Recently I had a Jehovah’s Witness come to my door offering the usual. The experience was rewarding, not because I won any arguments but because I was able to put to use many hours of training and study to be the best lay apologist possible. But before I tell you all about our conversation, I want to “set the stage.”
My family lives in Omaha, Nebraska. It’s not unusual in the summer months to have, at least weekly, a solicitor at our doors. Once storm season in underway or finished, businesses enjoy a wide open market for people who need siding repairs, new roofs, gutters, and lawn services. My brilliant wife, who has been mother to toddlers and infants for the past two years put a small 4×6 placard up next to our front door that basically reads, “I have infants sleeping. If you know what’s good for you, you will not knock, you will not ring the doorbell, and you will not offer me any services. Have a good day.” It’s quite poetic.
So on this occasion my wife was gone with our 6 month old son and I was at home with our 2-year-old boy. I was busy editing a book I’m writing and he was doing his best to throw every shoe in the house down the steps to the basement. All of a sudden I hear the rapid – bang, bang, bang, – and my fully grown 7lb toy poodle begins her routine of letting me know someone is at the door, which to her is really an attempt to say, “Someone’s here to kill us! I’ll hold them off!”
I run up the stairs, open the door, and I notice all in a matter of moments that he’s got a clipboard with a stack of pamphlets and there are about 3 others walking up to other doors on my street doing the same thing. At this point I’m positive it’s a contractor so I open the door and say, “Did you read the sign?”
“Well then what can I do for you, what are you selling?”
“I don’t want to sell you anything.”
“Okay, you’re a missionary?” I’m guessing that’s the only thing left.
“Are you Catholic?”
“No I’m a Jehovah’s Witness.” I felt stupid for asking if he was a Catholic. I got great advice when I was a Protestant that whenever I feel apprehensive about talking about my faith, to just assume that the person I’m talking to agrees with everything I’m saying, until I find out differently. It works – try it.
I responded, “You guys have come here before – you want me to be a Jehovah’s Witness…”
“No, that’s not why I’m here.”
“Really?” His answer did surprise me.
“Yes, I just wanted to get you interested in reading scripture every day.”
“Well that’s good, I already do that each day.”
“Great. I want to share a few verses with you.” I knew where this was going.
“But we don’t read the same scripture” I said.
“Yes we do.”
“Okay, when was your Bible translated?”
“Last time was about 50 years ago” I don’t know if that’s true but I’m going to play along.
“And what was it translated from?”
“A version about a century older than that.” That’s likely true because the JW got their start in the late 1800s.
“Alright, well I’m Catholic and I’m aware there are some differences in our translations, correct?”
“Well, there shouldn’t be. We use a version that was translated from the earliest manuscripts.”
“Well listen, I’m Catholic. I first, honestly, want to applaud you for your zeal for the scriptures and your willingness to go out and meet people. But I’m actually a convert to Catholicism. You can say I searched my way into this faith and there’s no way I’m going to be a Jehovah’s Witness. But I’ll make you an offer: if I take the stuff you want to give me, will you take home a book with you?”
He looked at me strangely, so I continued, “I have a huge library of books and would be happy to give you the one that best addresses your disagreements with the Catholic faith.”
“I would take a book but you have to come visit me.”
“Because I came here to you.” I didn’t see what that had to do with anything. I sensed he didn’t actually want to read anything at all.
“Okay, are you willing to read at all on my religion, on Catholicism?”
“No, there are differences between our faiths that I cannot accept.”
“Right, I understand. Primarily, you do not believe in a Triune God.”
“See, I can help you to understand this.”
“I’ve already made my studies and my conclusions based on what the scriptures say and they say that you are wrong.” Okay, so we’re back to the Bible.
“What’s your authority?”
“What’s your authority for your interpretation?”
“Well… the scriptures” he seemed puzzled.
“I mean, what ensures you that you are interpreting the scriptures correctly, drawing your doctrines as they really are.”
“The Bible is self-interpreting.”
“You think so? Then how come each of the Christian denominations claims the very same thing: that they are in the right and everyone else is in the wrong. So I ask you again, what authority do you have that ensures that you are reading the scriptures correctly?”
He took out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his brow. I continued, “Listen, Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit, which I know you don’t believe to be divine, but He said that that advocate would remind the apostles of everything He had taught them. The Holy Spirit is not a spirit of anarchy, it’s a spirit of unity. Why not just take this book home with you and you can just read it in your own time-”
He cut me off, “I’m not going to read it. I’ve already made my mind up.”
“Okay. Well I wish you all the grace of God on your journey to seek truth. Again, I want to applaud you for your bravery in going door to door.”
“Thank you” and he departed.
There’s some brief introductory stuff, exchanging names and what not that I didn’t include.
What you’ve got to know about JWs is that they do want you to convert. They believe that anyone who is not a Jehovah’s Witness will be annhialated in Armageddon at the end of the world. Let me let you in on the excellent tactic I used here, which I learned from Patrick Madrid’s book, On a Mission.
First, know how to win an argument without losing a soul. Many of us might be familiar with the first part of 1 Pet. 3:15, “Always be ready to make a defense to anyone who calls you to make an account for the hope that is in you.” But the second part of that verse continues, “Yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” If there’s any way to get people to quit listening to you, it’s being rude, prideful, and arrogant in how you talk to them. Always communicate apologetics with patience and charity.
Then, you’ve got to take control of the fight. I only say “fight” to illustrate this next point, because whatever you do, do not be aggressive. When two fighters go at one another in a ring, they’re throwing jabs at each other. When a punch is thrown though, a fighter has the chance to move to the side or to pivot in order to redirect the blow or have it completely miss him altogether. This is the time where he can then control the fight because his opponent is off-balance.
Making a defense for the faith is no different. Like a punch you didn’t see coming, when your opponent asks you a question and you don’t know how to answer it (or even if you do), redirect the questions back to them. In my case, this individual threw the rhetorical accusation that Catholics don’t read the Bible correctly. I could have told him how I know that we do, but I redirected the topic: “Okay, if that’s true, what’s your authority?” By doing this, I put him off-balance, causing him to have to rethink his lines, which gave me time to think things through as well.
Those are two keys to apologetics with the door-to-door types. I wish the young man took me up on my offer for a free book but that’s all I had to do. I don’t have to convert him. In fact, I can’t convert him; only God can. So that night I thanked God for the opportunity and for the courage of the young man, and asked God to begin directing his heart with some of the seeds that I planted in him, and to send someone else if needed to help him continue in his learning of the Catholic faith.