What is a “Contemplative” Bible Study?

In Christian Leadership, Contemplation, Culture, Discipleship, Formation, Fully Awake, Habits by BizgaineyLeave a Comment

Our culture is, perhaps, the most distracted and disengaged culture in human history.

New York Times Journalist, Tony Schwartz, recently noticed how distracted he’s become when trying to read a book – something an award-winning Journalist and author ought to be able to do with ease.   Upon reflection, he realized that unread books were piling up in his home: mocking him, rebuking him, as they lay silently – untouched – on the bedside table.  In an insightful article, he writes:

“Instead of reading them, I was spending too many hours online, checking the traffic numbers for my company’s website, shopping for more colorful socks on Gilt and Rue La La, even thought I had more than I needed, and even guiltily clicking through pictures with irresistible headlines.”

Schwartz’s honesty is as refreshing as it is convicting.

No doubt we all, in more honest moments, can make a similar confession, saying, “yes, I spend too much time online.  I’ve become habitually distracted.”

An outcome of our inability to focus is that we now live in a perpetual age of distraction.  This age of distraction is just as true in the church as it is in the culture at large.

One might say that this age of distraction is the most influential and collectively experienced cultural narrative or Social Imaginary felt today.  This age of distraction is nurturing both a personal and collective loss regarding the art and craft of hearing and listening.

This narrative, or Imaginary, as the collective experience is cause for alarm – or at least concern – because when we lose the art of hearing and the craft of listening, we soon lose our sense of being.

Essentially what’s now at stake – in a culture in which we are perpetually distracted – is our very sense of being or plac’dness in this world.

Our sense of being (plac’dness), in other words, is tethered to the vibrant art of hearing and meaningful craft of listening.

Thankfully, there is a growing desire within Christian congregations – and longing among faithful believers – for a slower, more contemplative way of life.   This contemplative way of life is one we can experience in our relationship with the Lord as well, specifically in how we relate to the Bible.   It’s a way of engaging the Bible that encourages us surrender to, rather than seeking to control, the Word.  It’s a practice that some call sacred/contemplative reading and others call Lectio Divina.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed a way to study the Bible that begins and ends with the art of hearing and the craft of listening, but also includes and incorporates traditional Bible study methods.

Such an approach values – and practices – hearing and listening with the hope of a new way of being and doing!

Theologian, John Jefferson Davis, affirms such an approach in his wonderful book, Meditation and Communion with God, noting of the value of what he calls slow reading, when he says:

“The historic Christian practice of meditating on Scripture as an example of ‘slow reading.’  In the face of today’s rushed lives and information overload, such slow reading of the Word of God seems more important than ever.  Some texts we may skim for information, other texts we may browse for entertainment, but in our meditation on Scripture, we are seeking communion and friendship with God for its own sake and for the sake of our souls.”

A contemplative approach to Bible study is one that recognizes the importance of traditional study methods (e.g., reading the passage within its context, word studies, language studies, historical studies, interpretive analysis, etc.), yet incorporates those methods within a framework in which ‘being’ in Christ’s presence is the goal and ‘doing’ ministry for Christ in His world is the outcome.

What is a Contemplative Bible Study?

In other words, a contemplative Bible Study is built on a process of hearing the Word for the sake of personal soul-care and spiritual formation.  This process of hearing the Word integrates traditional Bible study methods within a contemplative framework in a way that prizes hearing over doing and values formation over information.

This process is designed to equip and encourage anyone who desires to achieve God’s goal, which is, as Ephesians 4 states, for believers ‘to become mature adults – to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ.’

Approaches such as the one I am advocating (i.e., contemplative) have come under scrutiny within the church over the last couple of decades.  Such scrutiny is to be expected and welcome when engaged equitably and openly.  Many who hear the word contemplative, however, reject it and those who use it out of hand these days.

Authors, pastors, and teachers who advocate such an approach, or encourage spiritual practices such as Silence and Solitude, Sacred Reading, Examen, etc., are often harshly and, at times, unfairly attacked primarily through the incredibly unaccountable medium of the web.

Some of them are among my favorite:

  • Dallas Willard
  • Richard Foster
  • James Bryan Smith
  • Richard Rohr
  • Ruth Haley Barton
  • Christopher West

There are, of course, others that I’ve not named.

Do I ingest, believe, or agree with everything they teach?

Of course not.

They have been vital voices in my faith development, and they are – in my mind – prophetic voices within the larger church/Christian culture.

With the next handful of posts, I am going to present a model of contemplative Bible study designed to help believers walk closely with Christ.

I believe you’ll find the model to be one worthy of your time and one that opens you to the presence of Christ in your midst!

I’d love to hear your feedback!

Disrupting to Renew!



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