Christian Discernment 101

Postmodern thought, post Christian culture, and inter-faith dialogue.
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This forum is for Christians to dialogue about non-denominational and inter-denominational issues including various Christian doctrines, canon law, and praxis.

This forum is also for Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists and people of other religions to engage in a positive inter-faith dialogue about both our common ground and our differences so that we might increase in our charity, compassion, and understanding with one another.

To help people in open forums wrestle with the idea of faith, Brian McLaren suggests that we focus on essentials and not debate minutiae - rather than old earth versus young earth, we should wrestle with larger issues.

The primary purpose of dialogue is to learn. In debate winning is the goal. In dialogue finding commonground is the goal.

A final note to Christians: A gracious, tasteful, thoughtful answer, even when expressing profound disagreement, is far more compelling than the unkind response which reeks of defensiveness or arrogance.
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Christian Discernment 101

Unread postby musicmonkey » Sat Feb 12, 2005 8:56 pm

Christian Discernment 101
An Explanation of Discernment by Denis Haack, Founder and Director of Ransom Fellowship

If anything is certain for Christians today, it's that we find ourselves living among people who do not share our deepest convictions and values. If we are to be faithful as Christians in such a pluralistic setting, we need to develop skill in discernment. An ability to respond winsomely to those who see things very differently than we do, instead of merely reacting to the ideas, values, and behavior of the non-Christians around us. An ability, by God's grace, to creatively chart a godly path through the maze of choices and options that confront us, even when we're faced with situations and issues that aren't specifically mentioned in the Scriptures.

This was what Paul wanted for the Christians who lived in the pluralistic culture of the first century. "We have not stopped praying for you," he wrote to the Colossians, "asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom" (1:9). J. B. Phillips translates it this way: "We are asking God that you may see things, as it were, from his point of view by being given spiritual insight and understanding." Os Guinness uses the term thinking Christianly, and defines it as "thinking about anything at all in a distinctly Christian way. Where our minds are so informed by the truth of God's word in terms of our assumptions and presuppositions that we increasingly see as God sees, though it will be in an imperfect way."

One way to develop skill in discernment is to recognize that being discerning is a process that involves answering simple but probing questions. The questions are simple enough to be taught to children; they are probing enough to help us get to the heart of whatever we are trying to reflect on as Christians. The questions can be learned and used, until with practice they become a habit, a way of biblically interacting with ideas and issues in a fallen world.

Our concern is not simply with isolated ideas, but with the whole of life and culture. The questions can?should?be asked as we scan the newspaper, attend a seminar, read a book, listen to a sermon, or talk with a neighbor. We need to be discerning about all of life and culture, because all of life and culture has been tainted by the Fall.

The process outlined here is not a formula or recipe, nor is discernment some sort of technique. Nor are we guaranteed that answering the questions will somehow make everything turn out well. Rather, as discerning Christians we may, by God's grace, be remembered as those who sought to be faithful.

This discernment exercise originally appeared in Critique #6 - 2000, pp. 4-5.

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Discernment Questions for Believers

What's being said? What is the nature of the challenge confronting us? What ideas are presented, or are implicit as assumptions? What's really at stake, or being requested, or argued for, or disputed?

What are the essential or foundational issues? What are the secondary or less important issues? It's vital to distinguish between the two, so we don't get distracted by things that may have significance, but are not of primary importance.

What is a Christian response? Notice we are concerned with "a" Christian response, not necessarily "the" Christian response. Minds renewed by the truth of God's word may not agree at every point on every issue, and there is room for diversity among the people of God.

Where do we agree? Where do we disagree? Seek points of agreement before identifying areas of disagreement. Christians have the unfortunate reputation of being unnecessarily negative and disagreeable, unlike Paul, who in Athens began his discussion with a pagan audience by finding a point of contact with them.

Why do we believe the Christian position? What reasons would we give?

How can we talk about and live out the truth creatively and winsomely in a pluralistic culture? Since most of our friends and neighbors see things differently, how can we make sure we are being understood?

Discerning Discussions with Unbelievers

When we talk with non-Christian friends about issues that matter, the discernment questions can be changed slightly to become a framework for discussion. (Note: they are questions, not mini-sermons.)

What's being said? What's the message(s) or issue(s)? Where do you agree? Where do you disagree? Why? Why do you believe that? What reasons would you give? What difference does it make in your life? How does this conviction or value change how you live or affect your choices?

Music Discussions

Because popular music are art forms, and not merely ideas, we can add a couple of questions to help us better comprehend what's being said in each case.

What is the message of the lyrics? How good is the poetry? What is the message communicated by the music? How good is the music? Does the music fit the words? How is the performance? Do I like it? What does that say about me?

Movie Discussions

What was your initial or immediate reaction to the film? Why do you think you reacted that way? What was it in the film that prompted that reaction?

What is the message(s) of the film, or view of life and the world that is presented in the story as it unfolds? Consider how the film addresses themes such as: the nature of reality or what is really real; what's wrong with the world, and what's the solution; the fragmentation of life in our busy, pluralistic world; the significance and meaning of relationships and love; the significance and meaning of being human; whether there is right and wrong, and how we determine it; the meaning of life and history; and what happens at death.

What is attractive here? To whom? How is it made attractive?

Where do you agree? Where do you disagree? Why? In the areas in which we might disagree, how can we talk about and demonstrate the truth in a winsome and creative way in our pluralistic culture?

In what ways were the techniques of film-making (casting, direction, script, music, sets, action, cinematography, lighting, editing, etc.) used to get the film's message(s) across, or to make the message plausible or compelling? In what ways were in ineffective or misused?

Most stories actually are improvisations on a few basic motifs or story-lines common to literature. What other films come to mind as you reflect on this movie? What novels or short stories? What Scriptures?
Last edited by musicmonkey on Wed Aug 31, 2005 6:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

scottfinn
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Great article

Unread postby scottfinn » Sun Feb 20, 2005 9:04 pm

Patch - that is an awesome article. The questions are great ways for us to figure out how we should respond. The one word that I grabbed on to early in the article is 'winsome'. Not flippant, but not fundamentalistic. Attractive, yet relevant.

I think I need to read it a few more times...

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Re: Great article

Unread postby musicmonkey » Thu Sep 08, 2005 2:57 pm

EgOshAkE wrote:I think I need to read it a few more times...


It's been half a year, Scott. Have you read it a few more times?

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Undiscerning Discernment

Unread postby musicmonkey » Fri Sep 09, 2005 5:51 pm

Undiscerning Discernment
by Ryan Hamm, Relevant Magazine

Discernment is a buzzword in evangelical culture these days. ItÂ’s used in describing how we should choose our friends, how we should go about deciding between good and bad and, in general, how we tell what God wants us to flee from and what He wants us to embrace. Discernment is a good thing; the Bible is filled with warnings against uncritically ingesting anything that we encounter.

Within the past 40 years, however, this word has become a casualty of the proverbial “culture war.” When evangelicals speak of “discernment” now, they typically refer to the ways in which we interact with popular and artistic culture. Namely, our “discernment” has been reduced to a set of formulas that decide whether or not something is immoral.

You see, in our biblical eagerness to discern what is heaven-sent and good for Christians to take in, we have lost our way. We have websites like Dr. Ted Baehr’s Movieguide.org and Dr. James Dobson’s Plugged In that, instead of delineating general artistic merit of things, thoughtfully tell us how many “s-words” are in a given film or album. In the name of discernment, we have lost the ability to discern good art from bad art—or reality from a happy illusion. We have lost the capacity to reach our culture because we have abandoned it.

I am not arguing for a rejection of a general conception of morality in our choices of art and cultural involvement. Rather, I want to suggest that, as Christians, we are equally as responsible to determine if art is creative or uncreative as we are to put an arbitrary moral label on it. Discernment means embracing art that reflects the values of a creative God who is interested in exposing the inherent sinfulness and sadness of human nature. To be truly discerning, we must take this into account, perhaps more readily than a vague statement for or against one side in the “culture war.”

According to Willowcreek Marketing, the Christian sales industry is a $4.2 billion market: music, movies, T-shirts, posters, gifts, church supplies, home-schooling curricula, etc. There is an overwhelming problem with this fact. Discernment in our artistic appetite has been supplanted by a hunger to buy and sell more “Christian” entertainment of dubious artistic value. Think about it: How many Christian pop products have you ever seen that have been artistically virtuous? Being generous, there may be 10 percent that actually possess an inkling of creativity. That means that 90 percent of the aforementioned products are horrible knock-offs of secular alternatives, or so shoddily done, they caricature our faith before the eagerly hostile eyes of the general.

Christian music is probably the arena in which real art is most visible within the Christian community; however, even in the music scene, I must seriously raise questions about the concept of a “worship industry.” How dare we make the worship of an Almighty God into a money-making industry, an industry in which any mediocre and tepid contemporary Christian band can resurrect its career with a well-timed worship album.

The list of poor discernment within Christian culture goes on and on. Our popular visual art is second rate; much of popular Christian “poetry” and “literature” is a sad joke; and the depth of our interaction with artistic culture in our churches is usually limited to vague, youth group references to Braveheart.

Christians have decidedly failed in discerning goodness in our art. In embracing a mediocre copy of an already mediocre popular culture, we have left discernment and turned instead to a dangerous isolationism that rejects the God-given power of art. Perhaps a complete paradigm shift is needed.

While I respect people like Dr. Dobson and Dr. Baehr for their deep Christian commitment and leadership, I would like to posit a small suggestion: instead of simply labeling some piece of culture generally “evil” because it contains “5 f-words and brief sexuality,” should we not also be equally discerning in our judgment of artistic merit (embracing good, creative art and rejecting bad, cliched art)?

With such discernment, evangelical culture would suddenly find itself embracing creativity and rejecting mediocrity. Million Dollar Baby would be a fantastic character study instead of “about” euthanasia; Ernest Hemingway would be celebrated for his unflinching portrayal of human hopelessness in a self-created world sans God rather than demonized as an agent of naturalistic fatalism who swears too much; and Radiohead’s Kid A would go from being a dark rumination on paranoid despair to a re-imagining of musical possibilities. Simultaneously, this new discernment would help us realize that critical thinking is not something to be afraid of. It would be nothing short of revolutionary, and it would be good.

Source: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/beta/pc ... hp?id=7019

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Unread postby scottfinn » Fri Sep 09, 2005 7:45 pm

It's been half a year, Scott. Have you read it a few more times?


Yes, in fact. And now you throw another article at me that I need to re-read. Thanks, David. Smile

I do appreciate the challenges that you bring to the forum. My problem with online stuff is that by its nature it is fleeting and easily clicked off. It's stuff like this that I need to handle the old fashioned way: I print it out and take a highlighter to it, to really absorb it.


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