When Being “Discerning” Isn’t, Part 2


In the first part of this limited series, I talked about how we Christians often make pronouncements that eliminate all genuine discernment. Today, I want to expand that post and note how easily we fall into ghettos of thinking that harm our ability to engage a dying world for the better.

As if perfectly anticipating this post, the following showed up online:

A recent article on the CNN website entitled, “More teens becoming ‘fake’ Christians,” drew my attention to a book written by Kenda Creasy Dean, a United Methodist minister and Princeton seminary professor. The author’s credentials, I have to admit, initially set off my alarm bells, signaling “liberalism alert.”  Yet I am very, very glad I kept reading.

The author of that statement is the chancellor of the strongly evangelical Patrick Henry College, Michael Farris. His “Are We Becoming a Nation of ‘Fake’ Christians?” is worth reading.

Fact is, for the educated believer, plenty of articles are worth reading.

But you wouldn’t always know that from the way some Christians talk and act. The statement above that grieves me is this: “The author’s credentials, I have to admit, initially set off my alarm bells, signaling ‘liberalism alert.'”

Fortunately, Farris decided to keep reading.

But many Christians never get that far. Too many of us naturally assume that nothing “the other guys” have to say is worthwhile. We can’t learn anything from “them,” so let’s stick to “our” stuff and disengage the rest of the world.

If we want to know why our country is in trouble, this is one of the major reasons. We stick with a party line and never once ask if the other party has anything worthwhile to say. Simply granting that they may will get us labeled “traitor.”

Or “heretic” in Christian circles, which is about as low a label as a supposed believer can receive.

In those Christian circles, we just substitute different labels than the political ones. Let’s try a few and see how they read:

“The author’s credentials, I have to admit, initially set off my alarm bells, signaling ‘charismatic alert.'”

“The author’s credentials, I have to admit, initially set off my alarm bells, signaling ‘Calvinist alert.'”

“The author’s credentials, I have to admit, initially set off my alarm bells, signaling ‘Emergent alert.'”

Now some may consider the above overkill, yet every day I read blogs written by Christians of one sect/denomination/belief or another, and this kind of thing goes on all the time. Instead of adding “Yet I am very, very glad I kept reading,” the conversation stops right there.

The reasoning? Discernment.

But stopping right there and blaming an inability to engage the ideas of someone who thinks differently from us is not discernment. The Thinker by RodinIt’s small-mindedness. In truth, it’s a form of willful ignorance.

Worse, the tendency is to fall into a perpetual state of ridicule. Some people DO keep reading, if only to add more grist for their predisposed mill.

The problem is that people who think differently from us, even Christians who think differently from us, may still have valid points we need to consider. No one is wrong on everything. Ignoring those who think differently or lampooning their most obvious errors without considering areas in which they may be correct (because that would get us labeled “soft” or something worse) is the height of spiritual pride and sloth. It is in no way being discerning.

Somehow, Paul was able to wade into the very midst of the philosophers and speak to them about Christ, even using some of their own illustrations to do so. Somehow.

Wouldn’t it be great if…

…the charismatic open-mindedly read Dietrich Bonhoeffer?

…the Calvinist open-mindely read Watchman Nee?

…the Emergent open-mindedly read John MacArthur?

Wouldn’t it?

Instead, we increasingly see people retreating to their own little ghettos of thought and practice, and the conversation either gets more shrill or it ceases altogether. When that occurs, problems go unsolved, community dies, and everyone retreats to his or her own bunker.

People who think differently than I do have helped shaped my Christian walk for the better. If it were not for them challenging the established way I thought, I wouldn’t be the Christian I am now. And the only way I got that bettering was by engaging hard and radical ideas that put my existing belief system under a microscope.

Yes, that’s scary. Yes, that raises the potential that my carefully crafted persona of perfection will come crashing down. Fact is, for most of us, that persona does need to come crashing down. We all need to admit that we could stand to learn a few things. We all need much more humility.

The worst thing we Christians can do to our perceived foes  in the public square is to call for their silence, to stick our fingers in our ears, or to resort to shouting them down. None of that shows any discernment. It’s just childish.

Francis Schaeffer wrote extensively that we Christians cannot be afraid of ideas. We must also not be afraid of genuine truth that may show holes in our own beliefs, even if those truths come from “the other guys.” Our holes don’t necessarily mean that we are wrong, only that greater truths and understandings exist, and we must understand them for what they are and how they may help us bolster our own understanding of what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely,  commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.

11 thoughts on “When Being “Discerning” Isn’t, Part 2

  1. TonyP.

    Good points, Dan. I was previously a proponent of wandering quickly away from anything that smacked of “different” from my frame of reference. Being exposed to various other views on things, whether I agree or not, has done wonders for me.

    Isn’t it supposed to be iron sharpens iron? If we continue to just follow along with what we perceive as the truth, without ever allowing for exposure to contrary views, we are essentially trying to sharpen our iron with itself.

    Try bending a knife in half to sharpen the blade….

      • TonyP.


        For me at least I think it was the fact that my faith seemed to be a game of Jenga and was ever so wobbly. I was afraid that if I ventured out of the “norm” I would gleefully run down the road of heresy.

        Of course none of that is helped when the other folks around you have the “our way or the highway” mindset, complete with approved reading lists.

        Maturing in the Lord is a GOOD thing, and exposure to other ideas is a HUGE part of that IMO.

  2. Jeremy


    I agree with you completely. I grew up with one denominational line of thinking and things just felt incomplete. I had so many questions and uncertainties. I think part of the danger we face in our little isolated circles is that we season our teachings with a touch of fear. It is a fear that we tend to install to keep our congregants on our side, if you will. If we want them to stay Baptist, Pentecostal, or Methodist we may place a little warning about how those other folk out there don’t have it quite together. If we survey outside of our little circle of brethren we may fall into a trap or something.

    My greatest experience of growth in faith and relationship with God was when I began to listen to others outside the circle of those “anointed voices” (you know the particular ones that every denomination says you’re allowed to use). I tend to shy away from groups who have their “chosen ones” and treat you like a threat if you have a wider range of voices you listen to and weigh. (I do recoginize that a list of trusted authors are often given as guidelines).

    I have found the truth seems to usually exist somewhere healthily in the middle. We must weigh it all and as our brother said above, allow our iron to be sharpened. Eat the meat and spit out the bones, someone once said. I have had some of the most extraordinary conversations and answers to questions when I have sat down in respectful dialogue with Baptist, Methodist, Anglican, Pentecostal, Charismatic etc. brothers and sisters in Christ. Every group has voices that have so much to say and consider. It’s so refreshing.

    Lastly, we all need to stop acting as though we have the monopoly on truth. None of us have it all figured out and there is not one denomination or church who knows it all. The Holy Spirit doesn’t just speak to Pentecostals and Charistmatics. He doesn’t just speak to Baptists and Presbyterians. He definitely doesn’t speak to Congregationalists however. Just kidding!


  3. Great post. We have changed churches recently and are in discussion with our church leaders, clarifying some of the beliefs of the church. Your post is such a great reminder to stay humble in this and be open to what may be uncomfortable to me at first. Thanks.

  4. Thanks for the post. I appreciate the thoughtfulness. As one who used to be a zealous and very proud black/white type thinker and debater, I can attest to the need for the type of thought you’re arguing for here.

    It’s taken a long time and some hard knocks to realize many issues are simple on one level and yet profound and quite complicated on another.

    The last commentator is most correct in suggesting we need humility…and prophetic (little ‘p’) in suggesting we will have it forced on us. All to true I’m afraid.

    Thanks for the encouragement. I wandered here from Sola Dei Gloria where your blog is linked.

  5. Chris

    Charismatics don’t open-heartedly read Bonhoeffer? Someone forgot to tell me. I suspected I was out of the loop. You’ve now confirmed it.

    Seriously, good post.

  6. The Internet is such a weird place.

    For example, take person X. This X could be filled in with practically anybody, great or small, but especially so if X is someone even modestly well known. Now if I go by some websites, I would guess that X is a truely godly minister, blessed and used by the Lord in a variety of ways, a true minister of the everlasting Gospel. But if I go by other web sites, I would guess that the same X is really the most wicked, apostate, deceiving kundalini-inspired-spawn-of-Satan-evil-incarnate Ultra-Heresiarch ever to walk the face of the earth.

    So going by the Internet gets to be kind of confusing. However, I think it should be possible to compile statistics about all this, and devise a “DIRE” index number, DIRE standing for “Discernmentalist Internet Ratio Estimate”. It measures your evilness versus your goodness ratio, computed as follows: DIRE = (Number of websites damning your ministry)/(Number of websites endorsing your ministry). Let’s say X has 2015 websites condeming him, but has only 128 websites saying he’s an Okay Good Guy. In this case X’s DIRE = (2015/123) = 16.38211382113821. Truely in this case, with a DIRE well over 1.0, Mr. X must be very very evil. On the other hand, Dan Edelen’s DIRE might work out to be more like 0.14159276, which show that he doesn’t have too much evilness about him (although some experts say the cutoff should be more at 0.12 and therefore Dan’s DIREness is a tiny bit suspicious.)

    How about joining me is a grand project? Let’s compile a list of all the “big names” in Internet Christiandom and tabulate the web statistics and compute the DIREs for all of them. That way we can dispel all doubt and confusion by publishing our Official DIRE Directory of Who’s Who.

    It would be progress.

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