Learning another language


Just started learning Chichewa/Chinyanja, more on that again. I’m fascinated by language(s), but have always found it quite a struggle to get to any level of proficiency. This time I thought I’d check out language learning methods. I’ve just finished reading Gabriel Wyner’s Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It (New York: Crown Publishing, 2014). It’s inspiring, though I don’t think I want to get all that many languages under my belt. But it is practical, and I’ve been applying some of the concepts and techniques to Chichewa with what I think are very satisfying results. I had tried to use Anki last year to learn Swahili and Russian, but hadn’t made much of a go of it, and have lost most of what I learned then. This time, I seem to be making great strides by taking on board Wyner’s tips and techniques for using Anki efficiently. I can definitely recommend Wyner’s book, even though at first I was very sceptical–I mean, he couldn’t be right, could he? But I think he is. Of course, you need to set aside time and put in the effort, but it seems to be working. After just 3 weeks with just about half-an-hour a day I feel I’ve progressed much further than my first year of French at school. I’m going to return to Russian and Swahili again using the techniques I’ve learned from Wyner and am expecting better results.



This blog is unashamedly biblical and personal. It comes principally from my reading of Christian Scripture and other edifying literature, though sometimes it may be a response to current events or media reports. Being personal it will necessarily be open to criticism for it is likely incomplete and may be mistaken. Often it may be nothing more than thinking aloud, but I do trust that it will be stimulating, and ultimately edifying, as I try to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2Co 10:5).

I’m happy to allow comments on my blog, but all comments are moderated. You can be critical or complementary, but I reserve the right to permit or deny without explanation. It is my blog, so I get to set the rules. I generally deny those that are simply gratuitous links to other blogs, and permit courteous interaction with my comments.

So much for the blog, but who am I? I hate to see postings by anonymous people, so at the risk of you stereotyping me, here’s the short version. I’m a part-time university tutor, part-time database and Web site developer/typesetter/accountant. The rest of my time I’m a full-time follower of Christ (is there any other kind?) who currently lives in the north of the island of Ireland. I’m in fellowship at Apsley Hall Assembly and like early brethren leaders have strongish calvinistic leanings. My preferred Bible translation is the English Standard Version (ESV), but I’m happy to read other translations, and frequently do. I just like to read a good, accurate translation, and find that the ESV is about the best available today for serious study of the Scriptures in English.

Peter F Whyte

Negative religion

In P. D. James’s A Taste for Death1 there is a brief conversation about religion between Miskin and Massingham. Drawing on her school experience in an inner city comprehensive with significant racial diversity, Miskin has decided that the school’s religion was ‘anti-racism’. It struck me how negative many people’s expression of religion can be. It can express itself in attitudes like anti-racism, or intolerant tolerance. Agnosticism is essentially negative, and atheism is the ultimate negative religious expression.

Such expressions of religion are centred around a negative concept, unlike Christianity. While Christianity has a negative component in an intolerance and hatred of sin, that is more than eclipsed by the many ‘positives’ in the character of God. The ‘negativity’ is a necessary consequence of the positive perfections of God (e.g. jealousy and love), but is not central to Christianity.

To dwell on the negative is to distort biblical teaching. And to ignore or diminish the negative is also to distort it. What holds the negative and positive together in Christianity is the self-revelation of the character of God which is perfect in all its multi-faceted aspects. This unity of God is reflected in his universe, so to live in his universe without recognizing the unifying effect of his character must surely be what fuels the distortion and emphasizes the negative.


1. End of Book Five, ch. 6 (London: Faber & Faber, 1986).

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.