Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Discipline of Spiritual Discernment

Book Review of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment by Wayne Layton[i]

The topic of discernment is rarely dealt with in the current Christian climate. Judging from the shelves of most local bookstores the need for discernment is increasing while the ability to discern is diminishing. Even Christian bookstores are not immune to the propagation of error. Given what Paul told Timothy in the first century I suppose that this phenomenon should not come as a surprise.

"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables." (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NKJV)

Tim Challies book on discernment is a reminder that the Christian has a duty to discern truth from error. Citing Romans 1:31 Tim reminds us that the undiscerning are included among those sinful people who practice evil. He rightfully concludes that the lack of discernment is at the very least evidence of spiritual immaturity and worse may be evidence of spiritual deadness. (Pages 26-30) On the positive side spiritual discernment is an indication of spiritual life, growth, and maturity. The charge from the writer of Hebrews is appropriately cited.

"But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." (Hebrews 5:14, NKJV)

Tim defines discernment as “the skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong.” (Page 61) Discernment rightly focuses on a practical application of truth. The goal of discernment is to make Biblically informed choices between truth and error. In order to achieve this goal one must have achieved some proficiency in the truth, as noted in Hebrews 5:14 above.

On page 93 Tim states that, “the practice of spiritual discernment is founded on a belief in the existence of both error and truth.” The culture in which we live is quick to find shades of gray, but according to the Scriptures those shades are only the faint uncertain shadows between the clear distinctive tones of black and white truth.

" This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth." (1 John 1:5-6, NKJV)

Most people will appreciate all of the anecdotes and illustrations included in this resource. One the helpful analogies used to help the reader understand the concept of discernment is that of determining counterfeit money. Apparently Tim did his homework on this one and his experience of learning how to distinguish counterfeit money from genuine money as taught to him by the Bank of Canada is helpful. He shares his lessons learned from the experience on page 142.

“First, it quickly became apparent that identifying counterfeit currency is not an exceptionally difficult task and certainly not one that only experts can master. Second, I learned that people who create counterfeit money typ­ically invest minimal effort in creating a reproduction of the genuine currency. Third, I learned the importance of identifying a number of characteristics of truth. These characteristics will be present when something is true and will be missing when something is false. And finally, I learned that in discerning what is true from what is false it is best to focus more attention on what is genuine than on what is counterfeit.”

Tim suggests on page 162 that, “Those who wish to be discerning…must commit to reading and studying the Bible, to participating in the local church, and to pursuing the character traits of a Christian.” This advice is consistent with the teaching of the apostles and the practice of the early church. Given the technology of our day it is easy to drift away into a virtual Christian world. I am an advocate for technology such as the internet to advance and supplement communication within the church, but nothing replaces our need for each other in our spiritual development.

"And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:24-25, NKJV)

This book is written on a popular level so you do not need to be an expert in theology to understand this concept of discernment. As Tim has demonstrated you also do not need to be an expert to discern good from evil. You just need to be grounded in the Truth.

"but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen." (2 Peter 3:18, NKJV)

[i] I read a “pre-release” copy of this book so the page numbers may not be correct.

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