Glenna Marshall is a pastor’s wife, mother, blogger, songwriter, and very soon-to-be-published author. (Keep an eye out for her book The Promise is His Presence: Why God is Always Enough coming August 1st, 2019.) I am so honored to have had an opportunity to sit down and discuss with her how we as women, can use and cultivate discernment in all of life, but especially what we read. You can visit Glenna on her blog here and preorder her new book here.
Thank you, so much Glenna, for being willing to do this! I really appreciate it!
Oh, this is fun! I’m excited.
Yay! So last summer was the first time I ever heard of you and it was when I stumbled across your article, Women, Don’t Be Weak-Minded, in Tim Challies’ A La Carte. My first thought was, “Oh, this sounds convicting.” So I read it, and the timing was funny because our Ladies Fellowship at church had actually been going through Lies Women Believe by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, and in that we were doing a lot of talking about how we can guard ourselves from these lies that just creep in. The question we were all asking, was how do we be discerning? After I read your article, I was like, “Ah, we all need to read this!” So we sent it out and discussed it. It was really interesting hearing different people talking about discernment, because the majority opinion I’ve heard is that discernment is a really negative thing. In some circles, it’s almost a bad word. That really got me thinking, and so the last year I’ve been working through three key questions: 1) what is discernment, 2) how do we implement it, and 3) how do we guard ourselves from becoming critical. I found several of your articles really helpful and also Hannah Anderson’s book, All That’s Good. So today I wanted to talk to you a little more in depth on discernment, and how we as women can use it while guarding ourselves from the pitfalls of pride and a critical spirit that can sometimes sneak in without us even noticing it.
I think it was interesting that you said there were mixed reactions when talking about discernment, and there being a prevailing negative reaction to it. I think that in the culture we live in right now, to excerise discernment is sort of like making a judgement on a book someone has written or a comment someone has made, and if there’s anything that Christians are not supposed to do these days, it’s judge. So I think when we critique a piece that is not orthodox or keeping with Scriptural teaching, people feel like we’re casting judgement on someone else’s work and that’s why it comes across as negative. However, I don’t think that’s a reason to just consume whatever type of writing that there is and accept that it’s fine just because we are afraid of being judgemental. I think that’s really unwise and even dangerous. So I think that you do have to be careful with discernement, because you could end up going on a witch hunt, but you must still use it.
You could just go and do everything you can to find all the poor teaching out there and cast light on it, but I don’t think that’s the best way to exercise discernment. The way that I look at it is that when books are popular or maybe podcasts, whatever the medium that we are examining (usually books and articles) whatever is popular comes in front of me, I have to respond and decide whether or not I’m going to read or recommend it. Rather than going out and seeking all the ways I can dismantle someones argument, I’m just goint to be reactive. I don’t want to make my whole life about seeking to destroy someone else’s work. That’s not kind.
However, on the other side of that, when you read through the New Testament, the apostle Paul has no problem calling out false teaching and I think that’s where we get a little bit scared as Christinas. We’re really hesitant to call people false teachers and because of that I think there are a whole lot more false teachers today than we’re willing to recognize.
When I wrote that post last summer, it was in response to some of these best selling Christian women books that were written by professing Christians, for Christian women, being marketed toward Christians and knowing that inside of them was just a bunch of garbage, to be honest. It’s not because I think they’re bad writers or anything like that, it has nothing to do with their skill. The issue was that they were creating a different type of gospel and it was off just enough to where if you weren’t exercising discernment it sounded really good and was appealing.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the truth and the lie, when the lie is very close to the truth. I like to think back to this example my Mom always used growing up about a clock. If you had a clock that was off by an hour, you would catch that very quickly, because you would be late to everything by an entire hour. It wouldn’t be hard to tell something was wrong with your clock. However, if your clock was only running a couple minutes behind, then it could be a really long time before you even noticed.
She used that example to show us that when you are looking at truth and non-truth, it’s hard to recognize when something is just a little bit off from Scripture, just a little bit in opposition. I feel like that is where discernment is very difficult, but very important.
A lot of times I’ll read something that is just a little bit different, with a tiny twist on Scripture, and at a glance doesn’t seem like a big deal, but as I consider t more I start to see how it really it changes the whole gospel message. This is what makes it dangerous.
For example, if someone says that Jesus died for our sins, but they don’t really think sin is a problem, that’s one little part of the gospel that they are leaving out or not teaching, but that one little thing can drastically change the whole gospel message, because if we don’t understand why sin is a problem, it doesn’t matter that Jesus died on the cross. A very basic example, but you see the point I’m making.
It’s these books and articles that are just a little bit off that are hard (but so crucial) to detect. This is why it is so important to saturate ourselves in Scripture. That’s how you cultivate discernment. You’ve probably heard this (I have in a million sermon illustrations, haha) but say you have a bank teller. He is having to learn to tell counterfeit bills from the real deal. Now when they do this, they don’t study the counterfeit dollars, because there are so many and they all are a little different, so this would take forever. Instead, they study a real dollar bill, so that they can tell when one is even just a little bit different, and thus counterfeit. It trains them to recognize immediately when something is not as it should be. I think that illustration is used a lot because it really is applicable.
We don’t have to read every book that’s being marketed right now to try and recognize what is off and what is not. We need to know the original, the truth, really well. If someone were to come to me and say, “I really want to learn to cultivate discernment in my life, how do I do that?” I would encourage them with the simplest answer in the world, and it would be “read your Bible as much as you can, and by it measure everything else that you read.”
We are not flawless people. We are going to make mistakes in the things that we write. None of us are writing the divinely inspired word of God, yet people can still read and write things in ways that are in agreement with all of Scripture. When you study Scripture, when it is the main way that you understand truth, then you’re going to recognize the little twisted, slightly off versions of it quickly.
That makes perfect sense. I feel like a lot of times people will default to “oh I always check this person’s blog to see what they say about it before I read it” or “I saw that so and so recommends it on this podcast, and that’s how I decide what to read.” Even here you have the same dilemma. Men and women are fallible, and while they may have good things to say, they are not our measuring stick for what is true and what is not. You have to take everything back to Scripture and measure it according. But that’s a lot harder than just going with the flow and doing what everyone else is doing, so we don’t do it a lot of times. We get tired. We let our guards down, and that’s when a lot of the error slips in. Because when you’re discouraged and tired, you are much more willing to grab hold of anything that sounds good, without taking the time to determine if it really is good. And often, in times of tiredness or discouragement, we read our Bibles less than ever, because we just don’t feel like it, and this is a problem. This is when we need to read them the most.
Yeah, I remember someone asking me one time after a really popular book she had read and considered great hit the New York Times Bestseller list, and she asked me “What do you think?” I said, “I would not trust a thing in that book.” Her response was, “Well I don’t understand why Christians have to be so judegemental about all the books. I mean, I think there’s a little good to take from everything.”
I told her, “to some degree you’re probably right, but I don’t know that we should be getting things that are important to our understanding of who God is and who we are, from people who are so wildly off course.” What I mean by that is this: I don’t know that it’s worth going in and trying to grasp little nuggets of something that might be good out of a book that is wholly bad. Why try to redeem these tiny little pieces of it when there are so many other good options out there? Plus, you have Scripture that is infallible and wise and useful for teaching and corrections and training in righteousness. So I understand where that argument comes from, but I think that there’s a little bit of laziness in there, because it’s just so much easier to be spoon fed things that make us feel better about ourselves and also just remove the responsibility of work from our shoulders. But I think that when we do the work, we take ownership of what we learned. It changes us from the inside out.
I just cannot advise women strongly enough to do the work of studying Scripture. Yes, read books by people you trust. I read books all the time. There’s writers I trust, theologians I trust, but I also recognize that they are not God. I still have to do the work myself to know Scripture and know who God has revealed Himself to be there.
As a believer, I have the gift of Scripture. We have all the words God intended for us to have for His revelation of who He is and what He has done to save us. We also have the gift of the Holy Spirit who enables us to understand those words and apply discernment.
There are times when discernment is born out of years of studying the Scripture and sometimes discernment comes because I am diligently and earnestly praying in the moment of a conversation regarding something controversial and begging for the ability to discern well.
Its not just something of our own hands, and our own study, the Holy Spirit works in us to help us understand and know what is true and what is not. The Lord grows and cultivates discernment in us, it isn’t a man made thing we can just achieve. We must be seeking Him and He will lead us as we expose ourselves to Scripture and as the Holy Spirit illumintaes what we are reading and gives us understanding and thus discernment. The Bible is not a regular book. These are the living and active words of our Lord. The Bible literally has the power to change the way we think. Discernment grows from a lifetime of cultivating an understanding of Scriputre and praying earnestly for wisdom.
One of the things I’ve encountered in conversations with other women on discernment (especially those conversations when someone brings up a book they just read and loved and they ask for my thoughts on it and I didn’t read it or didn’t think it was good for one reason or another) is that once you get talking about it the conversation ends with them saying something along the lines of, “We have a relationship with the Lord, you can’t put so much emphasis on studying and worrying about what’s right and what’s a little off, because if you’re doing that then you’re just being an academic theologian and even a little legalistic.”
What would you say to that? How would you humbly answer questions of this sort?
Yeah, I’ve had this same conversation before, and I think you do have to pray for humility and that you don’t come across as a know-it-all in the moment. But I think a good step forward is always to ask questions. Asking questions helps the other person think through what they are actually arguing for. Ask a lot of questions, and center those questions around this: how do you have a relationship with Christ?
I don’t know what their initial answer will be, but eventually you get back down to the fact that God’s chosen means of revelation of Himself to His people is the Word. We cannot have a relationship with Him apart from the way He, the author and ustainer of life, has given us. We cannot create our own ways to have a relationship with Him. If you look at Hebrews 10 (it’s one of my favorote passages on this) the author of Hebrews is talking about the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross and how He through His flesh entered behind the curtain and gives us access to God the Father. The author is talking about how God, through Jesus’ work on the cross, gives us free access to God the Father, which up until the cross people had never had. They had to go through the tabernacle, and the temple, and all the sacrificial systems. Then the author of Hebrews, after making this point, moves onto “therefore” and he basically tells us to do three things. 1) let’s draw near to God. 2) Let us hold fast to our confession. 3) Let us not neglect meeting together as a church.
He is making three conclusions after looking at what Jesus has bought for us at the cross, which is access to God the Father. As you read that in context, it sure seems like he’s talking about prayer.
Hold fast to our confession of faith: that’s what we believe about God. We have this in many translations, and numerous copies on our shelves. This is the way we hold fast to our confession: we hold fast to Scripture. This is one of the things Jesus bought for us at the cross: a way to hold fast our confession of faith, our beliefs about God and what He has done. We hold fast to this through prayer, the study of Scripture, and the continual gathering and encouragement of the local church. My point is, you cannot try and hold up a relationship with a person that has chosen to reveal Himself to us in a certain way, through any other way. We have to submit ourselves to His plan. So because He chose to reveal Himself through the Word, that’s what we submit ourselves to.
It’s like that whole marriage picture you’ve probable heard referenced before. I can’t say that I’m going to love my husband and never spend any time with him. I cannot claim to love the Father, if I do not know Him in the way He has given me to know Him. That is just absolutely going to require that I know Him through Scripture, which means I have to read it, which means I have to study it.
Yes, there are for sure times where it feels academic, but oh there is so much joy that comes when you are sitting down and opening your Bible, you’re reading and writing down what you are learning about God’s character, about His faithfulness, and you are praying as you read. Remind yourself continually that you aren’t studying for the sake of knowledge, this is a relationship, and this is how you come to know the Father better. There is so much joy that comes in it. Keep pressing forward. It is so worth it to know the Lord intimately through the way He chose to reveal Himself to His people: Scripture.
Part 2 of this interview will be published June 14th.