Lectio Divina (for Skeptics)

We had a fun discussion in hermeneutics class a few days ago. Surveying interpretive strategies throughout church history, we touched a bit on lectio divina (“divine reading”).

In our course textbook, Mark Strauss discussed this reading strategy and noted that many evangelicals may be suspicious of it because it seems “too Catholic.” I think he’s right, frankly, and they’re not the only skeptical ones.

Many biblical studies people who are trained in objective interpretive methods to look for the historical meaning of the text may cringe when the text is read in ways that seem unmoored from history and unregulated by context and various structural features.

Caravaggio, The Calling of St. Matthew

“The Calling of St. Matthew,” Caravaggio

I’m convinced, however that, lectio divina can be employed fruitfully and responsibly (I hope saying so publicly doesn’t result in having my SBL membership canceled). And it can be done in a way that is governed by the historical meaning of the text.

The method consists of reading the text, meditation, prayer, and contemplation.

One first reads the text carefully and repeatedly – or, hears it read aloud. Then, one meditates on the text, entering into it fully, inhabiting the text in an effort to encounter the living God.

The third element is prayer, the response of the human heart that has heard from God in his word. Finally, contemplation, a communing with God in the midst of the realities encountered in the text.

It’s one thing to describe this method and another to try it out. So, I led our class through this brief meditation on the calling of Matthew. You’re welcome to use it in a group setting or to pray through this passage alone.

I think you’ll see that it’s a way of reading the Bible as Scripture but in a way that respects the shape of the text.

5 thoughts on “Lectio Divina (for Skeptics)

  1. Brian LePort

    Amen and amen. I’ve found that I need to take some time to read Scripture this way. I enjoy the academic study of Scripture, but if one isn’t careful it can suck the life right out of the Bible. Sometimes we need to let ourselves relax and enjoy the beauty of the stories, the language, the images, and imagine ourselves in the story. Thanks for sharing this and if your SBL membership is revoked I’ll cancel mine! 🙂

  2. gioismeyo

    Took a class last semester on Ignatius of Loyola, and the Lectio Divina. It was the most fruitful class of my time at PTS.

    Certainly wish there was less tension between the mystic practices and scholarly inquiry.

    1. timgombis

      There doesn’t have to be that tension, Nick — or, perhaps the tension can be a fruitful one, reigning in fanciful spiritual readings, but always making sure we’re reading as disciples.

  3. chappymartin

    Taking classes on Lectio Divina myself, the common practice of it looks nothing like your experience. I agree your way is better, because it is infused with historical background subtlely.

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