Tim Challies ended a recent post criticizing the practice of Lectio Divina by saying, “This, then, is a danger in Lectio Divina, that it may teach us to approach the text subjectively rather than objectively.”
But what is the big deal about reading the text subjectively as opposed to objectively?
It is a typical concern of those defending expository or expositional preaching that they are seeking “objectivity” in their study as opposed to others who are succumbing mere “subjectivity”, but beyond the concern that such a simple opposition is wildly naïve philosophically and practically, this dichotomy often does the reverse of what it hopes to do (secure the authority of scripture from human manipulation).
To understand this we need to remember the three ‘subjects’ of Scripture.
1) The subject matter = the text of Scripture. This is the written word which is often equated with the “Word of God” without further reflection.
2) The subject (as person) = God who spoke and speaks through the text.
The true subject of Scripture, toward which our study ought always to lead, is God, who in Christ through the Spirit, is making all things right.
We read the first (subject matter = Scripture) so that we can encounter, know, and experience, the second (subject/person = God).
And all this leads to the third subject:
3) The subject = the reader, who is made subject, or is subjected to, or subjugated by, the text to God so that as to become slaves to God rather than to our own passions, desires, and deaths.
I believe those advocating for the ‘objectivity’ in study and preaching desire that we would be slaves of the text, and God, rather than masters of the text, but through this opposition of objectivity and subjectivity, which all to often relies on faulty philosophical assumptions, this perspective ends up becoming masters of the text rather than slaves of it.
“Although I wouldn’t have known how to talk about it then, slowly but surely the Scriptures were becoming a place of human striving and intellectual hard work. Somehow, I had fallen into a pattern of using the Scriptures as a tool to accomplish utilitarian purposes rather than experiencing them primarily as a place of intimacy with God for my own soul’s sake.” Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms
So perhaps we should stop striving for a mythical “objectivity” through which God will speak to us, and instead embrace all the processes which we might become “subject” to the text, especially the meditative practices that lead to our own subjective un-mastery of God. Indeed, this is to understand Scripture within the God’s power to save rather than just God’s information to teach.
And tomorrow, on the Missio Alliance Blog, I’ll be posting about why I’m “Against Revelation” because it obscures the power of God behind the desire to know stuff about God. Stay tuned.
And see Mark Moore’s great response to Challies in his “Is Lectio Divina Really Dangerous?“