Applying Discernment – Far From Simple

If there is one thing that the discernment debate between the Pyromaniacs and myself has confirmed these past few days, it is surely that discernment is far from easy!! It’s a good thing Tim Challies has written a book on it. I really like the following extract from his book, which I think totally sums up what I think has been happening over at the fire-lovers’ place. Of course, the whole point about wisdom and discernment is that it is very situational, so I am quite sure that some others see things very differently from me on that matter! Please note that I am not trying to claim that Tim would or should side with me in this debate; rather I am choosing to apply these words to the situation at hand as they seem relevant to me.

“It is easy, when attempting to be discerning, to neatly categorize people into two camps: safe and unsafe or good and bad. We then implicitly trust the people in the good camp and entirely reject anything said by those in the bad camp. To do so, though, is to ignore the common grace God gives whereby even those whose views are far different from our own can still be wise and can still speak the truth. While we need to read their words with care and discernment, we can and often should still read their words. We need to rest in the security of the Spirit’s guiding and protecting ministry in our hearts rather than in sheltering ourselves from views that do not always accord with our own.” (Tim Challies in The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment)

Tim then goes on to quote Dennis E. Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology and Academic Dean at Westminster Seminary California, in an article on Common Grace and Theological Scholarship as follows:

Dennis E. Johnson, Ph.DWe cannot simply compile a list of “safe” authors, stamp them with the Reformed equivalent of imprimatur or nihil obstat, and then confine our reading to them. We must do the hard work of exercising discernment—sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, argument by argument. Facts, insights, perspectives, and methods must all be tested in the light of the principles of Scripture. And we must keep alive our consciousness of dependence on Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Our safety is not in avoiding the ideas of the unbelieving world; our safety is in union with Christ, who transforms the mind of those who trust in him.

There is hard work to be done in sorting and sifting the teachings of other humans, especially when we realize that we cannot simply cubbyhole the unpleasant or challenging ideas away and ignore them. But this hard work, like other exercise, gives us the necessary muscle tone to serve and lead God’s people. “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14).

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