Friday, November 23, 2007

"Biblical" Modifiers and Discernment

Of the many oddities of post-Christian culture, many in the church seem to have also inherited a tendency towards a type of postmodern discernment (or lack thereof). Postmodernism prefers intuitive reasoning and many Christians who have been raised in the era of postmodernism prefer it as well. "Heart knowledge" is preferred to "head knowledge" in many denominations, thus many Christian leaders actually teach this kind of subjective reasoning and validation of truth. Also consider that we are now bombarded with considerably more information that we can reasonably consider, and ideology is now marketed right along with goods and services. If we possess adequate discernment skills, we may have no time or opportunity to objectively evaluate things, especially ideas.

We Christians fall prey to this all the time. It’s very easy to assume that when someone uses the same type of religious language that we are talking about the same religious concepts. This is increasingly not the case in our information-driven world. Christians even capitalize on this, using the emotional connotation of certain words and concepts to package their beliefs. Trusting the language of the heart can pull us into subjective reasoning if we are not discerning. Also, if we trust the source of the information, we also let our guard down, assuming that we don’t have to critically evaluate new messages. When we trust language, even when we have great confidence in the source, we make ourselves vulnerable.

Koukl has this to say about the virtue of objective discernment:

"The point is, when the Bible talks about discernment - when it talks about assessing spiritual things - it's talking about a rational assessment based on objective criterion. You can't be "too much in your head" when it comes to spiritual discernment. Using your head is spiritual discernment, if you're using the truth properly….

Hebrews 5:14 chastised those who ought to have been teachers of the Word, eating meat instead of drinking milk. Then it says, "...but solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil." So the discernment here is not subjective; it's objective. It's using the knowledge and practice of the truth of the Scriptures to develop an ability to objectively discern right from wrong.

Then I looked up the word "discernment." There's only one use of it, Philippians 1:9-10. It says, "...this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ."

Here, discernment is coupled with knowledge resulting in a morally excellent life. Discernment is knowing what's right and what's wrong. We get that from the Scriptures, as Hebrews 5:14 points out. Sounds like an objective assessment to me.

Then I looked up the word "test." There are fifteen verses that use this word, but only one that applies to our issue. In I John 5:1-3 it says: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because there are many false prophets gone out into the world." Now we're getting warmer, I thought, testing the spirits. Surely now we're moving into subjective.

Not so. Read again. The next verse says, "By this you know the spirit of God. Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God." Hmm...not a subjective test here, but an objective one, once again. "

(Excerpt from "Discernment: Head or Heart" by Gregory Koukl of Stand to Reason)

Make an effort to be more discerning about language and what the source may be trying to connote. Examine the message against the truths of Scripture. Challenge yourself, too. Shine the light of Scripture on all of your beliefs, particularly those that you identify as pure and perfect examples of Christian ideals. Make sure that all you identify as Biblical really is. Be sure that you’ve not followed your heart into a place of objective rest and ease. Your own good mind and reasoning, renewed in the Word, will guide your heart into knowledge of truth.

(If a concept is Biblical, won't the truth of it be perfectly obvious to the Biblically well-informed without the modifier? What are they trying to accomplish with that modifier?)

Think about it.