Biblical Studies

A Scholar’s Devotion with Dru Johnson (a Fan Favorite)

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. Dru Johnson if he would share his thoughts with us. Dr. Johnson later clarified what he wrote below, which you can find here. I think a lot of what he says there is right on. 

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

Because I live in the NYC area I walk a lot. I spend much of that time praying. I don’t have a scheduled “quiet time” with God and never have. I have private times (e.g., on the subway, on the street, in my office, etc.) where I’ll talk through things with God and also let my mind wander, which I think is a crucial practice. I also reflect on where my mind went when it wandered—did I whine to God, thank Him, petition Him, etc.?

I don’t read Scripture daily. I tell my students, “Gulp, don’t sip Scripture!” I tend to read entire books or major portions in a sitting. I re-read the same book several times (in the Hebrew or Greek if I’ve got the time and don’t want to make it very far). I will sometime go for a week without reading Scripture at all. I think this is important to practice time away from Scripture and return for deep reading/wrestling with what God is saying through His prophets.

I also do not prescribe daily devotionals for my students, most of whom are not literate in the biblical literature. Outside of the “read the Torah and Gospels over three months” kind of plans, I’m not sure these daily “devos” help them. The idea of studying a single passage for 10 minutes every morning and then trying to wring meaning out of it seems absurd unless you already have a good working knowledge of how that passage fits into the whole scheme of Scripture. Can you imagine reading East of Eden a few paragraphs a day? It would neuter the majesty of the text, making it incomprehensible.

I would much rather we grapple with understanding the whole story of Scripture primarily while wrestling with the parts secondarily. I’m sure some kind of daily devotional could do that, but it’s not what I’ve seen practiced. Even if you do the daily devotional, it still needs to be supplemented with deep gulps of texts. Most of what I’ve seen practiced is devotionals that lean toward a psychology sessions with God. Just like counseling, it’s sometimes well needed, but rarely should it be habituated in perpetuity.

The only regular (daily) reading I have done is the monthly Psalms liturgy. [BTW, it just so happens that my forthcoming book Human Rites deals with much of this topic of ritualizing our own practices.]

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

Serving others. I try to serve my wife and kids practically, though I often struggle there. Sometimes, serving them means keeping my crankiness under control, learning to become interested in what they’re interested in, or cleaning the house. I try to serve my students by praying with them, counseling with them, having them to our house for dinner, and the likes.

The chief thing that makes our family love the church happens on Wednesday nights. Our church in downtown Newark, NJ invites in children from pre-K to 6th grade. We send a bus out in the neighborhood and get the kids out of the housing projects for an evening. We feed them, show them the God we know, and manage the chaos of 100+ unruly kids. We love it. It has hewn and shaped my theology as much as anything else I’ve ever done.

Dru Johnson is Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at The King’s College, NYC. He has written Human Rites, The Universal Story: Genesis 1-11, Knowledge by Ritual, Scripture’s Knowing, and Biblical Knowing, and he co-hosts the OnScript podcast.

Thank you, Dr. Johnson!

Other Scholars’ Devotions

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  1. Hmmmm……. this is very interesting. Not sure if I agree with everything he says but it definitely gives some food for thought.


  2. That’s good insight! I agree that it makes more sense to read large parts of the bible at once to understand the main theme/narrative of the text if that’s the main goal which it is for someone like me. I can’t really do the “one verse a day” type plan, but I do know people can glean a lot from doing that as well.


    1. Yeah, he’s okay with people reading other devotionals or one verse a day if they know the full story of Scripture. They know how each verse fits into the full story, and they are much less likely to take them out of context.


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