some critique on dwelling in the Word

October 17, 2007

I finally figured out how to use my new phone as a modem (guess it would have been much quicker if I used the manual), this might make blogging much easier! This is the first of a number of posts, in which I’m trying to point how I’m currently contemplating the role of trained theologians in the emerging church. I mean, you need to understand, I have to figure out what to do with a masters degree in theology not an easy task if you have followed the emerging conversation.

I got introduced to “Dwelling in the Word” a little more than two years ago. Dwelling in the Word is a way of reading the Bible where the focus is on the text, listening to the text, and listening to each other. A typical session of dwelling in the Word would have someone reading a part from scripture while the rest listen. A second and third read would follow. For example with the second read someone can read the same text, while everyone follow in the own Bibles. A possible third read would be that everyone read the text on their own. Different variations might also be used. At some point the group would be urged to focus on that which stand out for them.

After this, a time of discussion would follow. This could be simply sharing what have stood out, or sometimes a specific question could be given early on, like: “What would this text say for what our church is currently busy with”. The discussion could be in the large group, but typically the group would divide into two’s, and share their thoughts to the friend with whom they are. Feedback would then be through each one sharing with the group that what their partner has said. The idea is not that an debate should break out, and typically the unwritten rule is that you don’t debate about anything which something has said. In a very pious way some would say that we may not argue with what the Lord say to each of us, although this isn’t everyone that use this that say this. I must however mention that at some occasions, when I’ve said something critical about the text, facilitators have tried to soften it.

It’s a great listening exercise, and many people who come out of churches where they have never been allowed to say anything or give an opinion like the idea that they can contribute to the conversation. And that is a good thing! I love that fact that everyone can talk together, share thoughts, discuss the Bible.

However, I have been picking up some problems. My biggest problem being that many times this leads to allegory, or even worse forms of reading the Bible. Allegory could be described as the process of spiritualizing a text. Usually this would mean that for every object in or aspect of a text, some other spiritual meaning would be found, and linked to the text. Even worse forms would be people directly applying text to this day in a haphazard way. I’ve been discussing this with some friends today, and we used the example of Luke 10. Forms of this bad way of reading the Bible is to interpret Luke 10 to be saying that we should appoint 72 missionaries in our church to go from town to town, and then saying that this is what the Bible said.

Although this is an extreme example, I have heard some pretty weird interpretations when busy with dwelling in the Word. Although I like the idea that anyone can join in on conversations in the church, I have doubts about the health of a pure round table conversation where those around the congregational table have a closed circuit conversation. But, more on the Round Table conversations tomorrow (hopefully), any thoughts on or stories about dwelling in the Word?


10 Responses to “some critique on dwelling in the Word”

  1. attie Says:

    I read your post with interest. I have a question. Do you believe the “Dwelling in the Word.” concept of discussing the Word in such a setting is “new” or “unique” to the emerging church? I have a few thoughts on this issue, but I would like to hear your comment on this question.

  2. cobus Says:

    Nope, as far as I can tell Dwelling in the Word has it’s origins in the Roman Catholic Lectio Divina from the monastic tradition. However, Lectio Divina was a personal excersize, listening to the Bible and God, Dwelling in the Word is usually used in groups. Does that answer anything?

  3. attie Says:

    Yes thank you it does.
    I am very intereseted in this method or technique. I’m not sure what to call it. I would like to know more about this.

    I find it to work very well with the teenagers. Especially the confirmation group I work with. What I do experience is that they are very serious about the fact that there should be somebody who could “facilitate” in such a way that the discussion or thoughts are summarized in a way that makes sense.

    My experience with them is that all my titles and degrees does not automatically give me the right to facilitate in a “teaching” capacity. My relationship with them over years gives me the necesarry credibility. I have tried to show over a period of time that I really do care for them.

    Allthough: They will definitely not take everything I say the way I say it as the final word. Sometimes some of them or the most of the do. But, they want it open for further discussion all the time.

    Just my thoughts.

  4. cobus Says:

    I have an idea that the idea that I’m allowed to share what I think is experienced very positively by young people in our churches, churches where they are supposed to just listen.

    But, in a trustworthy relationship, I’ve also seen the value of admiting that reading a text also cause questions. I think we can make more of questions in Dwelling in the Word, we can make more of not knowing what to think, more of discussion and not just sharing.

  5. […] gave some thoughts on Dwelling in the Wordlast time, what I’m writing here follows on this. The idea of the Round-table church is that […]

  6. Tiaan Says:

    People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care…

  7. Curt Says:

    I have practiced Dwelling In The Word for the past three years. Throughout that time I have heard some say it is a bad idea because heresy can begin to enter into the church. I agree with you that as a stand along practice it can be an inappropriate way of looking at scripture. However, one of the most important aspects of “Dwelling” is that it is discussed in the context of the “Body of Christ” which through the Holy Spirit guidance illuminates truth and discards error.

    The practice of “Dwelling” is not a stand alone practice but one that should be used with other Biblical study methods. “Dwelling” allows me to live in a specific text for months at a time which has created in me a greater love for God’s Word and in many cases brought a clearer understanding to other scripture passages.

  8. cobus Says:

    It’s not heresy that I’m worried about, rather cheep ways of reading the Bible, and closed circuit conversations, as I think I pointed out in the posts following this one, if I remember correctly.

  9. Everett Says:

    I want to use “Dwelling” with a large assembly of 500 to 600 people. We will have 10 minutes at various times during the 3 day meeting for 3 different passages. Do you have any “logistical” suggestions. Dwelling works well in small settings; I am willing to experiment with this larger group setting.

  10. […] te lees, ‘n gewoonte wat ons by die Algemene Sinode sterk gesien werk het. Die gewoonte dryf my partymaal die mure uit, maar in hierdie geval dink ek moet ons daar begin. Kom ons begin deur Johannes 4 te lees in […]

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