Ideas Library Recommendation

If you haven’t discovered the L’Abri Ideas Library, I am delighted to bring it to your attention.  The Ideas Library is a website loaded with lectures from all the branches of L’Abri, many dating to the early days of L’Abri.  The goal of the Ideas Library–and one of the goals of L’Abri as a whole–is to “attempt to provide honest answers to honest questions about the reality and relevance of the Christian faith.”  Hundreds of downloadable lectures are housed there; we invite you to explore the site.  But, like any good library, because there is so much, sometimes it is helpful to have a guide.  One lecture we commend to you is by our own Ben Keyes:

“Curiosity: The Preliminary Virtue of Wanting to Know”  


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Ben summarizes his lecture below–far from the Alice in Wonderland take on curiosity:

It seems that humans are born innately curious, but not everyone retains curiosity into adulthood. Neither is curiosity often associated with Christianity. This lecture explores the quality of being curious as an often overlooked Christian virtue. The genuine desire to know the world around us, to know other people, and to know God can make obedience to the Lord a joy rather than a chore. In this way, curiosity is a ‘preliminary virtue’; it prepares us to grow in all the other virtues. This lecture reflects on some of the ways in which curiosity has gotten a bad reputation and some of the ways in which we can recover this gift that God gave us.

Click here to listen.


Lecture Recommendation: How Martin Luther Transformed Marriage and Family Life by Mardi Keyes

Each term we enjoy “diving deeply” into a specific topic during a weekend seminar.  This past fall, we hosted the seminar, “500 Years Later: The Reformation and its Lasting Impact.”  See descriptions of all three lectures here (scroll down the page to Autumn 2017), and read on for Mardi’s summary of her lecture on Martin Luther.  During our Winter 2018 term, we will host the seminar, “To Live in Peace in a World with Conflict,” with three lectures from Dick Keyes.  More details on that to come!

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Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther posted 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, protesting widespread Church corruption and abuse. The Protestant Reformation which he birthed recovered the Bible’s teaching that salvation is available by grace, through faith, to anyone who repents and believes in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.  Christian and non-Christian scholars also credit Luther with a critical turning point in the significance and value of the individual in Western culture. His belief that every person is an Image of God made him remarkably egalitarian for his time.   

Fewer people are aware of Luther’s impact on marriage and family life.  A host of scholars trace the celebration of married love and companionship to the 16th Century Protestant Reformation, and particularly to the writings and surprising marriage of Martin Luther to the runaway nun, Katherina von Bora.

As states and provinces converted to Protestantism, one of the most contentious debates between Protestants and Catholics was over the role and value of marriage. The Medieval Church exalted celibacy and condemned clerical marriage.  Marriage was a “necessary evil”, procreation was the only legitimate purpose for sex, and enjoyment of sexual relations was denounced as sinful.  In contrast, Luther argued from Scripture and Creation that marriage is a “glorious estate” and family life (in contrast to a monastery) was the surest context for growth in Christian character and holiness. He recommended marriage to priests and layman alike, but had no intention himself of marrying, as he expected to be burned at the stake as a heretic.  Find out what changed Luther’s mind!  His marriage was a dramatic form of iconoclasm directed against the ‘false saintliness’ of the ascetic of God, who forsakes all things ‘worldly’.  For Luther, ‘to be ‘saintly’ meant to be near his ‘dear housewife’ and ‘to be (her) lover now’.”  It meant “God allows us to laugh and embrace our wives, whether naked or clothed!”

Click here to listen to Mardi’s lecture.


Join us at the Rochester L’Abri Conference

Rochester Conference 2018This year’s Rochester, MN L’Abri Conference, For Glory and for Beauty: Creativity and the Christian will be held February 9 & 10 at the Mayo Civic Center.  Plenary speakers include Bill Edgar, John Hodges, Jerram Barrs, Luci Shaw and Robb Ludwick, with workshops by many other L’Abri speakers including Ben Keyes, Anna Friedrich, and myself.  Musical guest, Ordinary Time will offer a concert Friday night, in addition to a workshop on the craft of songwriting.

To pique your interest for the conference and to offer a window into the preparation we are doing for our workshops, Anna and I are happy to recommend to you the following list of books we are reading–or at least consulting.  Anna will be teaching on “Everyday Artistry: Prayer, Bible-reading, and other Disciplines as Opportunities for Creativity” and “A Creative Spin on the Questions of Jesus” and I am offering, “Creative Work is Work: De-mythologizing Artistic Inspiration and the Creative Process” and “Reflecting on the Incarnation with the Help of Poets.”  We hope many of you will be able to join us in Rochester (one benefit of a February conference in Minnesota is cheap airline tickets!), but if not, we hope the following resources will prove helpful.

-Sarah Chestnut

Crowding Anna’s desk:

The Cultivated Life by Susan Philips

The Rule of St. Benedict

The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard

Fasting by Scott McKnight

Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

Encounters with Jesus by Tim Keller

Holy Listening by Margaret Guenther

Crowding Sarah’s desk:

Culture Care by Makoto Fujimura

Joy: 100 Poems ed. Christian Wiman

Thumbprint in the Clay by Luci Shaw (this is Shaw’s most recent book of prose, from which she will be speaking at the conference)

The Demon and the Angel by Edward Hirsch

Walking on Water by Madeline L’Engle

Wired to Create by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire

Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The Adventures of Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel (yes, really)



How do you read the Bible? Prayerfully, with other people.

Here at L’Abri I have found that along with, “How do you read the Bible?”, one of the most common questions people ask is, “How do I pray?”  I have found the movements of lectio divina (“holy” or “divine reading”) offer these answers: Read the Bible by praying; pray by reading the Bible.  In other words, reading the Bible and praying go hand-in-hand.  

Lectio divina has been around for a long time (at least since the 6th century in Benedictine monasteries) and aims to listen to the Scriptures with the “ear of the heart.” I first began to learn the prayerful movements of this way of reading the Bible in 2009, after graduating from Regent College with a master’s degree in theological studies. Most Wednesday mornings, as my Vancouver neighborhood was waking up, I walked half a block to my church’s urban retreat center–a converted basement apartment that was said to have once been a prohibition era speakeasy–to gather with a handful of other people from my congregation to read aloud and pray with a short passage of Scripture.  Then we ate a simple breakfast together and went on our way.

While lectio divina (among other spiritual practices) has gained in popularity in Protestant circles in recent years to the point of seeming “liturgi-cool” (as Joshua jokingly calls it), this way of approaching the Bible helped span the gap years of church upbringing and academic study had put between “the ear of my heart” and God’s primary means of communication.  Not that church upbringing or academic study of the Bible are necessarily problems in themselves–both have given me their own sets tools for reading the Bible–but as Dick noted here, if you’re going to spend your life with the Bible, flexibility is important.  After grad school, I needed a reading approach that helped me bring my whole self to Scripture again–unfortunately true to some of my professor’s warnings, reading the Bible had become an academic burden requiring more than I could give on a day-in and day-out basis. Moreover, I can see now that what I needed was a way to let the words of Scripture become strange to me again; I thought I knew what the Bible said and so I wasn’t actually hearing it.  Put differently, I needed to learn how to slow down and pray with Scripture as I read it.

So how do you “do” lectio divina There are five movements (or moments–I think it is fair to say the relationship between these components is dynamic more than it is linear): silence, hearing, meditating, praying, contemplating (or resting). In silence, you begin by acknowledging Christ’s presence in the person of the Holy Spirit, ready to speak in the words of Scripture to your heart.  The short passage of Scripture (a psalm or a piece of one of the Gospels are great places to begin) is then read three times, aloud, slowly.  It has helped me to think of these readings in terms of the process of eating: first, you taste the word, then you chew on it, then you swallow it.  Finally, what you have eaten begins to metabolize, and by the grace of God you become what you eat.

To break this down a little more, in the first reading, you are meant to turn “the ear of the heart” to the Scripture passage, and notice if there is a word or phrase in the passage that stands out–this is tasting the word.  And what stands out can stand out for any reason: it is troubling; it is arresting; it is confusing; it is surprising; it is beautiful; etc.  In the second reading, you meditate on the passage–especially the particular word or phrase that stands out–turning it over, asking, “How does this connect with my own life?  How am I responding to this word?  Why am I responding in this way?”  This is chewing on the word.  These questions are all asked as prayers, as things to mull over with Christ’s help.  In the third reading, you pray in response to the words God has spoken in the Scripture, and in thought and prayer while reading.  This is swallowing the word.  Finally, in contemplating or resting in the words God has given, you trust God to make his words part of you.  And you go on into your day, fed and nourished.

A concluding note: this way of reading can be done in solitude, but I also recommend doing this with another person or a small group if possible, giving a brief time of sharing thoughts and insights between the three readings.  There are several benefits to corporate lectio divina: simply hearing the passage read aloud by others helps you hear things you wouldn’t if you were reading to yourself; hearing what stands out to other people in a passage of Scripture will help you hear it more fully, too; it is harder to skip over troubling moments in the Bible when you are reading in a group (it is good to be bothered by moments like “If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts” (Ps. 7:12-13); it is good to wrestle with different meanings of the same word and to be enriched–and at times corrected–by one another’s knowledge.

During term here in Southborough, all are welcome to read the Bible and pray together in the tradition of lectio divina on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings before breakfast.  Starting in January, we will be “eating” our way through Psalm 119.  You are welcome to join us in the tiled room–or from afar.

-Sarah Chestnut

If you are interested in further resources for leading lectio divina for a group, email Sarah at This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading  -     By: Eugene H. Peterson

For further reading on lectio divina and reading the Bible prayerfully, see Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book.





How do you read the Bible? Harumpf. Harumpf.

So, I should confess I am an easily distracted person. It doesn’t take much. A bird flying by the window: “where’s it going?” A partially read book on the shelf: “Maybe now is the right moment to finally finish it.” And then, most destructive of all, there is that random, trivial question which pops into my head with some sort of overwhelming, otherworldly compulsion to Google the answer right now. (Yesterday it was, “How much money did Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade bring in its opening weekend?” $29.3 million in case you’re wondering). This last impulse–Googling answers–leads me down that never-ending rabbit hole of insignificance and distraction, which is the internet.

Being easily distracted has not made me the best of readers, especially when it comes to the Bible. I can start a chapter and before I know it I’ve put aside my Bible because of some flashy (but ultimately unimportant) something-or-other has caught my attention and led me elsewhere. So I’ve needed a different sort of reading strategy to help keep my focus.  I’ve taken my cue from Psalm 1.

This introductory psalm has a lot going on in it, but central to it is a contrast between someone who is happy, stable and fruitful–in a word, blessed–with someone who is insubstantial, fragile and ultimately solitary–in a word, wicked. According to the psalmist, a key difference between these two people and these two ways of life is that the blessed person “meditates on the law day and night.” Meditation is an intimidating word. When I think of meditation, what comes to mind is inner quiet, extreme self-discipline and the utmost of attentiveness–all things I’m not so good at. And while these are all good traits which I do aspire to I’m not sure they are what the psalmist has in mind. In fact, on the whole, meditation in the Bible looks–and sounds–differently than we might expect.

Here’s what I’ve learned: in the Bible meditating (hagah) is an action more commonly ascribed to animals than it is to people. One example is in Isaiah 31:4 where our word from Psalm 1 for meditate is the same word used to describe the delightful noises a lion makes as it pleasurably devours its prey: Harumpf. Harumpf. The purr and growl of a lion noisily chewing up and chomping its prey as it takes it in is a vivid image of the biblical practice of meditation, at least in part. Eugene Peterson writes that this sort of meditation “is a bodily action; it involves murmuring and mumbling words, taking a kind of physical pleasure in making the sounds of the words, getting the feel of the meaning as the syllables are shaped by larynx and tongue and lips.”

And so taking my cue from Psalm 1, I have begun to read my Bible slowly, quietly and out loud to myself–taking it in like I would a delicious mouthful of something–chewing it over slowly as I mutter the words out loud to myself. Harumpf.  Harumpf.  This different way of reading the text has helped enable me to sustain my attention in the activity at hand as I bring my whole muttering self to the text.

-Joshua Chestnut

How do you read the Bible? Quickly, in large swaths.

Last week we began a series of posts addressing the question, “How do you read the Bible?”  See a few of Dick’s thoughts on the question here.  This week, Ben answers: read large, continuous portions of scripture quickly.

Thankfully there is no one correct way to read the Bible. It is always fruitful to slow down and study a small passage of scripture in depth. In my own experience, many texts have come to life for the first time as I began to understand the historical context. But if this was the only way to approach the Bible many of us would get discouraged and even shy away from reading it at all. We say: “if that kind of in-depth study is what it takes to understand the Bible, I don’t have the time or the energy.” To make matters worse, many Christians vaguely fear that the Bible is incoherent. We view it (from a distance) as a large body of disconnected and disconcerting texts, each telling a separate story. We ‘dip in’ to the Bible on Sunday morning but all too often we experience passages out of context, and may not hear them again for several years. With this as our standard way of interacting with the Bible, there is little hope of understanding how each part fits into the whole.

In light of these two problems, it is helpful (every so often) to read large portions of scripture quickly with the goal of getting a ‘sense’ of the overarching story. I found this to be true during my first semester of grad school when my classmates and I read the whole Old Testament in a few weeks–something I had never done before. This approach required us to temporarily ‘shelve’ questions that we had along the way in the interest of covering the ground quickly.

At first glance this sounds like a defense for reading superficially, which is true in a way. To read the Bible quickly does not allow for depth of study or serious contemplation of any one text. In another sense however, it allows for a different kind of depth. Reading large continuous swaths of scripture is a way of stepping back and contemplating the whole story of scripture that transcends but includes every individual text.

The first result (very significant for me) was the realization that the scriptures, while written by many different people, in different places, in different genres and over many hundreds of years, really is ONE STORY. The troubling texts that I had ‘cherry-picked’ from the bible for most of my life, were no longer free standing ‘problems’. They could be read as twists and turns in the one story: a story of God pursuing His rebellious people throughout a range of fallen circumstances. Secondly, the consistency of God’s character showed forth. Reading disconnected texts without a sense of the whole is one of the reasons God sometimes appears to be vengeful and capricious. I was able to see that His wrath, while real, was always in the context of his holiness and love. The overarching picture of God was one of incredible patience and forbearance. He is a Holy God who is continually staying his hand from judgment on a people who provoke Him every day. Thirdly, I saw a connection between the Old and New Testaments, which bolstered my faith.  By reading the Old Testament quickly, I could sense a rising tension that could only be resolved in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

These are a few reasons why reading the Bible quickly–in addition to more focused study or devotional reading–is a good idea. If all else fails (or even just because!), read the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones, which does an excellent job of telling the one story of scripture.


– Ben Keyes

How do you read the Bible? By being flexible.

During a recent Worker’s meeting and discussion lunch, we discussed a question we often hear from students here at Southborough L’Abri.  Indeed, it is a question we keep asking ourselves as well: How do you read the Bible?  This is the first in a multi-post series giving you “snippets” of that conversation from each of the Workers.

How do you read the Bible? The short answer is, “By being flexible.” Having virtually never read the Bible, I stumbled into L’Abri in Switzerland in 1964 and was amazed at how central the Bible was to the life of the community and to the thinking of Francis Schaeffer which was challenging my life. Into what had seemed a closed universe, the Bible claimed to be a word from outside, a window of light from beyond human ignorance, ideologies and speculations. I knew I had better read it. So I went back to France and read it in three days. (Not recommended.) But I did know a little more afterward than before – importantly, I had a long list of things that I could not believe, which I had to look at more carefully later.

Having believed in Christ since then, I have read it in many different ways. For several years I used a scheme which read the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice in a year. Then with this plan of four chapters per day I felt I was skimming too lightly. I slowed down to two chapters or to one or less than one chapter a day, sometimes going slowly through a good commentary on a Biblical book, sometimes meditating on certain passages, sometimes reading the same passage on two consecutive days.

If reading the Bible is difficult, we need to ask ourselves, “Why?”  Does it stimulate boredom? Anger? Fear? Bad memories? Confusion?  We are likely to need a different strategy for each of these responses. It is good to find someone with a lot of experience to help us to be flexible. For those of us who can read English we have more resources to help us read the Bible than Christians have ever had.

– Dick Keyes