Desert Island Texts

I recently heard a sermon that included the point about the value of biblical memorization. Along with it came the warning about what would happen if we found ourselves in a situation without access to the Bible. If believers do not hide the word in their hearts, the logic goes, they will not have any spiritual nourishment when either deserted or imprisoned. The idea of finding yourself in a situation either hostile to Christianity or without the public ministry of the word is obviously troubling.

But upon further reflection, so is the Marcion-like canon one might actually have stowed away in one’s heart in preparation for such circumstances. Unless you are Jack Van Impe – the prophecy guy who has the entire Bible memorized (I think) – you are like me left with a very odd assortment of memorized biblical passages that may or may not come to mind in solitary confinement. In my own case, I have at one time or another memorized Psalms (1 and 23), the fortieth chapter of Isaiah, the Luke birth narrative, the Magnificat, and John 3:16 (does John 3:16 actually count?). And to pass Hebrew in seminary (received an A, mind you), I memorized the entire book of Ruth from which the final exam came. That way, as long as I knew enough Hebrew to see there the passage assigned for translation began and ended, I could “translate” “competently” for a satisfactory grade.

But again, unless you memorize the entire Bible, doesn’t committing to memory an isolated passage undermine the point of why God gave us the entire Bible? Does memorizing a passage on the love of God, or on the free offer of the gospel, or a specific parable help us to know all of what God has revealed? Granted, isolated texts contribute to the whole. But without the whole, could the isolated texts lead us astray and defeat the point of sermon exhortations to memorize more Scripture? Surely, a selective approach to the canon did not work out well for Thomas Jefferson or Marcion.

Perhaps a better memory aid to all of God’s truth is the catechism. Here is a tool that is a summary of all of Scripture. It gives the high points about God, man, Christ, salvation, the church, and Christian duty. It also is relatively easy (except for the Larger Catechism) to memorize.

This is another way of suggesting that the gap between man-made creeds and God’s word is not as large as people think. Of course, if the gap is as large as the biblicist strain of Protestantism alleges, then Christians like Gilligan better have mastered large portions of Scripture if they are going to withstand the wiles of Ginger. But if it is possible and even right for those appointed by God to teach his word to develop faithful summaries of biblical truth in the pedagogical device of questions and answers, then the texts that Christians should be memorizing in preparation for Bible-less conditions is the catechism.