“Eating right” – the case for Bible memory

First things first! I am convinced that one of the very best things we can do in Christian education is to have students memorize Scripture. I cannot tell you how often I have had various words of Scripture come into my mind as I have gone through various life situations. Helping kids learn to “eat right” as suggested by Eugene Peterson in the title of his latest book – “Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading” will help to provide a tool for the Holy Spirit to use throughout their lifetime to encourage and convict. (Heb. 4:12, Psalm 119:105)

There is growing evidence that youth today are growing in their Biblical illiteracy levels. The release of the 2005 national report entitled Bible Literacy Report, commissioned by the Bible Literacy Project, Inc. under a grant from the John Templeton Foundation lists the following findings:

  • Teachers estimated that less than a fourth of their current students are Biblically literate.
  • Born again and evangelical teens were often only slightly more likely than other teens to display Bible literacy. (and yes- this survey sampled Christian schools also!)
  • Fewer than half of Americans teens know what happened at the wedding at Cana. One out of four refused to guess.
  • Given a choice of four quotations from the Bible, almost two-thirds of teens could not correctly identify a quotation from the Sermon on the Mount (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”).
  • One quarter believed that the statement “David was the king of the Jews” was false.

More information on this project which seeks to increase Biblical literacy can be found at http://www.bibleliteracy.org

Los Angeles Times columnist, Stephen Prothero, in his column entitled “Religious nation, religious illiterates” states that while Americans today are far more religious than Europeans, they know far less about religion. He remarks that when Americans debated slavery almost exclusively on the basis of the Bible, everyone could follow the debate. Could we have the same level of discussion presently on the issues of the day? He holds churches responsible – too much time spent on things other than the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. He lays most of the blame at the feet of public schools who have misunderstood the First Amendment.

Similarly, Smith and Denton in Soul Searching (see previous post of October 11) lay much of the blame for youth’s current theology (or lack thereof) on an inadequate grounding in Scripture. Because they didn’t have a grounding in Scripture they were not able to talk concretely about their faith. Not surprising then that the study showed that kids were not sure that there were moral absolutes.

Biblical literacy begins at home, but is nurtured and developed as well by church and school. I think it would be helpful to share the kinds of programs and strategies we have in place. I would like to compile a listing and then place it in the Member Community Center for reference. Would you be willing to share what you are doing?



Filed under Bible memory, distinctively Christian

4 responses to ““Eating right” – the case for Bible memory

  1. Dan,

    You are right about the necessity of “eating right.” I too read Peterson’s Eat this Book and was re-convinced that Scripture memory is important, but that it needs to be done properly.

    I teach Church History and I have my students memorize Scripture that fits into what we are studying at the time. However, I find that my students are walking into class with a printout of the verse trying to cram the verse into their head – not unlike stuffing oneself at Thanksgiving.

    To combat this, I’ve tried to begin each Church History class with a brief meditation based upon the verse that they are memorizing. That seems to have helped a bit.
    Thanks for your post.

    Mark VanderWerf
    Calvin Christian High School
    Escondido, CA

  2. Mark,
    Thanks for sharing a strategy that works well for you! I am sure that the reflection and application serves to make the verse “stickier” for students.

  3. Stacy

    Bible memorization and Bible literacy are two very different things. Remembering passages is not the same as knowing how to read passages, knowing about context and history, knowing that different translations sometimes do change the way we look at a passage, and having important dialogues about meaning.

    I think it would be good to get a discussion going about all that Biblical Literacy entails. Also, how can we as Christian educators really connect our students to the Bible and make them want to learn more about the Bible beyond what is required of them in class? How can we engage those students who have so much going on at home that they don’t want to believe there is a God out there who loves them? These are important conversations that may change lives…if not our students, then maybe our own.

  4. I am surprised that there aren’t more comments on this point. If our children are biblically illiterate, obviously, the Kingdom of God will be adversely affected by that fact, as will society, in general. As an adult who credits the vast majority of her biblical literacy to Christian education (both day school and Sunday School) from kindergarten through high school, I have to wonder what’s different in the Christian education of today from that of my time. By the end of kindergarten, I had already memorized all of Psalm 23 and 100. First grade added Psalm 121 and the Ten Commandments. Each year, more verses were added. I remember, specifically, the Lord’s Prayer, the “I ams” of Jesus, the Beatitudes, I Corinthians 13 and Jesus’ words on the cross. We also studied the context of those verses. I believe we memorized these by simply reciting/copying them every day. In today’s classrooms, I assume teachers are utilizing the various learning styles to help their students learn scripture and not just relying on rote memorization. In my former work with CSI, I gathered dozens of Bible memory strategies that I shared with schools and will still happily pass on to teachers.

    Obviously, our culture has changed. For me, Sunday dinners at home always included discussion of the morning’s lessons and sermons, and my father read from scripture after every meal. So, we had reinforcement at home, during which we were encouraged to ask questions and discuss. That may be one missing element in today’s society where dinner around the table is often rare. However, what else happened? Are we spending less time on Bible in school? Are our teaching methods less effective, even though we benefit from another 30 years of studies and brain/memory research? Are we not effectively using life application and multiple intelligence techniques as we teach? Are we not continuously sharing with our students our personal testimonies of how certain scriptures minister to/comfort/encourag us, of how God’s power and love are evident in our lives? Are we making Bible a separate subject to only be considered at a certain time of the day, rather than making sure its concepts are integrally interwoven into every lesson we teach?

    My parents firmly believed that the word of God would never return void. This assurance encouraged them for the four decades in the life of one of my brothers, when he turned his back on his Christian faith. Proverbs 3:5 & 6 (yet more verses I memorized in school) also helped them maintain their faith that their “prodigal son” would someday return. In short, beyond the memorization and the lessons in church and school, our parents demonstrated the power of a close walk with God and the eternal worth of the Word of God. We must demonstrate this to our students, especially in this day and age of broken homes and churchless families. When we show them the value of scripture to their personal lives, will that not encourage them to try harder to retain what they learn?

    I wax verbose, so I’ll conclude. If we are not instilling biblical literacy in today’s Christian school students, it is imperative to find out why and rectify the situation. Without a firm foundation of biblical knowledge, students can still find their way to the foot of the cross, but many of them will be like the seed that landed on rocky soil–their faith will be quick to sprout up, but just as quick to die because they lack roots.

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