Growing in Discernment (Part 1)

August 26, 2016

Jeff Forrey

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Jeff Forrey

Note: In this post and the next, we consider the important topic of discernment—and crucial element in wisdom.


In the Information Age, it is necessary for biblical counselors to be able to critically interact with psychological claims that come to us through books, magazines, television programs, and the Internet. Here I am using the term “critically” not in the sense of being “mean-spirited and divisive” but in the sense of evaluating the evidence, logic, and legitimacy (morality) of claims made by psychologists. Any evaluation presupposes a standard—and for Christians that standard can only be the Bible’s teaching. The Bible is God’s tool for bringing people into a relationship with himself and for guiding or challenging them to fulfill His purposes for them in their lives. This is a consistent theme in the Bible:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to your word.

10 I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.

11 I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.

12 Praise be to you, O LORD;
teach me your decrees.

13 With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.

14 I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.

15 I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.

16 I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.

24 Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors.

73 Your hands made me and formed me;
give me understanding to learn your commands.

97 Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.

98 Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,
for they are ever with me.

99 I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.

100 I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts. (Psalm 119)

One phrase that describes critical (evaluative) thinking from a biblical perspective is Spiritual discernment. This may be defined as the ability to tell the difference between a biblical point of view and an unbiblical point of view—an ability that grows as we submit to the Holy Spirit (see Phil. 1: ).

The Bible does not have “chapter and verse” treatments of every topic that might be found in psychologists’ articles, books, or blogs. Yet, as we see from 2 Peter 1:3-4, 2 Timothy 3:17, and the verses selected from Psalm 119, there are bold claims about the sufficiency of God’s revelation for guiding his people at any stage in redemptive history. How can this be the case? How can a set of letters, poems, historical narratives, etc., written centuries ago be sufficient for guiding Christians today?

Though much more could be said to answer this question, I want to highlight one point: Though the Bible is not an exhaustive encyclopedia of information, it does provide a way of looking at the world and our role in it to fulfill God’s purposes. In other words, it provides a worldview. A worldview is a framework (or “web”) of basic assumptions about reality from which people make sense of the world, figure out their place in it, and derive the values that dictate their lifestyle choices. It’s on the basis of a worldview that people answer the most significant questions that can be asked, such as: (1) What is real vs illusion? (2) What is my purpose on earth? (3) What determines right and wrong or truth and error? (4) What happens after death? So then, worldviews affect the way people think about what is important and how they understand the world to function.

By providing a worldview, the Bible enables believers to understand, evaluate, and apply information in a way that honors God, which is the point of our existence (Eccles. 12:13-14; 1 Corinthians 10:31). The Bible does not have to be an exhaustive encyclopedia to be our standard and guide in life; its contents creates a way of looking at the world and our lives from God’s perspective. Where the Scriptures are silent on a particular question we might have, there is freedom to pursue an answer in a manner that is consistent with what the Bible does say.

Part of Spiritual discernment, then, will be worldview analysis. When you consider the claims of psychologists (or anyone, for that matter), your assessment should include a comparison of the psychologist’s reasoning and conclusions on the topic with what the Bible as a whole teaches. If the psychologist is not a Christian you know that at some point his or her thinking will deviate from the Scriptures. The outcome of discernment will be pinpointing that deviation and perhaps reinterpreting potentially useful insights so they are defensible from the perspective of a biblical worldview.[1]

How do you progressively develop a “biblical worldview”? I will explore that question in the next post.

[1] By using the word “reinterpreting” I am suggesting that the process of evaluating and using secular ideas is an active (molding) process.