John Piper is a great preacher and thinker whom I have learned a great deal from. He also seems to be on a mission of inclusivity that has caused him a great deal of trouble in the recent past. The latest issue connected to his name is the issue of Lectio Divina.
On his website Piper endorses this as a method of prayers and Bible study. So what is all the fuss about? Most have no idea what the words Lectio Divina mean, just like the majority of people at the 2012 passion conference didn’t know what they were doing. However I have seen this sort of thing increase in certain churches recently and it does need to be addressed because of how it is being used and who is driving it. As the reader will see, I think that the real problem here is not that Piper is engaging in some Catholic/mystical form of worship and prayer, but that he is engaged with people that are without drawing a dividing line for those that follow him and others.
First we need to understand what Lectio Divina is and where it came from, then see what it has turned into and how it changed.
Lectio Divina means “Divine Reading” and it is an ancient practice that dates back to the first century as far back as Origen and Augustine himself. This practice was not just reading the Bible by skimming the pages but combining prayer, thought and reflection on the passages through slow, careful study. Obviously Augustine benefited greatly from this practice as both Catholics and Protestants alike point to him as one of the greatest minds in the history of Christianity.
We can understand what people between the 1rst and 12th centuries meant when they talked about reflection or “reading and praying” on the scriptures. For example St. Gregory talked about contemplation in the 6th century as “knowledge of God impregnated with love” and “resting in he gift of God”. From what I read contemplation and reflection did not strip itself of knowledge or the Biblical text in any way. Reading, praying, and resting in the knowledge and word of God was a given for Christians of this time.
In the 12th century a monk Guigo formulated this practice into 4 steps based on 4 rungs of a ladder that man can use to reach God. It is primarily this version of the Lectio Divina that you hear denominations and others referring to which is unfortunate. The Reformation put a halt to most of this in the Protestant world as “Sola Scriptura” brought people back to a “Bible Alone” mindset. Now with the rise of postmodernism we have seen this rise again with an emphasis on the 4th point of contemplation that fits with the culture. Here we find a very subjective, pious and often mystic form of contemplation that is not at all found in the writings of St. Augustine or others prior to the 12th century. It is dangerous because it takes the person outside of the Scriptures as they wait for God to speak directly to them through the Holy Spirit.
In my view, John Piper knows better then this. I have read his books as well and there is nothing like this form of contemplative extra-biblical thinking in it at all. In fact in his book “Think”, which is that latest one I have read, he confronts postmodernism, subjective thinking, and anti-intellectualism. This does not sound like a guy who spends his time waiting for the Spirit to put his imagination to work.
Yet there he is on the stage with people who are most definitely caught up in this mystical world of God-speak. He reads the Bible and tells people to then listen for Christ’s words. I have no doubt that he means listen to them from the scripture and gain your knowledge that way, if not then he has contradicted his own writings and articulated beliefs. However that is not all his stage partners did. Listen to Louis Giglio close out the readings after John Piper, Beth Moore, and others were finished reading.
This is the kind of language that is pious and disturbing. It tells the people out in the audience that God is speaking to them, and if they don’t hear it and raise their hand then they are less then the person next to them that did. There was no preparation or serious study that led to a deeper knowledge of the scripture that I know Piper wants people to have. It is an appeal to emotion and extra-biblical feelings that is nothing like what Piper or his contemporaries support or write about.
So here is the problem. It is not that Piper is joining the emergent movement, or that it discounts all of the great preaching and teaching he does like some in the reformed faith have charged him with. It is that Piper does not repudiate a practice that he has to know is not Biblical. Even later on his website as I referred to above he reinforces Lectio Divina with this description for the 4th contemplative point.
Contemplatio (contemplation). For the most of us, this will be the most difficult part, since it consists of silence and yieldedness in the presence of God. Comtemplation is the fruit of the dialogue of the first three elements; it is the communion that is born out of our reception of divine truth in our minds and hearts.
This is not what Giglio presented at the conference but Piper has nothing to say about it.
With all do respect to Piper who I have learned a great deal from, he seems to be on a mission to bring all forms of faith together by participating in events like these, sitting down with Rick Warren, and not drawing the lines where they are needed. This causes great confusion with his own flock and others that listen to him that now think that in order to be spiritual they have to hear the voice of God after reading a passage at a conference. He does a disservice to those he disciples by not calling these things out, but instead propping them up in the name of friendship.
This is not an attempt to bash John Piper, there is enough of that going on, but if he is going to continue down this road of “finding common ground” then he needs to point out the areas where the ground is not so common and repudiate error and false teaching when he interacts with it. Anything less then that is irresponsible on his part.