John Frye, a pastor, writer, scholar, and Scot McKnight, a New Testament and Jesus scholar and professor, both bloggers and friends, have recently been highlighting the high place they think discernment occupies in the Christian life. Both the Holy Spirit and the parables of Jesus seem to indicated the premium God puts on this. The Spirit is moving and in a sense unpredictable, and is a person, and therefore personal. And that not only to us as individuals, but as those together with others in Jesus. Parables were used both to conceal and reveal. To those who really had no heart for God and his ways, they would conceal. But to those whose hearts were opened to God, they would reveal, after some painstaking work in imagination. Jesus complained at his disciples for evidently not getting the meaning of his parables, asking them if their hearts were hardened so that they could not understand.
I do think discernment is a large part of what the outworking of the faith of Christianity involves. It is not so much rule oriented, though there are commands that are no-brainers such as, “Do not steal.” But at its heart it is interactive in following the Lord by the Spirit in community in mission. I think the heart of that is relational: to God, and to others. And having to do with love in those relationships.
Discernment involves scripture first, then tradition, reason and experience (called, the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” drawn from the writings and teaching of John Wesley). The last three may be in the order we would want to put them, but in reality, each are fallible. Whereas scripture itself as the word of God is not. However our interpretation of scripture would fit under the category of tradition, along with reason, and I think experience can and does affect it as well. And experience can involve feelings which arguably are intertwined with reason (stay tuned for an upcoming review on this book, which I think you’ll find interesting).
Discernment is needed to be learning how to walk in Jesus by the Spirit in everyday life. And it is needed when facing major decisions, or problems which leave one unsure on what to do, or how to respond. It seems like the idea of faith itself fits in well with the ongoing need for discernment.
I know I’ve thrown a lot out in this post over one subject. I find discernment particularly a need I have at this time. And I also see more than ever I think, the need for it in our everyday existence.
How do you see discernment as important for life and in your life?