Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Listening Prayer -(Part 3 Hearing God's voice through scripture-continued)

My last post dealt with the devotional reading of scripture using the monastic exercise of Lectio Divina as a templet for hearing from God. There are some negative associations with the idea of a devotional reading of scripture over an academic reading. Let me make a couple points to help clear the air.
1. A devotional reading of scripture is not the beginning point to scriptural study. 
Spiritual infants need to grow in their their knowledge of scripture and the ‘elementary principals of the oracles of God”(Hebrew 5:12) “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness , for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil’ (Hebrews 5:13-14) The disciplines of extensive Bible study and grounding in good theology should be regarded as prerequisites to devotional practices. 

Guidelines for an Academic study of scripture

Focus on Historical Context
  • Reconstruct the situation. How?
  • Read the whole letter/passage, big picture
  • Make notes, what issues were addressed?
  • How did the author know or learn of the situation?
  • What attitudes of the author can we spot?
Focus on the Literary Context

  • Genre (i.e. poetic, apocalyptic) 
  • Reading entire 'thinking paragraphs'. 
  • Pay attention to the use of metaphor, allegory.. etc..
Some tips for interpretation

  • "A text without a context is a pre-text" -BG
  • A text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author or his reader
  • Whenever we share comparable particulars with the 1st century setting , God’s Word is the same to us as to them
  • Read the precept, investigate the context to discover the Principle behind the precept, Follow the Principle. (The spirit of the command, not the letter) 
  • The bible must be read through the lens of Jesus. 
Some cautions for interpretation

  • Avoid allegorizing – looking for more than the plain meaning, narratives aren’t full of yielded spiritual truths for the clever elite to uncover
  • Avoid decontextualizing – ignore the big picture, “a text without a context...” e.g. Balaam and the talking donkey
  • Selectivity, shopping for hermeneutical dainties on the shelves, picking specific words and phrases to concentrate on rather than balancing the parts and the whole – e.g. Joseph’s dreams
2. Meditation and contemplation must always be tethered to the truth of the Word. 
Contemplation is not an introspective New Age practice of altered consciousness or voiding the mind of content. A biblical concept of meditation is more correctly described as the filling of oneself with truth of scripture. We circumvent this dangerous territory of a New Age approach by commitment to sound doctrine, by being comfortable with the high view of scripture, and by approaching scripture with a willingness to study it and put it into practice. 

3. An academic reading of scripture is not enough. 

"When evangelicals study scripture they typically look more for precepts and principals than an encounter with God. The practice of the devotional reading of scripture can correct this lack of balance because it stresses a spiritual formation and experience with the God of scripture."- Dr. Kenneth Boa
Most contemporary approaches to Bible study have more in common with the scholastics than the monastics. The distinction being that a scholastical approach to scripture is focused on information and a monastical approach is primarily intrested in formation.The early patristic fathers wrote extensively on the limits of a purely intellectual approach to scripture and God. John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nyssa wrote of the incomprehensibility of God and of the ‘mystical light’ in which God is hidden in darkness that is beyond our understanding. Knowing God involves the mind but moves beyond reason and formulation to faith and trust. We follow to where scripture leads us, which is a living relationship with Jesus. It is this relational understanding beyond the written word that Christ desires for the Church. (see part 1 of this blog series)  

Take the example of the human eye's ability to see colour. The human eye can only see a small fraction of what constitutes colour. The spectrum begins with high-energy and high-frequency particle gamma rays, nuclear gamma rays, and x-rays; it moves through the middle range of ultraviolet to infrared wavelengths of light; and it ends with the lower-energy and lower-frequency range of microwaves, radio and television communication and sound waves. Just as the electromagnetic radiation that is visible to human eyesight is but a speck on much larger spectrum, so human reason can perceive only a minute trace of the awesome mystery of God. 

Acknowledging both the value and the limits of reason and acedemia, we come to see that growth in the experiential and personal knowledge of God is produced by faith, hope and love. Faith brings us to an awareness of ourselves not only as known by God but also as invited to participate in union and communion with him. Hope inspires us to dare to long for the infinite and to transfer our aspirations from the earthly to the eternal as we “rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him”.(Psalm 37:7) Love seeks to possess the Beloved as it increasingly realizes the degree to which we have already been possessed by Him. 
4. Scripture alone is not enough. 
Christian scripture is the product of a community of believers who affirm that they, and not a book, are called to be the earthly repository of divine truth. The New Testament was written as, among other things, an ongoing reminder that the Bible alone is not enough. I think of passages like this, where John says,
As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him. ~1 John 2:27 (NRSV)
Do you see the irony? John is teaching these Christians that they do not need anyone to teach them. He identifies the Holy Spirit’s anointing on the church to guide them into all truth, and yet sees his written encouragement as a part of that process and so goes on to teach many wonderful things in the letter we now know as 1 John.
The early church leaders do not display a self-awareness of contributing to a book called the Bible so they could finally dump their delegated authority into the book and then sit back and allow the book alone to steward the truth of Jesus for future generations. It seems as we read through the New Testament that the writers of scripture had a sense that their writings were one tool to keep the church on track but, should not take over for the church itself as a whole stewarding the truth of Christ in community together. 

More to come.......

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