No harvest from imported vines

In my reading through Isaiah I came this morning to this passage, which I feel may be a message for the church in Britain (and maybe elsewhere) today:

You have forgotten God your Saviour;
you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress.
Therefore, though you set out the finest plants
and plant imported vines,
11 though on the day you set them out, you make them grow,
and on the morning when you plant them, you bring them to bud,
yet the harvest will be as nothing
in the day of disease and incurable pain.

Isaiah 17:10-11 (TNIV)

Here is my comment on these verses, taken from the comments on Isaiah which I have been posting at qaya thoughts:

Human attempts to import new ways of producing fruit will look promising but ultimately come to nothing.

If the church is to produce any real and lasting fruit, it needs to avoid relying on imported techniques, and to remember God himself and rely on the growth which he will bring.


My blogging is branching out in yet another new direction. Just a week after launching qaya thoughts, I have agreed to be a contributor (and in fact I seem to have also become an administrator) to Wayne Leman’s new blog Complegalitarian. This is intended as a spin-off from Better Bibles Blog, where I have long been a contributor, as a forum for discussions of gender issues, especially the debate between complementarians and egalitarians over gender roles in the church and at home.

I have just made my first post at Complegalitarian, Michael Kruse on “head” as a metaphor in Greek.

Does the Gospel change our lives?

This is the basic question to which Joe Dongell is trying to answer in a pair of lectures posted at Ben Witherington’s blog.

Too often the Christian message is presented along the lines that if we believe and/or do the right things now, everything will turn out all right for us after we die, but that we should not expect anything to happen to us before that. We should of course attempt to stop sinning and do good Christian things like going to church. But the only changes in our lives will be what we bring about ourselves; God does nothing for us, at least nothing which we can perceive, until the day of our death.

Dongell argues for a very different version of the Christian gospel, in which believers can expect God to act in their lives to make a real change in them. Continue reading

My personality type

Things have been quiet here. I have been remarkably busy considering that I am effectively without a job at the moment. I have been posting daily thoughts on my readings on Isaiah at qaya thoughts, but as noted in the tagline there these are unpolished thoughts, and in fact not very profound especially if read outside the context of my thinking about such matters.

Part of the reason I have been busy is that there has been so much to read on other blogs. Among those has been Wayne Leman’s post on Bible translation and personality types, which has prompted lots of comments and several posts on other blogs (such as here and here, but none of them are showing up as links). I am still waiting to see how Wayne can link the two halves of his post title. I commented giving my own personality type, but well down in the comments so probably most of you won’t have spotted it. Anyway, I couldn’t put in a comment the following graphic which summarises the results.

Click to view my Personality Profile page

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qaya thoughts

I have just started a second blog, qaya thoughts (rhymes with “higher thoughts”), which is intended as an online journal, of thoughts arising mostly from my times of prayer and Bible reading. I will not be taking as much care there as I try to here at Gentle Wisdom to present these thoughts carefully, logically and consistently.

Many of my qaya thoughts will be notes from my Bible reading. I have started this blog to coincide with starting to read through the Old Testament prophetic books, beginning with Isaiah. Please note that what I am writing there is not intended to be proper exegesis of the original meaning of the passage; rather it is how I believe the Holy Spirit is wanting to apply the passage to myself and to the church and the world today. In seeing this modern application of Isaiah as primarily to the church I am by no means ruling out its applicability to Israel both in Isaiah’s day and today, nor to the first or second coming of Jesus.

These thoughts, especially those which are more like contemporary prophecy, have mostly not been tested by others. And so I can give no assurance to readers that they are genuine messages from God, and not from other places such as my own imagination. But I offer them in the hope that at least some of them will be helpful.

My longer term intention is to host qaya thoughts on the same server as this blog, Gentle Wisdom. But there are some technical issues to be sorted out first. So I am temporarily hosting it at The URL will probably change in due course (see also the UPDATE below).

Note that I also blog from time to time at Better Bibles Blog and at TNIV Truth.

UPDATE 5th October: updated with new URL for qaya thoughts, see this announcement.

Why I am not a Calvinist

I’m sorry if I lost some of you my readers in my previous posts about five-point or TULIP Calvinism, including the one about the spoof that wasn’t. I know that for some of you these are burning issues which you know all about. But I’m sure that there are others among you who have little knowledge or interest about these matters.

I will here state openly that I am not a Calvinist, neither five-point nor anything else. A post today by Ben Witherington has reminded me of why not. If God has predestined everything, the fundamental basis of the Calvinist picture of reality, this implies that he has predetermined all the kinds of disasters which are so common in this world, and indeed every bad thing which happens. This makes him the author of evil. But this picture of God is in absolute contradiction to the biblical picture of the character of God who is both just and loving.

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The spoof that wasn't

Doug linked to a post The Day I Became a Calvinist at Parchment and Pen which he seemed puzzled by. I read it and decided that it was a rather convincing spoof, a reworking of a testimony of how someone became a Christian into a story of becoming a Calvinist. Among the clear signals of it being a spoof are the introduction, illustrated by the picture “The Scream”:

There are a few things that people never forget. The details of certain tragedies and trials stay by your side and the vivid details remind you of their significance.

This is followed by examples: 9/11, the death of a sister … and the day the author became a Calvinist, presented in the context as the greatest tragedy and trial in his life!

Not recognising the name of the author, C. Michael Patton, I judged that he was a non-believer or a rather liberal Christian who wanted to mock both Calvinism and testimonies of conversion.

It was only when I started to skim through the comments (over 150 in three days) that I realised that people were taking this seriously. Had the commenters not spotted that this was a spoof? Then Patton himself joined in. Was he just keeping up the joke? I still wasn’t quite sure until I posted my first comment asking explicitly if this was a spoof, to which Patton replied:

Peter, I am not sure what you mean. Maybe it was a bad post, but it was meant to be “a day in the life” type post. The scream is illustrative of how many people handle unconditional election.

Well, I get the last part, for hearing too much about that doctrine makes me want to scream. But I don’t see how Patton, as confirmed his further comments, fails to recognise how good a spoof this is. After all, it’s not that he doesn’t have a sense of humour, for he appreciates Tominthebox News Network.

If you are not a Calvinist, do read it as a spoof.

If you are a Calvinist, please explain to me why becoming one can be listed as a tragedy and a trial.

For my own take on these issues, see my previous post.

A TULIP by any other name …

… would it smell just as unattractive? (Apologies to Shakespeare – some of us Essex people have heard of him, even if we don’t win Big Brother.)

I couldn’t resist this title, so I decided to use it as an excuse to comment on the discussions on five-point or TULIP Calvinism which are going on at Ancient Hebrew Poetry (completely off topic for that blog, so don’t be scared to read this if you don’t know any Hebrew), at Metacatholic, and in a long comment thread on this very blog.

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Forgotten Ways

This is not actually a follow-up to my post Forgotten fruit, more to Why does a believer believe?

I thank David Couchman, via a comment at Kouya Chronicle, for introducing me to Alan Hirsch’s blog The Forgotten Ways. I have yet to look into what Hirsch is teaching in any detail. But the interesting extract from his book here is enough to show that he is putting forward a model of missional Christian practice which looks very different from traditional church life, a model which is designed not for maintenance but for rapid growth. The extract is well worth reading, if you are prepared for your church to be turned upside down!

I was struck by this from one of the most recent blog posts, belief in belief:

I have been hanging around Evangelical circles for most of my Christian life. but truth to tell, I was brought to the Lord by some real crazy, chandelier-swinging, Pentecostals. I had a really profound, life-defining experience, through their amazing ministry. They didn’t seem to know much about the faith, but they knew the Holy Spirit. But the interesting thing is that I have come to conclude is that they were real God believers. The comparison with my Evangelical brethren is that I think they can be described as beliving in belief in God. A whole set of ideas, dogma, and doctrine provides an screen of objectivity between the believer and God. Perhaps this is a way of mediating the ‘danger’ of the God experience. But while theological understanding is gained, immediacy is lost through the objectification of God and the God experience. the loss is great. … I have come to conclude that real Penties believe in God, while good, solid, Evangelicals believe in belief in/about God.

Indeed. I hope this is not true of all Evangelicals, but it does seem rather true of some. But on this comparison I think I can honestly put myself as not a good solid Evangelical but a crazy chandelier-swinging Pentecostal. Indeed, I can’t see how anyone can become a believer in belief. But, as I have described, I can see that as someone truly meets and experiences God they can come to believe in him.

Intercessory prayer and a relationship with God

Eclexia writes with insight and honesty on Prayer wanderings and wonderings. I am glad that she found helpful the following comment which I wrote on another blog, and which I repeat here for the record:

Intercessory prayer is hard to reconcile with any systematic theology. That is because we come to these matters with what Charles Simeon called “proud reason”, setting up theological systems which end up contradicting the Bible.

To take this further, I would say that we need real humility in our prayer. Certainly we should not try to manipulate God into doing what we want. We should not claim that we understand what prayer is all about. Rather, we pray because God tells us to, and our hearts tell us to. And our intercessory prayer needs to be firmly grounded in a close relationship with God, one where we can pour out our own hearts to him and also connect with his heart for us.

In fact I share many of Eclexia’s difficulties with prayer. Continue reading