What’s in a name, that which we call a rose (Lectio Divina)
By any other name (Magic, Humanism, Neo-Orthoxy) would smell as sweet.
Increasingly Lectio Divina is being adopted and practiced by many in the Christian faith for whom I have great admiration. However, I believe that when practicing this ancient form of mysticism they are spiritually misled and/or misleading.
It is magic – In the process by which a practitioner of Lectio Divina conjures up the sacred state/crisis experience in which they converse with God, the neophyte is instructed to select a phrase or single word to focus on. They are instructed to clear their mind of anything they think they might know, and simply let God use that one word or phrase to convey His message which is discovered by the practitioner as he enters into a divine union with God. The practitioner is to completely disengage the word or phrase from its context for this stage of the process. Let me ask you what the difference would be between opening your Bible and focusing on the word “overwhelmed” from Psalm 124:4 and opening my dictionary and opening it to the O words and focusing upon the word “overwhelmed”? “Well,” one might say, “the answer is obvious, the Bible is God’s Word and the dictionary is just a book of words.” To that I would respond by saying that when you remove the word “overwhelmed” from the biblical text it also becomes just a word. And, if you think that it has some magical conjuring properties in this detached state just because you found it in God’s sacred book then you are no longer treating it as God’s Word, you are treating it as a magical talisman.
It is humanism – Thousands of years ago Protagoras declared “Homo mensura”, that is “man is the measure”. Today, Christians are reading the Bible and asking not “What hath God said?” but “What does it mean to me.” The Lectio Divina displaces God and promotes a self-centered humanism that makes man the measure rather than God’s revelation.
The Lectio Divina is neo neo-orthodoxy (existentialism) – it replaces the authority of Scripture (what it means) with the authority of experience. Believers responded to classical nineteenth century liberalism’s attack on the Scriptures by realigning into movements with various “authority” claims. (1) Fundamentalists reasserted the Scripture as authoritative for all things related to faith and practice; (2) Pentecostalism and its variants resorted to claims that the Holy Spirit is the authority for faith and practice; and (3) the Neo-orthodox who at least partially bought into nineteenth century liberalism’s criticism of the Bible but wanted to retain much of the Christian tradition gravitated into a camp in which the “experience of God” became the authority for faith and practice. The Lectio Divina uses the Bible only as the starting point, catalyst, religious talisman to get one to the “experience of God” and then this experience becomes the source of authority (“what does it mean to me”).
It is bad hermeneutics – Origen got the church off to a bad start in looking for hidden, figurative, allegorical messages in the Scripture. Now, we have Christians practicing the Lectio Divina who are using decontextualized clips of words from the Bible, memories from their past, and other “texts” to find the hidden, figurative, and allegorical messages that are available through a crisis experience with God. It was bad hermeneutics with Origen and it is bad hermeneutics today.
It denies in practice, if not in theological commitment, the verbal inspiration of Scripture. Those who hold to the verbal-plenary inspiration of Scripture believe that God inspired the very words of the text and thus the specific meaning of individual words is important. When those practicing the Lectio Divina remove a word from its context and then conjure up any of many different meanings (see how groups practice the Lectio Divina) then they are denying the importance of the meaning assigned by God. As my old linguistics professor, Kenneth Pike from Wycliffe, used to say “You will know a word by the company it keeps.”
The Lectio Divina is contrary to Scripture. There is much about the practice of Lectio Divina which is perfectly consistent with the teaching of sacred Scripture. But, there is also significant areas in which this spiritual practice diverges from the instruction of Scripture. The Scriptures do not tell us to clear our mind, they tell us to replace bad thoughts with good thoughts. The Psalmist does not create new truths when he meditates on God’s Word in Psalm 119, but he is wiser than all his teachers because his eyes were opened to the wonderful things found in the Law of God, not wonderful things found in his own imagination. We are not told to chant a single word from the Bible, but to study the Bible (2 Timothy 2:15)