and my NRSV, but that I first and foremost try to reference the original language text whenever possible, and that I also use the Modern KJV and the original text in parallel on my computer. And I added that in this sort of context, I also check the NWT to see what sort of take the Watchtower has on a passage.)

From there, I think I spent ages rambling about the distinction between eternal, uncreated, divine things and temporal, created, non-divine things, using a little chart, and I explained that, drawing on the categories current in the first-century of divine hypostases, the earliest Christians had been led (taking their cue from Jesus himself) to place him in the first portion of the graph instead of the second, and that as centuries of theological reflection in the face of challenges led Christians to consider the implications of having done so (especially over against challenges from blokes like Arius), they eventually realized that the only suitable formulation for the truth they'd found was the Trinitarian formula of three co-essential persons constituting the one and only true God. At some point during this, I read a number of quotations from the second-century Church Fathers to demolish the argument in Should You Believe in the Trinity? to the effect that the Christians in this period did not believe in the full deity of Christ.

Eventually, I managed to bring my speech to a close, and Uriah offered two points of observation--first, he commended me for my thorough, cogent research and respectful, non-mocking presentation and especially a willingness to read through a large amount of disagreeable literature from the Watchtower, and said that he'd never met a Trinitarian who had that kind of handle on the material, and even conceded that many Jehovah's Witnesses were definitely beneath my level by miles; and second, he quoted Mark 7:7-8a to apply it to the situation at hand. (Granted, it didn't really fit...) Then he asked me to offer some words from my heart about what it's like for me to read a "simple Bible", and so I simply stated that my passion is to understand God's self-revelation in its written form by allowing the text to confront me and by seeking to comprehend it as it would have been comprehended in its earliest setting, and then he and I managed to go off on a tangent about the nature of analogical language in theology for a while, both agreeing that it's quite necessary.

At some point we actually managed to proceed to the next paragraph from What Does the Bible Really Teach?, which confronted the issue of whether or not Jesus is God. It makes three fundamental arguments: (i) Jesus is created (see prior verse) but Jehovah is eternal (Psalm 90:2); (ii) the Father is greater than the Son (John 14:28; 1 Corinthians 11:3); and (iii) Jehovah alone has the title "God Almighty" (Genesis 17:1). We only managed to cover (i) and (ii); I think he totally forgot that (iii) was even there. I noted, in my treatment of the paragraph, that (i) relied on the previous section, which we'd already discussed--and, while I didn't point it out, he never managed to demonstrate that Colossians 1:15 establishes the Watchtower position, although he tried to ask some leading questions about "firstborns" in human families, which is when I led us on a trek down analogy lane and ended up discussing the manner in which Christ is begotten of the Father. I also noted that the same kind of language used in Psalm 90:2 is used of Wisdom (the pre-incarnate Christ, as the Watchtower accepts it) in Proverbs 8:23. But, of course, since Proverbs 8 hadn't come up in the conversation, I led us on to (ii), where I explained the distinction between essence and function/'authority' and offered two possible understandings of 1 Corinthians 11:3 that preserve a Trinitarian understanding.

From 1 Corinthians 11:3, he actually wanted to take some time (I think he might've needed a bit of a breather) to track off to the issue of biblical teaching on men and women, so we tossed that around for a while, and he was pleased to see that I'm relatively egalitarian, unlike some Christian men he'd met. Sometime after this point, my mother brought us each slices of freshly baked banana bread, and so we chowed down as the conversation turned from the issues of Scripture and more to some anecdotes from Uriah from his door-to-door witnessing. For example, one time he led a study in a house that had about 42 iguanas, of which only around 12 were caged, and Uriah can't stand reptiles. But he persisted, and one time the family asked for two weeks off because company was coming... and then, when Uriah returned for the scheduled study, the family had moved out! In another story, he had asked a Trinitarian woman to explain the doctrine, and she just shouted, "I don't need to know!" In yet another story, he had been leading a study with a family, and they invited a 7-ft. tall, 120-lb. man named Solomon to join them one day... and in the middle of the study, Solomon shrieked, stood up, knelt on the flood, and prayed for the blood of Christ to protect the Christian family from these JW "apostates". Not exactly the most tactful incident in human history...

At any rate, I told Uriah that we could study again on the 16th, and that my girlfriend would be joining us... and then, of course, I rambled for a few moments about how wonderful she is, but eventually I managed to focus again. We agreed to continue with the next paragraph in What Does the Bible Really Teach?. Also, at the end of the study, I offered Uriah my print-out of my essay to read over and research, and he accepted it, slipping it into his satchel. Given that reading opposition literature isn't exactly held by the Watchtower in terribly high esteem, I was a tad surprised but quite pleased. In the meantime, I determined to work on beefing up my electronic copy of the essay so that I can print out a more powerful version for next time.

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