February 2, 2010

Is Discernment an Art?

A little evening rambling: Today, while reading a book review on The Shack, it dawned on me that even the most learned, godly men of our modern generation have slipped into using terms that are man-centered to explain spiritual things. The book review was entitled, "The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment" It was a very good review in most other respects. However, the title and the concluding comment which read, "The popularity of this book among evangelicals can only be explained by a lack of basic theological knowledge among us -- a failure even to understand the Gospel of Christ. The tragedy that evangelicals have lost the art of biblical discernment must be traced to a disastrous loss of biblical knowledge. Discernment cannot survive without doctrine.

Reader, I ask you "Is discernment an art?" I think not. You can know doctrine inside and out--even teach at an seminary; and, have little to no discernment. There are scholars world-wide who are full of doctrine and yet completely void of discernment. On the flip-side; I have known many a babe in Christ who have had more spiritual discernment than many seasoned church goers. They knew very little doctrine, and yet when they heard or read something that was contrary to the truth revealed in the Word, they knew instantly that something was not quite right with what they heard or read--even if it was very subtle in its error. They didn't know exactly why it sounded wrong, and they could not articulate why it was wrong--they just knew that it was. That is discernment.

I don't think that the lack of discernment in the evangelical community is due to a lack of doctrine (although that is clearly a problem); I believe the lack of discernment is a spiritual problem. I purpose that true discernment is not an art. Discernment is a gift from God. Let us ask our Lord to guard us from thinking that we can, in and of ourselves, perfect the "art of discernment".

Calvin touched on this in the following excerpt from the Institutes:

Without the light of the Spirit, all is darkness

What the Apostle here denies to man, he, in another place, ascribes to God alone, when he prays, "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation," (Eph. 1: 17.) You now hear that all wisdom and revelation is the gift of God. What follows? "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened." Surely, if they require a new enlightening, they must in themselves be blind. The next words are, "that ye may know what is the hope of his calling," (Eph. 1: 18.) In other words, the minds of men have not capacity enough to know their calling.

Let no prating Pelagian here allege that God obviates this rudeness or stupidity, when, by the doctrine of his word, he directs us to a path which we could not have found without a guide. David had the law, comprehending in it all the wisdom that could be desired, and yet not contented with this, he prays, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law," (Ps. 119: 18.) By this expression, he certainly intimates, that it is like sunrise to the earth when the word of God shines forth; but that men do not derive much benefit from it until he himself, who is for this reason called the Father of lights (James 1: 17,) either gives eyes or opens them; because, whatever is not illuminated by his Spirit is wholly darkness. The Apostles had been duly and amply instructed by the best of teachers. Still, as they wanted the Spirit of truth to complete their education in the very doctrine which they had previously heard, they were ordered to wait for him, (John 14: 26.)

If we confess that what we ask of God is lacking to us, and He by the very thing promised intimates our want, no man can hesitate to acknowledge that he is able to understand the mysteries of God, only in so far as illuminated by his grace. He who ascribes to himself more understanding than this, is the blinder for not acknowledging his blindness.

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