Discernment ministry, particularly online ministry, has suffered increasing criticism in the last six or seven months. The scrutiny has intensified as a result of online squabbling between well-known discernment ministries on Twitter and Facebook.
To be sure, the bickering and anathematizing generates terrible confusion. I find myself scrambling to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Just when I think I have a handle on it, one of the good guys will link to one of the bad guys, or one of the bad guys will speak at a conference that the good guys host. So I’m left doubting my own discernment abilities, and wondering if I’ve misjudged people.
There are, certainly, individuals and ministries I definitely avoid. Other people within Reformed circles have no problem with these individuals and ministries. I’ve learned to disagree quietly, aware that I may be off-base in my assessments. Just because I participate in discernment blogging doesn’t mean my judgments are infallible. They’re most assuredly not!
And maybe other discernment bloggers and podcast hosts need to remember that occasionally they could make mistakes in calling out people. Obviously, there are blatantly false teachers like Beth Moore and Rick Warren; anyone can easily document their errors. But sometimes waters get murkier, and discernment bloggers end up labeling people as false teachers based on minor differences or incomplete research.
The individuals and ministries I avoid may or may not promote false teaching. So I’m learning to remain silent, or at least express my reservations very cautiously. In the past six months, I’ve come the conclusion that naming names should be done rarely, and only when someone definitely teaches false doctrine on a consistent basis.
I do realize that we must take care not to partner with those who embrace false teaching (see 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 and 2 John 10-11). But I question whether or not we take this principle a bit too far. You realize, for example, that John Piper has spoken at both The Shepherd’s Conference and Passion 2018. That being the case, should we write off John MacArthur because he gave a platform to someone who shared another platform with Beth Moore at Passion 2017?
I’ve asked a thorny question here. Sadly, there are other thorny questions discernment ministries must struggle with if we play the guilt-by-association card too fastidiously. Sometimes we call someone a wolf in sheep’s clothing when they’re simply a little naive about who they affiliate with. Because discernment bloggers and podcast hosts can judge too harshly and/or too quickly at times, we need to remind ourselves of the apostle Paul’s counsel:
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. ~~Galatians 5:13-15 (ESV)
People make mistakes. People in discernment ministries make mistakes too. Discernment bloggers can too eagerly call out others who, in reality, may be solid teachers with a few blind spots.
Discernment ministry does greatly serve the body of Christ. In no way do I believe we should shut down discernment ministries in general. But I implore bloggers and podcasters to dial back the name calling and balance the critical rhetoric with sound teaching that enables readers and listeners to discern for themselves. Furthermore, let’s bear in mind that sometimes even solid teachers have areas of disagreement. Let’s use discernment ministry to build each other up, not tear each other apart.