Secrets of the Vine by Bruce Wilkinson
Secrets of the Vine, fortunately, is a vast improvement over its prequel, The Prayer of Jabez. Absent are the formula brand of Christianity, the exaggerated claims, and the ambiguity at every turn. Wilkinson is teaching principles of Christian living as found in John 15 and, in part, does a pretty good job. That is not to say, however, that this book is without major flaws. The difference is that with Jabez the errors just came pouring out like a rushing river, while in Secrets they are more like a gentle stream. You are not as likely to drown in a stream but you can still slip and do damage. Let’s take a look at some of the unbiblical statements and concepts.
- P. 39 – In the context of discipline Wilkinson writes, “I will only experience pain as long as I hang on to my sin.” How does he know this is true? God gives pain for a variety of reasons. Even in the realm of discipline the consequences of our sins might linger on for years after repentance.
- P. 46 – The author claims that there is a difference between chastening and discipline, when in truth, they are the same Greek word.
- P. 49 – “God would never hurt an innocent person to indirectly discipline a sinning person,” writes Wilkinson. Tell that to David and his infant son. I am not certain why Wilkinson is so willing go beyond Scripture and pronounce so boldly what God will or will not do, but this is a common thread running through all of his writings.
- P. 65 – We are instructed to place time limits and conditions upon God by praying, “If you do not show me within a week from today that it is discipline, then I will take it by faith that it is pruning.” Who are we to put God on the clock? How can we know with certainty that God has spoken (Wilkinson’s mysticism bleeding through again), and why does it matter if this is pruning or discipline? If sin is in our lives we don’t need a revelation from God; we need to repent and change.
- P. 72 – “While early pruning is mostly about your outward activities and priorities, mature pruning is about your values and personal identity.” Shades of Jabez! Wilkinson simply makes up this idea. Nothing in Scripture would support this view.
- P. 74 – “God doesn’t apply pain when a more pleasant method would do just as well.” Again we are in Wilkinson’s fantasyland. Paul would have certainly been surprised to find out that his thorn in the flesh was unnecessary, if only he would straighten up.
- P. 75 – We are told that “if you invite Him into your circumstances, He will keep His promise to work everything together for your good (Romans 8:28).” I assume this means that if we do not invite Him God won’t keep His promise. Yet Romans 8:28 is an unconditional promise to the child of God. Wilkinson seems to have a view of the Lord that is closer to that of an Islamic jinni than that of the biblical God. If we meet certain conditions, if we say the right magical words, if we jump through just the right hoops we have God cornered, and He must give up the goods. But if we don’t discover the “secrets” He can do as He pleases.
- P. 79 — Upon asking God, “What is next?” God answers him, “Your kids… give Me your kids.” How did Wilkinson hear God’s voice? Was it audible? Was it a little voice in his head? Was it a hunch? He does not say, but he is apparently convinced that God spoke to him. This is pure mysticism.
- P. 95,96 – Wilkinson is a man who loves “steps.” When he can’t find steps toward some goal in Scripture he feels perfectly at liberty to invent them. Here he tells us that “after discipline to remove sin, after pruning to change priorities [Jesus invites us to] abide in Me.” The text simply does not say there are three steps to abiding – it is possible to abide before or during discipline or pruning, as well as after. Wilkinson even develops this into one of his “secrets of the vine”: “If your life bears a lot of fruit, God will invite you to abide more deeply with Him.” On the contrary, we are simply told to abide. Jesus does not say abide after certain conditions are met, nor that there are different degrees of abiding (“more deeply, less deeply”). He commands us to abide, period.
- Pp. 102,106,113 – Wilkinson has confused genuine, passionate Christian living with mysticism. He often speaks of feeling the Lord’s presence, writing down what He says to us, learning to recognize God’s “still small voice.” We should distinguish Elijah’s hearing of the audible “still small voice” of God with Wilkinson’s presumably inaudible inner voices. While many in Scripture heard the actual voice of God, none ever heard these inner voices that so predominate evangelical circles these days.
- P. 107 – Just for good measure, Wilkinson throws in a bit of legalism. He has yet, he assures us, “to find a respected spiritual leader throughout history (no less) who had devotions at night” (in contrast to the morning). Like many of Wilkinson’s pronouncements, this one is poorly researched and lacking in biblical authority.
Having said all of this, it is rather amazing that in the first paragraph I commended Secrets as being superior to Jabez. This is the case, obviously, because of the almost heretical nature of Jabez, not because of the wonderful quality of Secrets. I suggest that the sincere Christian avoid both volumes.