Here is a second email from Ray sent just a few months before he passed away:
I can sympathize with you in the feeling of a measure of uncertainty that you experience. It is a byproduct of long association with a religious system that presented an absolutist viewpoint, as though in possession of all truth. As a result understanding of the Scriptures was predicated, not on those Scriptures themselves, but on the interpretation placed on them by the religion. When one begins to look at the Scriptures for what they themselves say, it is not strange that one may feel hesitant and uncertain.
Part of the problem can be in our feeling we should have absolute certainty about virtually everything stated in Scripture. But that fails to recognize the truth stated by the apostle that we on some things at least "we now see as in a mirror, dimly" and that full and complete understanding is yet ahead. *1 Corinthians 13:12) It is comforting to know that the basic message of Scripture is essentially simple, within the grasp of those who are in a sense like babes. (Matthew 11:25, 26) I personally find it a relief not to feel that I must have the answer for everything. Attempts to know the unknowable, define the undefinable, lie at the root of much of the confusion and division found today. I remember a comment by the author of the bookThe Fire that Consumes, who, on dealing with a certain text that allowed for more than one explanation, said that he thought the right position toward the text was one of "reverent agnosticism," that is, out of respect for God being willing to admit that he did not know or was unsure. I am personally drawn to persons who acknowledge that they don't have all the answers, and repelled by those who gives the appearance of feeling that they do.
The concept of many as to "God's Word" is more traditional that Scriptural. They do not realize that the expression the "Word of God" conveys more the sense of the "Message of God," not that simply of words themselves. The writings found in the Bible are the vehicle for God's message and the message is the crucial factor. It seems that failure to focus on the message makes many former Witness (and others) bog down in their reading and get diverted into all sorts of side issues. If one will simply take the Scriptures, perhaps beginning with the Christian Scriptures, read them, and let them speak for themselves, many problems will disappear. Using a different translation from the customary one may help, since the mind is not so inclined to hold to preconceived views.
As regards the Trinity doctrine, I have long felt that the real problem in this area stems from an unwillingness simply to let matters rest where the Scriptures put them Men seem to want to be explicit where the Biblical statement is not, as if the Scriptures were somehow deficient. They apparently feel that their abridgements or supplements make up for that deficiency. Some points made by a well-known 19th century Bible commentator, Albert Barnes, express my own feeling about this. In commenting on a particular section of the book of Romans, he wrote:
As stated, I believe the root of the problem and controversy is essentially a failure to let matters stand where the Scriptures leave them. Merely to cite a text such as Matthew 28: 19, in which reference is made to the Father, the Son and the holy Spirit, does not demonstrate the complex concept of a triune God, with its use of terms such as "essence," "consubstantiality,""hypostatic union," etc. The basic sense of the term "trinity" itself is simply that of a "threesome" and there are other threesomes to be found in the Scriptures, as the reference to the Spirit, the water, and the blood at 1 John 5:8, or the faith, hope, and love of 1 Corinthians 13:13. They are grouped together because of their interrelation with regard to the subject involved. That is equally true of Matthew 28:19.
John 1:1 is the text most frequently referred in discussions on the issue. Most people read it and superimpose upon it their previously held religious concepts. Many highly respecgted scholars recognize that the third case of the term theos in that text has an adjectival or qualitative sense The comments by well-known British scholar William Barclay show that the common assumptions are not well founded. He states:
An illustration from English will make this clear. If I say, "The preacher is the man," I use the definite article before both preacher and man, and I thereby identify the preacher with some quite definite individual man whom I have in mind. But, if I say, "The preacher is man," I have omitted the definite article before man, and what I mean is that the preacher must be classified as a man, he is in the sphere of manhood, he is a human being.
John has no definite article before theos, God. The Logos, therefore is not identified as God or with God; the word theos has become adjectival and describes the sphere to which the Logos belongs. We would, therefore, have to say that this means that the Logos belongs to the same sphere as God; without being identified with God the Logos has the same kind of life and being as God. Here the NEB finds the perfect translation: "What God was, the Word was."
This passage does not identify the Logos and God; it does not say that Jesus was God, nor does it call him God; but it does say that in his nature and being he belongs to the same class as God, and is in the same sphere of life as God.-Jesus As They Saw Him, by Protestant scholar Wiiliam Barclay, pp. 21, 22.
Another helpful rendering of the verse, found in a few versions, is: "The Word was with the Deity and the Word was Deity." The advantage in this, as I see it, being that while, for the majority of people, the term "God" is commonly taken as a proper name, "Deity" does not so readily create that impression, conveys more the generic sense,
It seems that a concern to repudiate charges made of polytheism in early centuries led men to devise their own terminology and produce precise definitions that go beyond anything found in Scripture. I personally believe that the results show that was a mistake. The doctrine does nothing for people's understanding- the vast majority could never even express it in their own words. It is a formula for which they know the label, but cannot begin to explain its ingredients. A simple analogy could perhaps be of more help to people, as in comparing the use of "deity" with the use of the term "royalty." The son of a king is, like his father, "royalty." That royalty derives from his relationship with his royal father, as part of a royal family. Christ similarly partakes of deity because of being of the divine family of God, being begotten of Him. At least for me it makes the application of qeos to Christ both understandable and harmonious with his own statements as to his relationship toward his Father, and does it without creating any connotation of adopting "polytheism" in the sense that term is understood.
Rather than being guided by a half-dozen or so "proof texts"-whether on one side of the issue or the other-in my own experience, it is in the reading of the Scriptures through, book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, that brings a coherent picture to me. That picture has consistent aspects that are not, to me at least, compatible with the "orthodox doctrine of the trinity." As but one example, Paul again and again begins his letters referring to "God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ." It is never "God the Father and God the Son," nor does the holy Spirit even figure in the expression. If his thinking was Trinitarian, this seems very difficult to comprehend.
Quite frankly, I find the reasonings employed to validate the Trinity doctrine every bit as strained (and equally as subtle) as those behind so much of Watch Tower doctrine. Similarly, the pressure of present-day orthodoxy again reminds me of the pressure I experienced under the authoritarianism of the Witness system. And this is what I decry the most. The sheer dogmatism of most Trinitarian sources, their relegating any not sharing their view to the realm of heresy, comes across as both immodest and unchristian. On the one hand the more scholarly of them will acknowledge that the doctrine is not clearly ("explicitly") taught in Scripture, while on the other hand they may insist that their "development" of the "germs" or "seeds" of the doctrine be accepted. I came out of a system that followed precisely that practice and have no desire to return.
We should, as Jude expressed it, "contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints." What I will not do is contend for a faith based on human interpretations that were not originally entrusted to the saints by either Christ, his apostles, or the other Biblical writers -interpretations that are post-Biblical, that attempt to lay out as required doctrine that which the Bible itself does not clearly state, that draw their authority from church councils of succeeding centuries, councils which determined what should and what should not be considered "orthodox." Such teachings do not comprise "the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints," but are a human ecclesiastical addition.
As John 1:1 and other texts make clear, deity is ascribed to the Son, the Greek term theos undeniably being applied to him. What is not present is evidence that this usage equates him with the Sovereign God, the One of whom he is begotten. As some have expressed, the problem arises when men endeavor to formulate explicit definitions as to what the deity or divinity of the Son consists of, with the resultant development of all sorts of formulae about "essence," "substance," "the Godhead," etc. That it is a case of the Son reflecting the Father's glory is essentially what the apostle states at Hebrews 1:3: The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being. (NIV) A man may have a son, who grows up and may be of the same height and same strength as his father, he may have qualities and intelligence that are essentially identical with those of his father. But his father remains his father, the source of life for him. If this is not the case with the Father and the Son in Scripture then one would be obliged to say that a misleading and confusing comparison was selected when those terms were chosen. At any rate, I think the problem lies, not with the Scriptures and their statements, but with the human interpretations placed thereon. This is what has led to so much confusion and also division.
Since Christ came as God's Sent-One and acted and spoke for God, doing so "in his Father's name," it is not unusual that texts in the Hebrew Scriptures referring to Jehovah would also be applied to this Anointed One of God. That is true in some cases with regard to angelic messengers, who spoke Jehovah's message, with the Bible writer saying, "Jehovah said," while the context shows that an angel spoke. (Compare Genesis Genesis 18:1-3, 16, 17; also Exodus 3:2-4 where the Hebrew refers to an "angel" in one verse and in the other to "Jehovah" or "God"; note also Hebrews 1:1-3.)
Many former Witnesses make a 180° turn in virtually all doctrinal beliefs. They have either been convinced or allowed themselves to be convinced of certain doctrines. During the many decades of my association with the Witnesses I was also convinced, sincerely so. My beliefs on many, many points has changed radically; but I have not made some type of wholesale change, simply because I have made change only where the Bible itself led me to such change. What I regrettable is the fact that, while changing radically their beliefs, many former Witnesses retain the dogmatism that so characterizes the Watch Tower organization and other religions who claim to posses "absolute truth." Some who leave become even more dogmatic as regards their new views ("new" to them, though essentially part of the creed of orthodoxy developed over the centuries). As I mentioned to one acquaintance, among some of these "ex-Witnesss" groups I feel like I am back again among Jehovah's Witnesses, with their attitude of having the Truth, the only truth (truth in this case generally being the equivalent of "orthodox" doctrine.) In place of the organization controlling their thinking and requiring subservience, dictating how they shall understand Scripture, orthodoxy now does the same.
In listening to others, or reading their letters, I am more and more impressed with the need to encourage people to weigh and analyze arguments advanced. We did not do that as Witnesses and our mental powers tended to atrophy as a result. It was in my last few years of association that I began to realize how much I had been mistaking plausibility for solid argument and reasoning. In later reading of books that discuss the various forms of flawed argumentation I began to see innumerable examples of such in the Society publications I had read in the past and accepted--on the basis of plausibility.
I believe that most Witnesses are seemingly unable to recognize such argumentation, to see where plausibility substitutes for solid logic and proper argumentation. And, on the basis of the past few years and communication with hundreds of former Witnesses, it seems that a large percentage of those who leave are no better equipped to do so when faced with argumentation proceeding from totally new sources. They seem to allow themselves to be quite easily convinced by argumentation that in all too many cases differs little in its method from that employed by the Watch Tower for much of its teaching.
I believe that many make the serious mistake of attributing certain beliefs to the Watch Tower, as though unique to that movement. In reality, in ridiculing certain positions regarding the soul, the concept of eternal torment, or the relationship of God and his Son, they are also ridiculing the writings of eminently respected scholars and theologians who, while differing in detail or degree with Witness teachings, nonetheless present solid evidence pointing in the same general direction. There are many highly regarded scholars who state clearly and even bluntly that the concept of the soul and its inherent immortality is not a Biblical teaching but is derived from Greek philosophy.
Often it seems that recognized scholars of Christendom, themselves "orthodox" and therefore Trinitarian, seem more open and objective in describing the origin of that doctrine than many less informed persons. How much thought do we put into asking why it is that they acknowledge the doctrine of the Trinity as a post-Biblical development, a doctrine they espouse themselves largely on the basis of the decisions of religious councils? I have a fair number of reputable reference works in my library and almost without exception they acknowledge that the doctrine is not actually found in the New Testament nor was it taught in the early centuries previous to the Nicene Council. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 2, page 84, for example, begins its discussion of the trinity by saying:
I wonder how many realize that what they assume to be strictly Watch Tower views are in conforfmity with statements made by recognized scholars of Christendom. Why does the Encyclopædia Britannica, for example, say that "Neither the word Trinity, nor the explicit doctrine as such, appears in the New Testament" and that the doctrine developed gradually over the centuries, not taking its present (orthodox) form until the end of the 4th century? Why does the New Catholic Encyclopedia state that "The formulation 'one God in three Persons' was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and its profession of faith, prior to the end of the 4th century....Among the Apostolic Fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective." Why does the internationally-known Swiss theologian Emil Brunner say that "It was never the intention of the original witnesses to Christ in the New Testament to set before us an intellectual problem-that of the Three Divine Persons-and then to tell us silently to worship this mystery of the "Three-in-One." There is no trace of such an idea in the New Testament. This "mysterium logicum," the fact that God is Three and yet One, lies wholly outside the message of the Bible. It is a mystery which the Church places before the faithful in her theology, by which she hampers and hinders their faith with a heteronomy which is in harmony, it is true, with a false claim of authority, but which has no connexion with the message of Jesus and His Apostles. No Apostle would have dreamt of thinking that there are the Three Divine Persons, whose mutual relations and paradoxical unity are beyond our understanding. No "mysterium logicum," no intellectual paradox, no antinomy of Trinity and Unity, has any place in their testimony....The mystery of the Trinity, proclaimed by the Church and enshrined in her Liturgy, from the fifth and sixth centuries onwards, is a pseudo-mystery, which sprang out of an aberration of theological thought from the the lines laid down in the Bible, and not from the Biblical doctrine itself." A fairly common position among scholars is the view that, while not specifically taught in the Scriptures, the "seeds" of the trinity doctrine are to be found there. This is equivalent to saying that the matter is one of interpretation. For every "proof-text" advanced as establishing the claims made by advocates of the doctrine, there are numerous scholarly works to show that the original Greek of those verses simply does not allow for dogmatic claims. So, it is not simply a matter of debating the contents of Watch Tower publications; one is obliged instead to argue with these recognized and qualified scholars. Since they are themselves trinitarians, why do all these eminent scholars make these admissions? It is not to their advantage to do so, and they clearly would not if honesty did not oblige them to do so.
Similar statements are found in virtually every reputable reference work I have read. It is strange that people who have allowed themselves to be indoctrinated by faulty argumentation from an obviously fallible Governing Body, will then let themselves by indoctrinated by argumentation that is equally flawed and accept as absolute truth a doctrine based on decisions by a governing body of the past, composed of bishops meeting under the direction of a Roman emperor.
I trust that your concern for letting Scripture guide your thinking will produce good results. Your concern for defending 'the faith once for all committed to the saints' being genuine, you will attain the growth and maturity where you will not think in terms of what one religious segment or the other teaches and espouses. It may take time, but with prayer and sincere effort based on faith you can attain that viewpoint which identifies you as follower of Christ and not of a system.
Thanks again for your interest and I wish you well as you seek to progress in knowledge and understanding.