This chapter moves to some practical examples of discernment. Scot asks: Why do we not follow the Bible sometimes?
Now that we’ve established that we do pick and choose from the Bible what we are going to apply to our lives, we have to ask, why do we choose what we choose? Why do I not do what this passage in the Bible teaches?
Scot identifies a pattern of discernment: as we read the Bible and locate each item in its place in the Story, we discern – through God’s Spirit and in the context of our community of faith – a pattern of how to live in our world.
Scot acknowledges the context and community impacts how we discern
Divorce and Remarriage – Jesus was against divorce (Mark 10.11-12). Second, Jesus “discerned” there is an exception – sexual immorality (Matt. 5.32). Now we have clarity: divorce is wrong except in the case of sexual immorality. Third, Paul had to discern how the teachings of Jesus could be lived out when a non-Christian spouse deserted a Christian spouse (1 Cor. 7.15). Paul is not looking for exceptions, but situations arose in the early church that Jesus did not address (“I, not the Lord” [say this]). Fourth, churches are called to enact similar discernments today whether abuse and desertion and immaturities are permissible grounds for divorce even among Christians. This is the messy part. Here are the confidences we have: the guidance of the Spirit is promised us as we pray, as we study Scripture, and as we join in the conversation with church tradition. It would be much easier for God to have given rules and regulations for everything. But God, in his wisdom, has chosen not to do that. Discernment is an element of what it means to walk by faith.
Fifth, Scot believes our discernments should never become rules or laws. The moment we turn our discernments into rules or the moment we elevate them to the level of official positions, they are headed in the direction of fossilization, inflexibility, and the near impossibility of rethinking, renewing, and reforming.
Scot then goes through several case studies to find some patterns at work in our discernment. He discusses circumcision (Abraham was given this ritual to symbolize the covenant forever. Yet Paul discerned that true circumcision was circumcision of the heart); the styles of Christian women (praying with head covered); the death penalty and others. He accepts the reality that churches already disagree over discernments. He accepts that this process is difficult. Scot brings it back to divorce. What the NT trajectory teaches us about divorce and remarriage is the need to remain firmly committed to marriage while permitting divorce in cases where the marital covenant has been destroyed. The pattern is to discern the underlying reason for the fractured relationship and then to judge if that reason is acceptable.
McKnight shows us that from beginning to end there is a pattern of adopting and adapting within the Bible itself as well as in the churches through the centuries. It is the attempt to foist one person’s days and ways on everyone’s days and ways that quenches the Holy Spirit. Just as they were in the “Bible days” we need to be adaptable. Did things get messy (see the Jerusalem Council, Acts 15), yes. Do they still get messy? Absolutely. But all genuine biblical faith takes the gospel message and “incarnates” it in a context. Living out the Bible means living out the Bible in our day in our way by discerning together how God would have us live.
Scot says that this is not new. Most Christians and churches do operate with a pattern of discernment, but it is rarely openly admitted and even more rarely clarified. Discernment is how we have always read the Bible; it is even the way the biblical authors read the Bible themselves.
Scot will next move on to a five chapter test case: Women in Church Ministries Today. I even wonder if he wrote the first ten chapters to get to the test case.