Friday, June 23, 2006

Bible Evacuation Month: A Devotional Thought Experiment

This is a devotional thought experiment based on the fact that many Christians worldwide do not have Bibles or can only own them illegally. Rebecca is reading The Heavenly Man, a story of a Chinese man’s faith and struggles to serve God under intense opposition. He committed long sections of Scripture to memory and would preach from them from memory, since carrying a Bible was often too dangerous.

For one month, all Bibles and all biblical material on the internet and in other books disappear. There are no biblical texts available. We are thrown back to our memories alone. How would this Bible evacuation affect your daily routines, the teaching and preaching in the church, your email messages, your conversations, your prayers?

Who would miss the Scriptures and why? Who would you seek out to if you wanted to hear the Word of God from memory? (I would go to my wife. She recently memorized seven single-spaced typed pages of Scriptures. I also read that John Piper memorized Romans 1-8.) How much would you have stored in your own soul to draw from? How would the teaching in seminaries change?

(I suggest that in some churches, nothing much would be missed—and I mean “evangelical" churches. These are places where the Bible is seldom publicly read, never seriously exegeted from the pulpit or in adult education, and never committed to memory.)

But you tell me.


MJ said...

I look fondly on my days in "Bible Drill" growing up in the SBC. Little then did I know the lifelong impact this rigorous memorization and Bible lieracy would have on me in later life. I remember also despising my high school apologetics class at a PCA high school. Rev. Duncan would have us memorize chapters per week for exams, as well as several Q/A from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The Lord used that man to turn my life to His Word...thank God for those persons who encouraged me, through fun drills as a kid or from brute memory as a distracted teenager, to "hide [His] Word in my heart..."...and head.

Not so say my work was completed in these past activities...your hypothetical simply reminds me of the urgency to engage the Word in these manners again.

Douglas Groothuis said...


Thank God for your godly training. The only thing I memorized as a teenager was Frank Zappa lyrics, and that by the accident of listening to his music over and over. Before that, it was baseball statistics. Sadly, I still remember some of both; they take up important space in the brain. (I did not convert until age 19, about 30 years ago).

Susan said...

Up until the Reformation, it was largly only those entering monastery life who would have the opportunity and luxury to memorize large amounts of scripture. Christians have not always and in every place been privileged to read and commit scripture to memory. Yet even today, with the freedom we have and the wide availability of the text, I fear seminarians spend so much time picking apart the scriptures exegetically and so little comitting it to memory through meditating upon it, we fool ourselves into thinking we know God's Word.

Douglas Groothuis said...

A recent seminary graduate confessed to me that he memorized more Scripture in Sunday School than in seminary. Think on that...

daveterpstra said...

I memorized more Scripture in Sunday School than in seminary because children's minds are much better equipped for memorization whereas adult minds are better equipped for logic and rhetoric (see Dorothy Sayers excellent essay "The Lost Tools of Learning".

However, the point is valid nevertheless that although memorization is easier when young, that does not excuse us once we are older.

But perhaps those of us who have smuggled Bibles to closed countries deserve a "free pass" on this experiement since we worked for a solution on the other side of the equation.

Douglas Groothuis said...

No free pass given. Your bravery for smuggling should be matched by your tenacity in memorizing.

daveterpstra said...


Paul said...

I disagree that "children's minds are much better equipped for memorization whereas adult minds are better equipped for logic and rhetoric." I suspect the real issue is a lack of time and passion devoted to memorization by adults. Dawson Trotman of the Navigators is a prime example of this.

Memorization is primarily a matter of repetition and familiarity. There are other techniques for wrote learning, but ultimately I think memorization boils down to those two issues. It all comes down to how important we think it is, and therefore how much time we devote to committing to memory the things we care about.


daveterpstra said...


I stand behind my comment. Children memorize more easily than those who have spent years filling their brains in school or numbing them watching television.

However, I don't disagree with the idea that we could all do better with more passion and devotion applied to our memorization efforts. But since greater effort is required for adults, more devotion will be required as well.

Ed Darrell said...

I'd be happy if people would remember the lessons of scripture rather than memorize it.

I am put in mind of Richard Feynman's experiences in Brazil. His Brazilian students knew the physics equations remarkably well -- by rote. But when Feynman took as an ex temporaneous hypothetical the reflection and refraction of light off the ocean they could see from the classroom, and it became clear that the students could not apply any of the equations they knew, he wondered about the entire process in Brazil. Well he should have wondered.

The Ten Commandments warn us against idolatry. If we started to memorize scripture with any version of the Ten Commandments, would we continue past that point, if we understood it?

Douglas Groothuis said...


Idolatry means worshiping the non-god as God. Scripture is not God, but God's communication to us. As such, it is true and pertinent to life. In fact, we must know it order not to fall into idolatry. As such, the Bible should be known and pondered. Memorizing commendable for applying its truth; but it is not sufficient. One must have the intelligence and character to put it into practice. And one should ask the Holy Spirit for these gifts.

Psalmist said...

In my opinion, memorizing verses and short passages is more useful for proof-texting than for meaningfully communicating the truth of the Scriptures. I like this experiment. It would cut down drastically the number of people who could serve as lay readers in my congregation, I think...but would require more of those who could stand before us and accurately convey a passage of Scripture to us. The emphasis would likely be placed on meaningful exegesis, rather than a topical patchwork of "turn to" here and "turn to" there.

I conveyed elsewhere the story of a little girl in one of my choirs who had been "Esther" in a musical that I wrote for elementary choir. She went to VBS at another church, where her group focused on the book of Esther. Her adult leader couldn't remember the name of the "bad guy," whereupon my young choir singer told the whole story. The truth is, I never read the book of Esther to these children, nor any lengthy passages from it. I don't claim this girl or her friends learned all the details of the story, some of which I don't think were appropriate for 6-10 year old girls.

The point is, we who are called to be church leaders need to know the Bible well enough to teach it to various people in whatever way they can appropriate its truths. Concretely, for children (and many adults, for that matter). It should "burn in the bones" of those who preach it. We can't just read it to people or recite it in whatever version we think is best. We must be able to tell it, with passion and excitement, to those who have never heard--and those who have heard far too little.

Knowing the Bible is a great cure for proof-texting it, I think. As several have said, memorization is not enough. Give me as a teacher someone who has truly appropriated Scripture over one who has merely memorized it, any day!

Jeff said...

Seems a very odd place for John Piper to have stopped memorizing Romans.

Douglas Groothuis said...

If you have a well-integrated worldview, you will not use memorized Scripture to proof text, but to walk by faith, encourage believers, and speak the truth to unbelievers.