When I left for seminary I was warned that in the frenzy of schoolwork the first thing I would neglect was my “quiet time.” This seemed odd to me since I was going to seminary to gain more tools to understand the Scriptures. This dichotomy between “devotions” and “exegesis” has been continually reinforced by other pastors. “Study something in your quiet time that you are not going to preach,” they tell me. Really? I am supposed to meditate on the word of God and not share that in my public teaching?
I think this dichotomy is seriously problematic. On the one hand it can promote a shallow, pithy devotional reading of Scripture, out of context, for nuggets of “God promises.” On the other hand it can promote a cold, intellectual scholarship that neglects a life of submission to the Word of God. It seems essential to me to approach the text of Scripture with every tool to understand the original intention of the author with the aim of hearing and obeying the Word of God. For me, it means that I must use what little proficiency I have worked so hard to attain in the original languages to better understand the text of Scripture. The result is, however, not just more information but an encounter with the very words of God that convict, encourage, challenge, and commission me to be an agent of the gospel in every area of my life.
“Fight with every fiber of your being the common disjunction between “objective study” of Scripture and “devotional reading” of Scripture, between “critical reading” of the Bible and “devotional reading” of the Bible… Scripture remains Scripture, it is still the Word of God before which (as Isaiah reminds us) we are to tremble, the very words we are to revere, treasure, digest, meditate on, and hide in our hearts (minds?), whether we are reading the Bible at 5:30 AM at the start of a day, or preparing an assignment for an exegesis class at 10:00 PM. If we try to keep apart these alleged two ways of reading, then we will be irritated and troubled when our “devotions” are interrupted by a sudden stray reflection about a textual variant or the precise force of a Greek genitive; alternatively, we may be taken off guard when we are supposed to be preparing a paper or a sermon and suddenly find ourselves distracted by a glimpse of God’s greatness that is supposed to be reserved for our “devotions.” So when you read “devotionally,” keep your mind engaged; when you read “critically” (i.e., with more diligent and focused study, deploying a panoply of “tools”), never, ever, forget whose Word this is. The aim is never to become a master of the Word, but to be mastered by it.”
— D. A. Carson, “The Scholar as Pastor”