Still Be Discerning about Discernment Ministries

inspector_pp“Although published a year ago, this post is still needed and many would do well to follow it’s advice”

One of the great things about being a 21st century believer is the dazzling array of resources that are literally at our fingertips. The internet, yes I said internet, can be a boon to the believer. Virtually every sermon in every church, at least in the western evangelical world, is recorded and available for free download. A few clicks gets you free and unfettered access to the writing of the church fathers and many of the Puritans. There is even Bible study software complete with many good, although old, commentaries available for free download. Then there are the blogs (hey, you’re reading one right now) and the podcasts. These can be a source of encouragement and information and even fellowship in an odd electronic way, but there is one category of blog and podcast I have sworn off, the discernment blog/podcast.

Now I don’t want to give the impression that discernment is unimportant, it is supremely important. I also don’t want to give the impression that all discernment ministries are to be avoided, some are genuinely helpful, especially when someone brings up a teacher or a teaching you are unfamiliar with and are looking for some basic information to share. But those are not the kinds of ministries I am talking about.

The blogs and podcasts I am talking about are the ones that focus on being outraged over every , incorrect (or even heretical)nitpick utterance of known or unknown “pastors”, “teachers” or other personalities. They often spend much time dissecting sermons or blog posts that someone with even a rudimentary sense of discernment would have stopped listening to or reading within the first few phrases. Let me give you a few reasons I have sworn these ministries off, and I think you should too.

They Are Unbiblical

What I mean is that there seems to me to be no biblical model or mandate for this kind of “ministry.” Did Jesus ever engage in a point by point take down of a particular Pharisee’s teaching that is recorded in Scripture? How much do we know about the Nicolaitans or what they believed that Jesus mentions in Revelation 2:15? Absolutely nothing. Or what of the Colossian heresy that Paul outlines briefly in Colossians 2:8? Again virtually nothing. Although there are hints at what it may have taught in the following verses, they have to be gleaned from what Paul is teaching about the work of Christ and the believers identity in Him. As evidence of the ambiguity of Paul’s description of the Colossian heresy, a google search for the term reveals over 19,000 results all offering opinions as to what it may have been. (I’ve even thrown in my two cents.) Again there is no point by point evaluation of the false teaching, only an exhortation to understand what Christ has accomplished on their behalf.

Curiously many discernment mavens will quote 1Peter 3:15 as a text that supports what they do. But to be blunt, it doesn’t, not by a long shot. This verse says to be ready to give an answer for the hope found in you, not always be ready to pick apart the errors of others who promote a false hope. When you read it in its context it becomes strikingly clear that this verse gives absolutely no cover to this sort of “ministry.”

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

There is simply nothing there that points to a madate for posting your “epic take down” of the latest Joel Osteen sermon or your update on the atrocities (yes someone actually used that word) of Mark Driscoll. This is about being ready to proclaim Christ to those who would persecute you.

Don’t get me started on the lack of gentleness and respect that permeates many of these blogs and podcasts. One of the most popular discernment podcasts on the internet features mocking bumper music for whenever they offer an update on one of their favorite targets. Not exactly filled with gentleness or respect is it?

They Are Unhealthy

If you don’t believe me consider this that popped up yesterday in my facebook feed, regarding the joys of following discernment ministries.

XXXXX’s ‪#‎feedly feed daily post in the XXXXXX get my blood pressure to an unhealthy level.  Join The XXXXXX if you dare.

Why would anyone want to have their blood pressure raised to unhealthy levels? Because right now we seem to be in an odd cultural spot where being outraged seems to be a favorite national pass time. (Here is a great piece about this from a secular blogger written on the subject last fall.)

While I truly hope no one is driven to hypertension or worse by the theological sources they read and listen to, as a pastor, I am far more concerned with spiritual health than with physical health. There is a pattern I have noticed, repeatedly, among those who make discernment blogs and podcasts a regular feature of their spiritual diet. They tend to become progressively more critical, not just of charlatans and false teachers, but of seemingly everything else. They tend to begin to use the terms “false teacher,” “heresy,” and “heretic” very loosely. I have witnessed a promising young man who is in seminary (full disclosure, not one I would recommend, but one affiliated with a large evangelical denomination) devolve into a divisive force, constantly leaving churches over their perceived “false teaching” and encouraging others to do so as well.

arewhateatThey used to teach elementary school students that “you are what you eat” meaning that if they eat a healthy diet they would be healthy, and conversely if they ate an unhealthy diet they were setting themselves up for trouble. A diet of constant critical speech and reading is naturally going to produce a critical spirit.

Feeding yourself spiritually a diet that focuses on the outrage of theological and ecclesiological errors is the exact opposite of what Scripture says you are to do. Consider Paul’s parting encouragement to the Philippians in 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

They Are Not Very Helpful

broad brushBe warned, I am breaking out the broad brush here. Spurgeon once said (and I am paraphrasing) that the essence of discernment is not telling right from wrong, but telling right from nearly right, but discernment blogs and podcasts tend to focus on the really wrong.

If someone preaches every one of his sermons about himself, or refers to himself publicly as the “third eagle of the apocalypse” I don’t think very jmacmememany Christians, especially the kind who read theological blogs, are going to be taken in by them. Taking a sermon from someone like that apart point by point is not helping anyone grow in discernment. It is akin to going through the list of ingredients on a box of d-CON rat poison pellets and explaining why no one should eat d-CON, as if the skull and crossbones on the package isn’t warning enough.

When it comes to telling the nearly right from the right, some of these blogs are specifically unhelpful. I have read someone who openly advocates baptismal regeneration of the Lutheran sort, go after the assumed belief in baptismal regeneration of a famous family of duck call manufacturers (and I agree with John MacArthur who said you probably ought not to get your theology from duck call manufacturers anyway) at length and completely without respect or gentleness.

Oddly many who rightly view baptismal regeneration as a serious error, have shared the writing of confirmed baptismal regenerationalist #1 with me via email and social media so that I am aware of the theological danger posed by possible baptismal regenerationalist #2 and can warn my church. These blogs seem to breed a kind of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” kind of thinking, which seems to me to be a dulling, not a sharpening, of discernment. Muslim imams, Catholic priests, and Buddhist monks might all agree that Benny Hinn is off of his rocker, but does that make them a trusted source on theological matters? If not them a blogger/podcaster shouldn’t be viewed as a solid theological source just because he/she agrees with you that Benny Hinn is a false teacher.

They Often Have Significant Blindspots

Even before I swore off reading these blogs, one thing about them blindspotalways struck me as funny. Many of these blogs seem to be lacking in even basic self awareness. I read about the dangers of para-church ministries on the blogs of discernment (para-church) ministries. I read about the dangers of sacramentalism from sacrimentalists. I read blogs about why women’s ministry should be avoided because women are too easily deceived written by women (and I am not saying women shouldn’t write blogs, so no need to be outraged about that).

While those are comical examples, what is not funny is when there is a blindness about something far greater. Have you ever read a graceless blog written by an advocate of the doctrines of grace attacking Arminianism? Or a loveless blog by an Arminian slamming Calvinists for not understanding the love of God? In their rush to expose the errors of others, often discernment bloggers/podcasters can overlook real problems with themselves or with their theological allies, especially in the areas of tone and conduct.

I am not saying that you must swear off “discernment” blogs and podcasts, but I am saying I did, for the reasons above along with others, and I think I am better off for it. I would challenge you to consider what I have written and to think deeply about your spiritual diet. I am exhorting you to be discerning about discernment ministries.

 

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John Chester

About John Chester

John serves the saints of Piedmont Bible Church, a Grace Advance church plant in Haymarket Virginia, as their shepherd, a position he has held since 2012 and hopes to serve in the rest of his life. Prior to being called to ministry John worked as a lacrosse coach, a pizza maker, a writer, a marketing executive, and just about everything in between. John is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary and The Grace Advance Academy. He hails from The City of Champions, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and is unbelievably blessed to be married to his wife Cassandra.
  • Tim Bates

    Excellent points. I noticed myself becoming increasingly agitated with everything when I spent too much time listening to and reading discernment blogs.
    I also wonder, as you alluded to, just who benefits from another post/podcast ripping apart _____. The audience of discernment blogs and podcasts would already know such a person was bad news, so who is this for? There’s already an abundance of info proving this person is a false teacher so who is going to be persuaded by this new podcast?
    Finally, I’m convinced false teachers do a much better job exposing their own moral flaws than any discernment ministry ever could. We certainly caution and warn people but I’m not sure it’s wise to go to extremes; uncovering every rock and reading every word to prove a guy 3,000 miles away from our friends and loved ones is disqualified for ministry.

    • Jason

      Thank you Tim. One of my friends and professors in school used to say in the context of God’s attributes and the need to know them all, “You become what you worship. If God is a nit-picky, hates all your error God, then that’s how you’ll end up.” — Andy Snider

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