Today’s society is living within a perpetual flow of information. There is no shortage of media to satisfy our senses, and everyone knows that high intake of media can become overwhelming – whether it be social media, television, music, books, magazines, or anything else. We often allow so much information into our brains that our own ideas, thoughts, and moral codes become lost. Sometimes, we become loose collections of the ideas of other people with little to no uniformity.
This phenomenon includes the modern Christian generation. More than ever, churches, musicians, and other Christian organizations are taking to social media to launch awareness about their being and to project their thoughts, ideas, and opinions for other people to examine. The stream of information ingested by today’s young Christian is at times overwhelming. Christian leaders publicize their interpretations of the Bible tweet by tweet as young people feast on their nuggets of wisdom.
Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Francis Chan, and Tim Keller are just a few examples of extremely popular preachers whose sermons have become staples in the spiritual diet of young Christians. They certainly have different styles, and each, as well as other popular Christian leaders (for example, Lecrae, Jefferson Bethke, etc.) has developed an expansive following on social media and through books and the internet. Every name I have mentioned is someone who I have seen (whether it be through social media, a book, or some other way) preach the gospel in an effective manner. Each of them has great things to say, and I look up to them all for spiritual wisdom.
But they aren’t my King. Jesus is.
I have witnessed friends and young people devote themselves to following some of these pastors with an unmatched passion. While the wisdom from these leaders definitely encourages spiritual growth, I have seen an extremely unhealthy mentality develop among people – one without discernment. Discernment equates to a positively critical outlook on the intake of information. I have been blessed with an earthly father who certainly has the gift of discernment. Any time he reads a new book, listens to new music, or takes in any information, he is critical about its truth, its relevance, and its accuracy. This is not negative criticism. My dad seeks discernment from the Holy Spirit about these things. He looks to the Bible for wisdom first and foremost, and thus, he is not a loose collection of somebody else’s ideas.
I am making a call to discernment. John Piper (for example) is an anointed, Kingdom-minded, unbelievably intelligent person who helps many people, including myself, grow spiritually. But he is human; he isn’t right 100% of the time. I can guarantee that he and other church leaders would appreciate and encourage a greater level of discernment from the Lord and not take his words for ultimate truth, but take the Bible for ultimate truth. That is what he and other church leaders are trying to do, anyway – encourage others in their relationships with the Lord and support their growth in understanding His Word.
Some people are loose collections of the ideas of others. Other people seemingly model themselves as closely as absolutely possible to the theology, ideas, opinions, and life paths of another man. The same thing is missing in both types of people – a solid, discerning core that hears the voice of the Lord first and foremost. With this discernment, a person consults the Bible on his own and asks the Lord to help him find meaning through his study.
Say somebody is researching speaking in tongues, and usually consults wisdom from Tim Keller on other tough Bible issues. Should this person start with a Tim Keller book or video on the topic (this is only an example, I don’t even know if Tim Keller has released any media on the subject), or should this person see what the Bible has to say about the matter (1st Corinthians 14, in this case), pray about it, and then supplement his growth with words of wisdom from church leaders? I’d like to believe that a discerning individual would first seek the Word, pray about its meaning, ask the Lord for wisdom, and then make an appeal to a church leader for more wisdom on the subject.
What I’m not saying is that it’s detrimental to listen to our church leaders. They’re our leaders for a reason. They know what they’re talking about. They have good things to say, and we should listen to them. However, we should listen to our own convictions and to the voice of the Lord above all. If something comes out of Mark Driscoll’s mouth and it seems funky for some reason, we shouldn’t assume truth just because Mark Driscoll said it. This is not a lack of trust, this is spiritual discernment.
A discerning individual isn’t an exact copy of someone else. A discerning individual hears the voice of the Holy Spirit and draws from the lessons of a wide-ranging group of people while maintaining a unique core that exists between himself, the Word, and the Lord. A discerning heart handles lessons from others with care, seeks out truth and wisdom from those lessons, but doesn’t automatically take every passing word to be true. In Ephesians 4:14, Paul describes the hopeful image of a group of mature, discerning believers:
“So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul again encourages a discerning heart, warning people of a time when people attempt to twist the truth to suit themselves:
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Maybe Neo-Calvinists can draw some wisdom from charismatics. Maybe a Mike Bickle fan has something to learn from John Piper. With open ears and an open heart, people can simultaneously draw wisdom from these different people or groups and thus be spiritually encouraged as a whole. However, individual time with the Lord and wisdom from God himself is most important.
Jesus is King and His Word is ultimate Truth. He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Seek Him first.