A cousin of mine is a Jehovah’s Witness, and we love him and his family so much. Today he sent me a Watchtower booklet and some other tracts about his faith. I am a committed Christian. I believe he is in a false religion. He is family, so it makes it a little difficult, as I don’t want to be rude or ugly. In fact, I have been feeling an urgency to speak to him about MY faith. Do you have any suggestions about how I should respond to him?
Kim from Dothan, Alabama
Preparation to answer (Part 1)
I think perhaps a good way to start is by trying to walk in his shoes, and I don’t mean theologically or doctrinally. I agree with you that he is in a false religion. Rather, I mean getting into his shoes emotionally, because that can prepare you for a response that opens a door instead of slamming one shut.
Peter reminds us to always be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15). I see so much rancor today in the way people slam each other for their beliefs and opinions. They often only want to drown out the other person so THEY can win the argument. I see very little of the gentleness or reverence Peter encourages.
So, the first thing for you to do is think about his perspective in trying to witness to you. He no doubt loves you and your family as you do him and his family, and he wants to share what he considers truth. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a very strong mandate to share their faith. If you have ever participated in door to door witnessing or street evangelism you know how difficult it is to put yourself out there for rejection. It takes courage.
Let’s therefore attribute courage to your cousin. He probably struggled with how best to approach you, just as you have been struggling in how best to approach him. He doesn’t want to offend you or turn you off and you feel the same way. I think acknowledging and thanking him for caring will go a long way in opening a dialog, which could end up being fruitful for the Kingdom of God.
The way your cousin approached you has given you an advantage, so let’s be grateful for that too. By sending you something in the mail, he has given you time to prepare, and more importantly, has given you time to pray. Since he used snail mail, you can do the same—at least that is the approach I would probably take. If you write back you can sincerely thank him for his effort, yet acknowledge that in all honesty the theological hurdles between a Jehovah Witness and a Christian are mountainous indeed.
You might end it there. OR, you can ask him if he is up for the challenge of an honest dialog in which you promise to be both straightforward and respectful.
Ways to Dialog (Part 2)
If you dialog with your cousin (or any person who holds a different belief system), you don’t need to be a bible scholar, but you do need to know why you believe what you do. Where you don’t know the “why” behind a doctrine, you have to be willing to research.
There is a well-known former Muslim named Nabeel Qureshi, who came to faith in Christ, and is now a formidable apologist for the Christian faith. When he was still a devoted Muslim, his biggest problem with Christians was that they often couldn’t defend their faith. He was always waiting for someone to answer his objections, but they often didn’t know the answers.
I think a good way to approach dialog is with questions. Questions, questions, and more questions. You can learn a lot about where someone is at spiritually by asking how he or she came to those beliefs. What is their story? Many times that also opens up an opportunity for you to share your story—sometimes the most powerful apologetic of all.
Asking questions with genuine sincerity, and being a very good listener builds trust and respect. Those two things build a powerful bridge to the other person, and makes listening to you in return, and your differing viewpoint much more likely. If all you really want to do is score points and prove you are right and they are wrong, better not attempt dialog at all. From the tone of your question I don’t have the impression that is a problem for you.
Perhaps it is the Holy Spirit after all, who really began this communication from your cousin. I realize he hopes to convince you that truth is found in his religion. Maybe God has something different in mind. We are to be ready with a defense for the hope that is inside us, but God Himself does the heavy lifting. “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). That knowledge alone should preclude any airs we might have in our own ability to convert someone else.
My last advice is prayer. Pray that God will put the right words in your mouth. Pray that the spiritual ground of your cousin’s soul will be well prepared to receive truth. Pray that the Lord will plant strategic questions inside your cousin that will point to the true Jesus. Pray that no hindering force will be able to succeed in blinding him to truth.
Finally, I add my own prayer. May the Lord use you mightily in His harvest field, and bring forth from your efforts, a hundred-fold return. Amen.
For more information on Jehovah’s Witnesses and their beliefs, please see this related question: Are Jehovah’s Witnesses pleasing to God?