A Scholar's Devotion

A Scholar’s Devotion with Cynthia Long Westfall

Going through seminary, students are taught to study the Bible and uphold its doctrines about God while also being encouraged not to neglect their devotional times with God. Yet during my own devotional time I, and probably many others, often ask, “Is this approach the best way to grow spiritually, or is there a better way? What could I do differently? Should I incorporate my studies with my devotions?”  

Each week, I ask a different scholar two questions about how he or she spends time with the Lord and continues to love him with all their mind, strength, and heart. While no one method or style is “the only way,” we can draw on one another’s experiences. 

This week, I have asked Dr. Cynthia Westfall if she would share her thoughts with us.

1. How do you spend your devotional time with the Lord? 

Since I am regularly processing input from Scripture devotionally (see below), I spend my devotional time in one or two of the following ways:

    1. I get a lot of mileage by praying through a high church liturgy together with an evangelical devotional (but neither uncritically). I find that this combination tends to correct my tendencies to neglect certain aspects of worship, gives me balance and reveals my blind spots in my own approach to God while it is also enlightening and personally corrective to recognize the very different foci of the traditions. The effect is a concentration on God and praising him for who he is in community (liturgical focus) and an individualistic attention to my own spirituality (evangelical focus). I also slip in my own personal prayers as it seems right! This really fleshes out the old ACTS paradigm (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication).
    2. Spending 10-20 minutes in God’s presence à la Ruth Halley Barton, Invitation to Solitude for transformation and guidance.

2. How do you practically seek to deepen your love for Christ?

I think that my answer is very important for seminary students. I like to say to my students and colleagues, “Every time you touch the word of God it has to burn you!” I think that devotion grows cold when we dichotomize studying God’s word and reading it devotionally. When you study Scripture without letting it impact your devotion to God, that’s one sure way to lose your love. Whether I’m analyzing the Greek grammar, doing textual criticism or applying a critical methodology, I want to keep it in mind and in heart that I am dealing with Scripture and yield to its authority over me (as I understand it properly). Therefore, I typically get convicted or spiritually energized when I am writing academic papers. I just finished a paper that looked at Revelation 18 through the lens of 1 Enoch, and what I saw drove me to my knees. It is an incredible privilege to have being a biblical scholar as a job, and I don’t want to ever forget that.

Lest all of this sounds intimidating, I don’t always do all of these things everyday. But my daily habits include reading Scripture, praying and experiencing God’s presence with these practices at the core.


Cynthia Westfall serves as Associate Professor of New Testament at McMaster Divinity College. She has written Paul and Gender, The Bible and Social Justice, Christian Mission, and The Church, Then and Now

Thank you, Dr. Westfall!

Other Scholars’ Devotions

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