Piper Blurs the Lines Again….Lectio Divina and the 2012 Passion Conference

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.

12 thoughts on “Piper Blurs the Lines Again….Lectio Divina and the 2012 Passion Conference

  1. Pingback: On John Piper Hearing from God « airō

  2. It is beyond my capability to understand why so many people come to the defense of Piper or anyone else when the teaching they are pushing is clear heresy. (Did everybody forget about Piper’s endorsement of the Federal Vision garbage a few years ago?) Why is there no serious call for repentance and belief in the Gospel for such men? Is their past track record the only determining factor for current acceptance of what falls out of their mouth? So now we are all just one big happy family-Rodney King style-everything is okay especially if it comes from Piper or Warren of Furtick or whomever is the golden-boy of the month. May I humbly request that someone direct me to the Scripture that says that L-D is from the Holy Spirit. When you are done spinning your wheels and are unable to point to even one verse, maybe all that reading of the Word can be used of the Holy Spirit to produce repentance and a return to the Lord who died for you.

  3. Im not sure what John Piper is advocating that is so dangerous here or what these four steps of “Divine Reading” are. But I know that Jesus said “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me and I give them eternal life and they shall never perish…” I had a discussion with a Brother at Church about whether or not God speaks to His people nowadays . He is from a very conservative background and said he was taught that God speaking to people would be un-Biblical or extra Biblical and He said all that is needful is in God’s Word and was pretty sure he still believed that way. I pointed out that Jesus said; “My sheep hear My voice” and for someone to say that His sheep dont hear His voice would be Un- Biblical. I believe that if you think you are hearing God’s voice and it contradicted His word that you should reject it though.
    I also have a lot of respect for John Piper and would have to hear a lot more about this to make any judgment.
    I believe I hear God’s voice almost every day (Never audibly) but it is usually in natural tender moments of either prayer, worship, reverent contemplation, just plain ole honest conversation with Him. I have found that when I just sincerely ask Him for light He is faithful to give an answer. Particularly with understanding His word. He might not always answer or give me the answer I want to hear but it is what I need to hear. Sometimes His silence can be a very clear answer. Circumstances or what I call Divine accidents are often His voice. Sometimes when I need direction I sense a quickening of the way I should go or what I should do. (Not that I dont still often bungle it up though) He is so clever and creative about the way He relates that it often takes you by joyful surprise. I have come to the conclusion that one of the signs that it is Him is that it came from a totally unexpected direction and it always has that feeling of settled peace about it.

  4. Kevin, the dangerous part in my opinion is not meditating on the word and having the Holy Spirit speak through the word once given to the saints. It isn’t even the Spirit guiding you through your journey. In context, the sheep do hear the voice of Christ in regard to salvation. He does know them and they will respond and have eternal life.

    The dangerous activity is what Louis Giglio did and how the emergent movement and other groups use the contemplation part of Lectio Devina. Most Roman Catholics don’t even go this far. The people in the crowd are told that Jesus spoke to them and to raise their hands and show it. People raise their hands in a pious move to look and feel better then the rest. People are caught up in emotion and are not “thinking and meditating” on anything. Most in the crowd do not have a Bible open, they have not spent time in the word and are now reflecting or “resting” in it like you have described. When things like this are done I am reminded how Hank Hanegraaff has always talked about the skin of the truth stuffed with a great big lie.

    This is being used by some on the stage as a mystical, out of body, emotional, experience void of thought. Something Piper would never support as I pointed out yet he does not speak against it. That is the dangerous part that many are upset about. I think that many are attacking Piper in a very non-Christian like way void of dignity and respect, however he has been doing these things a lot lately and he does need to be lovingly rebuked for his non-action in my opinion. I applaud him for sharing in the ministries of others that might not agree with the Reformed faith like Beth Moore and others, but doing that comes with it a big responsibility to stand for Biblical Truth and defend error with dignity and respect and Piper knows that as well as anyone. He doesn’t do it out of a desire to build friendships and I don’t agree with that approach.

    Look into what went on at the conference and what all of the people on the stage believe in and stand for and I think the full picture will become more clear

    God Bless

  5. Piper really is confusing. I have read some great teaching from him and as someone who recently began attending a Reformed church I decided to buy a couple of his books (Desiring God and Don’t Waste Your Life). However when I hear about things like this and his virtual endorsement of Rick Warren it really does make me wonder who I’m reading.

  6. Thanks Llondy for your prompt, courteous and insiteful reply.
    I will pray for John Piper. I greatly admire him partly because of his uncompromising stand and sermons against abortion.

    I really enjoy your site. I loved your article about whether CS Lewis was a Calvinist. I printed it off so I can finish reading all the comments. Wheeeew! All 50 pages! Bit by bit I feel that I am coming around to the reformed view. I expressed how I have a somewhat of a hybrid view of how we are free moral agents and at the same time how it is all grace and sovereign election. The last 2 comments at the CS Lewis article.
    I keep having scriptures leap out at me that hint that something is going on that far surpasses most of Christendom’s view that God is just moderately affecting our lives and just has a subtle influence here and there to give us a little nudge or a subtle spanking but we do most of the shaping of our destiny.
    “I know the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” Jeremiah 10:23 In my margin there I wrote John 6:36-37 “You have seen me and still do not believe” and then Jesus immediately says “ALL the Father gives me WILL come to Me and the one who comes to me I will by no means cast out.” In just these 2 short verses you see Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the saints.
    Sorry for getting so off topic.
    While I am off topic though 🙂 who is the picture you always post by your name? Jonathan Edwards?

  7. The covenental view of scripture really brings the OT and the NT together and gives the Bible a much deeper meaning. It takes the emphasis off of you and I and puts it between the Father and the Son giving all the glory to Him which is the purpose. It is hard for us to accept living in a postmodern culture but yes, not everything is about us.

    I am glad the blog has benefited you in some way and pray that you continue to grown in grace and knowledge. I hope to post more this year time permitting…:)

    The picture is of John Owen. If you have not read his book “The death of death in the death of Christ” I highly recommend it.

  8. I absolutely love John Owen and no doubt drive a few friends crazy with frequently quoting him. 🙂 Some of my favorites are: “A minister may fill his pews, his communion rolls, the mouths of the poor, but what that minister is on his knees, in secret prayer before Almighty God is what that minister is and no more.” And “It is not the glorious battlements, the stained glass windows, the crouching gargoyles that support a building but the stones that lie unseen in or upon the earth. Oftentimes it is the despised and trampled upon that bear up the weight of a whole Nation.” And “The deceitfulness of sin is seen in that it is modest in its early proposals, but when it prevails it hardens men’s hearts and leads them to ruin.” There are a few others but I will stop before you see what I mean about driving people crazy. 🙂 Just one more “A proud faith is as much a contradiction as a humble devil.” 🙂
    What really made me start looking into Calvinism was a statement by George Whitefield that really struck a chord. “Nothing but the doctrines of the reformation can do this (debase man and exalt the Lord Jesus) All others leave free will in man and make him in part at least a saviour to himself….I know Christ is all in all. Man is nothing; he hath a free will to go to hell, but none to go to heaven, til God worketh in him to will and to do of His good pleasure.”

  9. Before the first word of Scripture was incised on a stone or inked on a parchment or papyrus somewhere God spoke to Abraham and sent him up a hill, then on a long journey. Before that he spoke to Moses, and before that he spoke to Cain and before that…

    I am confused, here, by the “take away” that it is somehow un-Christian to think that God does not “speak” today, or the believer cannot wait on God’s word so to speak. If I have know one person I have known several who live their lives depending, more or less, on the words God communicates to them, either directly in moments of prayer or indirectly through circumstance interpreted as communication of a sort…and all without direct reference to Scripture. (Might I mention a certain quarterback whose recent activities have cause many to speculate about God’s personal interest in the playoffs?)

    As the poem has it, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God” That speaks to the thinker and prayer both, and conclusions arise from it about the Truth of life and the course one may follow to that Truth.

    God sent his angel to speak to a young maiden, unmarried, and there began the story of our salvation.

    With those willing to invest the time in the endeavor, he still is willing to speak. What he says is surprising, sometimes frightening, sometimes uplifting but always, always, loving, uplifting and, finally, liberating…as the truth should always be. The thing to emphasize, I think, is that her never contradicts himself, and, since Scripture is His word, Himself, how can one wonder about Truth being two?

    Lectio Divina is tested and true.

  10. Perhaps you have slightly missed the point. The issue is not whether or not God speaks today, He certainly speaks through his word and touches the lives of those he calls. The issue is not even how God spoke to people before Christ and the prophets and after, that would be a different conversation. The real issue is with how the idea of meditation and contemplation and how it has been changed and twisted over time. It is a change from study, deep thinking and resting on the things of God found in the word to an emotional, euphoric, experience that is absent of thought, mystical and extra biblical. I was happy to see Piper finally come out against this type of thing and I give him credit for that. I hope I see more of that in the future.

  11. I wonder if the root problem is way.
    The goal of seeking Father and Son in His temple seems good.
    But Jesus says: I AM the way, the life and the truth, no one comes to the Father but through ME.

    This lectio-divination seems to:
    1. insult Jesus with mechanical prayer which does not involve the heart of person,
    2. disobey Jesus’ word by assuming that bible-reading forces God’s hand,
    3. misuse God’s scripture in a rapacious, greedy, and self-seeking means to obtain desires,
    4. seek not God’s will or humble self to potential reproof or humility to Christ’s will,
    5. use an ungodly transcendental-meditation-like practice to “loose or dumb the mind” and accept any spirit or any message,
    6. (sometimes) call Christ a liar by reading His scripture assuming that it is not true history and true prophecy but a lying-storybook that glorifies the reader and humbles God,
    7. glorifies the practitioner for the purpose of boasting to man,
    8. is unfaithful in seeking a man-made device to bring God close.
    (it is actually God’s love for us that makes Him hold onto us)

    Is it possible to build a ladder to heaven when Jesus says that He is the only ladder?
    Bad heart, bad ambition, bad way, go back to the book of James and try again.

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