January 15, 2008

Book Review: The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment
Tim Challies, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), 206 pp.

I have been anxiously awaiting Tim Challies' new book, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, for two reasons. First, the practice of spiritual discernment is near and dear to my heart. My entire ministry is essentially built upon the need for establishing and growing biblical discernment. Second, I have been a regular reader of Tim Challies' blog for several years now. Over this time, I have come to respect and trust him. God has truly blessed Challies and I placed an advance order for his book as soon as I could afford it. A couple of weeks ago, my wait finally ended. An autographed copy arrived at my door and I started reading it immediately.

Why was I so interested in getting started? Because I have rarely come across a book dedicated to spiritual discernment written for the average believer in the pew. Sure, as a seminary graduate I came across plenty of great works on hermeneutics, apologetics, and spiritual disciplines. But I generally could not see recommending them to fellow members of my local church. Challies book fills this unfortunate void.

His book is both incisive and readable. It covers everything from showing the need for spiritual discernment to assisting the reader in practicing discernment. But what exactly is spiritual discernment? Challies defines it this way:

Discernment is the skill of understanding and applying God's Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong (61).

Whether in how we live or what we believe, discernment is an essential aspect of every Christian's life. As the Apostle Paul instructs us, "test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).

Thankfully, Challies book helps us to carry out Paul's directions. And while its pages are filled with insight, I especially appreciate two chapters. The first is on the dangers of discernment. He's right to say that many people who seek to be discerning wind up practicing a counterfeit shadow of true, biblical discernment. The ten dangers he provides are ones that I have all too often struggled with, and I applaud the author for warning against them.

I also found his step-by-step method in the final chapter incredibly valuable. Not content to stop short of providing a practical approach to begin practicing spiritual discernment, Challies lays out a helpful plan to follow. We have to move beyond simply giving lip service to the importance of discernment--we have to make the effort to actually do it. Following this method allows the reader to start.

It is hard for me to hide my enthusiasm for this book. I believe every Christian seeking to be faithful to our Savior will benefit from its contents. May His body grow in discernment, transforming ourselves more and more by the renewal of our minds.