Saturday, 11 June 2011

Devotional Scholarship

The title may sound like an oxy-moron, or even an unsolvable paradox, but that need not be the case. In fact, I am increasingly becoming agitated with Christian scholarship and it’s apparent embracing of a secular style of writing that talks about “God” but does not acknowledge God’s presence in the interpretive process. Listen to the wisdom of an early Christian, labouring in the vocation of teaching and preaching:

If anyone ponders over [the scriptures] with all the attention and reverence they deserve, it is certain that in the very act of reading and diligently studying them their mind and feelings will be touched by a divine breath and they will recognise that the words they are reading are not utterances of people but the language of God.[1]

For Origen, studying Scripture is a devotional act. It attends with all due respect to the voice of GOD. It consciously and purposely seeks to apprehend what God seeks to reveal in his words. It is an act inspired and directed by the revelation of God. It is a holistic experience as it seeks not just an intellectual stimulus, but also the transformation and edification of feelings which would then necessarily affect one’s actions. Note the words of John of Damascus when he writes,

To search the sacred Scripture is very good and most profitable for the soul. For “like a tree which is planted near the running waters,” so does the soul watered by sacred Scripture also grow hearty and bear fruit in due season. This is the orthodox faith. It is adorned with its evergreen leaves, with actions pleasing to God.[2]
This act of reading and studying is an act of reverence towards God’s voice through the medium of Scripture. And we understand that this is primarily the work of the Spirit breathing upon us as we labour among God’s witnesses and prophets. The Spirit whispers through attentive exegesis and theological reflection to the heart that listens, to the ears that hear, that we might know Him and make Him known.

The biblical theologian who writes [and teaches] in the service of the church does so to elucidate the biblical worldview, not merely so that it can be studied but so that it can be adopted.[3]

[1] Origen, First Principles, 4.1.6.
[2] John of Damascus, Orthodox Faith, 4.17.
[3] James Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgement, 45.

1 comment:

  1. Joseph McAuley11 June 2011 at 09:23

    I get annoyed when I hear pastors and preachers challenged to not only study the bible for preaching but to also take time for their own personal devotions. Surely the two most often go hand in hand. Study is devotional and life giving, and out of this it’s only natural for sermons and teaching to flow. If we can study without being moved and transformed by God’s word something is wrong. Holt in 'Thirsty for God,’ only a few pages after describing the biblical perspective of a person as an integrated whole, says that intellectual encounter with the bible must be distinguished from the encounter of the heart. I totally disagree. If it is impacting your mind it is impacting your heart, if it is impacting your heart it is impacting your mind. C.S. Lewis once remarked that he often found studying a difficult matter in theology, pipe clenched between his teeth (and I imagine single malt on the desk), more helpful than reading devotional guides.