Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Why Are Discerning People So Mean?

Tim Challies has just finished publishing a book about discernment. It's getting rave reviews and I hope to read it. Challies is currently on a blog-tour answering questions about his book. Recently Justin Taylor asked him this question, "As the World’s Most Famous Canadian Reformed Blogger, you seek to practice discernment as you critically engage culture and review books. Having now extensively studied the concept of biblical discernment, I wonder what implications you think this has for “discernment blogging”? In part, I’m thinking of “watchdog” blogs and bloggers that have “discernment” as their primary focus. Speaking generally, what are they doing right, and where do they need correction?"

Here is Challies' insightful response:

One of the questions I was forced to ask as I wrote a book on discernment was this one: “Why are so many discerning people so mean?” If you go looking on the Internet for discernment ministries or discernment blogs, you’ll quickly realize this is exactly the case. There are many people out there who, to borrow a phrase from one of my favorite bloggers, “give discernment a bad name.” Many, and perhaps most, of the people who emphasize discernment do so in a way that seems entirely lacking in grace. You’ll find all kinds of web sites that list all of Christianity’s authors with a list of their supposed flaws and foibles. You’ll find blogs that catalog lists of the offenses of every major Christian author or ministry. And all this is done under the banner of discernment. For the sake of my own sanctification and to ensure that I do not succumb to listening to all manner of gossip and speaking evil of others, I have long since had to cease visiting many of these sites. I suggest that others do the same.

I think there are several reasons that people who emphasize discernment can become so mean. But perhaps the primary one is this: the Bible makes it clear that as Christians we are to focus on the things that are good and lovely and pure and true. When we disobey God in this way and focus constantly on what is evil, it seems clear that we open ourselves to a kind of spiritual oppression. Constantly dealing with matters that are evil will inevitably damage us. As I was studying discernment I continually came across a metaphor which said that people who are being trained to identify counterfeit currency are taught not by being shown stacks of counterfeit money, but by being trained in the defining characteristics of real money. I visited the Bank of Canada (the body in Canada that is responsible for our currency) and found that this is exactly true. When people know what to look for—when they know the marks of genuine money—they rarely have any trouble distinguishing between true and false. And the same is true when it comes to spiritual matters. Rather than constantly looking for examples of a lack of discernment, we should focus on things that will build faith rather than threaten to extinguish it.

So while I appreciate that there are many bloggers and webmasters and others out there who are interested in guarding the church and who value being able to see in the black and white terms so necessary for biblical discernment, I believe we have not properly done our task of discernment until we have spoken the truth in love. Love may be tough, at times, but it must still be present. I think many of these blogs and ministries would do better to model discernment
than to continually show only the end result of their own attempts at discernment.


At 11:21 AM , Blogger Ted said...

I was searching on the internet this morning about the meaning of discernment to gain more insight about the gift that I feel God has given me. More than a comment, I state rather a question within my self. Pehaps this is the wrong place to comment. However, when I come into contact with people, I can sense whether they are "good" or "bad" spirited people. Of course this is outside of the church walls. I wouldn't even know how to begin using it in the church. It hit me hard when I saw your title "Why Are Discerning People So Mean?".
In one example, I have told my wife after meeting someone for the first time, that I do not think that is a good person, especially for our daughter. She says I am too critical of people, I should give them a chance. However, as it turns out, my discernment is right every time. Over time she eventually agrees with me after the "damage" has taken place. I know I should work on this gift to the glory of God. As you said "When we disobey God in this way and focus constantly on what is evil, it seems clear that we open ourselves to a kind of spiritual oppression. Constantly dealing with matters that are evil will inevitably damage us". I will pray about it and work to further this gift as I gain understanding. God bless you for you and your ministry, and thanks for your posts.



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