Critical Thinking: To Judge Or Not To Judge

Christian Living

The Complaint

“You are being judgmental!” is an indictment few want levied against them. In today’s conversation, its cousin “You are being hateful!” is sufficiently feared it successfully censors otherwise intelligent and informed speech on the important issues of the day. In America and around the globe, an increasing refusal to acquiesce to these simplistic indictments is evidenced by the boldness of certain politicians and boisterousness of committed protesters who compete with each other for the prominent headlines “above the fold.” Many among us have heard the gibe often from those barely familiar with the Bible: “Don’t you know that Jesus told us not to judge each other!”[1] When read in its Biblical context, this passage is not a prohibition of judgment and rather serves as a command to inspect your own actions and attitudes before considering those of your sister or brother. Jesus continues, “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”[2] (boldface added) Paul writes, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”[3] There is no prohibition implied or mandated in the Bible from declaring Truth. Paul corrected Peter when His doctrine and actions were wrong[4] and we need to sharpen each other in the manner similar to iron sharpening iron.[5] Blunt blows fail to sharpen iron; a near-parallel interaction develops a honed edge to which we aspire.

The Confrontation

Countless conversations confuse judgment and discernment. This distinction[6] is suitably illustrated in Jesus’ encounter[7] with the Scribes and Pharisees eager to entrap Jesus over the issue of the woman caught in adultery. They challenged Him by saying, “Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?”[8] (Incidentally, have you Gracious Reader experienced this sort of trap, where your counterpart invokes some Old Testament [or Tanakh[9]] reference to divert you from your main point or obscure his main motive?) These leaders presented themselves as ready both to judge and to condemn this women. Jesus discerned their real intentions. “This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him.”[10] Jesus challenged these leaders to find the one among them without sin, the one whose life was in order, to cast the first stone. After they departed, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you? … Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more. I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”[11] He understood the condition of her heart (along with that of the Scribes and Pharisees) and used this situation to reveal His forgiveness and His future for the humble sinner. What a lesson for each of us!

The Compass

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”[12] (boldface added) The Word of God declares itself to be both powerful and profitable.[13] And it is our primary tutor to become skilled discerners. The Koinonia Institute starts its students on a robust study of the Bible which “is not simply 66 books penned by 40 authors over thousands of years, (but it) is an integrated whole which bears evidence of supernatural engineering in every detail!”[14] The Bible meets the evidentiary test for reliability and relevance like no other document. Paul was careful to avoid relying on man’s wisdom and words, even his own. “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”[15] The Bible can be trusted to show its readers where they are and where they are going. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”[16] The Koinonia Institute incorporates in its equipping and educating framework the Issachar track, which draws its mandate from 1 Chronicles 12:32a. “The sons of Issachar … had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” We need to understand the times in which we live and to know how to respond to the encroaching darkness which seems imminent and unavoidable. We need to “study to shew (ourselves) approved unto God, workmen that do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”[17] The division of soul and spirit! Comparing spiritual with spiritual! Rightly dividing the Word of truth! These all speak of a distinction borne from discernment. We must resist any conclusion that pursuing truth entails bigotry or judgment. Paul’s instruction to a young pastor in Ephesus supports this. “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”[18]

The Critical Thinker

Implicit in the commendation of the sons of Issachar for “understanding the times” is a competence at critical thinking. Isaiah implored his reader, “Come now and let us reason together.”[19] Paul “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.”[20] To sharpen the critical thinking skills, Koinonia House introduces a new briefing package titled, Critical Thinking, available for purchase on DVD, Audio CD, and audio and video download. Presenter Christopher Corlett combines lessons learned as a professional mathematics educator and as a professional litigator to equip the listener with concepts and skills useful in critical listening, reading and thinking. What role should the Bible play in persuasive presentations? How is evidence vetted for relevance and reliability? How can we be certain of any conclusions reached in a time of increasing uncertainty? What is the distinction between an evidentiary burden and a persuasive one? What is the quantum of proof required for a convincing argument? These topics and so many more are introduced and investigated during these two one-hour presentations. The ambition is for the listener to begin improving and utilizing those discernment skills necessary in this time when so much information – both factual and fanciful – bombard us daily. And by honing these skills, we can be like the Sons of Issachar!


  1. Loosely based on Matthew 7:1 
  2. Matthew 7:3–5 (NKJV) 
  3. Galatians 6:1 (NKJV) 
  4. See Galatians 2:11–21 
  5. See Proverbs 27:17 
  6. “… along with the lesson learned in the previous paragraph …” 
  7. See John 8:1–12 (we urge you to read and understand this passage in its entirety) 
  8. John 8:5 (NKJV) 
  10. John 8:6 (NKJV) 
  11. John 8:10–12 (excerpts) (NKJV) 
  12. Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV) 
  13. See 2 Timothy 3:16 
  15. 1 Corinthians 2:13 (NKJV) 
  16. Psalm 119:105 (NKJV) 
  17. 2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV) 
  18. 2 Timothy 2:23–26 (NKJV) 
  19. Isaiah 1:18a (NKJV) 
  20. Acts 18:4 (NKJV)