Taking a Brief Look At Discernment In Order To Battle Judgmentalism

Toward a Better Understanding of Making Judgments

There is a difference between being judgmental and being discerning. Some might like you to believe they are the same. They are not. Let’s focus on discernment. 

Definitions & Descriptions 

Discernment – the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure (Merriam-Webster); the ability to judge well; a keenness of insight and judgment. 

Discernment is a word describing a wise way of judging between things or a particularly perceptive way of seeing things.  

McIntosh’s Five Aspects of Discernment 

There is much more to discernment than understanding its meaning. Mark A. McIntosh in his book Discernment and Truth: The Spirituality and Theology of Knowledge highlights five aspects or phases of discernment.

  1. Discernment as faith: spiritual discernment as grounded in a loving and trusting relationship with God
  2. Discernment as distinguishing between good and evil impulses that move people
  3. Discernment as discretion, practical wisdom, moderation and generally good sense about what to do in given practical situations
  4. Discernment as sensitivity to and desire to pursue God’s will in all things
  5. Discernment as illumination, contemplative wisdom, a noetic relationship with God that irradiate and facilitates knowledge of every kind of truth. 

I appreciate McIntosh’s efforts to provide a clearer picture of discernment. It is tempting to dump our own understanding of making judgments into one simplistic term. I have been guilty of this often. The struggle to use meaningful words to describe thoughts is challenging.

McIntosh’s distinctions help clear up some confusion about “judging well,” “judgmentalism,” “discretion,” “knowledge,” “wisdom,” and “discernment.”  

Two Points 

1. There are people who believe they possess the ability to make good judgments (speak for God) since:

  • they have the gift of discernment 
  • their experiences of God make them an expert on God 
  • they have had such a lengthy relationship with God that they know him better than others
  • they have been trained to understand scripture enabling them to speak on God’s behalf 
  • they have a degree or certification indicating their discernment skills

These folk’s ability to “discern” may fall into one or more of McIntosh’s categories. However, understanding that there are people who fit into category #5, I’ve never met one. You probably haven’t either. You’ve probably met people who think they are there. Hang with them a while. Their true colors will show.

2. There is great difference between judgmentalism and discernment. Don’t let anyone convince you that you must be judgmental to be a good Christian. You need to be discerning, yes. Judgmental, no. The line between the two may look thin. But a judgmental person makes judgments poorly. A discerning person makes judgments well. You just need to learn to not be one and be the other. I use the word “be” intentionally. To “be” a person who judges well, the heart and mind is being healed and transformed by the life of the Trinity as you live in union with God through a deepening relationship with the Church, the company of the saints, scripture, and real-life spiritual athletes. 

A judgmental person lacks true discernment. Jesus was never judgmental yet was always discerning. Be like Jesus.

How are you developing discernment? Share your thoughts below.

Dr. K