I suspect that the topic of discernment is one that, while important, is not often examined by Christians. That this is the case is evident when looking at life in our mainline evangelical churches. Anymore, anyone that mentions that name of God or Jesus is considered part of the crowd. Too often, barely any thought goes into which shepherds the flock is following or which wave the church is riding.
It’s a bit scary that I remember the last time I heard about a book on the actual topic of discernment. True there are many books critical of unbiblical theology, and for good reason. What we don’t see are book written on how to think about these matters Biblically. In this respect, “The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment” by widely-read blogger, Tim Challies, provides a good entry into a seldom examined and yet critical aspect of Christian life.
For the most part Challies is clear and gets quickly to the point. On occasion authors seem the subject accessible enough that the reader doesn’t feel overly challenged. It is a strength for an author when they can make a useful book understandable and not overly daunting. This is nearly the case here, though it is offset by it’s isolation in the landscape in Christian publishing.
My favorite chapter, Chapter 8’s “The Dangers of Discernment”, is a wise anticipation of the abuses of testing all things. Every discipline suffers from under use. In American culture, under use of discernment is the spirit of the times. However, those pockets of hyper-vigilance have historically bred the disdain for doctrine that is so popular today. Challies lists several kinds of abuses in discernment that pain me to agree. For my money, I’d like to see future printings use a larger font for this entry.
This book, short as it was, probably could have been a bit shorter. At several points throughout the book I wasn’t convinced that subsequent points were distinct enough to warrant elaboration. The final chapter, an exercise in practicing discernment, went counter to the simplicity of the book by rolling through seventeen steps.
Challies’ book makes a good tool for ministering to fellow believers who need to be introduced to discernment. Where I see this book being most useful is for a particular Christian demographic: mainline evangelicals who have not learned to be critical thinkers. Many of these Christians do not read outside of popular Christian literature if they read at all, they consider theology proper inaccessible and even divisive, and they tend to value the unity of the visible church above truth or being “correct”. Furthermore, this book would be very helpful for folks who are moving out of churches where there is not a premium on connecting theological dots and into congregations that encourage more intentional biblical consideration. Challies can be helpful in these cases because it is not heavy handed and yet it makes a convincing case.
[this review is written by Matt Fudge. Matt is a deacon at Omaha Bible Church, Omaha, Ne]