Saturday, August 30, 2008

JW Study Meeting #7

So "Uriah" and "Shem" arrived on today at around 1:30 PM. Truth be told, I had forgotten exactly what time we'd said, so I was caught slightly off-guard. Still, it didn't take me long to grab the latest copy of my paper, now titled "A Comparative Evaluation of Trinitarian and Neo-Arian Christological Models". Uriah approved of the new title, and so we made small-talk for a while. Their convention had gone pretty well; Shem had actually gotten a good night's sleep; and Uriah had gone on a rather unfortunate camping trip. Also, Uriah brought me quite a few new things, including like 30 copies of Should You Believe in the Trinity? (he'd expected to not have them until later because they take a while to get ordered in, but when he was checking inventory, he found an overstock of these because JWs don't get to hand them out quite so much; so, as it turned out, I got my copies and in doing so, Uriah brought the inventory right back down to where it should be), that DVD to borrow (it's actually called "Pursue Goals That Honor God"), and five new books that Uriah had found in a stash somewhere:
  • Is This Life All There Is?
  • True Peace and Security: How Can You Find It?
  • Survival into a New Earth
  • Worldwide Security Under the "Prince of Peace"
  • United in Worship of the Only True God
Glancing through this last one now that the meeting is over, I find some interesting anti-Trinitarian remarks (pp. 15-18) to use for updated editions of my paper. Heh... you know, even if nothing else were to come of all this, at the very least my library is growing. Anyway, after some further banter--in which Shem mentioned that he'd told one of the other guys at the Kingdom Hall that hearing me explain the Trinity made him less likely to be a Trinitarian, although he couldn't really explain why that was so--we got down to business.

I read from the new introduction to my paper a brief summary of the Watchtower belief on the matter, which Uriah confirmed was rather accurate. The statement was:

The Watchtower Society’s view, which is perhaps best designated as “neo-Arian”—in light of their perspective’s similarity to that of Arius, the Alexandrian presbyter whose views were rejected at the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325—holds that God is unipersonal, being solely the Father, and that the initial temporal creation of the Father was the Son, who is thus a created spirit being independent of the Father. All other things that were created were then brought into existence through the agency of the Son. The Son is thus not properly called “God”, though by virtue of his exalted status he may suitably be termed “a god”, even a “mighty god”. The Son is neither ternal nor omnipotent and omniscient. At the appropriate point in time, the Father transferred the Son’s “life force” into the womb of the Virgin Mary as a sinless man, Jesus Christ. Prior to this, the Son existed as the Archangel Michael [WDBRT 219]. (The identification of Jesus with Michael is also held by some Trinitarians, notably the Seventh-Day Adventists.)
Uriah's only suggested alteration was a statement to the effect that prior to the resurrection, Jesus was mortal, but was then awarded immortality by the Father. He then asked me to show him how I might go about demonstrating the Trinity from the Scriptures, so I first elaborated on the various components of Trinitarian doctrine (i.e., monotheism, three persons, and the full deity of all persons). I then explained why I typically set aside pneumatology until I've worked through the issue of Christology, and then we got into some discussion of how so often professing Trinitarians turn out in practice to be unwitting modalists or tritheists, or at least leaning far too strongly to one or the other.

I then got into John 1:1 and explained the results of Philip Harner's article, reading them a couple of quotations that, basically, might as well scream, "The full deity of the Word is preached in John 1:1!!!!!!". After that, I got to explain what is meant by "essence", and then I gave Uriah and Shem a brief introduction to the First Council of Nicaea, esp. the distinction between homoousios and homoiousios.

Somewhere around here, Uriah inquired as to what sort of difference it makes on a practical level to believe in the Trinity, since I understand both sides quite well. I then began to speak of what it's like to know that God, not some exalted creature, was the one who suffered on the stauros; and that God, not something less, was the pivotal agent in the redemptive and atoning deed; and that, in my understanding of the atonement, for anything less to have been done would have been insufficient to truly atone for all sins. (Somewhere in here I managed to rant a little about Islam, and how in my opinion, the problem with the Islamic Allah isn't so much a lack of love as a lack of justice; setting aside whether Allah is loving, it should be clear that he doesn't take sin nearly seriously enough.) Uriah then inquired as to whether or not I think a neo-Arian Christology can sustain a sufficient soteriology (well, he didn't say it in those exact terms, but you get the idea), to which I said that I think not, though I can at least entertain the idea that other atonement models could accomodate such a thing; I then asked whether it would have been sufficient, from a JW standpoint, for God to have created a perfect, sinless man distinct from the Son in order to sacrifice such a man for our sins. Uriah's response was no insofar as that it was required that the sacrifice be something most prized and held dear by God, and that the Son was the only suitable candidate. We then agreed that, within our respective Christological models, we each maintain that the only suitable candidate was the Son, and that with the possible exceptions of modalism or tritheism, we each represented one of the two highest Christological perspectives on the market.

I think around here the conversation began to wind down. The three of us were too busy petting one of my cats, Enoch, who'd jumped up onto the table. Uriah gave me the latest copies of The Watchtower and Awake!, which he'd gotten sooner than expected, and since I wasn't sure what weekend I'd be home again, I promised to e-mail Uriah with the information. He also took the latest edition of my paper and said that over the next couple weeks he'd probably have enough time to read it through more seriously.

All in all, I think it was a fairly productive meeting. We both have a fairly clear idea at this point of where we disagree, and these guys are definitely, I think, a cut above the typical JWs. Unlike many folks, Uriah can follow along; he gives things thought; and he's willing to read stuff, at least provided it isn't apostate literature. I'm not totally sure where Shem is, since he's so quiet, but next time around I might try posing various questions to him.

My hope and prayer is that, after Uriah has read through my paper more completely, we'll be able to have a deeper discussion on whether or not it establishes at least the deity of Christ. There may be hope for this guy. And I'm definitely gonna try to print an extra copy of my paper to get it into Shem's hands.

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