On John Piper and Lectio Divina…

Posted on January 9, 2012


UPDATE: Desiring God has pulled the suggestion from its website regarding the practice of Lectio Divina. They state: “Update: Formerly I listed Lectio Divina as a third system for prayer. I’ve since removed it for the confusion it has caused. We do not endorse contemplative spirituality. The main point I’d like to recommend is using the text of Scripture as an organizer for our prayers — prayers that are exegetically faithful and gospel rich. I’m sorry for introducing the category.

This is great news and I’m glad to see some accountability whatever the reason for removing this suggestion.

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And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” – Luke 10:27

UPDATE: Todd Friel covered this same concern on the Wretched daily clip today.

The blog world has been lit up since last week’s 2012 Passion Conference where John Piper stood on stage with other popular teachers to read the Word of God followed by silence and contemplation.  As I do not wish to repeat what others have said on the subject, I’ll simply ask a few questions, provide some information, present the material in question, and let you decide with hopes of discussing these concerns.

Before we proceed, I’d like to caveat this post to say I have greatly benefited from John Piper on various issues and doctrinal teachings.  While I have not hugely followed Piper in the past, I recognize his positive influence in the reformed tradition and that he is a highly respected pastor/teacher internationally. So I do not post this article as a witch hunt against John Piper, but this issue is just one more concern in a list of recent concerns over the last couple of years that should give us all pause to ask what is going on here.  Unfortunately, I am finding I can less and less recommend John Piper because of the direction he seems to be going, and that is very sad to me. Nevertheless, we must be Bereans and examine all things in light of God’s Authority in the Scripture.

Let’s get started…

If Lectio Divina is defined by this:

In Christianity, Lectio Divina (Latin for divine reading) is a traditional Catholic practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s Word. It does not treat Scripture as texts to be studied, but as the Living Word (source).

If Lectio Divina is a “very ancient [Catholic] art…:

…practiced at one time by all Christians…  – a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God. This ancient practice has been kept alive in the Christian monastic tradition, and is one of the precious treasures of Benedictine monastics and oblates. (source).

If in practice, Lectio Divina is this:

Lectio – Reading the Bible passage gently and slowly several times. The passage itself is not as important as the savoring of each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow speaks to the practitioner.

Meditatio – Reflecting on the text of the passage and thinking about how it applies to one’s own life. This is considered to be a very personal reading of the Scripture and very personal application.

Oratio – Responding to the passage by opening the heart to God. This is not primarily an intellectual exercise, but is thought to be more of the beginning of a conversation with God.

Contemplatio – Listening to God. This is a freeing of oneself from one’s own thoughts, both mundane and holy, and hearing God talk to us. Opening the mind, heart, and soul to the influence of God (source).

If a Roman Catholic explains how to “practice the presence of God” like this:

If the dangers of Lectio Divina are this:

Those who take this supernatural approach to the text can disconnect it from its context and natural meaning and use it in a subjective, individualistic, experiential, even name-it-and-claim-it way for which it was never intended

…Naturally, the idea of having inside information is very appealing and makes the “knower” feel important, special and unique in that he/she has a special experience with God that no one else has. The “knower” believes that the masses are not in possession of spiritual knowledge and only the truly “enlightened” can experience God. Thus, the reintroduction of contemplative, or centering, prayer—a meditative practice where the focus is on having a mystical experience with God—into the Church. Contemplative prayer is similar to the meditative exercises used in Eastern religions and New Age cults and has no basis whatsoever in the Bible, although the contemplative pray-ers do use the Bible as a starting point.

Further, the dangers inherent in opening our minds and listening for voices should be obvious. The contemplative pray-ers are so eager to hear something—anything—that they can lose the objectivity needed to discern between God’s voice, their own thoughts, and the infiltration of demons into their minds…

Finally, the attack on the sufficiency of Scripture is a clear distinctive of lectio divina. Where the Bible claims to be all we need to live the Christian life (2 Timothy 3:16), lectio’s adherents deny that. Those who practice “conversational” prayers, seeking a special revelation from God, are asking Him to bypass what He has already revealed to mankind, as though He would now renege on all His promises concerning His eternal Word. Psalm 19:7-14 contains the definitive statement about the sufficiency of Scripture. It is “perfect, reviving the soul”; it is “right, rejoicing the heart”; it is “pure, enlightening the eyes”; it is “true” and “righteous altogether”; and it is “more desirable than gold.” If God meant all that He said in this psalm, there is no need for additional revelation, and to ask Him for one is to deny what He has already revealed (source).

If Emergent Church co-pope Tony Jones says this about Lectio Divina:

The idea is to experience the passage…It’s when we shine a spotlight on the word or phrase that’s grabbed our attention and really look at it from all sides. What does this word bring to mind? What does this phrase feel like for me?

It’s the time when we need to let other thoughts and worries fall away

Every time we do this with my youth group kids, they feel God says something…The first time I did this with the youth group was in our ninth-grade confirmation class. Every single kid heard something from God. Not one of them said, “Nothing stood out to me.” Not one kid thought it was lame. They didn’t all have some life-changing payoff, but every kid felt as though they had an encounter with the holiness of God…

This way of reading the Bible really lends itself to family devotions. Get rid of the big study Bible and the intense devotionals and get a Bible in a translation that lends itself to devotional reading, such as The Message. Then make it a family practice to do the Lectio Divina once a week (source).

If Lectio Divina is all of these things and more, why is John Piper promoting Lectio Divina on his website, Desiring God, here: A System for Praying in 2012

For a breakdown of the concerns, please see Christine Pack’s article here: John Piper Encouraging Lectio Divina

If Lectio Divina is being promoted on the Desiring God website, and with our understanding of Lectio Divina provided in this post, what is John Piper doing in the following videos along with Beth Moore, Lecrae, Francis Chan, and Louie Giglio:

If we know that one practicing Lectio Divina seeks to hear from the voice of God, to subjectively interpret what the Scriptures are saying and wait on an inner, perhaps audible voice from God, is this what Louie Giglio was referring to when he said:

How many of you heard the voice of God speak specifically, clearly, directly, and personally, to you? Can you just put a hand up? I’d like you to share it. Can you put a hand up for a minute?

Just want you to look around; that’s people saying, “God Almighty (pause) the Maker of heaven (pause) the one Who’s sitting on the only throne (pause) that’s not under threat (long pause, audience cheers)—He spoke to me. He spoke to me.”

God spoke to me.” (long pause) Don’t let the voice of the darkness, tell you that you are not (pause) worth (pause) that God would not speak to you. (pause) Don’t let him tell you, you don’t matter. (pause) God spoke to you (source).

If we have come to learn that Lectio Divina is an ancient, Catholic monastery practice designed to “practice the presence of God” to hear the “still, small voice of God” in order to receive extra-biblical revelations from God, and John Piper is promoting this mystical Catholic practice on Desiring God, and John Piper joined a group on stage in what seems to be a form of Lectio Divina, and Louie Giglio seems to have confirmed this by declaring to the audience that they heard God speak to them – what do we make of all of this?

What do we do with John Piper? Is this cause for concern? Let’s talk about it…

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