Lectio Divina–A Reflecting Spirit


My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:2)

The four-step sequence of the lectio divina spiritual exercise commences with a reading of the Scriptures and a listening spirit. With an ear attuned to the voice of God, we read slowly, listening for those words or phrases that the Spirit draws to our attention. Once identified, our hearts turn not to our heads for translation, but to a period of reflection in which we immerse ourselves in the word or phrase in order to discover the message that God is delivering through it.

Meditatio is the next step that we ease into as our word or phrase has been heard. We are going to meditate on this small segment of God’s Word in order to discern what it means to us. Reflection enables us to delve much deeper in the words and asks the Spirit’s participation to direct our heart-thinking to communicate the nuances of the message. For example, we all read the beginning words of John 3:16 the same: “For God so loved the world…”. If I say that I love my wife and that I also love lasagna, it is easy for all of us to distinguish the difference in meaning between the two uses of the word love.

If the Spirit has raised the word love to our attention as we listened to the passage, as we meditate on the word He will communicate the specific application that it has for each of us. If I am struggling with a brother or sister in my faith community, God may communicate to me the need to surrender my position for the good of the other. Meditation on that word may reveal to you that God is pleased with your sacrificial love for others. There are innumerable messages that can invested in that simple word, all unique and most easily overlooked when we read simply to read the book. Meditating on the word moves it deeper, into our heart where the Spirit can cause it to reverberate and reveal its meaning. We do not seek definition, we seek revelation.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. Psalm 42:7

Our reflection centers itself on the single question, how are your revealing yourself to me Lord? Whether a single word, a verse or even a broader passage. Our immersion into the Scriptures is not seeking information, rather, we seek identification. The voice of the Lord speaks the passage directly to us and we are to receive it, perhaps differently than others who may be hearing the same exact passage. He may want us to take Peter’s place in the shadows as the cock crows, or to substitute for Mary in early morning chill as Jesus makes His first resurrected appearance. There may be warning or encouragement in “Be holy, because I am holy”. The single word “finished”, uttered from the cross may be the single reflection that alters your theological understanding of all that comes before and after.

Grace and peace to you.

The Tools of Theological Reflection

imageWhen Christians voice their position on a theological subject, the expectation of a disciple is that this position has been considered in the context of their faith. Taking a stand on a particular subject is saying to the world, “this is my best understanding of what Christian faith means.” This understanding is the cumulative experience and meditation of the Church as we have witnessed God at work in our lives, in the Church, and in the World. A theological framework derived from our embedded theology is necessarily limited by what others tell or teach us. A deeper understanding of what faith means is the product of a craftsman utilizing the tools of Christian reflection.

The depth of this theological viewpoint is important because it is the framework on which we organize input and process events. A shallow embedded framework provides us with a limited number of ‘hooks’ on which we can process information or events. We are reliant on others to grasp the world around us. A reflective theological process, on the other hand, builds a stronger and more in-depth framework through which truth and events are interpreted, correlated, and assessed in light of the Christian faith.

Resources for Theological Reflection

In my last post we established the the methods of the theological craft (Interpret, Correlate, Assess) but without a proper orientation to the resources of the craft, the methods are of little worth as they will rely on secular constructs. The list of resources is fourfold and include Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience. Many readers will identify this as the Wesleyan quadrilateral** (or Methodist quadrilateral) but that should not be read as endorsing or leaning toward a specific theology. These four tools provide a way of assessing ideas within the framework of Scriptures, of the work of the Church throughout history, and of your experience with how God has and does work in the world. Some may argue otherwise but the crafting of theological takes place in the crucible of life.

Christians have often been referred to as ‘people of the book’ since the Bible forms the chief resource for reflection. Each of the other tools is subordinate to the words of the Scriptures. Through the pages of the Bible we draw propositions about divine truth, descriptions of the nature of God, we see the faith experiences of those who have come before us, and we hear repeated invitations to a new life offered through the grace of the Father. The craftsman recognizes that while the Scriptures offer a treasure house of knowledge that applies to all areas of life, it does not speak specifically to every question. It requires responsible interpretation that is cognizant of its scope and the broad strokes and categorization that may encompass specific areas of concern. (For example, the specific question of abortion is never addressed. The Scriptures do reveal God’s perspective on the sanctity of the life of His creations and from this we can interpret His feelings toward the practice.)

Rational human beings utilize their ability to reason constantly and theological reflection is no different. Reason is crucial in the ability to assess and correlate theological thought. To take the individual words ( or verses ) of scripture literally from the page into application often leads to misinterpretation. We must understand and recognize the ever widening circles of context that exist in the Scriptures and work from the tenet that all of the Bible works together. It does not deny itself. If we craft a new theological idea that stands apart from the rest of the Scriptures, reason tells us that we must tread carefully. Our ability to reason also contributes to our evaluation of alternative portrayals of the Christian faith. Contrasting limited and unlimited atonement as an example, requires the theologian to sift through and evaluate the entire body of the Scriptures before concluding which of these two lines of thought most adequately fits the nature of the Faith.

If, in the midst of crafting your theological understandings, you arrive at a conclusion that has never been heard within the Church during the centuries of her existence, be very cautious. Tradition plays an important role in the craft. Many thousands upon thousands of Christian thinkers and practitioners have preceded us and certain doctrines and beliefs have survived the transference from generation to generation. We must always take these into account, remembering that similar evaluations of their validity have been conducted prior to our coming on the scene. Tradition serves as an anchor as well, preventing us from being blown about by every new doctrinal breeze.

Finally, our experiences play a role in theological reflection.  The degree to which you consider your experiences valuable is going to vary. Some Christians will elevate experience to a level equal to or above that of the other resources but a more temperate approach is called for. Relying on experience as a prime determinant can push us towards reading this experience into the scriptures rather than trying to understand an experience in light of the Scriptures. Our own experiences, while not definitive, aid us in evaluating the theological truth claims that are based on other’s truth claims. If a televangelist claims riches for all of those who contribute to his ministry but it is later discovered that many who contributed to the appeal remained impoverished, we can rightly judge the evangelist’s theology to be lacking.

Working at the Craft

The Christian crafting a theological viewpoint brings many resources to the task. Scripture remains the primary resource around which the others orbit and it is from the Bible that our process should start. Even when it is an experience that we are seeking to understand we should return to our knowledge of the Bible to begin forming a theological explanation. This requires that we are consistent students of the Scriptures, regularly reading and storing the truths within us so that we have as complete an understanding of God’s word as possible. As we become masters of these tools, we will become more adept at using them to assess, interpret and correlate truths in our theological crafting.

** The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

This structure has been criticized many times throughout its brief history. Though Wesley expressed these as the tools of theology, it was only in 1964 that the term came into being when written by biographer Albert Outler. He has expressed regret at doing so since it has been incorrectly interpreted (both intentionally and unintentionally) and gives and invalid impression of Wesley’s method. The Quadrilateral is often expressed graphically as an axis with the four tools placed in each of the quadrants.


One draws from this diagram the impression that the importance of Scripture is equal to or subservient to the others but this is incorrect. Wesley always places the Scriptures at the center of theology with the others contributing to a lesser degree. This diagram could be improved by either varying the sizes of the boxes (which would spoil the quadrants I suppose) or portraying it in some other form.

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Theological Craftsmanship

imageWhen we last were together, we had worked through the distinction between our embedded and deliberative theological understandings. Though there’s nothing wrong with the embedded theological understandings that we carry around, a problem arises when life crises challenge these beliefs. We have second thoughts and sometimes, doubt about what we know. A new crisis of faith is added to our current troubles, burdening the believer rather than giving them the answers they seek. 

Crafting Theology

Before crisis arrives, all Christians should be involved in developing a foundation for their theological understandings. This does not mean that we start from scratch and create a new, personal set of theological tenets that the world has never seen. Theology is our calling to process all that we can gather about God and to craft a strong base of knowledge supporting our embedded beliefs. At the crucial moment when we are seeking to understand how God could allow a child to be taken from their parents a solid and unshakeable foundation is necessary. Those pillars are only built from a deliberate effort.

Theology is said to be crafted as it utilizes raw materials to fashion an end product. In the case of theology, the end product is a new or more substantial theological understanding and our raw materials are the scriptures and the thinking that has preceded our own efforts. These materials are subjected to a three step process of interpreting, correlating, and assessing an idea that stretches and works our theological muscles and, in the end, through this effort supplies us with a new, better, and stronger way of understanding our God and our relation to Him.


We interpret the meanings of things all day every day. Words, images, sounds are all interpreted by each of us and we all bring a unique perspective to the process. As our interpretations become relatively stable, they begin to form our views. Collected together, the views form a viewpoint that allows us to interpret things on a larger scale. For the Christian, interpretation is performed from the perspective of faith. God and our belief in and understanding of who He is influences our perspective on everything. For example, abortion viewed through a perspective that includes God as Creator is much different than a purely clinical view. Recognizing our perspective and its depth, or lack of depth, is the first step in crafting a theological viewpoint.


Correlation is the act of discovering the relation between two things if it exists. If it does not, the word can take an active sense as well as we bring two things into relation. A Christian in the process of theological reflection will often be called into the give and take of correlation as he seeks to bring the perspective of God’s people into correlation with other perspectives. These might come from outside of the faith community or they might be an opposing point of view from within the larger Church that differs from your own.

This process is not without conflict. Ask yourself first if you are able to see things as others do. Are you able to fully understand their perspective? Responsible theology requires that you do so. This is a source of much strife within the Church as proponents of one theological view refuse to make the effort to understand how the views of another believer have come to be or why they are supported.


When one of your Christian views or viewpoints becomes relatively stable in your mind as representative of truth, there is one final step that occurs in order to set it. An assessment of the position you have crafted pushes it through a series of filters so that you can judge it to be good or bad. The four most common questions asked are:

  • Is it valid?
  • Is it understandable?
  • Does it have moral integrity?
  • Is it appropriate from a Christian standpoint?

Each of these is not equally applicable. A Christian may not be in the position to state whether or not an idea is valid but the plethora of documented positions can certainly aid us in evaluating whether or not we are in the ballpark. Moral integrity, on the other hand, is easier to assign. If your proposed view dooms all babies to death, contrary to centuries of Christian belief, the morality of a god who makes this proclamation would certainly be in question. A view impeded by this filter would likely be a candidate for reformation or to be discarded.

Being a Craftsman

Reflecting on your faith and what you believe requires the same love and attention to detail that a craftsman applies to a piece of furniture that she creates. It requires the ability to examine a view from all perspectives and to have a framework to evaluate different aspects of the position. Experience and maturity round out process, resulting in a pronounced ability for the Christian to understand life and humanity in a way that honors and upholds God and their faith.



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