A Brief History of Christian Thoughts on Discernment

Caravaggio-Inspiration-Saint-MatthewThis is a post in our series exploring the ancient Christian Practice of Discernment.

In the last post of this series, I went through the short history of how decision-making had been done outside of a church context. I said that the main thing that unified all of these approaches was that they were all fairly impersonal. They appealed to abstract “forces”, “principles”, chance, or even technology help make difficult decisions. I concluded by saying that Christianity gives a very different approach to Discernment and decision-making; one that is personal, intense, risky, and terrifying.

Today I want to talk about that. The history of Discernment in the Christian Church has had a very interesting story. Hopefully you’ll see, along the way, the incredibly different ways Christians have approached this; but hopefully, you’ll also see the deep ways in which it has stayed constant throughout our history.
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A Brief History of Secular Discernment & Decision-Making


This is a post in our series on the Christian Practice of Discernment. 

Struggles around decision-making have existed ever since humans first had a sense that their lives had some sort of telos or purpose. Eventually, humans came to an understanding that each decision directly bears on the events and “story” that will come after it. And so they started thinking through principles that could guide this process. Later, Christians would contribute greatly to this discussion.

But before we can start exploring how the Bible and Christianity engages with decision-making and Discernment, we need to see how else it has been engaged throughout history. Today, we’ll look at a “secular”(*) history of decision-making and Discernment. Our next post will look through Church History.
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Discernment: Making Decisions Christianly & Why It Matters

paul-city-bwMore so than other practices, Discernment is not something we try to do to enrich our lives or draw closer to God. Rather, it is a basic function of our storied existence, driven by our own internal narratives. Because of this, we necessarily find ourselves in positions where decisions great and small need to be made.

Unlike most other practices of the Christian faith, the question here is not whether or not we will practice Discernment, but rather how well we will do it, and how intentionally we will cultivate it. The challenge is not so much to articulate a vision for Discernment so much as to find out what truly Christian Discernment looks like.

series intro

That is why I chose Discernment for a research paper I wrote for my seminary program this semester. It’s essential to human life and being. This is also why I want to share many of the lessons I learned along the way of writing this paper and putting into practice. And so today I’m starting a new blog series exploring this Christian practice of decision-making, also called Discernment.
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