How Cultural Influences Impede Biblical Discernment

Christians must be aware of the varying influences which impede biblical discernment.  In reading through (again) Tim Challies’ book The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, I was confronted (again) by the necessity of being aware of how the society in which I find myself coming more and more into other confrontations with those of differing worldviews.

Below, I distill the essence of Challies’ argument regarding the four different areas in which the culture influences Christians, and thus hinders their ability to discern from a biblical perspective—something that the writer of Hebrews chastises those to whom he is writing (Hebrews 5:11-14).  After each section, I will add some brief notes.

Secular Worldview:  Challies notes that the word ‘worldview’ comes from the German weltanschauung which means “look onto the world.”  George Barna’s research has shown that less than 9% of those who consider themselves born-again Christians have a Christian worldview based on the six basic truths of Scripture.

  1. Jesus lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:14-16)
  2. God is the omnipotent and omniscient Creator of the universe and still rules (Psalm 139; Colossians 1:15-23).
  3. Salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:21-26).
  4. Satan is real (Job 1-2; Ephesians 6:10-20; Revelation 13-20).
  5. Christians are responsible to share their faith
  6. Bible is accurate in all its teachings (Psalm 19:7-10; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12, etc.)

Many more coming into the church view the world through the lens of their own sinfulness.  Truth is along a continuum and is relative, not absolute. 

Challies quotes Os Guiness from his book “Fit Bodies, Fat Minds” (1994):  “Thinking Christianly is not simply thinking as a Christian” nor on “Christian topics.” . . . “It is thinking by Christians about anything and everything in a consistently Christian way” (p. 45). 

[GBTG:  Challies brings out a book by Nancy Pearcey called Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Cultural Captivity , it brought back to mind the first time I came across the word ‘worldview.’  Challies reflects on this as well—and it is a development for which I am grateful.  Each of us looks at the world from a certain perspective, perspectives which have been intentionally or unintentionally built.  As those who are born fallen into a fallen world (Romans 5:12-21), we exalt our perspectives.  This exaltation in the 21st century must be tolerated—each person has a ‘right’ to believe however they want without question or pushback.  We have come full circle to Judges 21:25: “For there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”  The question each of us must ask ourselves is, what holds more influence over us?  If Scripture is clear about the six tenets mentioned above, and we find ourselves bucking those issues which are clear, do we not risk in the effort to be ‘balanced’ tipping ourselves completely off the rock into the miry clay? (Psalm 40:2).  ]

Low View of Scripture:  Without question, many reject any authority over them.  James Montgomery Boice reminds us that the tenet of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) is foundational to all theology.  While that battle was fought and on many fronts (though certainly not all) won. 

The issue now is the Bible’s sufficiency.  Those in our day who hold to sola Scriptura are charged with bibliolatry (Bible worship)—and the likely response to those levying this charge is to read it from their own perspective or only for what they want out of it.  If the Bible contains parts and addresses topics with which the reader struggles, that portion is either ignored, explained away, or the entire business is rejected. 

For the Christian committed to God and what He wrote (Scripture), the practice of the church often shows that the key to evangelism is music, drama, outreach programs, less imposing but more attractive buildings, etc.  When these issues are elevated, the usual result is that the Scripture is lessened—either in importance or in the time given to exposition. 

On a personal level, many begin to look more to feelings, voices, visions, or other subjective means rather than biblical reasoning.

[GBTG: An interesting development over the last century is how those who have a high view of Scripture are not only seen as Bible worshipers, but as violating Jesus’ and Paul’s claim to holding to the “letter” rather than the “Spirit.”  The argument goes that the Spirit of love which comes over Scripture supersedes Paul’s argument about various issues regarding homosexuality (Romans 1:24-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; or even Matthew 19:1-10), gender roles (Ephesians 5:21-33; 1 Timothy 2:9-12), etc.  Jesus is often pitted against Paul, especially Jesus’ non-mention of homosexuality.  I contend he did mention it without mentioning it in Matthew 5:27-28 in the area of sexual lust outside the bounds of marriage.  Jesus also defines marriage in Matthew 19:1-10 as male and female.  But the accusation is, “You’re holding to the letter and not the Spirit.”  Yet, the Spirit inspired the Word in which these commands are contained (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).  The ‘letter’ to which Jesus and Paul refer are those who simply keep the outward moral law, rather than being transformed by the Holy Spirit of God—where we begin to bear not the fruit of the flesh but now the fruit of the Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Galatians 5:16-26).  ]

Low View of Theology:  In our churches, living and practice trumps thinking and knowing our doctrines.  In reality, these both work together.  We live out how we think (Romans 8:5-8).  Richard Phillips observes that many Christians find theology boring. 

In reality, the word theology means ‘the study/seeing of God.’  In essence, we are all theologians in that we all have thoughts about God.  But when we think of the word/field ‘theology,’ we think of a cold, dead religion about principles of the head rather than deeds and matters of the heart.  As a result, some rejoice in their ignorance of theological matters, saying they just want to love Jesus, not study theology.  They risk building their faith upon feelings and experiences rather than the truths of Scripture. 

[GBTG:  The seeds of our thoughts are planted in our hearts, bringing forth action.  Our practices come from what we think—they cannot be disconnected.  Some study theology for personal knowledge, some study theology in order to know God more personally out of love.  May the second move us.  Just because one studies theology does not mean instant morality.  I’ve known many moral, kind, and compassionate atheists (and I’ve also known some nasty “Christians” –yes, I’m fully aware of the quotes around “Christians”).  The fact is, we study that which we love.  When I began dating Cindy, I became a student of her.  I enjoyed her, therefore I enjoyed getting to know her hobbies, her likes, her dislikes, and began to have my mind opened to things I never dreamed because of my studiousness.  One cannot tell about all police officers from those who are crooked.  One cannot tell about all men from those who are abusive to their wives or themselves.  One cannot tell about Christians or atheists from the nasty, bloviating ones. 

Low View of God:  By this, Challies holds many downplay the holiness of God.  God is more one who is “fun, who exists for our benefit, and who can be the butt of endless jokes” (p. 50).  Yet, by missing His holiness, this means one misses his hatred of all that is sinful and thus impedes discernment.  Only through the atoning work of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ can we be made holy.  Christ’s holiness was given to us positionally, and we as Christians must continue to strive for holiness personally. 

Challies quotes David Livingstone, who said that he “might imitate Christ in all His inimitable perfections.”  More conformity to Christ is needed!  The more we downplay the holiness of God, we risk failure to discern the holy from the unholy. 

[GBTG:  If one listens to Christian radio (and I struggle with it, I confess), what type of God is put forth?  God is one who loves, who cares, who never leaves your side.  Some have snidely commented that Christian radio stations are filled with “God is my boyfriend” type songs.  Do this: listen intently on these stations the next time a song speaks strongly about the vileness of sin, or the subject of hell and judgment as Jesus did in Matthew 25:31-46.  The songs are more about how Jesus came to fulfill us, to make us feel better about ourselves, and how He loves you no matter what.  While I would never deny these outright, if you are coming from the perspective of your own worldview rather than from the view of God’s holiness, the content of these songs will be taken on a problematic track.  Times are hard (John 16:33), Christians will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12), we may feel alone (Jeremiah 20:7-11), families may desert us (Matthew 10:34-38)—but when we get a grip that God is holy, and He has made us holy and calls us to strive for holiness in an unholy, fallen world, it begins to make sense for the Christian.]

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