By Eli Ayala
In a previous article I wrote in which I sought to present a basic outline for engaging the Jehovah’s Witnesses from a Presuppositional perspective, there were a few folks who asked if I could go beyond just the theory behind how we might apply the method, and present a concrete example. So, to that end, here it is what an actual concrete example might look like when employing the method with a Jehovah's Witness, or (JW). The presuppositional apologist in the following hypothetical discussion will be abbreviated as (PA). I offer commentary in bold.
(JW): We believe that our interpretation of the Bible is guided by God’s spirit, which helps us understand the truth.
PA: I see. So, when it comes to understanding the Bible, do you believe that your beliefs are based on certain foundational assumptions? (Notice how this question brings the conversation straight to the core of the issue instead of endlessly engaging other non foundational issues like “Why don’t you celebrate Christmas, or don’t engage in blood transfusions)?
JW: Well, we start with the assumption that the Bible is the authoritative word of God, and that the Watchtower Society is the faithful and discreet slave appointed by Jesus to provide spiritual guidance.
PA: Thank you for sharing that. Now, let’s consider my perspective for a moment. As a Christian committed to biblical truth, I start with the assumption that the Christian God is the ultimate source of knowledge and truth. From my worldview, if God exists, then our reasoning and understanding must be grounded in Him. Given this, do you think it’s reasonable for me to challenge the foundational assumptions you mentioned earlier? (Notice how the believer openly exposes his own foundational commitment. This allows the JW to be open to discussing those foundations and critically engaging them. In like fashion, we hope that he critically thinks about his own foundations to the end that an internal inconsistency can be demonstrated).
JW: I understand your viewpoint, but we believe our interpretation is guided by God’s spirit, which provides us with the correct understanding.
PA: That’s an interesting point. However, couldn’t someone from a different religious tradition also claim that their interpretation is guided by their deity’s spirit? Without a way to objectively verify whose interpretation is correct, how can we determine which belief is more accurate? (The question put forth here is an attempt to challenge and engage the JW’s epistemology, or theory of knowledge. Now, they could turn this around and ask us the same question: “Couldn't someone from a different religious tradition claim that their interpretation is guided by their deity’s spirit?” Indeed, a different religious tradition can make such a claim, however, the real issue is whether that religious tradition can pay the bills on the claim. Because the Christian has the truth, we are to be willing to explain how the Christian worldview, with its authoritative presuppositional claim trumps the competing presuppositional authoritative claims. This is done through internally critiquing the opposition, and successfully navigating the attempted internal critique of the Christian position. From there, we build the positive case as to how, given the Christian worldview, knowledge and truth can be grounded). In a different article, I will expand on this some more to demonstrate what that would look like, but for now, let’s continue).
JW: We trust in our interpretation because we believe it aligns with the Bible’s teachings.
PA: I respect your commitment to your beliefs. But consider this: If our foundational assumptions differ, it leads to different ways of understanding reality. How can we have a productive dialogue if we don’t address the very foundations of our worldviews first? (Pushing on this point will help avoid engaging non-essential or non-foundational issues. We want to keep our eye on the ball and stay focused upon the foundations).
JW: I understand your perspective, but our faith is deeply rooted in the teachings of the Watchtower Society.
PA: I appreciate your openness. Our conversation highlights the challenge of differing presuppositions. Ultimately, our dialogue may lead us to examine the basis of our beliefs rather than just the conclusions. It’s essential to explore the epistemological foundation of our worldviews to truly understand our differences. (Bringing out the differences within the context of our engagement with the JW is key to bringing to the surface the reality that neither of us are neutral, and both of us have presuppositional commitments thus highlighting the antithesis between us. This is useful as our presuppositional commitments will impact how we interpret certain key biblical passages that often come up when dialoguing with Jehovah’s Witnesses).
Continuing from where we left off:
PA: Thank you for sharing your perspective. I’d like to explore a potential contradiction that arises from your worldview. You mentioned that you trust the Watchtower Society’s interpretation because it aligns with the Bible’s teachings. However, let’s consider a situation where the interpretation provided by the Watchtower Society contradicts a direct teaching from the Bible. How would you reconcile such a contradiction? (O.k, here we have an example of an attempted internal critique of the JW worldview. An internal critique hypothetically grants the opponent’s position for the sake of argument in order to demonstrate an internal inconsistency within that perspective).
JW: We believe that the Watchtower Society is guided by God’s spirit and that they would not provide teachings that contradict the Bible.
PA: I understand your trust in the guidance of the Society. But consider this: If the Watchtower Society’s interpretation were indeed guided by God’s spirit, wouldn’t it be expected to perfectly align with the Bible, with no possibility of contradiction? Yet, if there were a contradiction, how could one determine whether the error lies in the interpretation of the Society or in the understanding of the Bible itself? (This point is key. As a point of strategy, it is important to recognize that the JW is not being guided by a proper exegesis of the biblical text, but rather, the interpretations they are taught through their organization. You will want to strategically place a wedge between their organization’s interpretations and the biblical text. You want them to engage the text as best as possible not through the lens of their organization, but by considering the proper biblical context itself. If done effectively, you can then demonstrate that the teaching of scripture is in conflict with the interpretations offered by the Watchtower Organization).
JW: Well, if there were a contradiction, it might indicate a need for further clarification or a deeper understanding of the context.
PA: That’s a reasonable consideration. However, if your foundational belief is that the Watchtower Society is infallibly guided by God’s spirit, then any contradiction should be impossible if that guidance is consistent. The presence of contradiction, however minor, could raise questions about the reliability of the guidance itself. How do you address this potential challenge to your worldview? (Now, the contradiction between the teaching of scripture and their organization’s interpretations will have to be hashed out in a more in-depth discussion of the relevant biblical texts read in their proper context but I hope you can imagine what that might look like).
JW: Our faith is based on a sincere belief in the Society’s guidance and the Bible’s teachings. We trust that God’s spirit is guiding the process.
PA: I appreciate your commitment to your beliefs. But I hope you can see our fundamental differences, and that our conclusions and interpretations are dictated by our presuppositions. With our assumptions out on the table, let us take a look at a few portions of scripture.
From there, you are off running. It is important to recognize that while the presuppositional approach is a powerful tool for defending the faith, it is not an excuse to avoid the hard work of engaging in an in-depth fashion, the actual text of scripture. Be ready to engage the text using proper tools of exegesis, a solid and biblically grounded theological framework, and a commitment to speaking the truth in love to the JW who needs to hear the saving gospel message found throughout the pages of scripture.
Note to the Reader
If such hypothetical dialogues are useful in seeing how to use the presuppositional method, please let me know either by commenting on the article or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org