A Conversation on Discernment

Recently Teresa & Katrina had a discussion on discernment. Teresa was a little confused on some of the words that were being tossed around.  Have you ever been confused by the terms theology, doctrine, discernment? Would you be able to define them?

The conversation went something like what is written below. Grab a cup of coffee and read it, imagining you are part of the conversation.  Anywhere you would want to join the conversation, write your thoughts in the comment section at the bottom.  We can use this blog as one means to dialogue together as we firm up some foundational truths and journey this path to spiritual maturity and growth in Christ-likeness together. 

T: Will you help me by clarifying the difference between theology and doctrine and discernment?

K: Theology is the study of the character and nature of God. Systematizing Christian belief.

T: Systematizing is such a big and confusing word for me. I often have thought of theology as a lot of big and confusing words. Can you give me an idea of what systematizing is, and what the ‘big’ words in theology are are used for?

K: Systematizing is organizing biblical truth by topic. It  is creating an orderly account of the Christian faith. The ‘big’ words you are thinking of are categories. They are the information gathered from many books in the Bible organized together. For example, not everything about angels is in one place in the Bible. As all the information is collected about angels, it is organized under one title ‘angelology.’ Then clear statements about that topic are formed. It’s just organizing the teaching of the Bible in categories, and forming clear teachings about each category, and then naming the categories. Theology answers the question "what does the Bible teach about the whole of a topic?" 

T: Hmm, good. Something to think about. How then does doctrine differ from theology?

K: Doctrine is the word for teaching. It can be any teaching, good or bad. Christian doctrine is the summary of what the church believes.

T: You mean topics like: the gospel, salvation, sin, mankind, God?

K: Yes, we all have doctrine and theology, even an atheist. The question is if it is good or sound doctrine. That is where discernment comes in.

T: So, how would you define discernment?

K: Discernment is the ability to know how to apply the truth.  It is the skill of taking ideas and thoughts and knowing if they are correct, followed by taking action based on that understanding. It is more like a filter that helps us make decisions about life.  It is not an automatic result of knowing truth. In fact, often truth can be known but not used as the foundation for why we choose what we choose.

T: I see. So we have a theology, and we use it to make decisions. We act based on what we believe. But now we need discernment to know if that is good theology.

K: Our decisions will flow from our theology. I might reword it this way: We need discernment to know what is true and how to apply it correctly. And we will grow in Christlikeness when we practice discernment.

T: I know sometimes, as a woman, it’s more natural to act on my emotions or feelings, or perhaps what my friends think after I ‘survey’ them.

K: That happens a lot. I struggle with this too.  We may even reach for a popular book, or advice from the internet. Discernment enables us to separate truth from error, good from bad. Our commitment, as Christian women, is to what God says about a matter not what others or our culture says.

T: Well, isn’t discernment a gift? It seems to me you have it. Or the Pastor. Are there gifted people we can check with when we are trying to figure out (discern) if our theology is ‘good or ‘bad’.

K:  Discernment is more of a skill Christians are to grow in. The Bible is where we understand life from God's perspective; it is how our minds are renewed. We must spend time in it. The gift of the Holy Spirit helps all Christians understand and apply the Bible. There may be times when we need to seek help from others more experienced or mature in certain areas. But often, we are making wrong choices because we are not using the Bible as our foundation for the choice. If we did, we would be making choices that honor God.

T: You mean if we make choices because we feel good about them, or we have an inner peace, that’s not necessarily the plumb line? My feelings can trick me, but God’s word is always right?

K: Exactly. Knowing the right truth and applying it gives us discernment. Using discernment helps us grow into Christ-likeness and helps us face the challenges in life! Discernment is not the result, but the beginning point. The result is Christ- likeness. We grow in Christlikeness when we practice discernment.

A few things to think about and perhaps post your thoughts - "Why do you think it's important to understand these terms?" And, one I've been thinking about - "What's the difference between 'theology' and 'doctrine'? Can the words be used interchangeably?" This is a private blog for open and honest dialogue. Feel free to post!

(REMINDER: If you haven't had a chance to watch the True Woman Video on Discernment, you can link to it here.)

Katrina Costales, sharing her Ocean Shores weekend get away time.

Katrina Costales, sharing her Ocean Shores weekend get away time.

Teresa George, gathering information from her kitchen.

Teresa George, gathering information from her kitchen.