Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Letter and Answer

The Letter:

Greetings Rachael and Bruce,
I received and read carefully the Barbour book. Again, I found it very interesting and well researched. You both have worked hard at unearthing valuable information about Barbour and the origins of his ideas and his efforts on behalf of them. I think it is good how you show that there were others around him who supported his conclusions, as well as those who disagreed with some of them, but still held to his general thrust. Combined with some additional thoughts you bring out in Separate Identity, the reader gains a good picture of who he was and what he believed. His connections with Russell are clearly researched and made plain.
There is one area that needs more development, if you would allow me to enquire. Toward the end of the book you state that Barbour gave up on the invisible presence idea (p 130). And, if I recall, in one of your statements you may have said that he also forsook the 1873/74 chronology.
Either one of these teachings, and especially both together, are central to who Barbour was and what he stood for and did that radically affected Russell and millions of people in their wake through JW efforts to our day today.
Therefore, you leave the reader hanging with the minimalist comment that Barbour gave up on invisible presence. What! How could he give up such a creative radical idea that Jesus was “walking” on earth? This was an idea that he and others in his circle believed and defended from the core of their being in the face of great opposition! Did he toss also his 1873/74 conclusions?
Since he did as you state, then please narrate how such a “switcheroo” happened. That must have been an existential crisis for him. What triggered it? And how did he prove himself “wrong”? What were the flaws he found in his own interpretation? Did it leave him denying his premise of a two stage advent; or what?
This also makes me ask what in the world did Russell think when he heard that the father of these beliefs had “proved” them “wrong.” How did Russell avoid falling down when this rug was pulled out from under him? Did he for a moment wish he have never read that first article that Barbour mailed to him?

Well, you can see, that your narrative caught me up in this drama of clashing ideas! What happened to Barbour that he was a Judas to his and Russell’s faith?
Thank you for your help in resolving the final chapter of this dramatic story.
The Answer:
Thanks for your kind comments. It’s always pleasing to know one’s work is apreciated. Before I answer your questions let me note that Nelson Barbour and Separate Identity (vol 1) are the first two volumes of a larger work. When complete it will be three books for a total of five volumes. So the story as you’ve read it is just beginning. Your questions are answered in Separate Identity volume 2. If our outline doesn’t radically change we address them in chapters three and four.
            I’ll omit all the details and tell you the basics. When 1878 failed to bring translation to heaven, they extended their system of prophetic time parallels to 1881. While all of them looked forward to 1881, there were a variety of expectations. Barbour and A. D. Jones believed that translation would occur that year. Russell believed the year was prophetic, but lacked an exact expectation for it. He was comfortable publishing a lurid article from Jones’ pen and Jones’ Fall of Babylon tract. But he personally had no firmly fixed expectation.
            Watch Tower theology evolved apart from Barbour. A key development was the belief that an initially invisible presence followed by Christ’s visible manifestation was wrong. Hints of a new understanding appear in various Watch Tower articles, and it is clearly stated in the fall of 1881. By September 1881 the official position of Zion’s Watch Tower was that Christ, a spirit creature since his resurrection, would remain such and as such would continue invisible. His parousia was an unseen heavenly event.
            These parallel events created a crisis for Barbour. He reacted strongly to the idea of a totally invisible parousia. He called it spiritism and published a pamphlet to refute the idea. The pamphlet has been lost. In short order he published a longer booklet against the idea.
            Barbour made firm statements about the nature of 1881, and what few followers he had expected to see heaven that year. This disappointment coupled with the previous failures killed his group. Fewer than 1000 remained, probably only a few hundred. (Based on a later article in a resuscitated Herald, I would guess about 200 faithful followers remained.) Barbour retained his newly found Age to Come stance, but adopted Adventist speculation about 1885-6. He was desperate enough to borrow from Thurman, another failed prophet. Principals in the Christian and Missionary Alliance also looked to that date. He returned to his previous belief that Christ would come in glory, abandoning (for practical purposes) invisible presence doctrine. Barbour saw each failed prophetic scheme as a step further into light. Miller had adopted a similar strategy.  
            Russell was more flexible than Barbour. Barbour saw himself as God’s unique last-days voice. Russell, in this era, didn’t see himself in this exact light. He knew that nothing in Barbour’s scheme was truly his. Russell’s approach to parousia came not from Barbour but from Seiss. The idea of a totally invisible presence developed in conversations between Watch Tower adherents. It was a scripturally based discussion. This is important. Even if one believes their exegesis fails, they discussed the issue from the Bible. Barbour used the Bible to fit his ideas. The 1873-4 date came to Russell first through Wendell. Though Barbour was the primary advocate, there were many voices pointing to that date, and Russell knew nothing of Barbour. Russell did not see Barbour as his spiritual father. Russell saw God as his spiritual father and himself as led by God. Russell was sorrowed by Barbour’s deflection and troubled by it. But he wasn’t shaken by it because he believed the message come from God through Christ.
            Even when he came to see himself as the Faithful and Wise Servant, he only saw himself as the servant of a divine message, not the originator of it. Barbour “consulted” only to promote his new doctrines. Russell actively sought the light others might possess, discussing with anyone who would difficult scriptures.
            The fundamental issue was view of self and message. Russell was confident of divine leading. Barbour thought he was semi-divine.

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