Discernment review: The mystical practice of Lectio Divina

Several mystical practices have been making their way into the more conservative quarters of the faith. One has been contemplative prayer, or centering prayer. Another practice that crept in from the mystical religions was Lectio Divina.

First, what do we mean by 'mysticism'? GotQuestions looks at the blending of the faith with mystical practices, called Christian Mysticism:
The term "Christian mystic" is an oxymoron. Mysticism is not the experience of a Christian. Whereas Christian doctrine maintains that God dwells in all Christians and that they can experience God directly through belief in Jesus, Christian mysticism aspires to apprehend spiritual truths inaccessible through intellectual means
Any practice that urges the adherent to avoid the intellect is not to be trusted. Christianity is a religion of the mind. I can't stress this fact strongly enough. It is a thinking religion.

Paul said in Romans 12:2, Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,  not by 'the subjective impulses of the heart'.

Paul also said in 1 Corinthians 2:16, 'we have the mind of Christ', not that 'some have the mind of Christ and if you adopt their mystical practices you, too, can know truth'.

We read in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6,

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

See? We destroy mind-strongholds, we take thoughts captive, destroy base opinions, and seek knowledge. This is all about the mind.

So the first thing mystical, anti-Christian practices will do is the opposite of what the Bible tells us. The teachers of such practices will tell you to clear you mind, empty your mind, or not to rely on the mind.

A second thought to introduce this review. I am doing a follow-up on the not-new-news of Lectio Divina because of the way satan works. He will creep in, and introduce extra-biblical practices antithetical to our growth. These will be discovered sooner or later, and there will be an outcry. Then the outcry will die down. What the outcry does is two-fold, only one of which is actually helpful to us.

First, an outcry against anti-biblical practices raises the alarm and lets the faithful know an intrusion is underway. Such an outcry occurred at the 2012 Passion Conference when several leading members of the faith taught 60,000 youths a version of Lectio Divina and called on them to stand still, be quiet, and listen actively for a response. That rightly caused an outcry. More on that in a moment.

But secondly and sadly, not everyone is as vigilant a Christian soldier as they should be. The outcry serves to allow the terms of the false practices become familiar to us. We actually get used to the terms, like 'contemplative prayer,' or 'Lectio divina' or 'impression on my heart' and once used to the terms, without vigilance and knowledge, we accept them. We become inured to them, which means, "to accustom to accept something undesirable." We've heard the terms, but without constant reminder and instruction against them, a new person to the fray might think they are acceptable practices, simply on the basis of their familiarity with the terms but not the content.

Lectio Divina is a Catholic practice. It is supposedly something innocuous-sounding, it's just 'praying with scripture.' Lectio Divina actually teaches you to listen with your heart, not your mind. It teaches you to experience the text, not to understand the text.

In researching this essay I'd gone back to ground zero of Lectio Divina in its original intrusion into the evangelical faith. In 2012, three of then-Christendom's most popular leaders taught and practiced Lectio Divina at the Passion conference with 60,000 youths in attendance. John Piper, Beth Moore, Francis Chan, and one or two others on stage led the youths in attendance through a lectio practice.

Subsequently, there was an outcry. What were these respected teachers doing at an evangelical conference showing youths how to do a Catholic mystical practice? Todd Friel of Wretched Radio did a spot answering these and other questions the incident raised, and thoroughly explained the pitfalls of Lectio Divina.

Essentially, the difference between proper study and the Lectio mystical way of study is that the evangelical student studies the text using proper cognitive methods, the Lectio student attempts to experience the text. Here's John MacArthur on Lectio Divina and other mystical practices, When Study Isn't Study
For many leaders in the spiritual formation movement, Bible study doesn’t really involve study at all. Instead, it’s an attempt to experience the text. 
Many spiritual formation gurus advocate various meditative Bible-reading methods, most of them adapted from a Catholic Church practice called lectio divina. Regardless of the name they apply to it, the pattern is usually the same—slow, methodical, repetitive reading, with an eye toward words and phrases that pop out to the individual reader. It's through those individual words and phrases, we’re told, that the Lord speaks directly to us. 
Bible study, then, is not a question of digging deep into God's Word but letting your imagination and intuition guide your own personal understanding of the text.
Dear sisters, avoid Lectio Divina and other mystical practices. As was said earlier today on Twitter,
Scripture never commands us to tune into any inner voice. We’re commanded to study and meditate on Scripture.

~~~~~~~~FURTHER READING~~~~~~~~

A teacher or leader may be teaching you Lectio Divina without calling it that. Here's GotQuestions explaining it, so you'll know if it appears in your lessons, Sunday School, book you're reading, conference, etc.

Heroes of the faith that sadly allowed themselves to be led by subjective promptings AKA 'woeful delusions' and fancies:
When Fancy Is Mistaken for Faith

So how are we to determine God's will, since indeed the Spirit does lead us?
Subjectivity and the Will of God


  1. Its once again another dividing line between true Christians and pretenders, who swallow up traditions of men and doctrines of demons. I believe such practices are in preparation to unify the coming one-world religion as they are derived from false religions. God instructed the Jews not to learn the way of the heathen. "Christianized" pagan worship is unacceptable to a holy God. Christianity is based on never-changing facts. The mind must be engaged to be transformed and renewed according to scripture. True Christians seek to understand the doctrines of Christ, which are contentious to human reasoning. Pretenders seek experiences, which are contradictory even to themselves through dreams, visions, words from the Lord, etc. which many have spoken. True Christians will be content studying the word of God on earth and will have all eternity to experience the glory and presence of Christ face to face.

  2. Another helpful GTY link, entitled Subjectivity and the Will of God; says the same thing you said, "Scripture never commands us to tune into any inner voice".



  3. Mercy, did I just send you a link to something you already had in your "further reading"?

    LOL! I do have my scatterbrained days.


  4. What think ye of this message....I've often thought of ways to communicate why I left this practice almost 10 years ago, the message is simple enough but controversial especially to the women, and not helped by the support of the Pastor bandwagon.

    The issues of heart, mind, soul and strength are delicate. This is one reason, I now focus on reading the Bible, studying historical confessions and catechisms, using old commentaries like John Gill or Matthew Henry and trying to avoid the lure of Catholic practices, the "exclusive" focus on the emotional, love gospel, and general blending of worldly mystical practices.

    Of course discernment on a practice like this touches people's foundational beliefs, so it's hard to dialogue.

    Mat 7:12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
    Mat 7:13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
    Mat 7:14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

    Jer 6:16 Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.

    The hard thing here is that these new practices that have been introduced into today's churches...in the past 40-50 years, by teachers like Foster and Willard, are seen as the old paths, but that connection is rooted in our Roman Catholic heritage, the so called dessert fathers, and the practices of other ancient religions. Very tough today to just be a Puritan or more classic historic Protestant!

  5. That's catholicism for you: always making things more complicated so that the ordinary believer feels he has to really on a intermediary like a priest to explain things to him. Shame that protestants are now picking up on this nonsense.

  6. Elizabeth, can I ask you a question about this please? I was intrigued when I saw the phrase "impression on my heart" because that's one I've used and have been a little uncomfortable with it but haven't known a better way to state it. What do you call it when you're praying about a situation or a person you need to deal with and God gives you insight into the situation or the person? I've tried to start saying that instead, that God gave me insight, but it seems like basically the same thing as "impression on my heart." Is it? God does give insight, doesn't He?

  7. Hi Grace To You,

    A good question, one that people have been wrestling with for a long time. Let's go back to Charles Spurgeon on this one, also Phil Johnson has taught on the subject as well. Spurgeon was a cessationist, yet admitted to having impressions from the Spirit that seemed to give him insight. Here is Nathan Busenitz at The Cripplegate unraveling that one: "Spurgeon, Impressions, and Prophecy"


    In this sermon by John MacArthur there is a short explanation/discussion of how the Spirit leads us: https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/90-420/the-spirit-of-adoption

    Sinclair Ferguson at Ligonier.org also discussed the issue

    Ferguson noted the difference between revelation and illumination:

    "Well-meaning Christians sometimes mistake the Spirit’s work of illumination for revelation, which, unhappily, can lead to serious theological confusion and potentially unhappy practical consequences. But the doctrine of illumination also helps us explain some of the more mysterious elements in our experience without having to resort to the claim that we have the gift of revelation and prophecy. Here the late John Murray spoke with great wisdom: “As we are the subjects of this illumination and are responsive to it, and as the Holy Spirit is operative in us to the doing of God’s will, we shall have feelings, impressions, convictions, urges, inhibitions, impulses, burdens, resolutions. Illumination and direction by the Spirit through the Word of God will focus themselves in our consciousness in these ways. (Collected Writings, I, p. 188).

    Phil Johnson, Shepherds Conference 2002, “Super Seminar: Private Revelations”

    "Now, does the Spirit of God ever move our hearts and impress us with specific duties or callings? Certainly. But, even in doing that, He works through the Word of God. Experiences like this, impressions and all, are not in any sense prophetic or authoritative except as they echo what the Word already says. They are not revelation. Those sensations, those impressions, those feelings you get are not revelation, but they are the effect of illumination. When the Holy Spirit applies the Word to our hearts, and opens our spiritual eyes to His truth. And, we need to guard carefully against allowing our experiences and our own subjective thoughts and imaginations to eclipse the authority and the certainty of the more sure Word of God. This is a very practical application of the principle of Sola Scriptura.
    Think about this…to what ever degree you seek private messages from God outside His Word, you have abandoned the principle of Sola Scriptura."

    In other places Johnson has said it's better just to say I decided to minister to my friend because she came to my mind and I decided to go to her... rather than attribute any specific prompting to the Spirit...because we can't know for sure. And ministry is deciding things anyway. In scripture you see the Apostles just deciding to go here or there or do such & such

    Luke 1:3 on writing the Gospel,
    Acts 11:29 decided to help the brethren in Judea,
    Acts 19:21 decided to go to Jerusalem
    Acts 15:22 decided to send men to Antioch,
    2 Corinthians 9:7 deciding what or how much to give

    They knew the Spirit was leading them, but they made decisions that seemed good to them. It's a mystery how we decide to go here or there or reach out to that one or this one, and also God foreordains it, its providence's outworking. :) Hope any of this helps


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