The next major topic covered by brought into question in this series[i] is “Lectio Divina.”[ii] Our anonymous author merely refers to lectio divina as “Bible Reading” in his heading of the subject and provides this as his opening statement:
“For many Christian leaders Bible reading and study has become the means to preparing a teaching or preaching assignment.”
This is probably truer than most would care to admit; and I am willing to say that it may possibly be true of some, even many, who would profess to embrace reformed theology and the doctrines of grace; many more than we, who are quite orthodox and reformed, would care to admit.
Although the author of this piece quotes Emergent leader, Tony Jones, and states that the origin of lectio divina occurred approximately 500 years after Christ, instituted by a monastic priest, Benedict, aka Saint Benedict,[iii] he does n0t give much of a definition for lectio divina. Then again, he did not have to because he cites the four phases of lectio divina in his paper (which we will look at one by one). Prior to explaining each one of the components, however, the author does provide an especially revealing paragraph:
“This is lectio divina. It is reading from Scripture for the purpose of growing in intimacy with God, of discovering how the written Word can become the living Word in our lives. Such reading does not focus on the historical aspect of Scripture, but on the devotional component. From what is being read, how can one more fully practice God’s presence?”
Did you catch that last sentence? By now, is it any surprise how thoroughly the practice of God’s presence permeates these disciplines? Once again this is an emotions-based and experienced-based practice; therefore, the author’s defining lectio divina as having a devotional component rather than historical is completely different from my use of the word “devotional.” This is what aids in the confusion as well as the ongoing deception: we use the same words; nevertheless, they mean entirely different things (I will define my use of devotion and devotional a bit later).
Let’s take a look at each of the four steps of lectio divina. The first is lectio (reading):[iv]
“Reading of the passage— This is a time for reading scripture without Bible notes or helps like you would read a novel. An easily read translation will be a big help. Reading aloud is preferable because it requires more focus and concentration. Paying attention to surroundings like comfort and light is important. A brief prayer before reading asking the Holy Spirit to interpret for you is appropriate. Finally choose a time to read when you are more fully awake and alert.”
This instruction from our source document may differ from others; for example, some may say to write down words that may stand out to you. Nonetheless, the essence of the task is similar to the others. The author of this particular document suggests reading without notes or helps, which sadly, in many cases will cause practitioners to forsake real in-depth and historical studies of the Bible altogether— because, if the purpose of lectio divina is to experience the presence of God through greater practice, if one hasn’t attained the goal, he or she is encouraged to continue to practice until they have begun experiencing God’s presence, as is the case in our source document.[v] Sadly ironic, however, is that if one has been “successful” at lectio divina, then he or she is encouraged to continue to even greater depths of experiencing God’s presence.
Another aspect of the author’s instruction that is bothersome is that of telling us to read the Bible as a novel. Now certainly I do read the Bible with a love and joy that comes from awareness that the Bible is the very Word of God, but to read it as a novel— what was the author trying to convey? Did the author mean to read it as pure entertainment? Does he mean to read the Bible in order to take a vicarious trip into the pages of the book? You see, it doesn’t need to be defined by or for the contemplative practitioner because an emotional experience is the goal; and because this kind of experience is subjective, applicable only to the one praying, then ambiguity is not only appropriate, it is necessary, i.e., “What did that mean to you?” and “How did you feel about that?” as we will see in the next part of lectio divina, meditatio (meditation):[vi]
“Meditating on the passage— This is a time to pay attention to the emotions you experience in reading the passage. How does the particular scripture you are reading make you feel? Spend some time thinking about your emotions resulting from the passage. One way to practice this step is to imagine that you are a part of the scripture. In your mind place yourself in the environment. What are you experiencing through your five senses? Do not rush this time. It can be very insightful in making the scripture come alive to you.”
Now, this is a most ridiculous, irrelevant, and irreverent practice. This does not resemble Biblical meditation upon God’s Word in the least. Seriously, what possible difference could it make how you feel about a passage of Scripture? What matters most to you and I is whether or not the passage is true regardless of how you or I feel about it. The Bible is God’s special revelation of Himself, and most especially in its revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus said,
Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. John 5:39
The written Word does not have to become alive in us if the Living Word, the Crucified and Resurrected Word, Jesus Christ, is living in us by His Holy Spirit. The Word of God is already alive— it is alive and powerful, and the Spirit of Christ makes you and me alive to His Word:
For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. John 5:21
The next phase is oratio (prayer):[vii]
“Prayer— Even though you may have asked God already to bless the reading and interpret it for you, this a definite time of asking God for illumination. What does the passage mean? What do the emotions experienced say to you?” [sic]
Actually, this definition is especially mild compared to others; nevertheless, we’ll take it as is. Apparently, it is not really a time to ask God what the passage means, because if we were really interested, we would have asked Him what it meant before we speculated about its meaning during the meditation phase. This is how Joshua and the Israelites got themselves into trouble with the Gibeonites.[viii]
Yet, it is easy to see that when the author asks, “What does the passage mean?” he is asking, “What does the passage mean to you?” The last question the author asks somewhat qualifies the subjective nature of the first.
We all have emotions; and among the redeemed of the Lord, our emotions are good things in us, and appropriate among us. Nevertheless, we should not be led of our emotions. Why is that? It is because our emotions are as corrupt as any other part of our being apart from the grace of God in Christ Jesus. You see, we can never come “to the Bible naked,” as Tony Jones would suggest in his 2005 book, The Sacred Way.[ix] Why? Simply this: we are impure, fallen and corrupt. Even though Dr. Jones uses the metaphor as a figure of speech, the truth is that the naked innocence of mankind has fallen away with Adam’s disobedience and all we do, think or feel will come covered in fig leaves, full of shame, guilt, terror, and hiding from the voice of God in the trees because of our sin. No, my friends; we cannot approach the Scriptures except by the grace of God, and filled with His Holy Spirit.
Now, this brings us to the final phase of lectio divina, contemplatio (contemplation):[x]
“Contemplation— This phase is the most difficult because it incorporates the other three. It is a time of envisioning the Lord Jesus explaining how you are to live out the scripture. Journaling can be an advantageous aspect of this step. Write down what the Holy Spirit is saying to you about the passage.”
Well, there you have it. Lectio divina is not merely a practice performed in order to be consciously aware of the presence of Christ; it is a working up of the mind and emotions in order to conjure, at least in the imagination, an image of Christ to explain the passage. There are a few passages of Scripture that come to mind, but the most prevalent is this:
Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. Matthew 24:26
Although the specific context of the passage has to do with the Lord’s second coming, the general principle of the entire passage does suggest that not only are apparitions of Christ on toast sold on eBay false, not only will false Christ’s arise, but also false manifestations of Christ will be prevailing at the end of the last days.
Lectio divina turns the Scriptures into nothing more than an amulet or talisman, used for conjuring emotional experience, and ultimately a deceptive visual experience. “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).
This paragraph following the four descriptive phases of lectio divina illustrates why actual Bible study will be replaced by this superstitious paganism:[xi]
“This method of Bible study is a means of intensely focusing on the written word of God. It is devotion prompting a continuing discipline that God will honor and a result is he will reveal himself to you in a more intimate way.”
Contemplatives actually consider this a form of Bible study; and the most devout consider it, not only the best form, but the only form— relegating other methods to works without life.
I mentioned earlier that my definition of devotions differs from the implied definition given in our source document. The difference between contemplative devotions and Biblical devotions is that contemplative devotions search within one’s self in order to make the Word of God alive to him or her, and thus satisfying experience through exhilarating emotional highs; whereas Biblical devotions are rooted in trusting faith upon God’s Word, which is already alive, to reveal the Living One, Jesus Christ, unto unbridled, unrivaled, and uncompromised devotion to Jesus Christ alone. Jesus said,
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26-27
[i] “Spiritual Disciplines: Pathway to Christian Maturity,” which is promoted by the Alabama Baptist Convention
[ii] Lectio divina is Latin and means divine (divina) reading (lectio); divina, being the feminine form of sacra (sacred).
[iii] The late Jean Leclercq (1911-1993), himself also a Benedictine monk, had written the “definitive” study on lectio divina, and apparently cites the progenitors of this practice as both Benedict and Pope Gregory I (online source). Although I have not yet finished an exhaustive investigation on this topic, it appears that until Leclercq’s study, lectio divina was not widely known outside the Benedictine order, or at the very least not known outside of the Roman Catholic clergy. Most, if not all, titles on lectio divina are very recent.
[iv] “Spiritual Disciplines: Pathway to Christian Maturity,” pg.4, para.2.1 (aka “lectio” in other instructions)
[v] Ibid, pg.5, paras.2 & 3
[vi] Ibid, pg.4, para.2.2
[vii] Ibid, pg.4, para.2.3
[viii] Joshua 9:3-27
[ix] “Spiritual Disciplines: Pathway to Christian Maturity,” pg.3, para.4
[x] Ibid, pg.4, para.2.4
[xi] Ibid, pg.5, para.1