Book Review: Carnival Mirrors

Carnival Mirrors, by Patricia Lyon

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/WestBow Press in exchange for an honest review.]

There are some people who should not be encouraged to become heresiologists in the manner of, say, Irenaeus.  This author, who is a self-proclaimed lay member with a holiness/Pentecostal background, has written this book out of her own experiences with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and being a person who is not herself particularly well-versed in the Bible, and at least acknowledging a heavy debt to the secondary sources she uses in this text, she does not pretend to write as a religious scholar but rather openly admits her background and approach.  This does not make her approach necessarily enjoyable to read, or necessarily edifying for believers, but this book is the result of someone who has no particularly illusions about her fitness as an author or a scholar but who feels compelled to help others out in her position [1], and there is something to be said for this book.  This is a book that allows the reader to see the interaction, and the seriousness of the author’s intents to understand and question Jehovah’s Witnesses and that is a worthwhile endeavor to read, even with the book’s imperfections, especially given how short the book happens to be.

The contents of this book are straightforward but pretty repetitive.  They basically consist of a more or less chronological detailing of the author’s involvement with JW’s and her attempts to follow up on some of the claims made by that sect about such matters as the Trinity and the nature of God as well as their coldness towards visitors, their lack of seriousness in Bible studies and their failure to perfectly live up to their beliefs about blood transfusion and avoiding military service.  The author tends to be a bit repetitive about some matters–for example, her comments on the Trinity, and her attempts to answer the JW statements against it, are as self-contradictory as that particular doctrine itself, in that she appears to commit the heresy of modalism in her comparison of the nature of God to the three states of water under ordinary temperature and pressure and attempt to explain the Trinity on the one hand while admitting that none of us can adequately and fully explain the nature of God.  Given the author’s general lack of scholarly bona fides, it is little surprise that she seems unaware of the danger of her lack of knowledge about the history of heresies that her attempt to defend Orthodoxy ends up in heresy, a fairly common fate for many people, it must be admitted.

There are really two fundamental critiques that can be laid against this book.  The first is that the author herself commits many of the same faults, especially with regards to a lack of charity, that she accuses the Jehovah’s Witnesses of.  As we have already seen she is as guilty of heresy regarding the nature of God with her modalism as the JW’s are with their Arianism.  The author makes far too much of the ad hominem defense of dubious aspects of her own belief system, including her unbiblical hostility to any drinking whatsoever, despite the Bible’s clear defense of the moderationist position and the anti-Christmas position of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is based on an accurate understanding of the heathen nature of many notionally Christian festivals and the way they are celebrated.  Instead of taking the JW rhetorical approach, as partial and dishonest and proof-texting as that approach may be at times, as a call to reflection and perhaps even repentance, she views it as a call to arms in which she is not fully equipped to defend the Orthodoxy she claims to espouse, much less the biblical religion that she believes she upholds in error.  That said, as an attempt to understand and wrestle with a competing faith tradition, this book at least makes an effort, and that has to count for something.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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