From the Archives – Can We Be Discerning Without Being Judgmental?

Good judgment is a function of wisdom, and exercising it—in the form of discernment—is a Christian duty. The Psalmist prays for discernment (Psalm 19:12), Proverbs exalts it (Prov. 14:8), and Paul prays that believers will abound in it (Phil. 1:9).

Tim Challies’ definition of discernment is as good as any I’ve seen (I have not yet read the book):

Discernment is the skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong.

But sometimes when we think we’re exercising discernment, we’re really just being judgmental. We’ve taken a noble and nurturing love for truth and turned it into something ugly, harmful, and infectious. Those who are most zealous for truth and discernment may well be the quickest to stumble into judgmentalism.

So how do we tell the difference? How do we actively practice discernment (Heb. 5:14) without becoming one of those frowning, finger-pointing, spirit-crushing, accusers of the brethren?

Five Features of Judgmentalism

I believe five distinguishing features of judgmentalism can help us identify and avoid it.

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Combating End-Times Disinformation

The strangely ill-advised notion of a federal Disinformation Governance Board came to a merciful end this week—thankfully, at least for now.

As Americans, we cherish our First Amendment freedoms of religion, speech and the press, and tend to oppose anything that even vaguely appears to threaten them. Furthermore, as has been expressed far and wide in response to this oddly-timed proposal, we rightly view it as our role as citizens to critique the government of this Republic—not vice versa.

My purpose here, however, is to introduce a greater dilemma. Specifically, how are we as Christians to Biblically combat doctrinal, especially prophetic, disinformation?

Drawing further upon our heritage in the United States, we would never want to outlaw or silence anyone—even if they are actually heretical—lest the force of government, or big tech, also be used to cancel our ability to communicate. In fact, there have been numerous examples in recent months which make such a frightening proposition hit all-too-close to home. So, what are we to do?

It’s my observation that the Internet is breathing new life into various heresies and isms, along with so-called theological oddities of various stripes, allowing previously debunked positions to thrive once again. The spiritually “untaught and unstable” (2 Pet. 3:16) may thus be drawn in, thinking they’ve found someone who knows a heavenly secret—uncovering something that no one else has seen or taught before.

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How Do You Decide Who’s Right?

One of the ways the Greek rhetors of old used to classify arguments was under the headings of ethos, pathos, and logos.1 Ethos referred to character and credibility: arguments appealing to one’s reputation, standing, experience, expertise, and trustworthiness. 2 Pathos referred to longings, drives, appetites—and what we today call emotions. Logos had to do mainly with facts and reasoning.

Those skilled in rhetoric were able to use all three in the work of persuasion, emphasizing one or the other depending on the situation.

The three categories of rhetorical argument also work pretty well for analyzing how we tend to approach conflicting views—and how we decide who’s right. In turn, that can help us better understand one another and better discipline our own thinking toward wise discernment.

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Trust Issues: Responding to our Cultural Authority Crisis

"Increasingly, however, skepticism has been replaced by cynicism and is expressed in an immediate distrust anytime anyone tells us anything to think or do. This is not healthy or sustainable, nor is it a biblical way of thinking about authority." - Breakpoint

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