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Nostalgia for TWI Research Raises Questions
Are you someone questioning the value of Biblical research done by The Way International (TWI) or groups run by former Way followers? I am. If you are, then what I have to say may interest you.
Why I have questionsMy name is Charlene Lamy Edge and I graduated from the Second Way Corps in 1973. My involvement with The Way International (TWI) was from 1970-1987. Like many who left TWI, I have tried to sort out my TWI experiences to learn their lessons, and while I consider my journey personal, some things I’ve learned may be useful to others. I write about my experiences and views when I can; some of my thoughts are posted here at the Greasespot Café (GSC) under the screen name, Penworks.
During the past few years I’ve read many comments from others who also left TWI. I’ve read them not only here at GSC, but at web sites of former Way followers who started offshoot groups, and at the Way Corps web site open to Corps grads. While reading, I've noticed a general theme cropping up in a number of them: a wish for "the old TWI days," and more importantly, a desire to re-create them. Because my interest lies in research and I see nostalgia for it in many people’s comments, I focus on that aspect of the “old TWI days” in this article.
Definition for nostalgiaMerriam Webster’s definition for nostalgia is, “A wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for a return to, or of, some past period or irrecoverable condition.” The “excessively sentimental” aspect of nostalgia is what concerns me. I think it can drive people to re-create their pasts in their current daily lives without evaluating their pasts first. I don’t think that is always a good idea. I admit I’ve experienced a wistful nostalgia for some of the more pleasant times I spent in TWI, particularly in the company of people who became my friends. The sense of shared community around a common goal bred cooperation. The sense of shared beliefs about the Bible engendered some thoughtful and spiritual attitudes. The sense of our shared love for God and for each other held us together. To appreciate those times and situations, however, does not, in my view, engender an excessively sentimental yearning for their return, which is impossible.
Extreme nostalgia is a problemUnlike appreciation for past experiences, I think that extreme nostalgia for them can drive people to re-create or perpetuate the past without examining it first. In the GSC topic/thread, The Way’s Good Old Days – Deluded Nostalgia, I used the word “deluded,” but I realize I should not be so judgmental. I do think, however, that extreme nostalgia has expressed itself in attempts to re-create the old TWI days, especially in spinoff groups operated by former members that do not seem to thoughtfully evaluate TWI research first. In doing this, it seems to me they are trying to rebuild or at least perpetuate the research (or a modified version of it) of Victor Paul Wierwille and the teachings and fellowships that naturally followed from it. In my view, the problem this poses is that TWI’s research has a fault with two-prongs.
The fault: TWI was not a Biblical research ministry even at its start. Usually the word, “research,” implies embarking on a study to find out what conclusion can be drawn from the evidence found from studying something. TWI was not a Biblical research group because of the following two issues that blend into one reason. I call these issues “prongs” because they are linked and go hand-in hand, forming what I call the faulty foundation of TWI Biblical “research.”
First prong: Fundamentalism - VPW’s research method started with his desired conclusion: the inerrancy of the Bible which he stated like this: The Bible is the Word of God so it is perfect.” That is not research. That is the end of VPW’s investigation of the Bible sounding like his beginning.
This kind of thinking appears to move from a premise - “The Bible is the Word of God,” - to a conclusion - “it is perfect.” This thinking is leading us in a circle. The first part of his statement “the Bible is the Word of God” is not supported; it is just repeated by stating: it is perfect. The belief in the perfection of the Bible is known as “inerrancy.”
VPW’s belief in inerrancy is a hallmark of Christian Fundamentalism (more on this below). But inerrancy of the Bible is a conclusion, as discussed above, and disqualifies TWI’s Bible study as research. People conducting Biblical research, or any kind of research, should not state their desired conclusion when starting the research because they do not yet know what the conclusion is going to be. That person would be looking for evidence to back up the conclusion they already believe is the true and correct one.
Second prong: A cult feature – the leader’s claim - The second prong of the reason for TWI not being a research group is VPW’s claim that God spoke to him as quoted in, The Way Living in Love , by Elena Whiteside, where she records VPW saying, “He [God] said He would teach me the Word as it had not been known since the first century if I would teach it to others.” (p178). I believed this, like many other followers. When VPW staked this claim, I think he, consciously or unconsciously, deliberately or not, put himself in the inerrancy category just as he put the Bible in the inerrancy category.
VPW, rather than using an open-ended method of research, not only used inerrancy as his springboard for research, but also made frequent claims that “the Father” (God) showed him what the “accuracy of the text” should be whether there was an actual text in existence to show it. At times, he even claimed a certain interpretation as “The Word” and then would tell his research assistants to go find a text to back up what he was saying. Those of us who witnessed this and participated in it are many; some descriptions are found at GSC; also, taped Corps teachings often record statements like this. Eventually, it became clear to me that his study method was not research.
In my view, the two prongs, Fundamentalism and Cult leader claims, are so entwined it is impossible to separate them. They form one faulty Biblical research foundation.
About boundariesPart of the nature of TWI is having a belief system and like any system it has boundaries. Within these boundaries, certain kinds of Biblical study questions cannot or will not be answered, questions like: Where did the idea of inerrancy originate? What is the story of how we got the English Bible? Other religions say their holy books are God’s Word, too, so which book is? Don’t other religions offer some value to civilization as well as Christianity? No matter what any of us think about these questions, from what I’ve seen, any answers to them lay outside the boundaries of groups like TWI. TWI’s is a closed-boundary study approach. On the other hand, open-ended research, as described above, invites inquiring minds that want to know. It has nothing to fear from any question.
No nostalgia for TWI’s brand of Biblical ResearchWhen I recall my TWI experiences, they mostly revolve around this so-called research. When I left TWI in 1987, I left because I realized I could no longer function within the boundaries of its Bible study system. I invested 17 years of my life in a cause that I now understand was based on faulty premises. Some people have asked why I left. My answer seems best told with my story, rather than an explanation. In brief, from August 1984 – August 1986, I worked on The Way’s Research Team, contributing to their Aramaic projects. I was scheduled to work one more year on them, but instead I resigned. What happened during those two years lies at the heart of why I left, why I entertain no nostalgia for TWI “research,” and why I do not cling to the false notion of VPW as my “father in the Word.” TWI spinoff groups and other Fundamentalist groups hold no interest for me, either.
Although I once thought researching the Bible was possible at The Way, I came to see that while it may have offered some interesting studies about Oriental customs and figures of speech and gave classes in languages used in the texts, it was not doing research. The kind of study it was doing comes under the umbrella of Fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism and TWII remember VPW often denied the label of Fundamentalist, saying that because he promoted studying figures of speech and oriental customs in the Bible he wasn’t taking the Bible literally, which is a trait of Fundamentalism. Okay, that sort of sounded like a real defense. But as I began looking into the topic, I found there was more to it. In James Barr’s outstanding book, Fundamentalism, published by The Westminster Press, 1978, he paints a good picture of this kind of extreme Fundamentalism within Protestantism. All of these aspects apply to The Way:
a) A very strong emphasis on the inerrancy of the Bible; the absence from the Bible of any sort of error.
b) A strong hostility to modern theology and the methods, results, and implications of modern critical study of the Bible.
c) An assurance that those who do not share their religious viewpoint are not really “true Christians” at all.
And from the Introduction to my all-time favorite by Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God, A History of Fundamentalism, here are a few words:
“One of the most startling developments of the late twentieth century has been the emergence within every major religious tradition of a militant piety popularly known as “fundamentalism.” Its manifestations are sometimes shocking… It is only a small minority of fundamentalists who commit… acts of terror, but even the most peaceful and law-abiding are perplexing, because they seem so adamantly opposed to many of the positive values of modern society. [They] have no time for democracy, pluralism, religious tolerance, peacekeeping, free speech, or the separation of church and state. Christian fundamentalists reject the discoveries of biology and physics about the origins of life and insist that the Book of Genesis is scientifically sound in every detail.”
From my experience, I can say The Way fits this description. There’s no doubt that Fundamentalism is a big subject, and quite frankly it is beyond the scope of this essay to fully describe. Each of us has our own level of interest about this topic, so I’ve included a book list below if you want to get further understanding.
The baby and the bathwaterIn 2004, a short memoir I wrote titled, An Affinity for Windows , was published in an anthology by Red Pepper Press, Winter Park, Florida. It may show better than tell why I lack nostalgia for “the old TWI research days.” I am certain that others will disagree with me, saying I’ve “thrown the baby out with the bathwater” when I left TWI - the baby being TWI’s Biblical “research;” the bathwater being the organization founded by VPW that promoted it. Since I think the baby and the bathwater go together, yes, I did “throw them out.” In my opinion, to perpetuate TWI “research” or modifications to it by building offshoot groups, no matter how sincere or well-intended their aims, is an ill-advised effort. I feel that a better approach is the open-ended research that allows curiosity about any topic. That was the approach I adopted after leaving TWI. At the end of this article, I’ve listed some of the books I’ve read during this process.
Honoring our pastSome of the books I read on the list below helped me gain understanding about TWI so that I could get to the point of writing, Affinity for Windows . After its publication in an anthology, I began expanding on it. I hope to finish a book version of Affinity for Windows in the near future. My thoughts on writing a memoir are captured nicely by Patricia Hampl in, I Could Tell You Stories:
"If we refuse to do the work of creating this personal version of the past, someone else will do it for us. That is the scary political fact. 'The struggle of man against power,' Milan Kundera's hero in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting says, 'is the struggle of memory against forgetting.' He refers to willful political forgetting, the habit of nations and those in power (Question Authority!) to deny the truth of memory in order to disarm moral and ethical power. It is an efficient way of controlling masses of people." p32.
Charlene L. Edge
Here’s a reading list that may be useful:
Fundamentalism by James Barr (My first teacher on the topic. Fond memories here.)
The Bible - A Biography by Karen Armstrong (Brilliant. Lovely writing; short and to the point. A bird’s-eye view in only 229 pages.)
The Battle for God - The History of Fundamentalism by Karen Armstrong (A must, since if we don’t learn from history we are bound to repeat it. And we are…)
Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Elliott Friedman (Enlightening study about four documents combined to make the Old Testament.)
Wide as the Waters – The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired by Benson Bobrick (An excellently researched history and blew my mind.)
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell (A classic and a must!)
Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman (Real examples showing it’s hard to know what Bible texts really say because of competing translations.)
Lost Christianities – The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew by Bart Ehrman (Essential in my learning about what happened in the first few centuries AD.)
The Spiral Staircase - My Climb Out of Darkness by Karen Armstrong (A memoir of her leaving the convent. It parallels some former TWI people’s experiences.)
The Word by Irving Wallace (A novel. I’ll tell you something: I read it while still on the Research Team and nearly had a nervous breakdown – in a good way.)
Note: My affiliation with The Way International is documented in the following Way International publications:
The Way Living in Love, Elena Whiteside, 1972, The Way, Inc., American Christian Press, New Knoxville, Ohio. (Only Charlene’s first name is used.)
The Way Magazine (two issues): January/February 1984, Into the Second Decade, pages 14-16. In the July/August 1985 issue, I authored, Studying with a Purpose and a Plan, page 26, and I appeared on page 30 as a contributor to The Concordance to the Peshitta Version of the Aramaic New Testament.
Copyright 2009 Charlene L. Edge
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Last Updated ( Monday, 02 November 2009 )