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10 Principles of Biblical Discernment – Part II7 min read

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This is the second of two posts – here’s Part I if you missed it.  I agree with jmb when he says in Ennui in the Evangelical Blogosphere that the following things bug him (and me), which is why I am adding this two part series:

  • The hand-wringing attacks on the new flavor-of-the-month theological crushes.
  • All the self-appointed watchmen who are alarmed by … everything.
  • Willful ignorance parading around as discernment.

Here’s the rest of my treatise.

6. Doctrine (content) may be refuted, but style and format is often inert

I’d like to plainly say – in communication, there is almost NO invalid form of communication, only objectionable content. Of course, in various contexts, some methods of communication might be invalid or poorly chosen, but the method itself, in the right context, with the right content, is almost always valid.

galli-SC.inddFor example, is Christian Rock evil because “rock music was borne out of rebellion”?  I don’t think so.  There is actually a valid kind of rebellion – a rebellion against the world’s values and demands. In fact, godly wildness is part of essential manhood – not the kind that defies the safety and rights of others, but the kind that eschews the superficial values and expectations of this world system in order to obey the higher laws and expectations of God.  John the Baptist, who lived in the wilderness and ate bugs and honey, and preached far from the apostate Temples of his day, is one great example of healthy rebellion.  I suspect John could have embraced rock music as a vehicle for expressing allegiance to God and rebellion against this world and its lies.

7. Modern does not equate to worldliness

One common mistake of traditionalists is mistaking form for content, and mistaking new and unfamiliar methods with those that are wordly.  This pattern is most obvious in the traditionalist’s approach to music.

During the late 19th century revivals in America and England, the Salvation Army was a hard core evangelical movement.  However, many new converts were ignorant of traditional church music, and so they began to use the music and common language they knew, and began expressing their newfound joy and faith using contemporary methods.  William Booth, head of the Salvation Army, was initially against it.  However, in a now fabled story, he “changed his tune” upon hearing a lovely hymn that turned out to be a drinking song with new lyrics.  He was then famously quoted as saying “Why should the Devil have all the best tunes?”  True.

George ‘ Sailor’ Fielder, the Commanding Officer, had been put up to sing. He had been a sea captain with a voice that had often been heard above the roar of the waves. (Forty years later he still had ‘ a voice like thunder and gloried in open-air fighting’.) He sang his testimony in the words, ‘ Bless His name, He set me free.’

‘That was a fine song. What tune was that? ‘ inquired the Army’s Founder later.

‘Oh,’ came the reply in a rather disapproving tone, General, that’s a dreadful tune. Don’t you know what it is? That’s ” Champagne Charlie is my name”.’ That’s settled it,’ William Booth decided as he turned to Bramwell. ‘ Why should the devil have all the best tunes?’

It may be noted, however, that Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer, did NOT put Christian lyrics to drinking songs, as many have claimed.  Too bad.  He did like drink, though.

8. Don’t just identity problems, offer solutions

Anyone can sit in their armchair and criticize, but providing solutions shows that you are interested in helping rather than merely telling everyone else why they are wrong and you are right.  Additionally, I find this aphorism even better than offering solutions:  Don’t just be a critic, be a model. Or, as Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see.”

9. Provide info for and teach others to discern – don’t patronize and make decisions for them

The real role of watchdog ministries should be to provide information, not decisions for the populace.  I mean, sure, they can make recommendations as a service, but really, it is infantilizing to merely provide your opinion without a consistent way of presenting the facts so that people can make up their own mind.

There are two groups of people and things: the good and the bad. Good is, well, good … and bad is off limits. The art of discernment involves examining them and determining which group to categorize them in. Everyone is called to make these category distinctions, but some of us are also appointed by God to make them for others. Because most people are undiscerning, it falls on the discerning few to lead the way, especially when it comes to exposing bad people and things that are generally held (by the undiscerning masses) to be good — the wolves in sheep’s clothing

If you really want to help people, you should teach them principles of discernment, then plainly exercise those principles in your own discussion as you present the facts.  And don’t forget to provide some counter-arguments, with a bit of a defense of the ministry or organization you are attacking.  It’s intellectually honest and personally gracious.

10. In confronting extremism, don’t present the opposite extreme, but the balanced truth

As one who is recovering from a controlling spiritual church, I know firsthand that people caught in extremism are usually caught in one half of a truth.  As mentioned in Is Man Basically Good or Evil?, most profound truths appear in paradoxical pairs, and heresies are usually created by groups who only take one side of the paradox.

Extremists caught in such unbalanced, one sided TRUTHS need to not only hear the other half of the truth they are missing, but they need to hear the truth that they have embraced affirmed – because they rightly KNOW that the thing they believe is true, and if you tell them that it is NOT, but YOUR part is the truth, they reject it because YOU ARE INCORRECT.


If you feel you are called to a ministry of discernment, take heed of these principles, and be wary of “touching the Lord’s anointed” (1 Samuel 24:6).  King David knew better than to attack Saul, even though he was a poor king.  Many preachers and ministries today DO need correction and input, but if all we do is call them heretics rather than humbly entreating them to change, with little desire other than to warn people away from them, we may be approaching the subject in a way that displeases God.  Now, sometimes, we should warn people away, but we should be sure to be majoring on the majors, not the minors, or as it is said

In the essentials, UNITY
In the non-essentials, LIBERTY
In all things, CHARITY