How will you determine whether or not this article is true? Will you use biblical discernment?
It’s not surprising that a world filled with fake news (or claims of fake news) would have a rise in self-proclaimed discernment blogs/ministries. We can be thankful that folks are once again concerned with what is true. But at the same time I would argue that what is being promoted as discernment has actually more in common with Gnosticism than biblical discernment.
Certainly the most knowledgeable among us will know that I’m using a rather limited definition of Gnosticism. It’s a far more complex belief system than just a bunch of dudes who think they have special knowledge. But “dudes who think they have special knowledge” is the definition that I’m using to make my point here.
The discerning among us will be able to gather my basic meaning and make a determination on whether what I’m saying is not only truthful but also good and useful. And the difference between this paragraph and the previous is the crux of my point. Gnosticism traffics in “knowledge” (often a “secret knowledge”) whereas biblical discernment is more concerned with truth, beauty, and use.
Allow me to give a bit of an example. I’ll take the top headline from both CNN and Fox News. On CNN it looks like the top article at this moment is about Mary Trump blasting their ‘toxic family dynamic’. Now pay attention to what is happening in your heart and mind as you read that headline. On Fox News the top article is about the White House defending President Trump’s visit with the Mexican President against the Dems snipe. Again, pay attention to what is happening in your heart and mind as you read that headline.
In either instance were you asking the question, “What is really going on here?” Given the political polarity in our nation, you are likely suspicious of one of these sources (if not both). You know there is more to the story. And so you use your skills of discernment to spot the lies and to discover what is really going on.
This is what we call discernment in our day: the ability to spot the lie and discover what is really going on behind the scenes. And that “what is really going on” has given rise to a host of conspiracy theories—some gaining a cult like following. These have a secret knowledge that only the truly discerning are able to discover.
This is not biblical discernment. This is Gnosticism.
Discernment vs. Gnosticism
Biblical discernment is concerned with truth, beauty, and use. It is humble and missional. Notice that in Paul’s prayer for the Philippians he prays that they will be able to “discern what is best”. That means “choose what is vital”. And you can see that fleshed out a bit in Philippians 4:8 with “whatever is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, etc.”
Picture a discerning believer standing with a stamp over a conveyor belt with all of the decisions of the day going past her. Paul is praying that she will put that stamp of approval and action upon the things which are truly lovely. That she will live her life in accordance with that which is vital. Yes, part of that has to do with not putting your stamp on that which isn’t true or lovely. But it’s most concerned with what you do stamp. Discernment is more of a positive action or declaration than a negative defense.
Discernment isn’t just about spotting the lie, it’s about embracing what is lovely. And this is why, contrary to Gnosticism, it is also a mostly communal activity. Gnosticism is private and elitist. It’s appealing because it communicates that you—and your group—are alone special in being able to “spot the lie” and know what’s really going on. But biblical discernment builds a much different community.
Consider what happens in Acts 15. The new thing that God is doing with Gentile inclusion has thrown many of these Jewish Christians for quite the loop. In one sense they are wondering, “what is really going on here?” But notice their actions. They gather with other believers to find God’s revealed will. It’s not private. It’s not elite. Acts 15 happens because these early believers assume that each follower of Jesus has been given the Spirit and is able together to discern the truth. This pattern emerges all throughout the book of Acts.
Acts 15 also helps us see a principle difference between biblical discernment and its gnostic pretender. Notice that they are debating with one another about what God is doing in their world. They are using the standard of God’s Word and God’s character and attempting to discern together what he is up to in the world. Why? Because they want to put their stamp of approval on what is true, beautiful, and useful.
The discernment of gnosis, on the other hand, cannot really be argued with. It’s a private interpretation based upon your powers of discernment. It gives you special knowledge. And those who cannot see what you see are said to be “undiscerning”. But that’s not how biblical discernment works. It’s out in the open. Philippians 4:8 doesn’t require the gift of discernment. What does require the gift of discernment is the ability to find beauty in the muck. And when the discerning brings that which their gift found into the light, then the Philippians 4:8 impulse of believers kicks in and the community rejoices in the truth.
Let those of us who have the gift of discernment use it to inundate the world with God’s beauty and not stoke the flames of suspicion. Our goal is to exult in truth. EXULT. That’s the key word there. If we spend our whole time knocking the fake stuff off our conveyor belt we won’t have time to put our stamp on that which is truly beautiful.
The world needs more discernment. It doesn’t need Gnosticism parading around as discernment.
This article originally appeared here.