The One Book: All That's Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment
What is discernment? Is it knowing who to unfollow and who to mute? What books not to read? What foods and medicines will make you sick? If this is the case, then I just need to make the right choices about what to avoid, and all will be well. But what if discernment is more than just what and who to keep at arm's length? What if discernment is not only rejecting the bad but also embracing what is good?
This is the argument Hannah Anderson makes in her book, All That's Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment. She writes that discernment is not just a life hack or tips and tricks. It's being "changed by wisdom" and becoming "people who know the difference between what's bad and what's good, what's good and what's better." (pg. 14) It is a quality of life to be cultivated that goes deeper than a checklist. Thus "discernment does not change the challenges we face; it changes our ability to face them." (pg. 25)
All That's Good begins by turning the reader to the source of discernment, God himself, and the promise that he will give wisdom to those who ask it. He can also open our eyes to the beauty and goodness that still exists amidst the brokenness in this world. "With the eyes of faith we can see the work that God is doing in it - the work He is doing to those of us who come to Him seeking to be made good." (pg. 43) In appreciating the good gifts that God has given us, he uses them to draw us closer to him. As a result, we are changed into people of virtue, who learn how to think and not just simply what to think. (pp. 53-58)
The second half of the book is based on Phil. 4: 6 "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable." The author discusses how discernment relates to the pursuit of truth, honor, purity, justice, and what we commend or condemn with our speech. These are very practical and challenging chapters that address issues of day-to-day holiness. These are also issues that affect our witness as we live in community with our neighbors and fellow Christians.
The first time I read All That's Good was on a 7-hour train trip. I meant to put it down after a couple hours and take up another book, but I couldn't put this one down. I've appreciated Anderson's previous books, but this one struck a deeper chord with me. I've been trying to cultivate the life of the mind after decades of letting it go dormant, formerly believing that spirituality and thinking were mutually exclusive. But initially, discernment (or what I thought was discernment) was more about proving my rightness and ammunition against someone else's wrongness. It was selfish and prideful. However, what she writes is far from this. It's true that we will be transformed as we grow in wisdom, but this transformation does not occur in isolation. Its goal is not for ourselves alone. This gift of discernment, which allows us to see and enjoy so many other good gifts from God, is "for the healing of the body of Christ." (pg. 182.) This has been a burden in my heart for the last few years that I could not articulate until now. "As much as we must learn to discern the goodness in the world around us, we must learn to discern it within His Body to see its goodness despite its brokenness... To know the goodness of those with whom we "live on one bread and one wine."" (pg. 184)
All That's Good is one book that I will be returning to again and again. In fact, the older women's group in my church just finished this a few months. However, it's not just a “woman's” book because the virtues that are discussed should be cultivated by all believers. Again, this is not a checklist of “10 easy steps to discernment” but an invitation to taste and see that the Lord is good, and in beholding him, to be transformed.
All That's Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment by Hannah Anderson, Moody Publishers, 2018.
Persis Lorenti is member of Grace Baptist Chapel in Hampton, VA where she serves as bookkeeper and deacon of library/resources. She blogs at triedbyfire.blogspot.com and out-of-theordinary.blogspot.com. You can follow her on Twitter @tea_et_books.