By Eli Ayala
Presuppositional Apologetics Applied to the Jehovah’s Witnesses
Among the many questions I receive, this one has come up quite often: How do we apply a presuppositional approach to the cults generally, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses more specifically. This is a great question because the presuppositional approach is often seen in the context of speaking with atheists and skeptics. But contrary to popular opinion, the approach can be used against any position. It doesn’t matter if you are engaging the atheist or non-Christian theist; the method can and should be used. Now of course, the topic of the cults is a vast topic so I will only be able to cover a basic outline of what this might look like, but I think it should be sufficient in providing a basic framework for engagement with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Presuppositionalists often get a bad reputation for being arrogant and in some cases quite obnoxious. We need to remember that our “conduct” is central to a presuppositional approach. If we seek to be biblical in our argumentation, in order to be consistent, we will also want to be biblical in our conduct. “The servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:24-25). The issue of conduct is no small issue since it is Christ himself that we are representing (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Understand Their Beliefs
As faithful apologists we will want to be sure to sufficiently understand our own position. When engaging the JW’s, this means you will want to be thoroughly equipped in the scriptures. Know the Word of God and how to engage it. Scripture memory will also be a powerful tool when engaging the JW’s. The average Jehovah’s Witness will have many scripture references ready at hand to throw at us and we will need to be able to engage the text. Nevertheless, when engaging the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you will want to understand their position. This will come through studying and familiarizing yourself with their material and asking effective questions throughout the course of your interaction with them.
Understanding their beliefs will be key, especially if you are approaching them from a presuppositional perspective. Because the presuppositional approach is a worldview apologetic, which involves critiquing competing non-Christian worldviews, you will need to familiarize yourself with their worldview in order to provide an effective internal critique. It is very difficult to critique a perspective without having sufficient familiarity with it.
Becoming familiar with their beliefs will make it easier to identify the presuppositions that underlie their perspective. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses believe in the New World Translation (NWT) of the Bible. You might want to explore the presuppositions related to the translation accuracy and interpretation of their translation. This will require you to know a little about their translation methods. Another route one might take is identifying their presuppositional commitment to their authority structure. Does their authority structure allow for critical thinking? When engaging them on specific biblical texts, point out the distinction between the proper exegesis of the passage verses the imposition of an external interpretation given them by the authority structure of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Remember, every worldview adheres to some authority structure. As presuppositionalists, we should always be thinking in terms of fundamental principles. What are their fundamental principles and commitments. Identify them and aim your apologetic ammunition on those foundations.
Gently point out contradictions or inconsistencies within their beliefs, while focusing on the presuppositions they hold. This can take the form of pressing the inconsistencies of their theological beliefs. Again, this will require that you familiarize yourself with their theology. See if you can’t identify inconsistencies and gently point them out throughout the course of your interaction. Remember, that when you are doing a worldview critique on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you are critiquing their system of thought and not simply an isolated data point. This is key since if you can successfully point out inconsistencies, you can then show how an inconsistency at one point in their worldview necessarily affects other parts of their worldview.
At the base of every worldview will be one’s ultimate commitment; this will be the ground zero of their worldview authority structure. Now, when we get to one’s ultimate worldview commitments we will then be dealing with the issue of circularity since one’s ultimate commitment is not justified by appealing to something more ultimate. That is not to say that one’s ultimate commitments cannot be justified at all, they can, and we should as Christian be willing to non-arbitrarily justify our ultimate presuppositional foundation. This is where the transcendental argument comes in; or we can illustrate the necessity of our ultimate commitment via using a transcendental principle when reasoning with the JW. Nevertheless, help the JW become aware that he has a foundational presuppositional commitment, but it is not one that can carry the weight of his worldview. We will want to point out that his ultimate foundation is either arbitrary (without sufficient reason) or inconsistent and therefore false.
Present the Alternative
When we identify the JW’s presuppositions and sufficiently demonstrate that they fall apart upon critical analysis, we will then not want to stop. Unfortunately, presuppositionalists can tend to think that when they successfully dismantle an opponent’s position their work is done. It’s not. At this point you will want to supervise the task of demonstrating that when they consider the framework under which you are operating under as a genuine Christian truly grounded in the Word of God, a clearer and superior picture emerges. It is here that you will want to show them that a genuinely Christian position does not suffer the deficiencies that we hope you were successfully able to expose in their position. Hence, after tearing down their position, we will then want to engage in the rebuilding process. Destroy the falsehood and rebuild using the truth.
While it may prove helpful to follow this outline, you will want to keep in mind the words of the famous philosopher Mike Tyson who once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” The reality is that conversations and informal discussions can easily get difficult to navigate. But you will always want to keep your eye on the ball. Focus on those foundations and the underlying presuppositions of the JW. Be patient, strategic, and Christ-like in your interactions and trust that God through His Spirit will do the rest.