Author Archives: Peter Whyte

The Pundit’s Folly

Ecclesiastes may not be your idea of a good summer read, or a good read at any time of year. But over the summer I found it came alive in the hands of Sinclair Ferguson in an exceedingly relevant and readable way.

The Pundit’s Folly (Banner of Truth, 1995) is a short book of only four chapters, but Ferguson manages to get to the heart of Qoheleth’s (the name of the author and the title of the book according to the Hebrew) message in a concise way by looking at four man themes: eduction, pleasure, work, and success. He applies the message of the book forcefully, but graciously.

In the second half of the book, he expounds the Gospel clearly, taking Qoheleth as his starting point. This is a book that would help any Christian, no matter their age or spiritual maturity to gain a clear understanding of the message of the book of Qoheleth. Considering how modern, or perhaps postmodern, Qoheleth sounds, it is a highly relevant, if frequently overlooked, book in the Bible.

Ferguson’s book would also be suitable to give to a Christian who is struggling with their faith in any of the areas he covers. It would also be an appropriate gift for an unbelieving friend who is thinking seriously about God and these issues.

If you prefer audio to print, then Philip Ryken’s current morning sermon series at Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, is on Ecclesiastes, currently in chapter 9. I’ve also found it extremely helpful in getting to grips with the book.

A tribute to Christ

I’ve been reading Donald Macleod’s book Behold Your God (Fearn: Christian Focus Publications, 1990) with profit. Today, in chapter 4, in the midst of a discussion of the demonstration of the power of God in its primary manifestation in creation he says,

“We do not believe that God spoke the world into being because we have empirically verified that theory. We believe it on the testimony of God. In His Word He assures us that it is so. To put it otherwise: belief in creation by the word of God is part of the tribute we owe to Christ. It was what He believed: and our every thought is captive to the obedience of Christ.” (pp. 47-48)

Here is one more way of taking every thought captive. It had not occurred to me before to look at it in this way, and I’m grateful to Macleod for this insight. To take it a step further, of course Christ believed it, it was he who made the universe. Not to believe in what he had done would be a most peculiar way to think.

This is not some lame way of escaping from the plain facts of reality and settling for a weak fantasy. Macleod makes it clear: “Faith does not here indicate a different degree of certainty, as if knowledge meant strong conviction and faith something more hesitant.” (p. 47) Such faith is vigorous, based as it is on the strength of a different testimony to that of science. Indeed, the assertion of faith that God created is not open to science, it is beyond its remit. When scientists deny it in the name of science they have moved out of their discipline into the realm of religion, of scientism. We have the testimony of God the Creator, of Jesus the Creator, to creation. The strength of opposition to Jesus’ own self-testimony is no less strong today than it was when he was on earth (e.g. John 5:30-47). But what stronger testimony can there be to creation than the word of the Creator?

This reflection has reminded me of several prints that hang in various places in our home. They are by Steven Townsend, and each one is not only signed by the artist, but he has annotated his signature either with the initials “JTC” or the full phrase “Jesus the Creator”. You can enjoy the beauty of the creation of Jesus the Creator a little more by visiting The Townsend Gallery and viewing some of Steven’s most recent works (no personal connection, and no commission!). As the site says, the Web doesn’t do justice to the realism of the paintings, but even it’s inadequacy is mindblowing. Much more so the real thing.

A summer scene along the River Lagan, Belfast

A summer scene along the River Lagan, Belfast

Genuine spiritual experience

James Montgomery Boice tells of two stories recounted by contributors to a radio programme about spiritual experiences:

The first was a girl who explained how she had felt a sudden urge to leave her home in the northern part of the state [of California] and hitchhike down the coastal road. Halfway to Los Angeles she sensed that “this was the place.”  So she had the driver stop the car, got out, and went down the hill to the shore where she found a cave and camped out for a couple days. Then — because she thought God (or something) was leading her to do this — she went down into the water and mingled with the rocks and seaweed as if she were at the dawn of creation. Finally an animal came by, and she took this as a sign that it was time to go. She climbed the bank and hitchhiked back to northern California. That was her “spiritual experience.”

The other person I listened to seemed to be an older woman. She said she had her experience quite recently — on Election Day. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were running in that election. She said, “I have always been a Democrat, and when I went into that voting booth I was planning to vote for Jimmy Carter. But something happened. A strange feeling came over me and I pulled the lever for Reagan.” She did not say whether the influence she had felt was benign or demonic, but I think she believed it was the latter. \1/

A few pages later he recounts a biblical spiritual experience:

In 2 Peter 1, where Peter spoke about his special experiences as an apostle, he described the things he had that we do not have. He listed them beginning, “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (v. 16), that is to say, Our eyes actually saw Jesus Christ; and furthermore we did not only see Christ in the flesh, where his godhead was veiled, as it were, but rather in the moment of his transfiguration. He appeared before us clothed in light. And not only did we have this vision. We also heard a voice from heaven, and the voice from heaven said clearly (we heard it with our ears), “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (v. 17). \2/

This passage Boice refers to makes an important point, though it is not the point of his chapter, so he does not comment on it. But yet it illuminates a deficiency in his opening accounts. In both, there was a sense or feeling recounted, and in one there was something seen. Peter (and his companions James and John) certainly saw something very unusual on the Mount of Transfiguration. But the one component of their experience that sets it apart from many ‘spiritual experiences’ recounted today is the voice they heard. It was not a voice in their head, they were not mad. God pointed them audibly to his Son as the focus of that experience, and communicated to them his love for and pleasure in Jesus. What they saw was not enough. Nor what they felt. What they heard was vitally important. It was what set their experience apart from all others as an authentic, genuine experience of the Living God.

There are relatively few similar experiences in Scripture where people of God saw God’s glory or had an angelic visitation. Never was that the sum total of their experience. They never simply saw, or simply felt a presence. Always God, or his messenger, spoke, either to explain the experience, or to give clear and unambiguous instructions.

This was so from the first recorded meeting of man and God in the Garden after the fateful fruit had been eaten. When Moses saw the bush, he heard the voice. When Israel saw the smoke atop Mount Sinai, they heard the voice. When God displayed his glory to Moses, he spoke and explained who he was in simple, yet profound, terms. He did not simply show Moses a great sight. He communicated great truth verbally. Moses was not free to assign any meaning he liked to the experience. God explained the significance.

Genuine spiritual experience will always be accompanied by God’s explanation. Even today that will be the case. We will not normally hear his voice audibly, but our experience will be in accordance with the Word of God if it a genuine spiritual experience, and experience of the true and living God. It will not necessarily mimic an experience recorded in Scripture, though it may, but Scripture will make clear the meaning and significance if we submit to it. God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain.


Quotations from: James Montgomery Boice, Standing on the Rock: Biblical Authority in a Secular Age (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994). \1/ pp. 27-28. \2/ p. 30.

Guidelines for worship

I came across these wise words this afternoon:

— Guidelines for worship —
Be thoughtful, be reverent, be friendly,
For we meet together as the house of God.
Before the service speak to the Lord.
During the service let the Lord speak to you.
After the service speak to one another.

They are from the Reformed Baptist Church, Inverness, but they are applicable to every church that gathers together as the house of God.

The President and I

It came as a great surprise to discover that the soon-to-be President of the United States and I had anything in common beyond our humanity, given my abhorrence of his views on abortion, and his naivete about peace in the current eastern conflicts. But, according to an article in the New York Times, his mother-in-law will be living with him when he moves into number 1600.

Now in my second term (of having a mother-in-law in residence, not presidency) I feel uniquely qualified to give him some advice, should he feel the need. So, Barak, phone me anytime if I can be of help!

Of course, his White House is much bigger than our Whyte House, which may make some difference. He may never suffer from “mother-in-law fatigue”, such as a friend inquired about me a few months into my first term, on a day I must have been somewhat under the weather, from other matters I hasten to add.

Some time ago my first Sunday School teacher remarked how scriptural it was to have one’s mother-in-law living with one, given the experience of my apostolic namesake. I have been given to musing, in mischievous moments, and occasionally out loud, whether our Lord asked Peter if he minded him healing said mother-in-law. Perhaps I might be bold enough to ask in glory, though other more pressing and important questions come immediately to mind. And now more serious reading beckons . . . .

Quotable quotes

I always enjoyed the Quotable Quotes in Reader’s Digest when I was growing up. My uncle used to deposit old copies with me, so they were not the most recent editions, but I devoured them nonetheless. I still have a few remnants of them. The tear off reply slips from the front and back covers still serve as interesting bookmarks, with tempting offers like the new Janet Frazer catalogue, subscriptions to the Complete Works of Dickens, and emigration to Australia.

Over the years I’ve gathered my own favourite quotes, but never really managed to store them in any successful, systematic and easily accessible way. I could add them in this blog, but unless I can comment on them I’m not inclined to do that, since I don’t see a blog as a collection mechanism for quotations.

I recently stumbled on Quoty (not sure how) and have been entering a few quotations into it. It looks promising, so you may want to check it out, and even peek at my small, but growing collection. It’s online, so easily accessible when I’m not at my own computer, but more importantly it allows you to store a reference with the quotation. Not all the online applications seem to allow that, and one of the disappointments I have with John Blanchard’s otherwise excellent quotation collection, The Complete Gathered Gold, is that it only attributes the quotations to their author, without a reference to enable you to find them and read them in context. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and Proverbs, which I also own, remedies this defect. It’s author index is also a disappointing omission from the Blanchard volume. The Quoty tagging facility beats my cumbersome attempts at an Access database, for frequently a quotation needs to be filed under several subjects. Quotes can be exported in HMTL, PDF and CSV.

I’m planning to give it a go for a few months to see if it suits for longer term.

Complementary letters

I stumbled on an article by A. T. Pierson on the unity of Scripture tonight. It was published in Volume 7 of The Fundamentals, an original set of which I was given over a quarter of a century ago by a family friend, now in glory. I wouldn’t be keen on his dispensationalism, but I did find the following paragraph towards the end of the article a rather engaging summary of the New Testament letters:

The Epistles are likewise all necessary to complete the whole and complement each other. There are five writers, each having his own sphere of truth. Paul’s great theme is Faith, and its relations to justification, sanctification, service, joy and glory. James treats of Works, their relation to faith, as its justification before man. He is the counterpart and complement of Paul. Peter deals with Hope, as the inspiration of God’s pilgrim people. John’s theme is Love, and its relation to the light and life of God as manifested in the believer. In his Gospel, he exhibits eternal life in Christ; in his epistles, eternal life as seen in the believer. Jude sounds the trumpet of warning against apostasy, which implies the wreck of faith, the delusion of false hope, love grown cold, and the utter decay of good works. What one of all these writers could we drop from the New Testament?*

There is a good deal more in the NT letters, but this looks like a useful overview.

* Arthur T. Pierson, The Testimony of the Organic Unity of the Bible to its Inspiration, in The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, edited by R. A. Torrey (Chicago: Testimony Publishing Company, 1909-15). Vol. 7, Ch. 4, p. 68.

Fair Semblances

I’ve been reading Nathan Pitchford’s current book, an allegorical fantasy entitled Fair Semblances, for a few months now and thoroughly enjoying it. There are 20 chapters to catch up with, and regular fixes installments every Monday. I’ve been meaning to spread the word for some time now, and have finally got round to it. Some resolutions are best unmade, then they have more chance of being kept! There’s some great theological reflections on the blog as well as a great story. If you enjoy the book, leave Nathan a comment to encourage him.

A lesson in lion taming

C. S. Lewis ends the fourth chapter of Book I of Mere Christianity with a note on the supposed middle road between the twin alternatives of a universe viewed from the perspectives of materialism and religion. He dispels the notion that the Life-Force philosophy (a.k.a. Creative Evolution, or Emergent Evolution) is in reality a middle road. If the force is personal, then it is the same thing as religion, and if impersonal, then it is materialism by another name. He describes the pulling power of this view astutely:

One reason why many people find Creative Evolution so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences. (p. 34)

He sees so clearly that the thought of a great Force gives a sense of continuity and is somehow vaguely comforting when life is going well. But,

If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life-Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life-Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen? (p. 34)

The abundance of faiths in the supermarket of religion to which we trundle our spiritual trolleys bears out Lewis’s point well. Even dyed-in-the-wool materialists cannot escape the hope of this wishful thinking, so Dawkins calls himself a “cultural christian”, while all the time denying every doctrine of the Church. Let’s face it, science may have smells, but only liturgical Christianity has the bells and smells.

But it strikes me that such wishful thinking is not only to be found among nostaligic materialists who gravitate to the more liturgy-focussed Christian denominations. Even those of us who worship in more Word-focussed forms of service may be content with just the familiar cadences of the preaching. Once through the doors, we can be adept at turning the volume down, or even off, until next Sunday. It can be hard to tell whether it is a fix or an inoculation. However it is to be viewed, it clearly demonstrates that we have never answered Lewis’s question in another book, “Is he a tame lion?”