Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, by Tim Challies

I first stumbled across this book when my twin reader, Lisa, reviewed it over at 5 Minutes for Books. Then I read Tim Challies article on The Shack. Then I read The Shack. Then, of course, I had to read The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment for myself. Now I have done so and I have to say that this is...well, . . . this book was just phenomenal (and I don't say that lightly). It's a relatively short book, being only 184 pages long. Normally I would breeze through any book of that legnth but, ironically, very much like The Shack, it requires a careful reading. There's just so much there.

One of the best things about this book is that it is filled with Scripture. Scripture defends Challies writing which should be the case for any author. Because of Challies use of scripture, I find myself with little to say in such a review but merely repoint out the scriptures he references to explain why discernment is both (generally) lacking in today's society and why it is an essential trait of any believer.

Here are a few of the notes I made while reading the book:

Ephesians 5:8-10 (primarily) - Children of God are to be discerners of evil, avoiding the darkness and exposing the light. (Light = life.)

"Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish between good and evil." Heb. 5:14

Quote from book: "By practicing spiritual discernment we guard the Gospel, the message of eternal life. The Apostle Paul, writing to his young protege Timothy called him to do just this in both of the letters to Timothy recorded in scipture." (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14)

"Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil." 1 Thess. 5:21-22

". . . be wise to what is good and innocent as to what is evil." Romans 16:19b

"The relationship of truth to error is such that we can best know error by knowing truth. The opposite is not true." (page 102)

"Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." Matt. 10:16

Primary reason to read this book: To understand that there is a Biblical command to know right from wrong and good from evil. Challies does discuss the fact that there are spiritual giftings and some people are gifted "above the norm" when it comes to their ability to be discerning. However, he affirms that it is the responsibility of each and every Christian to seek truth in all things. (Just as we are all called to love, and are all called to go forth and share the gospel, etc. etc.) In other words, the gift may manifest itself in some individuals more strongly - but none of us are exempt from required participation!

This book both motivates and encourages the believer to seek truth. Challies encourages his reader to make it a habit to research statements and form conclusions over whether something is right or wrong. In fact, in the end of the book he offers some examples and exercises that the reader can engage in to help prompt discerning thought. (That felt a little strange to me but at the same time, I understood the point and know people who would find a "test" example to be useful so I'll go with it.)

The two things which he addressed that I found particularly useful were the areas of "gray subject matter" (e.g., when something doesn't strike you as being black or white but falls into some kind of gray category) and the topic of falling into ridiculous arguments with little to no merit.

On the topic of gray subject matter (any long time reader of this blog will quickly note that I seldom, if ever, see gray and most often see things in black & white) he says that it does exist. At the same time, he admits that it's hard for him to see it. (HA!)

What he does say is this (on pages 105-107) in my loose quotes:

* Rarity. It is important to emphasize that truly gray matter (emphasis mine) are rare. Most times they exist because we have not done enough work to clarify them or because our own sinful desires have interfered and have interposed themselves between black & white.

* The Fall. Grayness is a result of the fall.

* Clarity. When seeking to discern gray matters, begin with what God made clear in His word. Start there.

* Humility. Gray areas give us the opportunity to express the fact that we do not see with the clarity of God.

* Dependence. Gray areas give us the ability to depend on God.

* Conscience. Gray areas show a need for a developed biblically informed conscience.

So yes, it does exist but it's personally satisfying to me to note that it's as a result of the fall. (Laugh if you will, scowl if you won't - I found that comforting. Maybe you have to know me and my sense of humor . . . ) For the record, sometimes I DO see gray. But when I feel or see the gray I sense the spiritual battle and quickly like to land on black or white to feel like I'm on solid ground again. I find stark oppositions strangely comforting. Yes, that may be weird!

The next important issue was in being caught up foolish arguments or conversations. There are some conversations that happen within the church or between believers that really serve no great purpose because scripture is very clear about certain positions. Let's take the following made-up example. (It's not that great of an example, but work with me here.):

- Say for example that someone wants to argue that the sky is red. But what if it could be red? What if at the dawn of creation it was actually red? What if in Heaven the sky is red? Then can we argue that the sky is red?

Well, no. That would be a silly argument. The sky is not red. It is blue. I suppose we could argue the point but it would be a waste of time. The sky is very clearly blue.

I was recently approached with an argument over whether or not we can be perfect here on earth because Jesus was and scripture says we are to be like our Master (with Matthew 10:24-25 given as an argument). Personally I find that to be a silly argument because scripture is very clear that we are born in sin and conceived in sin and we will die because of sin. HOWEVER! I am very happy to support the argument that we WILL be made perfect and whole. (1 John 3:1-2) We just have to die first. Which is a bummer for some of us, eh?

"Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature." 1 Cor. 14:20

Don't be wise in error. Be wise in truth. If we seek out truth, we will expose the lies. We do not need to seek out the lies to expose the truth. Do that and you probably will be blinded by the lies - or at least partially so. If you study and apply truth, untruth will fall away. It's the safest possible way to avoid the evil in the world and remain innocent of it -- focus on the truth!

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phillipians 4:8

(You'll note that "false doctrine" did not fall on the Think About This list. With rare exception, we should remain focused on the source of truth and not the deviations away from it.)

Jesus did not come to bring peace (hold on there, bud! wait until I finish my sentence!) but came with a sword to defeat sin and untruth and declare righteousness and proclaim truth. (Matthew 10:34-42) He didn't waste His time with untruths. (Matthew 16:23; Matthew 4:1-11) Instead, Jesus quickly shut untruths down. When Satan tempted Him (Matthew 4:1-11) He quickly pointed out to Satan how the Word of God was being manipulated in such a way as to form a tempting untruth. He did not dilly dally along saying, "Hmmm, that's an interesting way to phrase that. Tell me, what made you think of it that way?" No. He looked at Satan and spoke the truth of God's word. And what happen? Satan went away.

That's exactly what I want. I want to see the truth so clearly that when it is spoken, untruth (and evil) falls away. I want to live to see and become more like Jesus who correctly discerned right from wrong. I want to be as humble as He was to and I'm telling you now I'm prone to failure (both in thinking right thoughts and in being humble!). But it's what I want to do and to be. I want my heart to be set aright and focused on the Savior and Maker, who knew no sin. Not that I will see perfection on this earth but that perfection and satisfaction in Heaven will be my joy and my prize and that I will run this race diligently - keeping my eyes and ears and thoughts in the right place. (Hebrews 12:1-12)

I found this book enormously helpful in clarifying many of my thoughts and making my pathway a little straighter. For that reason I am thankful. I am encouraged. For that reason I heartily recommend this book! This is the kind of book that I liked so much that if I could afford to buy everyone I knew a copy -- I would!


Lisa Spence said...

Great review! Maybe we need switch yours out for mine? You are so right, this book is both timely and relevant to our current Christian culture--how we need to be discerners of Truth in the midst of so much half truth and outright falsehood!

Ronnica said...

I want to read this book! I first started reading his blog when I found his review of The Shack.

Katrina @ Callapidder Days said...

Just read this review again (after clicking over from your year in review post). I'm more sure than ever that I "need" to read this book. Between you and Lisa -- you have me convinced!

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