Head and Heart

Screen Shot 2016-10-15 at 9.10.12 AMBy John Frye

In this corner: hermeneutics, and in this corner: lectio divina. A recent discussion with colleagues about dialoguing with seminarians regarding the personal disciplines of Christian formation prompted this comment, “Some of the students are too much in their heads and not their hearts.” I knew what was meant by the comment about those students because I had them in a three hour session as well. I think the “heart and head” contrast surfaced around hermeneutical issues and the use of the Bible in lectio divina.

We won’t explore the words leb, ruach, nephesh, kardia, pseuche, and nous and other biblical terms cited in the theological constructs of the immaterial aspect of the human being. Let’s stay closer to the particular conversation at hand. I think our collegial consensus was that some students were adamant that the precision of hermeneutical method was unwisely neglected in listening for a personal word from God the Father in a lectio reading of the Bible. It was like the several students were saying, “You can’t read the Bible like that.” Listening quietly for a particular word to the individual from the Father through the text felt like flying off the rails of good interpretive procedure to these newly minted exegetes. I identified with their stubborn push-back because I was undoubtedly like them when I first got some hermeneutics under my belt. This raises the question: May the Bible be read in different ways without doing injustice to its divine purpose?

When one person listening to the biblical text hears her heavenly Father saying something deeply personal and particular in her life situation and what she hears is very different from what the guy in the group hears from the same text that is also both personal and particular—-is this wishful thinking, examples of unmitigated eisegesis? Do these meaningful personal encounters with the Father through the Word need to be brought to the hermeneutical bema seat? Is the Spirit free to speak through the same text in different ways to the listeners affirming that their Father in heaven really does care and meets them in their unique experiences? Is the text locked to the one sanitized meaning that precise hermeneutics brings to light? Is exegesis “head” work and lectio divina “heart” work?

[SMcK: A good book on this is M. Robert Mulholland, Shaped by the Word.]

While I recognize the head and heart divide, I don’t want to be too hard on the persistent students who question the uses of the text. They may be our future Old Testament and New Testament scholars offering diligent contributions to the church. On the other hand, if “being in their head” means that they are welded to operations of human reason using acquired exegetical skills to get something meaningful from the Bible, then they are trapped in too small a space that limits the sheer wonder and power of the Bible. I hear the push back: “Then the Bible text will end up saying anything to anyone at anytime and it is right.” I say no to that objection. Why? Because when the Bible is read with the honest prayer that the Spirit will speak the Father’s heart to God’s children, I think we can trust the Spirit to speak truth in its varied, applicational dimensions to the listeners.

What do you think?

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