catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 11 :: 2004.05.21 — 2004.06.03


Testing the spirits

I struggle to accept my more conservative brothers and sisters. Every time I hear of a wholesale, church-sponsored rejection of some part or artifact of culture, I get a sick feeling in my stomach and a strong desire to go out and support the object of the latest boycott. Of course, my reactionary response is just as lacking in discernment as rejecting a movie with too many swear words or banning a book because it contains a sex scene. Being genuinely discerning means that sometimes we have to say ?yes? and sometimes we have to say ?no,? and there?s no simple, quantifiable way to determine the correct answer.

Because developing discernment takes time and effort, I?m glad for organizations like Ransom Fellowship that are dedicated solely to equipping believers in this area and that come alongside *cino in the work to reform and shape the way Christians interact with culture. Ransom, being is led by folks with several years of experience in the area of discernment, has some really great resources that I would like to draw attention to. Discernment 101 and Discernment 102 are a great place to start, for experienced and novice discerners alike. Once you?re ready to draw yourself, your family or any other group into the intentional work of discernment, check out their Discernment Exercises, which combine a real-life scenario with thought-provoking questions that will engage you in the difficult and practical work of Christian decision-making in a gray world.

Discernment is about engaging all possible resources?God?s revelation, both scriptural and creational; personal experience; the wisdom of the saints; the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit?in order to test and affirm (or disaffirm) the spirits of our age as they present themselves in pop culture, relationships, and other parts of our everyday lives. The combination of these elements explains why equally faithful Christians come to different conclusions. The intense anger and separation that results from disagreement is just one clue as to what a powerful individual freedom we are gifted with when we test the spirits. Lauren Winner writes about a Pentecost experience in Girl Meets God


[That] morning at church we sing songs about the Holy Spirit, and in the collect for Pentecost, we ask God, ?who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit,? to ?grant us by that same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things.? We need right judgment, and I am glad we are asking God for it in this Pentecost prayer. It is a dangerous thing He gives us, the freedom and innovation of continuing His work here on Earth after the moment of revelation has passed. Without that right judgment, the freedom God?s community has to carry out His work becomes the freedom to undo ourselves.

I?m still learning exactly what distinguishes successful work in discernment from the ?undoing? that results from our failure to discern, but I do have some ideas. Success in discernment results in a body of believers that is distinct from those who don?t share the values of the Gospel, while failure leads to lives dictated by the ?isms (consumerism, narcissism, nihilism, etc.?some god always replaces the space left when the God of all creation is rejected or neglected). Success in discernment results in a body of believers that engages and creates culture with confidence and excellence in the full knowledge of Christ?s definitive victory, rather than a body that fearfully and simultaneously separates from and ineptly mimics dominant popular culture.

While I share with my colleagues at *cino and my kindred spirits at Ransom a vision for a successfully discerning body of believers, I fear that the rift between so-called conservative and liberal Christianity will continue to grow as things like sexuality, violence, and money continue to be the defining issues of our age. But even fear and unintentional assimilation cannot undo the victory we all share in Christ and I can only hope that Flannery O?Connor?s storied vision for the most unlikely individuals parading into heaven will come true, when the Harry Potter and the Left Behind fanatics will cozy up next to each other on one of God?s comfy couches like the proverbial lion and lamb.

Until then, I am convicted that we have serious work to do, compelling those who have not yet taken the Good News seriously to sense the work of the Spirit in the lives of believers, who are stewards in spite of the ability to consume, who affirm life in spite of the desire to destroy, who love those they could easily despise, and who serve counter to every inclination to be served.

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