First, not only am I a terribly inconsistent blogger, I do not read anyone else’s blog with any consistency either. I find that it is better for my anxiety not to have to keep up with the endless online debates. However, someone on my Twitter feed mentioned Tim Challies’ latest blog on the dangers of lectio divina and it peaked my interest. After reading his blog, I felt compelled to say a few things, not because I believe Tim (who I don’t know) will read this and change his mind, but because I want to express a different view for anyone who might be interested and/or confused.
Second, let me share a bit of my background. I was once considered very Reformed–one of those obnoxious Reformed guys who always wants to argue about the Five Points of Calvinism and question whether or not anyone who doesn’t accept all five points can even say that they accurately understand the gospel. Yes, that was me. Emphasis on the was.
Third, I have spent the last eleven years pastoring a church where I preached expositional verse-by-verse sermons through books of the Bible. I approached studying for a sermon series like I was studying for a dissertation defense at Oxford. I would read dozens of commentaries, monographs, journal articles, and just about anything else I could get my hands on. I would do exegesis in the original languages and I would consult with others who I felt were experts on matters within a particular book. Yep, for the most part it was overkill. I dissected a book until I felt that I knew it inside and out.
Fourth, I was accepted into a doctoral program in the UK to do a PhD in New Testament. My thesis proposal was on early Christian understanding of the birth narrative of Luke’s gospel in the context of the Roman Empire and the imperial cult. I’m a HUGE believer that historical context is crucial to correctly understanding and interpreting a book. Sadly, my mother-in-law entered into the final stages of her battle with cancer right when I would have begun this program, and so I put my pursuits of a PhD on the shelf until another time so that I could be present to her and to my family.
Why all this information about myself? I can assure you it’s not to impress you. There is nothing I have said that is impressive. So I used to be a Calvinist–big deal. So I studied hard as a pastor–I was supposed to. So I got into a PhD program–so did a bunch of others. No, there is nothing impressive about any of this.
I tell you this stuff because I want you to understand that I’m not one of those people who is comfortable getting in a circle and listening to everyone share their subjective reading of the text. I struggle with hearing someone say, “I think this verse means…” I’m usually the guy who in the back of his mind is saying, “What?! This text has nothing to do with that? Where did he/she get that from? That’s absurd!”
I regularly practice lectio divina and find that it is essential to my spiritual formation.
* Side Note: I’m sure that those who are critical of lectio divina are equally critical of what is regularly referred to as spiritual formation. But that’s it’s own post.
Lectio divina is not dangerous. It is trusting.
This is where Challies, and others like him, are badly mistaken about the nature of lectio divina – lectio divina is not about interpreting the text; it’s about the text interpreting me.
When I approach the text in order to be formed by it, rather than simply informed by it, I am submitting myself to the text–the opposite of mastering it. Let me explain.
Here is an example of lectio divina using this morning’s Gospel text from the daily lectionary (Matthew 6:19-24).
Lectio (Reading) — I begin by simply praying, “Lord, speak to me through your word and form me into the image of your Son.” I then read completely through the passage. I then read it again, slowly and out loud. I then read it again. And again. And again. As I continue reading, I’m paying attention to where I feel apprehended by the text. I’m trusting that the Holy Spirit knows me well and wants to speak to me and wants to form me into the image of Jesus.
Now why would I believe that?
Because I prayed that he would. I am choosing to trust the Holy Spirit (if I’m not mistaken, this is part of the Christian tradition).
As I continue to read, I find that I’m continually drawn to the words in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.“
This leads to the second step.
Meditatio (Meditation) — I now begin to meditate on this verse. I’m asking questions now.
What is my treasure? Where is my treasure? Is my heart divided? Is my heart with Jesus? In his kingdom? Or is my heart with my treasure, somewhere in the kingdom of this world?
My meditation upon the words of Jesus naturally evolve into a conversation with Jesus (again, if I’m not mistaken is part of the Christian tradition)…conversation with Jesus is what we would commonly refer to as prayer.
Oratio (Prayer) — I’m now praying in regards to my meditation.
Lord, I haven’t really considered how much I treasure _____________ and how it has divided my loyalty to you and caused me to often be at work against you rather than with you. Please continue to help me see that you are my greatest treasure and that my heart is most at home with you.
Rather than this being a typical perfunctory prayer, I now want to sit in the presence of Christ and trust his power in my life, through the Holy Spirit, to work in my heart in answer to my prayer.
Contemplatio (Contemplation) — I now simply sit in silence. What am I doing? Nothing. I’m resting in the presence of the One who loves me and longs to see my heart conformed. I’m trusting that my prayer has been heard. I’m simply being (this too is part of the Christian tradition — “Be still and know that I am God”).
And that my friends is it!
There is a lot more I could say about why I feel that it is EXTREMELY misguided to say that lectio divina is dangerous, not to mention the fact that it is a VERY narrow way of understanding Scripture. But that too is another post.
Let me conclude by saying that Tim Challies does have a good title to his post,The Danger of Lectio Divina.
Lectio divina is dangerous.
There is a dangerous risk to your comfort when you begin submitting to Scripture rather than trying to master it.