a review of ISOCF from amazon.com
|Reviewer: Jeff Chapman||(Nagoya, Japan) |
Throughout the 20th century, the Jehovah's Witnesses movement has attracted a great deal of attention to itself, both favorable and critical. In recent years, events surrounding the movement as well as the stirring of sentiment from those who have left the organization have precipitated a flood of related literature, in general written from a critical point of view. It is no small wonder that those who continue to hail the movement as representing God's vested interests on earth view this tide of critical thinking with a great deal of suspicion and even distrust. Yet it might be said that none of the writers of "worldly" literature have written with the unreserved compassion, scholastic authority, and from such a wealth of real-life experience stemming from many decades spent within the organization as has Raymond V. Franz. In his book, "In Search of Christian Freedom," Franz has brought together a rich array of background knowledge and memories of actual conversations with top leaders within the Watch Tower organization to squarely and thoroughly investigate the validity of the claims made by the movement. As with most related literature, the book makes use of old publications and documents which the organization has virtually buried through decades of organizational upheaval and policy changes. However, in addition to this, Franz reviews and tests the entire authority structure of his former religion and makes a solid inquiry into the general issue of Christian freedom as it pertains to other religious movements as well, using sound logic, Biblical and moral precedents. Not content to simply rehash the past faults and blunders of the Watch Tower organization, Franz digs deeper than the majority of literature of this genre, investigating why the Witnesses and members of other comparable religious movements believe what they do. On the whole, the samples provided are quite relevant, and the commentary is logical, valid, and thorough; although admittedly the book is text-heavy, quite serious in tone and requires a certain degree of patience on the reader's part to thoroughly soak in and analyze from a critical point of view. What "Christian Freedom" lacks in conciseness, however, it easily makes up for in its applicableness and depth of thought, challenging the reader at every bend in the course to investigate his or her own beliefs and to make an informed value judgment of the claims of the Watch Tower Society. It is for this reason that many members of the religion view the book and the author himself with a degree of loathing, even outright anger at his audacity to propose solutions or claims contrary to the organization. However, Franz makes no excuses, and his course of action is clearly documented throughout the book for each reader to fairly investigate. I could find absolutely no trace of sentimentality, hostility, or prejudice against the Jehovah's Witnesses or against any other religious group within the book. Franz' carefully-worded expositions on the Christian mindset and motivations for the Christian life will leave an indelibly strong mark on the reader who is honestly willing to investigate his propositions. After reading this book, I could find no reason to question the integrity of Franz' experience within the upper echelons of the Watch Tower Society, nor could I find fault with his candor and appreciation of the things which he finds to make life worthwhile. His experience has apparently strengthened his faith, rather than demolishing it... a refreshing point of note which should comfort readers who are hesitant to forego their faith in God, in Jesus as his Son, and as the Bible as the Word of God. At the same time, "Christian Freedom" leaves a great deal of room for the diversity of opinion and ideology, which Franz believes should exist as a natural product of the undiluted Christian faith. My main complaint regarding this book is the sheer bulk. Not content to leave out essential details at any rate, Franz has apparently sacrificed readability and simplicity of thought for comprehensiveness. I also think that some of the personal anecdotes in the book are beginning to show their age, as Franz left the Watch Tower organization in the early 1980's. (We might hope that Franz will be able to undertake future revisions himself.) As a manual which addresses the core issues which should be closest to the heart of those involved with the Jehovah's Witnesses or with any similar organization, however, I judge this book to be of inestimable value. For those who are actively questioning the validity and properness of submitting to religious authority or of ready-made religious systems for a meaning in life, I believe that one could hardly do better than to delve into this book.