I Was Raised a Jehovah’s Witness. By Joe Hewitt. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997. 192 pp. Paper. $9.95.
In this revised and updated version of the 1977 book of the same title, Hewitt gives a frank and compelling account of his life as a Jehovah’s Witness and his subsequent persecution and excommunication after he decided to leave the cult. One does not have to be familiar with the workings of a cult in order to enjoy this book—Hewitt makes a point to explain what he has learned from both the history and theology behind the Jehovah’s Witness movement.
Hewitt’s writing style is quick and to-the-point. While never having dealt with a cult myself, because of the book’s smooth flow, I was nonetheless compelled to finish this book practically in one sitting. Hewitt spends half of the book giving an account of his spiritual journey—from childhood in the backwoods of Arkansas to his wayward search for life’s meaning throughout the country. He inevitably finds happiness as well as the true gospel and, once he believes, starts his own church in the family garage. Yet his dealings with the Witnesses never cease, as both he, his brother, and their sister deal with Hewitt’s mother and the Kingdom Hall back in Arkansas. Hewitt explains that once a Jehovah’s Witness leaves the cult, they’re viewed as one dead (worse than an unbeliever) and are forever ignored even by family. Hewitt’s own mother was pressured into ostracizing her children who inevitably left the cult, an event not without consequence as Hewitt saved his anger for the inevitable showdown with the cult’s pastor at his mother’s funeral.
The book is unusual as it is divided into two sections, the first dealing with Hewitt’s autobiography as he leaves the cult at an early age. Various facts and history explaining the cult’s movement are dispersed throughout Hewitt’s story, giving his account a place in any pastor’s library. The second half is the theological meat of the book, as Hewitt gives point after point as to how the Jehovah’s Witness cult is anything but Christian. Having never studied the cult in detail, I was encouraged to keep this book in my reference section simply because of how well it explains what the Witnesses do and do notbelieve. Specifically Hewitt shows that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in the offer of God’s free gift of eternal life. They believe that more than faith in Jesus is needed to make it into the coming Kingdom.
The Jehovah’s Witness lives his life hoping to earn an entrance into heaven, and this book gives some real examples of how miserable one can get in trying to do just that. What is most compelling is the many examples of actual Christians Hewitt encounters in his travels who do not share the gospel with him. Hewitt is left with little guidance as he continually moves from one town to the next, and I for one felt convicted in thinking of all the people I’ve crossed paths with who, like Hewitt, perhaps never had heard a clear gospel presentation before.
If you want to understand the workings of this popular cult, especially the problems and inconsistencies in its belief system, then give this book a read. Hewitt spends much time debunking the Jehovah’s Witness cult, and he even gives a reference section pointing you to even more insightful books.
While Hewitt is not consistent in his presentation of the gospel (sometimes he is clear and sometimes he is not), he does show a strong belief in the power of prayer as he credits his journey out of the cult to the consistent life-long prayers of a kind Christian, Mrs. Atchley.
One thing worth noting here is that a week after I had read this book, I spoke at a church where an older woman approached and asked me to pray for her. She explained that she had been free from the Jehovah’s Witness cult for over a year now but that she, like the hero in our story, was being viewed by her family as one dead. Her testimony hit home—the fact that Joe Hewitt is clearly one among many who have left the cult and are now feeling the retribution.
Dallas Theological Seminary