An In-Depth Look at Teachings that Lead to Pseudo-Christianity: Lectio Divina

What’s wrong with lectio divina?

I was at a worship service where the pastor preached on a well-known Bible passage regarding ‘illumination by the Holy Spirit’. In 1 Corinthians 1:17–2:16, Paul contrasts God’s wisdom with human wisdom, both in the content of the Gospel message1 and in the power of the Gospel message2. The content of God’s wisdom (the message of the cross, submission to a crucified Christ, humbleness, serve one another as the expression of loving one another, etc.) was foolishness to the human wisdom of that age (and, indeed, of our age). Greco-Roman philosophers of those days had messages along the lines of ‘how to become a successful citizen’ and focused on how to blow your own trumpet, how to make people work for your benefit, how to defeat your enemies, etc. The Greco-Roman philosophers used elaborate rhetoric, an eloquence of words and gestures, to get that message across. What Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 1:17–2:16 is the exact opposite of that.

But this is not what the preacher explained in his sermon. He only focused on the latter part of 1 Corinthians 2, which talks about ‘illumination by the Holy Spirit’ as the power of God to convey the Gospel message. He did not mention the Gospel message at all. By explaining only half of this Bible passage (only the power, but not the content of the Gospel), the message of the Bible text was significantly altered. The preacher’s explanation highlighted the lectio divina method (without mentioning the name lectio divina). By separating the content of the Gospel from the deliverance of the Gospel and subsequently discarding the content of the Gospel message, the lectio divina method opens the floodgates to all kinds of heresies.

Why?

Because by claiming ‘illumination by the Holy Spirit’ and ignoring the authority of the Bible text itself, you can pick and choose whatever Bible text you like and you can make it say whatever you want. In his corresponding sermon questions for the home groups, the pastor connected ‘illumination by the Holy Spirit’ to an inward-focused reflection on Psalm 23.
According to the ‘experience movement’, the most important question to ask when reading the Bible is “What does this Bible verse mean to me personally?” The preferred Bible reading method to answer that question is lectio divina, because it highlights ‘illumination by the Holy Spirit.’ This focus on ‘illumination by the Holy Spirit’ is born out of Richard Foster’s ‘eureka experience’ (see the second topic in this critic). Although there is room for lectio divina in the Christian way of life, it’s proper place should be limited to personal devotion. The message preached from the pulpit should be embedded in a solid biblical explanation of the Bible text, because the authority of the Bible text itself is crucially important to keep church life on track and avoid all kinds of heresies.

First, the meaning of the Bible text must be understood in the sense “What does this Bible verse mean logically and theologically?”, before it can be understood in the sense “What does this Bible verse mean to me personally?” The Bible text itself carries meaning that can and must be understood in the context of the Bible passage, the Bible chapter, the Bible book, and even in the context of the entire Bible. The diligent study of Scripture in the classic and systematic way (e.g. exegesis, hermeneutics, historical context) provides insight regarding what the Christian faith really is about and discernment regarding God’s will.

Unfortunately, the pastor paid little attention to systematic biblical theology. He singled out ‘illumination by the Holy Spirit’ in his sermon. This approach is especially detrimental to New Covenant discipleship. The New Covenant spells out the consequences of accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior and your Lord. Covenants are a kind of contractual arrangements and the New Covenant lists the contractual consequences of accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior: deny yourself, take up your cross, follow Christ, be salt of the earth, and bring God’s kingdom to the world in order to fulfill the Great Commission. In short: submit to Jesus Christ as your Lord. Discipleship is not an optional add-on to the Gospel. According to the New Covenant, the transition from saved sinner to active disciple must be made. It’s an obligation, not just an option. Discipleship is a mandatory part of the complete package of the Christian faith. The Gospel message in combination with New Covenant discipleship dominates the theology and the application of the 27 books of the New Testament and it should, therefore, also dominate the teaching in our churches.

_____

Notes

  1. For example, 1 Corinthians 1:17 “to preach the gospel…the cross of Christ”, 1 Corinthians 1:18 “the message of the cross”, 1 Corinthians 1:23 “we preach Christ crucified”, 1 Corinthians 2:2 “nothing … except Jesus Christ and him crucified”, and 1 Corinthians 2:6-7 “not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, [but] … God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.”
  2. For example, 1 Corinthians 1:17 “not with [our] wisdom and eloquence”, 1 Corinthians 1:18 “foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”, 1 Corinthians 1:21 “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe”, 1 Corinthians 1:25 “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength”, 1 Corinthians 1:27 “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong”, 1 Corinthians 2:1 “I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God”, 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power”, 1 Corinthians 2:10 “these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit”, and 1 Corinthians 2:13-14 “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”

Photo via Flickr