Thinking Out Loud

June 15, 2018

How Many of These Scriptures Do You Have Memorized?

Of all the major religions in the world, Christians are least acquainted with their own scriptures.

A faith community that does not impart its sacred writings to its young people is one generation away from extinction.

Programs like the Navigators’ Topical Memory System and others like it have proved helpful to people wanting to memorize verses on their mass transit commute or during their lunch break. Today, we’re listing entire passages worth your focus.

We’ve been surveyed to death lately. Barna, Gallup, Pew and major media outlets have a sudden interest in Christians because they feel there’s a story here, and the story they think they’re seeing is that Christianity is sinking faster than the Titanic.

While the astute know that isn’t true — an Adam Ford graphic is helpful — I wonder what the comparative stats would look like in terms of our knowledge of and our ability to recite major passages from our faith’s sacred book.

The problem is that gathering data on this would make for some complicated metrics. What would you include? That’s where I want to take this today. Here are some passages I think everyone should know… by heart. I’m taking John 3:16 as a given and I’m more focused on passages than individual verses such as in this list or this list. I know some readers will want to add their own. How well do you fare against this list?

[ ] The Lord’s Prayer – Over a certain age and you probably had to recite it elementary school. And every Roman Catholic can tick this box, with or without “For Thine is the kingdom…”

[ ] Psalm 23 – Beloved for centuries and rich in imagery, I can do this one in two very different translations. If you think you know it, try right now.

[ ] The Ten Commandments – There actually are recent metrics for this one and I’m told some of us didn’t do very well.

[ ] John 14: 1-6 – “Let not your heart be troubled…” The promise of eternal life.

[ ] various “Romans Road” scriptures – Essential if you’ve ever taken a ‘soul-winning’ course, these would vary but must include 3:23 (“For all have sinned”) and 6:23 (“The wages of sin.”)

[ ] The Apostles/Nicene Creed – No, they are not in the Bible, but I toss it in here in case any of the above-named research people are actually reading this. Would be interesting to know the numbers.

[ ] The Fruit of the Spirit – People from previous generations would wonder, ‘How can you not know this.’ For me, compounded by the various translations, but I think I’ve got them all.

[ ] The Beatitudes – “Blessed are the meek…” In all honesty, this is one I might have trouble with.

[ ] “Think on These Things” – If you need a refresher, it’s probably on a wall at your grandmother’s house. Again, possible translation confusion, but easily memorized one way or another.

[ ] The Armor of God – I wouldn’t get this one and was told by my family it needs to be on the list. Is one of them The Laser Beam of Criticism?

[ ] Psalm 100 – Acting as stand-in for any Psalm which was ever set to music. (I’m thinking of the Maranatha classic Psalm 5; or any one of a gazillion songs based on Ps. 19.)

[ ] Psalm 1 – Wise advice.

[ ] The Philippians ‘Hymn’ – “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.” There are a number of clauses in this to remember.

[ ] Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart…” Only two verses; I shared this when I was baptized and the camp where we met is named IAWAH, In All Ways Acknowledge Him.

[ ] I Cor. 13 – “Love is patient, love is kind.” My wife mentioned this — maybe she was trying to tell me something — but I don’t see this one as strongly as the others.

[ ] I John 1: 1-4 – “That which we have heard and seen…” You knew John’s Gospel had a prologue but so does this epistle.

[ ] Deuteronomy 30 – “Choose life.” This a long passage, but if you’re committed to memorize some of it, you’d want to start at verse 15 and continue to the end of the chapter.

How would you do?

What would you add?


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June 8, 2015

The Health of Western Christianity as Measured by Bible Memorization

Of all the major religions in the world, Christians are least acquainted with their own scriptures.

A faith community that does not impart its sacred writings to its young people is one generation away from extinction.

We’ve been surveyed to death lately. Barna, Gallup, Pew and major media outlets have a sudden interest in Christians because they feel there’s a story here, and the story they think they’re seeing is that Christianity is sinking faster than the Titanic.

While the astute know that isn’t true — a recently linked graphic is helpful — I wonder what the comparative stats would look like in terms of our knowledge of and our ability to recite major passages from our faith’s sacred book.

The problem is that gathering data on this would make for some complicated metrics. What would you include? That’s where I want to take this today. Here are some passages I think everyone should know… by heart. I’m taking John 3:16 as a given and I’m more focused on passages than individual verses such as in this list or this list. I know some readers will want to add their own. How well do you fare against this list?

[ ] The Lord’s Prayer – Over a certain age and you probably had to recite it elementary school. And every Roman Catholic can tick this box, with or without “For Thine is the kingdom…”

[ ] Psalm 23 – Beloved for centuries and rich in imagery, I can do this one in two very different translations. If you think you know it, try right now.

[ ] The Ten Commandments – There actually are recent metrics for this one and I’m told some of us didn’t do very well.

[ ] John 14: 1-6 – “Let not your heart be troubled…” The promise of eternal life.

[ ] various “Romans Road” scriptures – Essential if you’ve ever taken a ‘soul-winning’ course, these would vary but must include 3:23 (“For all have sinned”) and 6:23 (“The wages of sin.”)

[ ] The Apostles/Nicene Creed – No, they are not in the Bible, but I toss it in here in case any of the above-named research people are actually reading this. Would be interesting to know the numbers.

[ ] The Fruit of the Spirit – People from previous generations would wonder, ‘How can you not know this.’ For me, compounded by the various translations, but I think I’ve got them all.

[ ] The Beatitudes – “Blessed are the meek…” In all honesty, this is one I might have trouble with.

[ ] “Think on These Things” – If you need a refresher, it’s probably on a wall at your grandmother’s house. Again, possible translation confusion, but easily memorized one way or another. 

[ ] The Armor of God – I wouldn’t get this one and was told by my family it needs to be on the list. Is one of them The Laser Beam of Criticism?

[ ] Psalm 100 – Acting as stand-in for any Psalm which was ever set to music. (I’m thinking of the Maranatha classic Psalm 5; or any one of a gazillion songs based on Ps. 19.)

[ ] Psalm 1 – Wise advice.

[ ] The Philippians ‘Hymn’ – “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.” There are a number of clauses in this to remember.

[ ] Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart…” Only two verses; I shared this when I was baptized and the camp where we met is named IAWAH, In All Ways Acknowledge Him.

[ ] I Cor. 13 – “Love is patient, love is kind.” My wife mentioned this — maybe she was trying to tell me something — but I don’t see this one as strongly as the others. 

[ ] I John 1: 1-4 – “That which we have heard and seen…” You knew John’s Gospel had a prologue but so does this epistle. 

[ ] Deuteronomy 30 – “Choose life.” This a long passage, but if you’re committed to memorize some of it, you’d want to start at verse 15 and continue to the end of the chapter.

How would you do?

What would you add?

September 7, 2012

Redefining “The Written Word”

The picture above is of a scripture selection my eldest son chose to write out by hand almost a year ago and post on his bedroom wall. It’s remarkable for two reasons, the first being that a few years earlier his efforts at cursive writing would never have produced anything so legible, the second being the love that he has for the Word of God, evidenced by the time he spends in scripture each day.

Writing out Bible passages by hand has become somewhat archaic in a world of word processing. But it’s just one of a number of subtle changes taking place within Western society in terms of our relationship with the printed word:

  • Many of us leave our Bibles at home on Sundays, finding it more convenient to use Bibles provided at weekend services
  • Many choose to use Bible apps on their smart phones instead of following from a print text
  • Many have their devotional and Bible study time driving to work using a devotional on CD or listening to a preacher on the car radio
  • Scripture memorization has become less commonplace in our children’s and youth ministry programs
  • People like myself often ‘absorb’ scripture throughout the day through online articles and blogs but don’t directly read anything at source
  • Our worship music is ‘vertical’ which can derive from psalms and similar passages, but is therefore less reliant on the ‘Scripture in Song’ type of choruses that were based more directly on a wider spectrum of scripture passages
  • The giving out of tracts has died as a practice; many of these began with scripture and contained several Bible passages
  • The reading of Christian books has diminished in a screen-saturated world
  • Scripture plaques, often seen in the living rooms and kitchens of homes have been deemed inadequate in a world of interior decorating and replaced by “inspirational” wall art with single word admonitions like “dream,” “believe,” “hope,” etc.
  • Where once people would add a scripture verse by hand to a greeting card, today we purchase Christian cards with a verse already included

Combine all these, and the handwriting my son did might seem rather quaint. But I’ll bet that taking the time to do this means he knows this passage well.

Of course, more than writing scripture on the doorframes and gates of our houses, God desires for us to write his words on our heart. But how we do this if we don’t know the passages and precepts in the first place? God is revealed to us first and foremost in scripture; this is the primary revelation of God in our times.

So here’s the challenge. Take a passage and write it out by hand today. I did this a few weeks ago with Titus 3: 3-8 or you might consider Colossians 1: 9-14 or the Galatians passage above, or a passage of your choosing. (Those are just two that I’ve done myself, so I’m not asking you to do anything I haven’t done.)

And then allow the words to be written on your heart.

December 31, 2010

Whatever Happened to the Memory Verse?

My mom turned her head to the back seat, “…You’ve got your offering, right?”

“One dime, same as always.”

“And you know your memory verse?”

“Oh, oh!”

A quick leaf through the student manual and I found the verse, which I committed to memory in about 30 seconds.  Most of them, I still remember today…

…Fast forward to 2011…

…What happened to scripture memory?   My kids went through the Sunday School system and have emerged with a fairly accurate God-picture and understanding of basic theology — probably more than I at their age — but very little actual memorization accomplished.

Meanwhile, we have some friends whose kids are part of a national “quizzing” program that has involved memorization of entire chapters of Paul’s epistles; even the entirety of some shorter ones.    So perhaps it’s us;  we failed as parents in this respect.

Either way, I think the Christian book market is going to be very, very ready for Gary Smalley’s new book Guarding Your Child’s Heart:  Establish Your Child’s Faith Through Scripture Memory and Meditation.

I’m not on any kind of review list for NavPress — I don’t even think they do that sort of thing — but I thought this book deserves some highlighting anyway.  Here’s what they say about it…

Most people have 20,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. And for Americans, more than half of those thoughts are negative. So how do you teach your children to guard their minds and hearts in today’s society? The last thing you need is more parenting advice that proves futile.

Your beliefs strongly influence your thoughts, words, and actions, which in turn form your emotions. So the key to a high-quality life is to create powerful beliefs within your heart that control your behavior. You can think whatever thoughts you want, but what would happen if you mainly thought about the words Jesus told you to think about more than two thousand years ago?

Seasoned marriage and family relationship expert Dr. Gary Smalley clearly understands the frustrations of trying to defend your children from destructive cultural influences. In this interactive twelve-week companion workbook that accompanies the Guarding Your Child’s Heart DVD series, Dr. Smalley presents how-to steps, engaging questions, practical exercises, and fun activities to help the whole family memorize and meditate on key Scriptures and lead an enriching life of humility, love, and gratitude.

I can so easily picture grandparents buying this for parents.   For whatever reasons.   I think scripture memory has become a lost art.   So maybe, just maybe, it’s a lost art we need to recover.

There’s also a DVD for this to be used in a small group situation.

“A spiritual community that does not transmit its sacred writings to its children is one generation away from extinction.”


October 8, 2010

Checking Primary Sources

Are you easily intimidated spiritually?  It’s easy to do.  The other person seems more passionate about his or her faith.  (“A fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do!”)  Or they are more versed on the nuances of Greek or church history or some finer point of doctrine.  (The present Evangelical culture places a premium on education.)   Or they have lived through some life experience which gives them church cred.  (This is essentially a modern incarnation of what in the previous generation called “testimony oneupsmanship.”)

Despite working in vocational Christian service for a couple of decades, I still know the feeling of spiritual intimidation.   Furthermore, because I try to render my own comments in an offhand or less threatening manner, I am probably more often intimidated than intimidating.

But this week something happened which made me wonder if I haven’t been underestimating myself.

I was in a discussion with an older man who was reiterating some party-line doctrine about a particular topic, and I was mentioning to him a couple of authors who are refuting that position.    I haven’t actually read their books, but I’ve been in discussions both in-person and online with people who suggest an alternative reading of the texts.    I think their view is at least worthy of serious consideration.

And he shared with me what he has always believed, which is what his church believes.   And then he had to leave.

About 30 seconds later, it hit me that while I had quoted or alluded to several scripture verses and mentioned a few chapters, he hadn’t mentioned a single one.     While I’m not strong on chapter and verse numbers — another way to be spiritually intimidated (or intimidating)  — I did toss in a few, while he provided none.

There are two takeaways from this.

The first recalls the line, “Of all the major faith groups in the world, Christians are least acquainted with their own scriptures.”   Quoting verse numbers is intimidating sometimes, and often needlessly so; but we will speak most authoritatively when we speak with the backing of God’s word, especially when we can reference books and chapters.   The force of our arguments is not the force of our own words, but the force of scripture.

The second is, we need to be able to say, “This is what the Bible says;” instead of “This is what I’ve always believed;” or “This is what our church teaches.” We need to check primary sources, in this case the one primary source as the source for what we have come to understand on any given issue.    (“Study to show yourself…rightly dividing the Word…;” “…sharper than a double-edged sword…;” “All scripture is inspired…and powerful for…rebuking…correcting…;” etc.) Too many people are living a second-hand faith quoting second-hand doctrines.

Let me take it further and suggest that any discussion that person most likely to appear victorious in any theological discussion will be the one who, proof-texting aside, has an argument backed by scripture.

We need to, as did the Bereans, search the scriptures.   And if we’re deficient in the area of remembering numeric references — despite being able to recite credit card, PIN, or computer passwords effortlessly — we need to work harder at developing this area of Biblical knowledge; chapters at the very least.

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